Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR Announcement

Along with the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens has also been announced (the first announcement was posted here). Initially, I wanted to post both announcements in a single article, but after reading about the new 800mm lens in detail, I decided to do a separate post on it. Why? Because the new 800mm has a lot of new technological advancements that I believe will make their way into future Nikkor lenses. At a jaw-dropping price of $17,899.95, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 is surely not for everyone. However, considering what this lens has to offer, there is no other equivalent lens on the market today in terms of optical performance – more on this below.

Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR

Until the 800mm f/5.6 came out, Nikon’s longest super telephoto lens was the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR. To get longer focal lengths, one would have to use teleconverters – 2.0x with the 400mm f/2.8 to get to 800mm f/5.6, 1.4x with the 500mm f/4 to get to 700mm f/5.6 or 1.4x with the 600mm f/4 to get to 840mm f/5.6. Unfortunately, no other TC combination resulted in acceptably good autofocus performance and accuracy. So why do we need a dedicated 800mm f/5.6 lens, if one could get to 800mm with teleconverters? Because teleconverters degrade image quality, AF performance and AF accuracy, whereas properly arranging optical elements inside the lens can yield maximum performance. So a true 800mm lens will always yield better results than a shorter lens with a teleconverter attached to it. In addition, with the latest generation Nikon DSLRs that can autofocus at small apertures up to f/8, one could get even longer focal lengths with a separate teleconverter. Which is exactly what Nikon did with the 800mm that ships with the TC800-1.25E teleconverter that provides additional magnification to get to 1000mm. Sounds like an overkill, but it has its uses – whether in sport, news, wildlife photography or other special needs.

Aside from the added focal length, what else does the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E have to offer? First of all, the lens is the first of a kind from Nikon to feature fluorite elements, which provide superior optical characteristics than glass and reduced weight. That’s where the new abbreviation “FL” comes in for the first time – it indicates a lens with one or more fluorite elements. Nikon did not indicate in its marketing materials exactly how fluorite works when compared to glass and how much lighter it truly is. If it is significantly lighter, we might soon start seeing the same technology on older super telephoto lenses or newer professional lenses. Second, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E is also the first Nikon lens that comes with an electronic diaphragm, which is supposed to allow for better and more accurate blade control. While diaphragm blades on conventional “D” and “G” type lenses are operated by mechanical linage levers, the new “E” type lenses will be controlled electronically. I am not exactly sure yet of the full advantages of the electronic diaphragm, but again, we might start seeing more “E” lenses going forward. Lastly, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 is an insanely sharp lens that has no equivalents. Take a look at its crazy MTF chart:

Nikon 800mm f/5.6E MTF

I recently posted an article on how to read MTF charts. One thing that I pointed out in the article, is the definition of a “perfect lens”, which would look like a flat line on the top of an MTF curve. I first said that a perfect lens does not exist, so a straight line MTF curve is impossible to get. However, the above MTF chart tells a different story – the 800mm f/5.6 is pretty darn close to being perfect. In comparison, even the superb Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II does not show the same type of optical performance. I don’t know if it is the design of the lens or the fluorite elements that are to blame for this, but there is nothing from Nikon that performs close to what the 800mm f/5.6 is capable of. Impressive, isn’t it?

I can’t wait to see what these technologies can do to enhance future Nikkor lenses. Wouldn’t a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E FL ED VR be superb? Or better yet, a Nikon 300mm f/4E FL ED VR would be very nice…

Preorder Links

The Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR is available for a preorder from our partner B&H for $17,899. Expected availability is April of 2013.


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. Hi Nasim

    The MTF is really great! I read that it is easier to get a good MTF chart with high focal lenghts. But I don’t know if it’s true. I’m very looking forward to your MTF-tutorial!

    Oliver

    • Oliver, yes, it is much harder to design wide angle zoom lenses when compared to telephoto prime lenses. Many of the Nikon super telephotos have excellent MTF charts, but this one tops them all.

  2. Thats some crazy MTF chart :O This is a “god lens”! No wonder its so expensive.

    • Yup, I have never seen an MTF chart like that before.

  3. The mtf chart looks great. It will be interesting to see the difference between the 500mm and 600mm +TC and the 800mm in real life.

    • Rainer, I have access to 500mm and 600mm lenses, but the 800mm would be tough to get to do a real comparison. But I will try anyway, we’ll see how it goes :)

      • That would be nice!

        So far we have only the sample images from nikon, but they do not look so impressive that one has to pay so much extra. I would guess that you could achieve the same results with a 600mm +tc14 or with the the 500/600mm and a D7000/D300s under adequate light conditions. The 800mm will presumably be the better choice, if you have to shoot wide open under poor light conditions or you need the fastest Af-Speed (like in sports photography for example, http://www.leonneal.com/blog/portfolio/item/nikon-800mm-f5-6-preview/ ). But anyway, the lens will be out of reach for me…

  4. 4
    ) Viv

    I purchased 2 super-teles this month (the 600mm F/4 and 400mm F/2.8) this 800 will blow them outa the water.

    This is probably the dawn of the next generation of super telephoto lenses with fluorite elements, electronic aperture control and lower weight albeit at stratospheric prices.

    Strangely enough Nikon is now adopting key features of Canon’s lens line up that have been prevalent since 1987 i.e. electronic aperture control and fluorite elements.

    • Viv, congrats – 600mm f/4 and 400mm f/2.8 are both superb. But why buy both? Do you need to use them both at the same time, or did you get a good deal that you could not pass? :)

      • 28
        ) Viv

        Thank you Nasim.

        I did get a reasonably good deal from my dealer. The 400mm is mainly for shooting in low light in the dense jungles/rain forests of Asia.

        It was a tie between the Nikon 200-400 F/4 G zoom and the 400mm F/2.8. The latter obviously won. :)

        I am not a pro so I don’t foresee ever being able to justify (or afford) the new 800mm.

    • 40
      ) Nikonguy

      Nice article. One minor correction:
      Nikon already has 3 other E-type lenses, making this 800/5.6 their 4th E-type lens:

      24/3.5 PC, 45/2.8 PC, and 85/2.8 PC.
      All are E-type lenses.
      The first of these, the 24mm, was announced back in in January 2008.

  5. For stratospheric prices, how about the Leica 1600mm f 1:5.6, at a cool $2M or there abouts! However, you need a Leica camera and possibly an armored vehicle to carry it around. Now, that is ground breaking.

    • $2M !!! – that is some jaw-dropping price. Who buys those?

    • I remember reading about that Leica – I think some rich prince in the middle east owns one.

  6. 7
    ) Adnan Khan

    Insanely expensive!
    I was hoping it to be around 8 to 9 K … no ,not for me :(
    And why the dedicated TC ? . they could have introduced a new TC… and with this TC or others only 3 new FX cameras will auto focus D3s will focus without the TC
    Nikon lost a lot of potential customers I think … around 8K , I was realty thinking of dropping the 200-400 and get this one.
    BTW on most products Nikon already makes 3 times the profit from a product.
    The 1200-1700 is selling around 100K
    I think ” FL” stands for fluff lunacy :)

    Thanks for the info Nasim :)
    cheers!

    • Adnan, I knew it would not be $8-9K – otherwise it would put too much pressure on the 500mm/600mm lens sales. I was expecting it to be at $12K or so…

      I do not think Nikon will make much money out of this lens. In fact, they will probably lose money making it, because not many people will be buying it and supporting such a small production will be a costly proposition.

      • 34
        ) Adnan Khan

        Only reason I thought of it to be under 10K is the 5.6 aperture otherwise the 500 and 600 are F4 ,a 600 with all the TC’s can still AF with D4 at this price …hmm …that’s a much better idea :) ,one gets the camera too! :)

  7. Nasim, I think you will need a larger family room to shoot your test charts.

    • 11
      ) Davis Chen

      Nah, he’ll just need to stand in his neighbor’s house across the way and shoot the chart through both of their open front doors!

      • LOL Davis, I was planning to attach a 2x teleconverter on it, I don’t think my neighbor’s house will do… :D

    • Haha Tom :) I will need to place the chart at your house and shoot it from mine!

  8. While it looks like a great lens, it is way out of league of hobbyist like me. I was wondering what is the cheapest one can get in 3rd party lens for equivalent focal length?

    • Desi, it depends on how much you want to spend. For super telephoto lenses, I would not go with a third party brand. None of them have anything good to offer above the 400mm range, except maybe for Sigma that has the monster 200-500mm f/2.8 “monster” lens.

      • 25
        ) EricL

        desi, I agree with Nasim buying third party lens seems like a cheap quick fix and Sigma seem to be the best of the bunch. I tried the Sigma 800 this summer at a nature fair which was well supported by the main manufacturers and was disappointed with the speed and sharpness of this lens compared to my manual nikon. I managed to pick up a secondhand Nikon AFi 500mm a few years ago and it really is sharp although a little noisy compared to a AFS. It cost less than half new price and built like a tank.

        • Thanks Nasim and EricL. This helps in planning

  9. 10
    ) jason

    The MTF blew me away when I saw it too. Unreal! But I also read somewhere that Nikon & Canon don’t actually measure the MTF scores, like *I think* Zeiss does, but rather they are projections about how the lens should perform (estimates). But still, this lens will be killer sharp!

    • Jason, as far as I know Nikon actually measures MTF data instead of calculating it like Canon does. In testing Nikon lenses with Imatest, I often found my test results to closely match Nikon’s MTF data, which leads me to think that the data is not simulated. But I am not 100% certain about this – I do not think anyone knows for sure how the MTF data is calculated. As for Canon, it is a known fact that their MTF data is calculated instead of being actually measured. And you are right about Zeiss – they do measure MTF in a real lab.

      That’s not to say that Canon’s MTF data is invalid. In many ways, it is probably pretty darn close to what a measured MTF would look like. It is just tough to actually measure MTF, because it requires a very calibrated lab setup and a perfect lens sample…

  10. 23
    ) EricL

    Well I thought the new 8oo would be pricy. However, I think Nikon have got their sums about right for the very wealthy amateur market and those pros who have companies with deep pockets. Those pros who are feed up of Nikon being too conservative in their product line up have already switched to the opposition. Trying to compete with Canon must be difficult, they have had a 800 out for a number of years now, and is a hot lens.

    I have the manual focus 800mm and it is incrediably sharp, I did some test shots with a lens chart when I bought the lens (I had it on approval first) and even at forty foot away the fine lines are still keeping their clearly defined edge. (Mounted on a D700) So if Nikon has improved on this again then those who want the sharpest lens in town will need to do some serious saving.

    Me my next big lens is the 600 f/4 and mount it on a D4. I had a play with this combination last year and was blown away by the picture quality.

  11. 24
    ) Peter Looper

    I second the Nikon 300mm f/4E FL ED VRe you suggested Nasim! That is one lens we really need.

  12. 27
    ) Dave

    This seems ideal for shooting large, dangerous animals from a safe distance.

  13. 29
    ) Viv

    My thoughts: if the new 800 = cost of 600mm F/4 + the 400mm F/2.8, I’d rather have the combination of 2 lenses. Gives me more flexibility in terms of focal length with or without TCs.

    I’ll carry only 1 of my super teles (due to their weight and dimensions) with a Nikon D4. I can convert a 400mm 2.8 into a 800mm 5.6 by attaching a TC 2.0 (or a 600mm F/4 into a 840mm 5.6 with a TC1.4, or if I choose to push it, a 1200mm F8 with TC2.0) but can’t turn a 800 5.6 into a 400 2.8 or 600 F/4

    The IQ of the 800mm will be far superior but I am willing to forego a bit of IQ for the flexibility and price advantage. This is IMHO please. The next release of the 600 and 400 should have all or most the technologies we see in the 800mm today.

    • 30
      ) EricL

      Hi Viv, I completely agree if money and carrying weight is important to you then the 600 f/4 with TC’s are the route to go. However using the manual 800 version this year in Scotland has been an absolute revelation especially with TC’s. The focusing is the hard part when using TC’s as I have found with the 500 so opting for a straight AF 800 f5.6 and the new focusing sensors fitted to the D4 D800, should make this combo a killer for sport and wildlife. if like me you spend a fair amount of time just waiting for the action to happen the 800 also makes a good field scope especially with TC’s mounted.

      That said I did have the conversation at home last night that ended in the usual ‘HOW MUCH’!

      • 31
        ) Viv

        Hi Eric,

        The ‘How much’ is the scary part. I’d be looking at some serious domestic disagreements, probably worse, should I ever choose to discuss this with the wife. :) No way I could ever convince her unless I sell of a significant part of my kit to offset the cost.

        I am an amateur & really cannot justify $18K on a lens. This new 800mm is the probably the glass/lens equivalent of a Lamborghini/Ferrari/Aston Martin that I can only lust after but not buy.

        The 600 & 400 joined my 300 F/2.8 VR II that was purchased in mid 2011. I am through with my quota of exotics for some years to come. :)

        Cheers!

  14. 32
    ) Jonathan

    I’m surprised that it took Nikon this long to use Fluorite. Canon has been using that material in their lenses for a while. Astronomical telescopes have been using it in refracting telescopes for good effect for quite some time (at least in the 90′s and later). To give you an idea, astronomical telescopes with just three elements, with one of them Fluorite, can rival the best camera lenses at infinite-focus in terms of sharpness and off-axis aberration control. Stars photographed at night are the ultimate test of lens aberrations, especially off-axis, thus why astronomical telescopes have to be so good (at least at infinite focus). Yet they can do this with only two or three elements, thanks to elements made of materials like Fluorite.

    Thus, I’m not surprised that Nikon can design/build such a good lens using Fluorite. They’ve gotten close without it, now they’re finally using that material, their results are even better.

    As a side-note, the Sigma 200-500 F/2.8 doesn’t seem so expensive anymore for anyone considering this 800mm! :)

    • 33
      ) Adnan Khan

      Yes , fluorite is not a new tech. ,for astronomical telescopes one needs giant tripods and carrying them from point A to B is what a wildlife PG will consider first ,it’s a 4.5 KG lens ,so for ppl. who are used to carry 20 KG of gear in wilderness it’s not much of a big deal.
      The price tag says : ” I AM NIKON” ! :)
      As for Sigma ,one needs 2 dedicated Shirpas from Nepal or one Mule :) and it’s around 25K i think …. another Sigma stunt like their half frame 12K camera :) (which dropped to 4 K or so
      ) and add 2 to 3 K for tripod and head as well :)

      cheers!

      • 35
        ) Jonathan

        Absolutely true, Adnan :) I use a 127mm F/7.5 APO telescope with a 0.8x reducer, which is a 760mm F/6 lens equivalent. IQ rivals my best “regular” lenses (including my Nikon 70-200 VRII), but it’s 20lbs for the telescope alone, is much longer than the 800mm lens, requires a beefy tripod, and lacks AF, an aperture, and VR :)

        But it’s also only $2500, so I’m willing to deal with those shortcomings :)

  15. 36
    ) TCP

    The price is insane, Looks like one of those rare lenses which will made only few and sold
    I would compare this with Canon where its priced less and I prefer using that option compare to this
    But its just me…
    Thanks

    • 38
      ) Adnan Khan

      Yes ,the Canon lens is tried n tested and owned by many Canon shooters who want this focal range.
      But, this Nikon lens will be far superior to anything from anyone.
      If only 800mm is one wants ,then in this Nikon lens’s price the Canon 800mm and 1DX can be bought :)

  16. 37
    ) Adnan Khan

    That’s why no serious wildlife PG has never thought or tried this ,not to my knowledge :)

    Though Nikon has a Digiscoping system and the newest telescopes have VR and aperture control ,with different adapters one can mount PnS to DSLRs on them and they are not heavy or bulky ,I looked into the top end system it nearly goes above 5K , so ,I thought a normal photo tele lens would be better as it is for PG.
    Ppl. were taking great pictures with AI-s MF lenses long before AF,VR and digital and the good thing is they still meter and mount on current cameras which give green dot for in focus conformation.

    For this price you should look into used AI-s lenses ,even heavily used ones are in perfect condition as they are very well built
    2 yrs ago I turned down a very reasonable offer of a 600 5.6 AI-s with TC in A class condition ,now it is haunting me :) LOL

  17. 39
    ) Mike

    Nikon manufactured an AIS 400 mm F5.6 lens , prior to putting gold rings on its lenses, that contained at lease one element of flourite crystal. They only did this for less than 2 years until changing to low dispersion glass.

  18. Serious question. When shooting test charts with this lens, could heat defraction actually be an issue?

    The temperature of the day could affect the result!

    • 44
      ) Adnan Khan

      In controlled environment it cannot effect but in real shooting it does ,I have shot at same place with same lens 70-300 at 300mm at noon and late afternoon before sunset ,the results are so different that one cannot believe it’s the same lens or place :)

  19. 42
    ) Jeff Kennedy

    Not to be a stick-in-the-mud, but I’d much prefer to see you complete your review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens — a lens that thousands more photographers could actually afford to buy, carry and use — than spending time discussing this ultra-specialized lens that virtually no one on this blog will actually use….

    • 46
      ) Adnan Khan

      I’m not being rude Jeff ,but this post is about the 800mm lens ,so, what should we talk about ? … weather … :)
      You should post your request at the 70-200 F4′s post.
      And if you are serious about getting the 70-200 F4 , just get it! It’s a fantastic zoom and you will be very pleased with it :)

      If the price of this 800mm actually useful lens was sane ,I am a potential buyer at 9 K or even can stretch to 10 K ,though I might mount it for 3-4 days in a year for migratory birds :) and I’m just a non serious hobbyist. You will be seeing ppl. posting images from it as soon as it starts shipping.

      cheers!

      • 48
        ) Spy Black

        Actually I’m more curious of the 70-200 f/2.8 Tamron. I would love to see a direct comparison of the 70-200 f/4 Nikkor with the 7-200 f/2.8 Tamron. There’s roughly a $100 difference between the two, and if at f/4+ the two lenses are not that optically different, than it would be obvious which would be a better investment. ;-)

        • 49
          ) Spy Black

          I suppose this wasn’t the best place to post this LOL!

  20. 43
    ) Peter

    I can see two practical purposes for this lens: (1) for use by sports/wildlife pro photographers who will rent them and (2) for tourists visiting the middle east who want protection. Put in on your shoulder and you’ve got a simulated RPG . Placed on the ground at a 75 degree angle and you’ve got a 60mm mortar. A third reason involves Freud but I won’t get into that.

    $18,000! Don’t forget to add sales tax($1080) and freight charges ($250).

    • 45
      ) Adnan Khan

      LOL , Peter , Sigma already has a more larger “RPG” and it’s even bigger than an 81mm mortar ,placed on a pickup it looks like a Canon just have to paint it camo :) , this one is just a 4.5KG toy :)
      cheers!

      • 47
        ) Peter

        Humm! An 81mm mortar is superior, I must admit, but I think Nikon is more accurate. So, we’ll have to wait ans see what mititary tells us. The stats from Egypt should be in soon.

  21. 50
    ) Donz

    Yip, bring on the Nikon 300mm f/4E FL ED VR !! : )

  22. 51
    ) Chris

    Nasim,
    as always, very positive and informative blog, well done, thank you. I am so impressed by the 800mm that I have pre-ordered one (crazy, I know), and will thus be able to compare it to the 600mm f/4 on a Nikon D4. It seems logical to me to include the 1.4x tele-converter on the 600mm for the comparison (I get very sharp images with this combination). Can you recommend a simple but decent method (sample object and distance) for comparison that would be of interest to readers?

    • Chris, congratulations, I am sure the 800mm won’t disappoint. As for the comparison method, that one won’t be easy. If you have a high resolution printer, print out a test chart in letter size, hang it on an even wall, then move back until you can to fit the chart in your viewfinder. Then take pictures at various apertures from wide open to stopped down to f/16 and compare the output between the two. Your biggest issue will be to keep the setup steady. Even with a Wimberley head, you will have to engage the lens via a trigger, with exposure delay set to 3 seconds. Good luck with that :)

      I am planning to get the 800mm for a comparison as well. Let me know when you get an ETA on yours!

      • 55
        ) Chris

        Nasim, I will do a very careful comparison, maybe rather on a fluffy animal as suggested by Afnan below as it is “real life”. So far there are very few examples with this marvelous lens, I will let you know as soon as I have an ETA. Take care!

      • Hi Nasim,

        Finally the 800mm will be arriving tomorrow on the last day of May. There has been quite a delay by Nikon. I would like to work on a review that is hopefully useful to interested photographers. Can you please send me an email so I can explain details?

        • Christian, I apologize for a late reply. I will send an email to you shortly.

    • Congratulations Chris :)
      I won’t say it’s crazy , if I had the budget I’d bought it too! hobby has no limits :)

      The chart tests are good but what about real life tests ?
      I think putting a kid’s toy like a tiny fluffy teddy bear in 8 to 12 inch size in open at 200 to 300 feet would be also nice , would love to see 100% crop of that too!

      cheers!

      • 54
        ) Chris

        Thank you Afnan, I will gladly follow your suggestion. Hopefully I will have the lens by mid-April and will report here on the result. Take care!

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