Unequal Cousins: A comparison of Tamron 100-400 and Nikkor Z100-400 on the Z System

Nikon has recently released a long telephoto zoom lens for the Z-system, the Nikkor Z 100-400mm 1:4.5-5.6VR S. However, a Z 200-600 is still on the roadmap, but it will not be an „S“ lens and thus will likely be less expensive.

While the Z 100-400 is quite expensive, there are alternatives with an F-mount connection that can be used with an FTZ adapter, including the in-house AF-S 80-400 and AF-S 200-500, as well as the 100-400 from third-party manufacturers Tamron (Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD) and Sigma (Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary).

Other options include using other adapters and connecting Canon EF zooms such as the Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L is II USM via a Commlite or Fringer adapter or using Sony lenses (Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS) or third-party lenses with Sony E-mount (Sigma 100-400 (different construction than the F version), Tamron 50-400) via the Megadap adapter.

The writer has used the Sigma 100-400 for E before but was not completely satisfied. The options with the original EF or the Sony are only worthwhile if the lenses are obtained cheaply second-hand or if they are already owned. Otherwise, they are too close in price to the Z 100-400, and the disadvantages of the adapter solution (AF problems, mechanical issues, lack of sealing, and potential issues with future firmware versions) outweigh the benefits.

Since the writer has been using the Tamron 100-400 for some time and has been very satisfied with the results, they wanted to test the „highly acclaimed“ Z 100-400 to see how big the differences were.

Both lenses were bought by the writer (the Tamron was used), and the Nikkor was purchased during the 10% discount promotion, so no one influenced the test results, and there are no economic dependencies.

The Z 100-400 is significantly bulkier than the Tamron, and without the hood, it is about as thick as the Tamron with it. There is only a very slight difference in length, with the Tamron being 250mm (Tamron + FTZ 2) and the Nikkor being 242mm. The writer notes that both fit in their Atlas Athlete Pack, with the Tamron being slightly tighter. The Tamron can be made more compact for transport by removing the FTZ adapter (-2.8cm). While literature suggests that the Nikkor is 222mm in length, this is when it is mounted on the camera and without a lens cap. I prefer to mount the lens cap during transport…

There are also differences in weight. With/without the tripod foot, the Tamron weighs 1491g/1317g, while the Nikkor weighs 1532g/1449g. The tripod foot is not standard on the Tamron, and the one used by the writer is from „ishoot“ and is quite usable (and has an Arca-Swiss profile).


Here, the Nikkor lens clearly has more to offer. While both lenses are dust and splash resistant and have a stabilizer (VR), the differences are significant. The Tamron lens offers a VR switch as well as an AF/MF/Limiter (freely adjustable via docking station), and a mechanical lock switch.

The Nikkor Z 100-400 S lens offers an AF/MF switch, limiter (full or remote range), multi-function dial (which I have assigned to the aperture), mini display (aperture, focus, focal length), an L-FN button and 4 (distributed) L-FN2 buttons. The Nikkor lens does not have a lock (which is not really needed, at least not yet, since there is no „lens creep“).

The Nikkor lens hood has a tulip shape and a lock button, while the Tamron hood is straight. Neither lens has a polarizing filter „slot.“

It is also worth noting that the zoom range of the Tamron lens requires a 120° rotation of the wrist (difficult!), while the Nikkor lens covers the 100-400mm range with a rotation of about 80°.

The Tamron lens has a „classic“ focus, while the Nikkor lens has „focus by wire“. The former works without power and allows you to read the distance directly on the scale, while the latter offers a display and allows you to adjust the focus direction or speed through the camera menu. The F-mount makes the Tamron lens compatible with older Nikon DSLRs or other camera systems with an adapter (with AF!), such as my Olympus MFT cameras.

As for teleconverters, there is no satisfactory option for the Tamron lens at the moment. The Nikon F-teleconverters (TC14E, TC17E, TC20E) do not fit mechanically, the 1.4x from Kenko fits, but is not really satisfying optically or in terms of autofocus. Whether the original Tamron TC-X14 fits is unclear, as it is no longer listed on Tamron’s website. The Z-teleconverters (TC 1.4x and TC2.0x) fit the Nikkor lens, with the 1.4x reportedly performing quite well, but it costs almost as much as the Tamron lens alone…


There is a difference in aperture:
f/4.5 from 100-120mm
f/4.8 from 120-135mm
f/5.0 from 135 – 160mm
f/5.3 from 160-200mm
f/5.6 from 200-250mm
f/6.0 from 250-300mm
f/6.3 from 300mm

f/4.5 from 100-125mm
f/4.8 from 125-185mm
f/5.0 from 185-270mm
f/5.3 from 270-350mm
f/5.6 from 360mm

In general, the Nikkor is about 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop faster than the Tamron over most of the range.

There are also differences in the minimum focusing distance and maximum magnification. Personally, I like to use these long telephoto lenses for „pseudo-macro“ shots of animals with a flight distance, such as dragonflies or butterflies. While the Tamron has to stay at least 1.5m away throughout the focal length range (which can be quite annoying at times), the Nikkor can get as close as 98cm at 400mm and even just 75cm at 100mm.

However, the maximum magnification ratio is different: Tamron 1:3.6 Nikkor 1:2.6

In my tests, I achieved slightly different results. At the closest focusing distance of 400mm, I was able to capture a full-frame image of 108mm on a ruler (equivalent to 1:3) with the Tamron, and 89mm (equivalent to 1:2.5) with the Nikkor. Still an advantage for the Nikkor.

Additionally, the image stabilizer of the Nikkor works significantly better, with Nikon stating 5.5 EV, while Tamron does not provide such information. However, I would assume at least a 1.5-2 EV difference.

The filter thread size is also different by 2 sizes. The Nikkor has 77mm, as does the Z70-200mm or the ideal companion lens, the Z24-120mm. The Z20mm also has a 77mm filter thread. A very nice landscape combination for all subjects: Z20mm – Z24-120mm – Z100-400mm.

The Tamron, like almost all Tamron lenses, has a much smaller filter thread of 67mm, as does the Z17-28mm, Z28-75mm, and Z24-200mm.

Part 2 of the comparison (optical quality)

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