Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR User Review

One of our readers, Christian Sasse, sent me a user review of the new Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR lens that has recently been announced by Nikon. I have not yet been able to obtain one myself (still waiting for NPS to drop ship it), so I requested Christian to provide some information, along with image samples from the lens for our future section called “User Reviews”, where we will be publishing shorter reviews of camera gear sent by our readers. Below is a summary of his findings.

Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR

Big thanks to Nasim and his team at Photography Life for letting me post my short review of the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E that I recently acquired for my wildlife photography needs. Since I have been using the Nikon 600mm f/4 before getting my hands on the 800mm f/5.6 lens, I decided to compare the two lenses, with the 1.4x teleconverter attached to the 600mm f/4. But before I go there, I would first like to talk about size differences between the two lenses. Here is an image showing the two lenses side by side (Top: Nikon 800mm f/5.6E, Bottom: Nikon 600mm f/4):

Nikon 800mm vs 600mm Comparison

As you can see, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E is slightly longer than the 600mm f/4. However, that length difference is practically negated because of the shorter hood on the 800mm f/5.6. What I like about the hood on the 800mm, is that it is a single unit, versus the two stacked hoods on the 600mm f/4. This also means that you can assemble the setup quicker in the field. The weight distribution due to the fluoride lenses on the 800mm f/5.6 make it not only lighter but also well balanced, as it is no longer front-heavy, but instead has the center of gravity in the middle. I highly recommend to invest in a good tripod system with a Gimbal head, to buy protection for the lens (LensCoat is my top choice) and have a good protective case to store it – this is obviously a heavy investment.

Bald Eagles Fighting

I performed a preliminary comparison of the 800mm lens with the 600mm f/4 + TC-14E II (1.4x) using the Edmund Scientific Resolution Chart. Here are some 100% crops for your pixel peeping pleasure (Left: Nikon 600mm f/4 + TC-14E II, Right: 800mm f/5.6):

Nikon 600mm f/4 + TC-14E II Nikon 800mm f/5.6

Both were shot on the Nikon D4 @ f/5.6, 1/2000 shutter speed to diminish camera shake. Because these lenses are huge and their focal length is so long, it was actually a difficult test to conduct, even if you have a very stable tripod and a delay timer. After taking repeated tests, the results seem inconclusive as the resolution of the Nikon 600mm f/4 is superb and to be honest, I cannot really see the difference. I think a more detailed analysis using the right tools in a controlled environment will identify which one of the lenses truly resolves more detail. Plus, a high-resolution DSLR like the Nikon D800 would be more suitable for this job.

Bald Eagle with Fish

Now that’s just my take on resolution. There are clearly some differences between the two lenses worth pointing out though. First, auto-focus speed is amazingly fast and accurate when compared to the 600mm f/4. It works very smooth with the D4 and is nearly always instantaneous, provided that you upgrade the camera firmware to the latest version. If you forget to upgrade the firmware, you will be surely disappointed with this lens, since autofocus will work erratically on an unsupported Nikon DSLR.

Bald Eagles in Air

Second, contrast and colors are just outstanding – check out some of the images in this short review. Third, the VR is exceptional for video on the D4 compensating well for moderately heavy winds on the coasts. I was very pleased with eagle videos I took with the setup. Here is a sample video (warning, the image is a little graphic):

Since the Nikon D4 can autofocus with f/8 lenses, my next goal is try it out with the TC-14E II, which will give me a focal length of 1120mm! The Nikon 600mm would need the TC-20E III to get to that range and as you may already know, it does not work well with anything longer than the TC-14E II…

Bald Eagle Vertical

In summary, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E seems to be an outstanding lens for sports and wildlife photography. Now I need to go back and take more wildlife pictures with it. Perhaps I will send an update to this short review later, as I play more with it. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below!

Bald Eagle Portrait

All images and video copyright of Christian Sasse, 2013.

Going forward, we are planning to publish more user reviews like these. If you would like to review any photography gear (cameras, lenses, accessories, etc), please use our Submit Content form and we will get it published. We will make sure to credit you via a link to your website/blog/portfolio, so it will be a great exposure for you personally (we have over 50,000 daily visitors) and your website will receive a “do-follow” link from us, which will increase your search engine rankings.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) StevenP
    June 11, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    the images are amazing…for a lens of that focal length, even with the 1.4x TC they are still exceedingly sharp. Need to re-mortgage the house for it though :-)

  2. 2
    ) Tom Redd
    June 11, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Thank you Christian for taking the time to review this monster. I will be excited to see this lens in person, in the meantime, keep us posted as to your thoughts. Thanks for the great pics that you have shared here.

  3. 3
    ) Eric
    June 12, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Thank you for sharing. Amazing pictures. Taken in Alaska?

    • 11
      ) Romeo Oscar
      June 12, 2013 at 6:04 am

      Well said!!!

    • 12
      ) SassePhoto
      June 12, 2013 at 6:06 am

      Thank you Eric, these were taken in my area around Vancouver, B.C.

  4. 4
    ) Gary
    June 12, 2013 at 12:53 am

    This guy has got more money than sense, save yourselves a fortune and get a D7100 instead…

    http://garyksmithphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/sensor-sizes-for-stock-shooting-and-is.html

    • 32
      ) preston
      June 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      I’ll translate for people that get put off by unnecessarily rude comments –

      “Thanks for the post Christian. I can’t justify spending that much money for a lens myself, but I’ve found that using a shorter lens and the crop factor of the D7100 gives me results at an 800mm equivalent that I’m very happy with!”

      • 45
        ) Roger
        June 23, 2013 at 8:37 pm

        Good one, Preston.

        My Nikon 300mm f/4 with a TC-14E on my D7100 (same pixel density as the D800E) gives very good IQ for a lot less money. But someday, I’ll rent an 800mm f/5.6 and try it out on the D7100 in sub-DX crop mode and see how that works. Also, above 1/1600th sec. I see no point in using VR. Enjoyed reading Christian’s review and perusing his superb photos.

    • 54
      ) Glen Miller
      August 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      A little more respect would be in order for this forum. Glad to see Preston’s and Roger’s replies.

  5. 5
    ) Robert
    June 12, 2013 at 1:55 am

    I just saw the new lens case for the 800mm: http://on.fb.me/11ynomq

    • June 12, 2013 at 3:02 am

      Haha, that was a good one! :)

    • 13
      ) SassePhoto
      June 12, 2013 at 6:11 am

      Wonderful!!!

  6. 6
    ) Michael
    June 12, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Thanks for the review Christian, a question if I may. I am using the 600 f4 at f5.6 and f8 and when I focus on the eye of the bird, similar to your static shots of the eagles, ther is very little razor sharp other than the point of focus when viewed at pixel level. I am using the D800, perhaps this is the problem? any ideas?

    Many thanks

    Michael

    • 13
      ) SassePhoto
      June 12, 2013 at 6:11 am

      Michael, to focus on the eye of the bird is correct, I do similar. As regards the D800, I noticed poor focus on mine with long lenses at first and was puzzled. When I then performed AF adjust to a value of +6, the resolution was slightly better than the D4. If you would like to discuss this in detail, please write to me. Thank you!

      • 48
        ) Michael
        July 28, 2013 at 3:27 am

        Hi,
        Thanks for the reply, sorry if I am late in responding, been on holiday.
        I have adjusted the AF fine tune and am happy with the sharpness at the point of focus, even with the D800.
        I appreciate that 600mm on a D800 viewing at pixel size is quite a task, but I was hoping yo get a bit more dof at f5.6 and f8.
        With this combination am I resigned to never get much more than the eye in sharp focus?

        Thanks again
        Michael

  7. 7
    ) Nigel
    June 12, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Excellent hands-on review (and great image content). On the Edmund Chart, I thought the 800mm edged it

    • 15
      ) SassePhoto
      June 12, 2013 at 6:13 am

      Yes it does, if you are interested, the 800mm “edges it” at the edges, as to be expected from the excellent MTF curve. Maybe we can post this result here too

  8. 9
    ) desi Traveler
    June 12, 2013 at 3:37 am

    Looks like a wonderful lens, thanks for a detailed review. I guess the final choice will be dependent on the money one wants to invest, considering the price difference between 600 mm and 800 mm

  9. 10
    ) bombom
    June 12, 2013 at 3:55 am

    The cost is a killer…

  10. 16
    ) Aruna
    June 12, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Beautiful images. I guess this is from Brackendale? Been there once, last year. I can’t ever afford that lens. Thanks for the review and the photos.

    • 17
      ) SassePhoto
      June 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Aruna – thank you, these were taken in my area around Vancouver, B.C.

  11. June 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Beautiful pictures.

  12. 19
    ) Monte
    June 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    To be honest I don’t see the value in this lens. Images appear quite soft. I have been using the 600 F4 and 200-400 F4 Nikkors and both are noticeable sharper than these samples. Also mounted on the D4 and handheld, no tripod. Sample below from this weekend.

    • 20
      ) Marcelo Tezza
      June 12, 2013 at 9:11 pm

      Monte, your images to me seems to be much sharpened in software than the images shown here by Nasim, i’dont really know but, the imagem from Naim seems to have more information really and yours seems to be a little hard edgie.
      Do you agree?

      • 24
        ) SassePhoto
        June 12, 2013 at 9:31 pm

        Marcelo, that is how I see it too – I did not sharpen so that it is as close to Raw as possible. Sharpening is a matter of taste, not quality

        • 27
          ) Marcelo Tezza
          June 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm

          Sorry SassePhoto, your images, not Nassim’s.

    • June 12, 2013 at 9:28 pm

      Monte, your image is over-sharpened. Any of the posted images can be sharpened the same way, giving an impression that the lens is sharper. It is not the lens here, it is the way the image was processed. I do not like to over-sharpen images…

      The 800mm is the sharpest Nikon super telephoto ever produced. Take a look at its MTF chart and compare it to the 600mm f/4 or the 200-400mm :)

      • 28
        ) Monte
        June 12, 2013 at 10:14 pm

        Fair enough, My mistake for not reading seeing the part that said they were straight out of camera. Which begs the question: Why? RAW images need to be sharpened. Different degrees for different tastes. Over sharpened to you does not mean over sharpened to everyone.
        Can a processed image be posted? I don’t see much point in posting a SOOC image, this is not the way they will be displayed or printed.

        I am not trying to be argumentative, here. These are great captures, not great images in my opinion and I was expressing that I did not see the value in the lens for that reason.

        • June 12, 2013 at 10:28 pm

          Monte, no, the images are processed from RAW and sharpened enough. Anything more would look too fake and too obvious. This is obviously a matter of taste, but I do not like over-sharpened images myself. There should be enough fine detail to stand out, but not with visible borders in my opinion.

    • 23
      ) SassePhoto
      June 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Great image Monte. It has been clearly sharpened (mine here are left soft intentionally) and this is a good example of what can be done with prime lenses from 300 mm to 800 mm – they all perform well on close portraits. The difference I noticed so far is that the 800 mm lens is extremely fast in focus and gives you all the advantage of a longer lens with excellent contrast. I am still learning with this new lens and need to live up to its excellence.

  13. 21
    ) Marcelo Tezza
    June 12, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Nasim, the bokeh on the photo 5 seems to me not silky smooth, what are your impressions?

    • June 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      It looks pretty good to me. Remember, bokeh depends on many factors such as camera to subject distance, subject to background distance, aperture, focal length and optics. The last shot was taken with the TC-14E II attached to the lens (1120mm).

      • 26
        ) Marcelo Tezza
        June 12, 2013 at 10:11 pm

        Thanks for the super quick answer! Could you tell me what was the aperture did you use?
        The background on that photo is really complex and busy, maybe that sensation is partialy, because of it too.
        Sorry for the english, it’s not my mother language, and i’m still learning. =)

        • 30
          ) SassePhoto
          June 13, 2013 at 7:04 am

          I use mostly f/5.6 to f/9.

  14. 31
    ) Simon
    June 14, 2013 at 1:48 am

    I created a chart that compares weight and dimensions of Nikon and Canon lenses. If you only look at the ratio of focal length vs. weight, the 800mm is Nikon’s first lens, which is as good as Canon’s counterpart.

    • June 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Simon, I loved your chart, that was very cool you did that! Would you mind sharing this info to our readers? I will make sure to link to your blog – perhaps you could write a little about this?

      Please let me know, thanks!

      • 34
        ) Simon
        June 15, 2013 at 12:30 am

        Hi Nasim, I’m glad you liked it. I’ll see if I can write something up for your blog this weekend.

  15. 35
    ) Pancho
    June 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I swear bird photography is the most boring subject in all of photography, with wedding photography a near second.

    • 38
      ) SassePhoto
      June 21, 2013 at 11:36 pm

      Not everyone has the gift to see the beauty of nature

  16. 36
    ) Rainer
    June 21, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Beautiful pictures of my favorite birds! So what is the main difference between the 600mm + tc 14 and the 800mm? Sharpness seems to be on par in practice (and after post precessing) although the mtf charts indicate that the 800mm must be superior. Is the AF of the 800mm much faster than the 600mm + tc 14?

    By the way, you can achieve good image quality with the 600mm and the tc17 as well, but the only drawback is the af-speed of this combination.

    Best regards
    Rainer

    • 37
      ) SassePhoto
      June 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      Rainer, the 800mm has extremely fast focus and better contrast (due to better MTF), after taking more images recently this has become clear. Of course with the 1.4TC you go beyond 1000mm. The 1.7TC is no good, neither for 600mm nor for 800mm – very soft focus.

      • 39
        ) Rainer
        June 22, 2013 at 2:41 am

        Christian, regarding the 600VR II plus tc 17, I achieved good results, which are sharp, if the subject is not to far away. But this combo lacks of fast AF and a little bit of contrast. I have no doubt that the 800 mm is superior, but the question for me is, whether it is so much better that one should pay the extra money compared to the 600.

        However, stunning pictures of the eagles!

        Greetings Rainer

        • 40
          ) SassePhoto
          June 22, 2013 at 4:12 pm

          Rainer, to answer your question: If you are content with a great lens of around 800mm, then your current solution is great (600mm + tc14). If you just need to go longer than that at high quality in order to capture moving subjects are greater distances, then the 800mm is a worthwhile investment for many years to come.

          Rainer, if you are in my area, please write to me, you are most welcome to test the lens and decide for yourself.

          Take care, Christian

      • 41
        ) Rory
        June 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm

        Thanks for the review on the 800VR.

        I agree the TC17 is softer than the TC14, but calling it “very soft focus” might be a little harsh. Perhaps you have a poor sample? I bought one of the first 600VR lenses sold in BC and have used it with a D3, D700, D3X, D7000, D4 and D800. My experience is that there is a slight difference between the TC14 and TC17 and a big difference with the TC20. With the D800 it requires very careful technique to get very good results with the 600VR / TC17 combo. The TC17 works very well with the 300VR.

        Having said that, and having shot with the Canon 800mm, I’d kill to own the 800VR. You are a lucky fellow!

        Regards from across the water in Nanaimo.
        Rory

        • 42
          ) SassePhoto
          June 22, 2013 at 10:18 pm

          Rory – that is really interesting, I was not aware that there could be such differences in the TC17. When you say:…”With the D800 it requires very careful technique to get very good results with the 600VR / TC17 combo” can you please explain what you mean? Also how could one test for quality with the TC17?

          • 44
            ) Rory
            June 23, 2013 at 7:39 am

            Christian – by careful technique I mean nailing the focus, using high shutter speeds and minimizing vibrations on your shooting platform. Nikon has more product sample variation than one would expect. I have used imatest to test converters on my 200VR, 300VR and 600VR in the past. I see a reduction in contrast and acuity with each increment of converter, but in my samples, the difference between the TC14 and TC17 is fairly small, while the difference between the TC17 and TC20 is significant. My testing has been in the 25-50 meter distances. In practical terms I find the converters work best with close subjects – within about 15 meters. For distant subjects I find using LV to focus helps.

            • 47
              ) SassePhoto
              June 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

              Thank you, that is very useful information Rory.

            • 49
              ) Robert Andersen
              March 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm

              The 1.7 TC is a waste of time if you want sharp photos or try to stop action like flying birds in difficult situations – we got rid of ours on ebay – just doesn’t cut it.

              Rob

  17. 43
    ) Ram
    June 23, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Thanks Christian for the wonderful review of this incredible lens. Those shots of the eagle are simply stunning.

    I am still awaiting for your updated review on the TC performance. Please could you share the images of 800 + TC1.4,1.7 and 2.0.

    Do you think the softness of the combo can be easily corrected with image editing software?

    At times when you are hand holding the lens for a short while, what would you think the minimum shutter speed required to get a sharp image.

    thanks
    ram

    • 46
      ) SassePhoto
      June 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      Ram – thank you. Most of my images are with the 1.4TC, they are really sharp. Let me try the 1.7TC again, so far it was disappointing, let me check the backfocus. I will get back to you.

    • 50
      ) Robert Andersen
      March 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      We have been doing quite a bit of hand holding with the Nikon 800mm – that’s just my shooting style, I find it too difficult to pan with gimbals. I am thinking I need around 1600th – 200th sec to be on the safe side when hand holding. I used to target 1000-1200 sec with the 600mm to stop motion and overcome shake from hand holding.

      1.4TC is acceptable and great TC
      1.7TC – we didn’t like – images were just too soft for us
      2.0TC – honestly it is useless

      Regards
      Rob

      • 51
        ) Robert Andersen
        March 19, 2014 at 3:00 pm

        2000th – that was

  18. 52
    ) Heikki Seppä
    May 23, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Nasim, I notice in the picture that you do not have the strap attached on the 800mm, but on the 600mm you have the strap. I find the strap on the 800mm almost useless for carrying compared to the strap on the 400mm, which I often use to carry the lens-camera combination with the lens strap around my neck.

    How do you carry your 800mm in action ? Just holding by the foot ?

  19. 53
    ) Heikki Seppä
    May 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    My apologies, the review was by Christian, so my question should be addressed to him.

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