The Nikon 200-400mm lens is a very unique lens. It originally was released in the 1980s as a manual focus lens and was only on the market for a few years. A number of wildlife photographers, Art Wolfe being the most notable, loved the lens and used it constantly for wildlife photography. However, after it was discontinued, a versatile lens with this zoom range was simply unavailable until late 2003 when the current lens hit shelves featuring autofocus and Vibration Reduction. It was a huge success for Nikon photographers and I know more than one Canon photographer who switched brands simply to have use this great lens.
For me, the 200-400 gets used in a few different situations. First and foremost, it is my large mammal lens. I found that large animals like deer, elk, and moose can be difficult to photograph with the 600mm because you have to be a long way away to get the full animal in the shot. This can be a big deal in national parks where animals are acclimated to human presence.
I also use the 200-400 for nearly all the outdoor sports photography I do. It isn’t nature oriented but in combination with the high ISO of the D3, it’s a spectacular lens for outdoor sports work. Add a teleconverter and you’ve got all the reach you could ever want.
The third time I pick up the 200-400 is for trips when I am trying to travel a bit lighter than usual. It is easier to pack as it fits in my pack with all my other gear where the 600mm lens requires a totally different packing strategy. It is also a few pounds lighter which makes lugging it through an airport or a long way into the wilderness a lot more comfortable. I can add the 1.4x or 1.7x teleconverter if I expect I will need the extra bit of reach.
The final thing this lens is great for is action or flight photography. Since this lens is several pounds lighter than the 600mm, I can hand hold it for long periods of time and if I want to add a 1.4x than I can even get a bit of extra reach. This is a pretty great combination and was my go to rig for all of my albatross and petrel photography off the coast of Australia.
The Nikon 200-400mm lens is sharp, works well with all of Nikon’s teleconverters, light enough to handhold all day, and nice and fast. It’s a bit pricy but about half what the 600mm will set you back and so much more versatile.