I thought I would post this short and sweet article with my experiences so far with the new Nikon 800mm f5.6 Lens. This lens is just an engineering marvel, but then that is not the purpose of this short article. I mainly just wanted to share my experience with it so far and a few sample photos taken with it in the field. I have actually hand held this lens in a couple instances where the action happened in such a manner there was no time to tripod it or the bird was moving way to erratically.
First, here is a photo of the 800mm attached to the Nikon D4, all dressed up and ready to go. I have many Lens Coat products and I must say they have done a marvelous job on the lens coat for the 800mm, almost every inch of this delicate baby is totally covered and protected, more so than the lens coat for my 600mm.
The Arca handle is a nice touch when dragging this thing around in the field. For those that are interested in side stories, I named the lens Conan which is a play on words as its the biggest lens Nikon has, but yet in Irish it means ‘little wolf’ or ‘little hound’, both of which I find appropriate.
When we first purchased this lens our plan was not to try and make it a hand holding lens, but there have been a couple of photographic opportunities thrust upon me with no time to think, that it was hand holding or nothing. The opportunities happened with only seconds to minutes before the shot was gone and to me this is often what happens in the field, so I consider it a true test of this lens. Since I am talking hand holding right now, lets compare it to the 600mm lens.
It is actually half a kilo (17 ounces) lighter than the 600mm I regularly hand hold and I find it much more balanced. The 600mm definitely feels front heavy while the 800mm feels very balanced, this means I find myself able to hand hold the lens longer than the 600mm which is an added bonus. My gut feeling at this stage is not to say this lens ‘should be hand held‘ but more ‘it can be‘ and if that’s the only chance you have of getting the shot, then that’s a better chance than no shot.
Lets start with the first photo of a juvenile red tail hawk and let me describe the conditions that this photo was taken in. We pulled up at a car park area at the end of a long day photographing owls, it was late in the day, almost the kind of light you get before dusk. I saw a movement it the trees and spotted the hawk, it was about to grab a field mouse at the base of the tree, I grabbed the 800mm attached to the D4 that was ready to go in the back of the car. There was no time to mess with tripods and such, so I walked over to put myself in some sort of photographic opportunity which was a difficult prospect as the sky was that sucky winter gray sky we all love to hate at times. Because of the sky, I tried to place background trees behind the bird to give me a chance of a keeper shot. As you can see the conditions weren’t that great, so how did the 800mm perform in this environment?
NIKON D4 – F5.6 – ISO 1250 – Shutter 1/500th Sec – VR Normal
This is the resulting image and I think it speaks wonders for the power of the D4 combined with the 800mm lens, the photo looks awesome and there is wonderful detail in the bird. Remember the conditions were not that great, but if the 800mm can perform this well in those conditions then I can’t wait to see what future images it will bring me in good light. Below are two hundred percent crops so you can see the detail up close and evaluate for yourself.
I think those samples look terrific and I am totally impressed with the hand holding performance. This second image is again taken hand holding the 800mm in the same poor light, but now I have also placed darker trees behind the hawk which made shooting a bit tougher.
NIKON D4 – F5.6 – ISO 2000 – Shutter 1/800th Sec – VR Normal
These next two images will not only show you that it is possible to hand hold this beast, but that I would not have gotten these images without hand holding. There were a couple other photographers attempting to get this owl and let me tell you, they were all hand holding their various lenses as this owl flew at speed and with a totally erratic movement. It was a challenge just to get him in the view finder as he flew, he just kept moving in flight and constantly changing direction, I would consider this a good test for the 800mm. The light was ok, not terrific, it was a winter late afternoon light with a slight hint of snow falling, I would describe it as heavy overcast low light shooting conditions. The subject in question is a short-eared owl and it is approximately about 13 to 15 inches in height with a wingspan of approximately 35 inches, much smaller than a snowy owl or bald eagle for comparison.
NIKON D4 – F6.3 – ISO 400 – Shutter 1/1000th Sec – VR Normal
The image is pretty good for the conditions and hand holding, the eye is not quite as sharp as maybe it could have been but I am very happy with the result especially when you consider the crazy panning going on here.
The next image is of the same owl, but I had more time to stabilize myself and take time to get great hand held photos. The owl was in a snag, I took the stop and shoot approach, taking a few steps between each burst of photos. The last in the set were the closest and the best and are really beautiful examples of the 800mm in action in the field.
NIKON D4 – F5.6 – ISO 400 – Shutter 1/1000th Sec – VR Normal
Now a 100 percent crop of the face.
I wasn’t intending to challenge this lens or my skills by hand holding it, this just happened in a flurry of time with no time to think but I think you have to agree the photos I got are good quality and definitely keepers.
The last image I have to show at this stage is from the same day as the short eared owl in similar conditions except it is snowing fairly heavily and the D4 and 800mm are mounted on a Wimberley II Gimbal and Gitzo tripod. I had time to compose this shot and get the best look from the owl that was available at that time.
NIKON D4 – F6.3 – ISO 1000 – Shutter 1/1600th Sec – VR Normal
Here is a 100 percent crop of that photo, there is slight noise in the image but that is related to the shooting conditions and shooting through snow.
I hope I didn’t embarrass myself here with this post, but I figured that there would be people who would love to see real field photos and not shots set up under perfect conditions. When I get some perfect light opportunities I will post some sample images for you guys, but you can think of this as the 800mm poor lighting test.
I did have a set of shots get messed up with the 800mm attached to the D800, but I think it was all related to the Active VR mode somehow getting engaged on the VR settings and me not noticing it. All the shots were soft and blurred even though I was using good long lens technique on the gimbal and the bird was stationary (sitting). I haven’t had a chance but I am going to thoroughly test this scenario again and the 800mm with the D800.
For those that want to see the photo that was blurred from the 800mm with the D800 attached, on a Gimbal with good long lens shooting technique but Active VR accidently enabled, here it is. By the way there is a whole sequence of shots that are this bad, the light was good, the owl was sitting. VR must have got moved accidently while moving the tripod and camera into position and I didn’t notice, let me re-iterate I am not 100 percent sure of the cause of the bad images but can at this point only attribute it to the wrong VR setting being active.
NIKON D800 – F5.6 – ISO 250 – Shutter 1/2500th Sec – VR Active