Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 vs. Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6: Telephoto Titans Battle for Photographic Supremacy

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Are you an avid photographer in search of the perfect telephoto lens to elevate your wildlife, sports, or portrait photography to the next level? The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 and Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 are two exceptional contenders, each with their unique strengths and features. Join us as we dive deep into the world of telephoto lenses, comparing these two photographic powerhouses to help you make an informed decision that will truly enhance your photography experience.

Discover how each lens caters to different aspects of photography, from the 200-500mm’s outstanding performance in sports and wildlife scenarios to the 80-400mm’s remarkable versatility in capturing everything from breathtaking landscapes to intimate portraits. Uncover the hidden gems of optical stabilization, aberration control, and flare resistance that could make all the difference in capturing that once-in-a-lifetime shot.

Embark on this photographic journey with us and unlock the secrets of these two remarkable lenses. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of which lens is the ideal companion for your camera, enabling you to capture stunning images that leave a lasting impression. So, get ready to unleash your creativity and take your photography to new heights with the ultimate telephoto lens showdown!


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRNikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6G ED VR
Max ApertureF5.6F4.5-5.6
Aperture TypeFixedVariable
Focal Range (mm)200-50080-400
Max Format35mm FF35mm FF
Zoom Ratio (X)2.55

Comparing the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 and the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6, both are telephoto lenses. The 200-500mm lens is designed for sports and wildlife photography, while 80-400mm lens is also a wonderful portrait lens.

The 200-500mm lens has a focal range of 200-500mm with a 2.5x zoom ratio, making it ideal for capturing distant subjects. The 80-400mm lens has a broader focal range of 80-400mm and a 5.0x zoom ratio, providing more flexibility in framing shots. The 80-400mm lens offers a more versatile focal range and lighter weight, making it suitable for various photography scenarios but may exhibit some compromises in image quality and low light performance.

Design and Ease of Use

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRNikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6G ED VR
Diameter x Length (mm)⌀108×267.5mm⌀95.5×203mm
Weight (gr)23001570
Filter Thread (mm)9577
Weather SealingNoNo
Zoom MethodRotary (extending)Rotary (extending)
Distance ScaleYesYes
DoF ScaleNoNo
Hood SuppliedYesYes
Hood CodeHB-71HB-65
Tripod CollarYesYes

Comparing the two lenses in terms of physical dimensions and weight, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 measures ⌀108×267.5mm and weighs 2300 grams, while the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is smaller and lighter at ⌀95.5×203mm and 1570 grams.

The smaller size and lighter weight of the 80-400mm lens provide several advantages, such as increased portability, better balance with your camera setup, discreetness when capturing candid shots, easier storage, and a more convenient lens-swapping experience. These features can be particularly beneficial for photographers who need to travel or walk around for extended periods or those who want to maintain a low profile while capturing images.

On the other hand, the larger and heavier 200-500mm lens could be more cumbersome to carry and handle during extended shooting sessions, making it less ideal for travel or when discreetness is necessary.

Lens Mount and Barrel

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 and the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 have different lens mount and barrel constructions, which can influence their durability, weather resistance, and overall user experience.

Examining the 200-500mm lens first, its lens mount is made of metal with a rubber gasket for dust and moisture protection. The lens barrel is constructed with a metal outer barrel, high-grade plastic shell, and an inner plastic barrel. As you zoom in, the lens extends, but it includes a lock to prevent it from creeping to other focal lengths due to gravity.

The 80-400mm lens, on the other hand, has a dull-chromed brass lens mount with a rubber gasket for basic weather sealing. Its lens barrel is made of a combination of metal and tough polycarbonate, featuring a matte black finish with gold accents.

Plastic lens barrels are generally lighter and more affordable, but they may be less durable than metal barrels. Metal lens barrels provide greater strength and sturdiness, with a more premium feel, but they can be heavier and less portable. Lens mounts made of metal alloys such as brass or aluminum are more durable and can withstand repeated use without deforming. Plastic lens mounts are less expensive but may wear out or break more easily over time.

In conclusion, neither lens mount and barrel construction is inherently superior; it ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences. If you prioritize affordability, the 200-500mm lens with its plastic components may be more suitable for you. However, if durability, and a professional feel are more important, the 80-400mm lens with its metal-polycarbonate barrel combination could be the better choice.

Weather Sealing

The weather sealing of the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 and the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is similar in that neither lens is fully weather sealed. However, both lenses provide some level of protection against dust and moisture.

If you examine the 200-500mm lens closely, you’ll notice that there is a rubber gasket located at the lens mount. This gasket is designed to assist in preventing water from entering the lens. The absence of internal seals on the rings, switches, or front of the barrel, as well as the lack of a fluorine coating on the front element, is noticeable. While this lens is capable of enduring some degree of cold, dust, and moisture, it is not specifically engineered to withstand heavy abuse or extreme weather conditions in the same manner as a professional-grade lens.

On the other hand, the 80-400mm lens also offers limited weather sealing. It has a rubber gasket at the lens mount to prevent dust and moisture from entering but does not feature internal seals at the rings, switches, or front of the barrel, nor a fluorine coating on the front element.

Weather sealing is important for protecting lenses from environmental elements, ensuring durability and performance in various conditions. Fully weather-sealed lenses offer better protection and durability in challenging environments, while non-sealed lenses may require extra care or additional protection.

In conclusion, neither the 200-500mm lens nor the 80-400mm lens has superior weather sealing, as both lenses offer only basic protection against dust and moisture. If weather sealing is a crucial factor for your photography needs, you may want to consider other lenses with more comprehensive weather sealing. However, for photographers who do not frequently shoot in harsh conditions, both lenses may provide an adequate level of protection.


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 has two rings designed for comfortable operation and smooth rotation, with a ribbed zoom ring and a textured rubber focus ring. Moving from 200mm to 500mm on the zoom ring of this lens requires nearly 180 degrees of rotation. On the other hand, the focus ring is positioned nearer to the camera body, providing for effortless adjustments in focal length without sacrificing balance or grip. The lens features a zoom lock switch at its shortest 200mm length, a focus limiter function, and full-time manual focus override when set to M/A position, with a windowed distance scale provided as well.

In comparison, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 also has two rings – a ridged rubber focus ring near the lens mount and a textured rubber zoom ring towards the front of the lens. The zoom ring is thicker, smooth, and resistant to change, with a quarter-turn extension from 80 to 400mm and a switch to lock it at 80mm. The focus ring is looser and easier to rotate than the zoom ring, featuring a windowed distance scale and depth-of-field indicator.

When judging the design of the rings, the 200-500mm lens offers a longer zoom range with a smoother zoom ring and a more conveniently placed focus ring, which could provide greater precision and control. On the other hand, the 80-400mm lens has a zoom ring that is thicker and more resistant to change, making it easier to lock in desired focal lengths.

In conclusion, the ring design of the 200-500mm lens appears to be superior, as it offers smooth rotation, a well-positioned focus ring, and a longer zoom range. However, preferences may vary depending on individual needs, shooting styles, and the importance of factors such as ring thickness, resistance, and overall handling.


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 is equipped with 4 switches on the side, including an AF/MF switch for full-time manual focus override, a focus limiter switch to restrict autofocus distance, an IS switch for the vibration reduction system, and a VR mode switch for toggling between normal and sport modes. These switches are designed for easy location and use, complemented by a well-designed and textured focus ring and zoom ring for comfortable handling.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 has 5 switches on the left side of the barrel. These include an AF/MF switch with three settings (A/M, M/A, and M) for instant manual override and manual focus, a focus limiter with two settings (FULL and -6m) to limit the focus range, an IS switch with two settings (On/Off and Normal/Active) to control the image stabilization system, and a zoom lock switch to lock it at 80mm. However, the switches are not easily distinguishable by feel, requiring memorization. The focus switch has a raised end, and the VR switch has a raised middle, but the overall design is not very distinctive or user-friendly.

Filter Thread

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 features a 95mm filter thread, which is not a very common size but is made of durable metal. One convenient feature of this lens is that the front element and filter thread do not rotate while focusing. This makes it effortless to use filters such as polarizers and graduated neutral density filters. Despite the uncommon size, high-quality filters from reputable brands like B+W and Hoya are available and provide excellent protection and performance.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 has a more common 77mm filter thread, also made of metal and not rotating on focus. This makes it easy to use with filters and allows for the attachment of a 77mm screw-on filter for weather sealing and protection of the large front glass element.

Considering these factors, the 80-400mm lens has a superior filter thread due to its more common size, which offers greater compatibility, availability, and cost-effectiveness when compared to the 200-500mm lens. Although the 200-500mm lens provides a secure and durable filter thread, the less common size might be a limiting factor for photographers who want to share filters among lenses or find a wider range of filters at reasonable prices.

Lens Hood

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 comes with a one-piece plastic bayonet design lens hood, which is included in the package. It is quite large, with a 5″ diameter and 4″ length, effectively shielding the front element from stray light. The lens hood is reversible for easy transportation, and it features a smooth finish and rotation.

In contrast, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is equipped with the Nikon-designed HB-65 lens hood, which securely attaches to the lens using a lock system. This deep lens hood effectively covers the front element, providing excellent protection against stray light. Made of high-quality material with a nice finish, it also boasts an ergonomic bevel for comfortable handling and smooth rotation.

Considering the features and effectiveness of both lens hoods, the 80-400mm lens’s HB-65 model has an edge over the 200-500mm lens hood. Its secure attachment with a lock system and high-quality material make it a superior choice, offering better protection and handling. While the 200-500mm lens hood is large and does its job well, the 80-400mm lens hood’s design and build quality give it a slight advantage in performance and durability.

Tripod Collar

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 includes a tripod collar that is designed to support the lens’ weight and provide stability when mounted on a tripod. However, the collar’s single connection point on the lens barrel could be improved with a two-point stabilization system, like those found in Kirk and RRS replacement lens collars. The tripod collar is not directly compatible with Arca-Swiss but can be replaced with an aftermarket collar for better support and compatibility. Additionally, the collar can be removed for more comfortable handheld use.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 features a tripod collar, but its design is not optimal. It requires the lock knob to be tightened to its maximum capacity to prevent movement, and its balance point is questionable. Third-party replacements, such as the Kirk NC-80-400GN or Really Right Stuff LC-A13, offer improved weight distribution and compatibility with long lenses on gimbal heads, making them popular choices among photographers.

In conclusion, both tripod collars have room for improvement, but the 200-500mm lens has a slight advantage due to its removable collar feature and the fact that it does not require additional tightening to prevent movement. However, for both lenses, photographers may find it beneficial to explore aftermarket options for better support, compatibility, and weight distribution.

Focusing and Optical Stabilization

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRNikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6G ED VR
AF MotorSilent Wave MotorSilent Wave Motor
Rotating Front ElementDoes not rotate on focusingDoes not rotate on focusing
Min Focus Distance2.2m1.75m[AF];1.5m[MF]
Max Magnification (X)0.220.2
Full-Time Manual FocusYesYes
Focus MethodInternalInternal

Focusing Performance

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 boasts a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM), providing quiet autofocus operation and full-time manual focus override when set to the M/A position. The autofocus speed of this lens is quite remarkable and boasts a faster initial focus acquisition than several f/1.8 Nikon prime lenses. When focusing from close to infinity, it takes around 1 second at 500mm and roughly 0.7 seconds at 300mm.

While low-light performance is generally good, it may slow down slightly at 500mm. This lens is known for focusing accurately and consistently, with excellent repeatability. Its manual focus is smooth, featuring a wide focus ring for precise adjustment. The internally focusing design ensures the lens length remains constant and the front element doesn’t rotate, making it convenient for use with polarizing filters.

In contrast, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 offers outstanding autofocus performance, with fast and accurate AF, although some noise is produced due to glass element movement. The focusing speed is quick and smooth, taking just over a second to rack the full focus distance from minimum to infinity.

Autofocus acquisition speed is also impressive, with no choking or stuttering when focusing on distant subjects. Autofocus is consistently accurate, and the lens also features manual focus override, which is smooth and easy to use. However, the focus ring has limited travel between its close-focus point and infinity, making precise focusing on a subject somewhat challenging.

In conclusion, both lenses have their strengths in focusing performance. The 200-500mm lens excels in quiet operation, speed, and consistency, while the 80-400mm lens stands out for its outstanding autofocus acquisition speed and accuracy. However, the 200-500mm lens takes the lead due to its Silent Wave Motor, faster focus acquisition, and a more user-friendly manual focus system, making it the superior option in terms of focusing performance.

Optical Stabilization

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 is equipped with an effective Vibration Reduction (VR) system that offers up to 4.5 stops of stabilization, allowing for sharp images even at slower shutter speeds. This silent system is ideal for both photography and video recording.

The lens has two stabilization modes: Normal and Sport, with the latter being optimized for tracking fast-moving subjects. With VR enabled while shooting at 500mm focal length, this lens can produce usable photos even at slow shutter speeds such as 1/60 seconds, and occasionally down to 1/25 seconds. This impressive performance of the stabilization system clearly demonstrates its effectiveness.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 provides 4 stops of optical stabilization, an improvement over its older version. There are no reports of noise during stabilization. This lens also has two modes of stabilization – Normal and Active – and the Vibration Reduction technology permits hand-held shooting at manageable shutter speeds for all focal lengths.

In conclusion, both lenses offer impressive optical stabilization performance. However, the 200-500mm lens edges ahead with its 4.5 stops of stabilization compared to the 80-400mm lens’s 4 stops. Additionally, the 200-500mm lens’s VR system operates silently and is more effective at slower shutter speeds, making it the superior choice for optical stabilization.

Image Quality

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRNikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6G ED VR
Special Elements3 ED elements4 ED glass elements; 1 Super ED glass element
Diaphragm Blades99
Circular ApertureYesYes


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 exhibits minimal chromatic aberration, even on highly contrasted edges, making it difficult to find areas with color fringing at a 200% crop. The chromatic aberration levels are low at 200mm and 300mm but increase slightly towards the 400mm and 500mm focal lengths.

This lens also displays some cat’s-eye effect near the borders and corners of the sensor, noticeable coma towards the corners, and a slight “onion-ring” effect in the bokeh. The extra-low dispersion lens elements used in this lens play a significant role in reducing spherical aberration. This reduction in aberration greatly contributes to the overall sharpness and contrast of the lens.

In contrast, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 handles longitudinal chromatic aberration very well at large apertures, with the best performance at 200mm. It effectively controls chromatic aberrations even in high-contrast situations, with the highest amount measured at the shortest end of the range (80mm). At 200mm, the extra chromatic aberration seen at 300mm and 400m is almost completely matched to the average at around 200ths of a percent of the frame height.

In conclusion, both lenses perform well in controlling chromatic aberration. However, the 200-500mm lens stands out with its minimal chromatic aberration and the use of extra-low dispersion lens elements to reduce spherical aberration. This results in better overall sharpness and contrast, making the 200-500mm lens superior in terms of aberration control.


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 showcases excellent center sharpness throughout the zoom range, although there is some corner softness at longer focal lengths and wide-open apertures. Stopping down to around f/11 enhances corner sharpness. The lens delivers very good center sharpness at 200mm with an aperture of f/5.6, which reaches excellent levels at f/8. As you zoom in, the sharpness decreases, with a noticeable drop at 500mm, but it remains usable. Utilizing a teleconverter may affect autofocus accuracy and further reduce sharpness.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 demonstrates superb sharpness, particularly at 400mm where it matters most. It is sharp across the frame at 80mm, although there is a slight blur in the full-frame corners when wide open. At 135mm, the lens is almost perfect, with just a minor softness in the full-frame corners when wide open. At 300mm, the lens achieves near-perfect edge-to-edge sharpness, even when wide open.

In conclusion, both lenses exhibit strong sharpness performance. However, the 80-400mm lens outshines the 200-500mm lens in terms of consistent sharpness across the frame and at various focal lengths. This makes the 80-400mm lens superior in terms of sharpness, particularly for those seeking excellent edge-to-edge sharpness throughout the zoom range.

Bokeh Quality

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 produces pleasing bokeh quality, with smooth and beautiful out-of-focus areas. Its iris diaphragm has 9 rounded aperture blades, contributing to the attractive rendition of out-of-focus areas. This lens is highly capable of managing specular highlights and background isolation, which translates into beautiful bokeh without any distracting patterns or onion-shaped highlights. The bokeh balls have very little longitudinal chromatic aberration, and although there is some cat’s-eye effect, it is not excessively intrusive.

In contrast, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 also has a pleasing bokeh rendering capability, with a 9-blade iris diaphragm for a smooth out-of-focus area. However, it is important to note that this lens is not optimized to compete with portrait lenses, so its bokeh might not be as visually pleasing when examined closely. Additionally, smaller out-of-focus highlights can appear busy depending on the scene, exhibiting onion-shaped bokeh.

In conclusion, both lenses offer commendable bokeh quality. However, the 200-500mm lens outperforms the 80-400mm lens in this aspect, delivering smoother, more beautiful out-of-focus areas without onion-shaped highlights or distracting patterns.


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 demonstrates good flare-resistance, but flare and ghosting can still be an issue if a strong light source is directly in the frame or near the edge of the image. One of the advantages of this lens is that it does not produce any artifacts even when the light source is located outside the image frame. The flare patterns produced by this lens are uncomplicated and free of any additional coloration. It is essential to watch out for strong light-sources directly outside the frame, but overall, the flare and ghosting performance is good.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 has good flare and ghosting control when using the lens hood. However, using a protective filter may result in veiling flare and ghosting, even with the hood in contra lighting. It is recommended to avoid using filters with this lens. In extreme conditions, such as pointing directly at the sun, there may be some ghosts, but they are minimal and can be controlled with exposure compensation.

In conclusion, both lenses offer decent flare and ghosting control. The 200-500mm lens has an advantage in flare-resistance, but it is more sensitive to strong light sources directly outside the frame. The 80-400mm lens performs well when using the lens hood, but filters can negatively impact its flare and ghosting control. Overall, the 200-500mm lens has a slight edge in flare/ghosting performance, making it the superior choice in this aspect.


Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 displays impressive control over vignetting, with only slight darkening of the edges at focal lengths beyond 300mm when focused at infinity. Vignetting is virtually non-existent at shorter focal lengths. Although there may be some vignetting present, it can be conveniently corrected in post-processing, and can even add a charming quality to the images.

In contrast, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 exhibits some vignetting at all focal lengths when wide open, but it is relatively modest, with an average of about half a stop at the edges. The vignetting decreases consistently as the aperture is stopped down, and on a sub-frame camera, it is practically non-existent. On a full-frame camera, the most vignetting observed was just slightly over a half-stop at 80mm f/4.5. However, this can be easily corrected in Lightroom via the Lens Correction module.

In conclusion, both lenses perform well in terms of vignetting control. The 200-500mm lens has an advantage in controlling vignetting, particularly at shorter focal lengths. The 80-400mm lens exhibits slightly more vignetting, but it can be effectively corrected in post-processing.


Across various settings and distances, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 displays some degree of pincushion distortion, although it is typically not noticeable in real-world scenarios. This distortion can be automatically corrected by most Nikon DSLRs, and if not, it can be easily removed using Photoshop’s Lens Distortion tool. Notwithstanding these imperfections, this lens still produces sharp images with minimal linear distortion. Overall, distortion is generally manageable and can be conveniently corrected in post-processing.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 has minimal distortion, with only a hint of barrel distortion at 80mm and some pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. However, this can easily be corrected in post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. Overall, distortion is not a major problem with this lens.

In conclusion, both lenses perform well in terms of distortion control. The 200-500mm lens exhibits minor pincushion distortion, while the 80-400mm lens shows a hint of barrel distortion at 80mm and pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. In both cases, distortion can be easily corrected in post-processing.

Final Verdict

In conclusion, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 is specifically designed for sports and wildlife photography, offering superior optical stabilization, aberration control, flare/ghosting performance, and better bokeh quality.

On the other hand, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 provides more flexibility in framing shots, with a broader focal range and lighter weight, making it suitable for various photography scenarios, including portrait photography. This lens also boasts superior sharpness and decent distortion control.

If you are primarily focused on sports and wildlife photography and prioritize optical performance, the 200-500mm lens would be the better choice.

However, if versatility and the ability to capture portraits are important to you, and you’re willing to compromise slightly on some aspects of image quality, the 80-400mm lens could be the more suitable option.

Meet the Author

Wei Mao

Wei was a cruise photographer who worked at Disney Cruise Line. He is a lucky traveler who has been to more than 20 countries with his camera while working on an around-the-world cruise. Photography has changed his view of the world forever. Now he wants more people to benefit from photography through his blog.

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