Birds are notoriously difficult to photograph, because they're flighty (pun intended) and far away. Fixed focal length telephoto lenses are great at cropping in close to your feathered friends, but the decent, sharp lenses are incredibly expensive. They also restrict your composition, which is why the Nikkor 80-400mm lens may just be the best bird photography lens in the world.
A bigger reach in bird photography means the difference between a good shot and a wimpy snap. A long telephoto lens will fill the frame without having to move closer to the subject, and the extra focal length increases perspective compression, which flatteringly isolates the bird from the background. Chances are, if you've shot with a telephoto lens that wasn't quite long enough, you'll know how frustrating it is when the subject is perfectly positioned but you're not close enough.
It's Much Cheaper Than Prime Alternatives
If you're shooting full-frame and want to get a 400mm reach, you're either going to try an extender on the lens you already have, in which you'll find the scene gets too dark, or you'll want to purchase a nice prime, which will set you back several thousand dollars. That's why, in my opinion, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is the best bird photography lens for the money at a touch over $2000 (or significantly cheaper pre-owned).
The Focal Length Range Is Super Useful
Nikon's 80-400mm comes into its own when you need flexibility. If you're lucky enough to get a bird come closer to you, that 400mm lens is going to be useless, because it'll either not focus close enough or the bird will be too big in the frame to be useful. The more flexible you are in your approach to wildlife photography, the more opportunities you can create, so this adaptability in focal length is crucial.
Brilliant Optics Provide Blindingly Sharp Results
It's not just about filling the frame but capturing a shot that's sharp and detailed. I've been shooting birds with this lens for several years now, and I'm still astounded by how sharp it really is. I've never had an issue with chromatic aberration either, even when shooting up against the sky. Focusing is always tack-sharp, and I am only ever let down by my clumsy trigger finger. The Vibration Reduction (VR) offers three stops of stabilization, which is more than enough to keep everything steady, even when tracking on a gimbal.
The only downside is the lens' ability to focus closely, which only comes down to about 1.75 m. Sure, other 100-400mm lenses do focus more closely, but in realistic terms, when was the last time you were less than two meters away from a shy bird? It might be more important to have close focusing abilities when it comes to sports photography, but not so much in the bird world. The focusing is also speedy, especially when you can engage the infinity to 6m switch to limit the focusing so it doesn't hunt from minimum to maximum points.
Overall, I love this lens and have yet to find a more flexible, reasonably priced, sharp lens for bird photography. But perhaps you've had a different experience? Or maybe there's a lens that I haven't mentioned that you love for birds. If so, share your thoughts with us down below.