Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5 – f/5.6G: Practical Safari Test

15 Sep 2015

Deciding on which lens to take on Safari can be a tough decision and mostly depends on your destination as well as how close you can get to your subject. I do a lot of safaris into the Sabi Sands area and to date I have used Nikon’s 200-400mm f/4 lens on one camera body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 on a second, allowing me to cover quite an extensive focal range from 70mm all the way up to 400mm. Until however, Nikon released the new 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6, which I decided to give a full safari workout on an 8 day trip to Sabi Sands.

Image of lion at night lit up with spotlight


The 80-400mm is a mere 1570g, in comparison to the 200-400mm’s weighty 3360g, but what does this mean to a photographer?

With the 80-400mm being considerably smaller, lighter and therefore easier to handle, I was able to capture more photographs, since getting quick out of hand shots with the 80-400mm was much more successful than with the 200-400mm. In addition, when travelling with small aircraft in Africa, baggage is always an issue and the 80-400mm is a much easier travel companion, saving you both space and valuable kg’s. I also picked the following up while watching my wife who also enjoys photography, that the 80-400mm would be the wiser option for women and children, seeing as the 200-400mm is more of a man-size lens.

Leopard walking next to river


The 200-400mm has an aperture of f/4 throughout its focal range while the 80-400mm starts at f/4.5 at 80mm and gradually changes to end at f/5.6. Shooting in low light, the 200-400mm would have the advantage, as you could shoot at 400mm at f/4 and get a extra stop of light and shutter speed as opposed to the 80-400mm at 400mm. So how did this affect my safari?

Not as much as I initially thought, I often shoot at f/5.6 when the light is good so this made no difference to me at all in the right lighting conditions. Shooting in lower light, however was a bit more challenging and here I found I was getting fewer sharp images than when I used the 200-400mm but I still got some great images shooting with a spotlight and fill flash. I was able to increase my ISO by one third leaving me with two thirds short on the shutter speed as opposed to the f/4 lens. By using a beanbag and trying to shoot when the subject was not moving too much, yielded some good results. In the end I found I could get by with a f/5.6 aperture.

Yellow hornbill sitting in a log

Sharpness and focusing

Both the 200-400mmm and 80-400mm lenses are extremely sharp and deliver great image clarity and quality. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the 80-400mm lens as my images were as sharp as the 200-400mm’s images. I imagine that if the lenses were compared side by side and you photographed the same subject under the same conditions the 200-400mm would be marginally sharper but I was very pleased with the sharpness and quality of the 80-400mm lens in both good- and lowlight conditions. The focusing of the 80-400mm is just as fast as the 200-400mm and I could find no difference between the two.



Here the 200-400mm has the advantage over the 80-400mm, it is a much more robust lens and it could probably handle an accidental drop or knock better than the 80-400mm, however I did not find the 80-400mm flimsy at all. The tripod collar of the 200-400mm is easier and smoother to work with than the 80-400mm’s.

Silhouette of branches with sun in background

Focal Range and second camera body


When using the 200-400mm I need to have a second camera body handy, often with a 70-200mm lens mounted, just in case the subject is closer than 200mm or if I want a wider view of my subject. When using the 80-400mm lens I found that I never used the second camera body with the 70-200mm lens attached, since the 80-400mm had all the focal ranges covered. I could now put the 24-70mm lens on the second camera body and this in turn opened up new opportunities for me.


A new 200-400mm is currently selling for about R137 940.00 while a new 80-400mm is currently selling for around R30 805.00

Leopard lying in grass looking over shoulder



I can highly recommend the 80-400mm lens and it is a great lens to go on Safari with, it is fast, sharp and easy to travel with and use. It is also more affordable than the 200-400mm and the image quality, sharpness and clarity can hold up well against the 200-400mm. I would most certainly use the 80-400mm again and if I didn’t already own a 200-400mm I would more than likely buy a 80-400mm lens!

About the Author:
Andrew is an avid and dedicated wildlife photographer based in Nelspruit. Andrew grew up in the Nelspruit area and spent as much time as possible on the family game farm where he developed his passion for wildlife and nature. As this passion grew it was inevitable that Andrew would end up working permanently in the Bush, and subsequently together with his wife Nicolene spent 12 years working in the bush, Andrew as a ranger and photographic guide as well as managing lodges in Southern and East Africa including 4 ½ years in the world famous Sabi Sand game reserve at Exeter Game Lodges, 2 years in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park at Klein’s Camp and 1 year in the well know Okavango Delta in Botswana at Xaranna Tented Camp. During Andrew and Nicolene’s time away from the lodges they spent their time camping and traveling to some of Africas greatest wildlife and photographic destinations such as visiting the Gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, exploring Zanzibar, the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, the Masai Mara, Namibia,Zambia and Zimbabwe. Andrew has attained the highest level of guiding qualifications in South Africa, he was appointed as the official photographic guide for &Beyond in East Africa and Botswana where he hosted and assisted many guests with their photography. Andrew is passionate about wildlife, birding and Photography , his knowledge of animal and bird behavior together with his technical photographic know how is immense and has been put this to good use while capturing some amazing and memorable wildlife images across Southern and East Africa. Andrew has had no formal photographic training but has had many years in the bush perfecting his art through trial and error in search of the best wildlife images available.

One Comment

  1. Lotty 15 Sep 2015 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    Really nice and helpful blog!
    Would have loved to see some exif-details with those images though, just to see which body was used for example.


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