There are a handful of ways to reach 800mm with the Nikon Z system, from (relatively) cheap to quite expensive. Today, I wanted to compare two of those options: the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S (with Nikon’s 2x teleconverter) against the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF VR S. Which one is the better choice? I’ll answer that question today!
Focal Length and Maximum Aperture
With the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S, the only way to reach 800mm is to add a 2x teleconverter. When you do, you’re now dealing with a 200-800mm f/9-11 zoom.
The maximum aperture of f/11 at 800mm isn’t great. An aperture of f/11 is actually 1-and-2/3 stops dimmer than f/6.3! In other words, if your ISO is at a moderately high value of 3200 with the 800mm f/6.3, you’ll need to be at a whopping ISO 10,000 with the 100-400mm + 2x TC.
Another issue is focusing speed. Even a high-end Z8 or Z9 series camera will have trouble focusing quickly at a maximum aperture of f/11. I used both of these lenses side-by-side and found the 100-400mm + 2x TC combo to already struggle in midday light. Focusing on fast-moving subjects at sunset was only possible with the 800mm f/6.3.
If you’re planning to photograph more static subjects, like a distant bird nest, there is no problem using a lens with a maximum aperture of f/11. Likewise for subjects like airplanes taking off, where there are no unexpected movements. For those sorts of subjects, the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6’s maximum aperture will not be much of a problem. Otherwise, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 has a massive advantage here.
The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 are both high-end lenses with some of Nikon’s best handling features. From an ergonomics standpoint, there is little reason to prefer one lens over the other (except for the fact that you need a teleconverter with the 100-400mm, which can be a small annoyance in the field).
Of course, they are also very different lenses in terms of size and shape. The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is a classic telephoto zoom; it’s hefty but nothing crazy. Meanwhile, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is the lightest lens in its class, but as an 800mm f/6.3 lens, it’s still pretty huge compared to the 100-400!
I would have no issue handholding the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 for long stretches of wildlife photography. Meanwhile, I tried handholding the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 several times with mixed results. It’s still a lightweight lens compared to the competition, but holding it for more than a few minutes at a time is a pain… at least for me. Maybe if you spend a lot of time in the gym, your results will differ :)
To be specific, the Nikon Z 100-400mm weighs 1705 grams (3.8 pounds) with the Nikon Z 2.0x TC attached. The Z 800mm f/6.3 weighs 2385 grams (5.2 pounds). However, the 800mm f/6.3 is a lengthier lens, so the balance works against you a bit.
Vignetting levels on these two lenses are extremely low. Here’s what I measured in the lab:
I admit, the chart for the 100-400mm lens is on the complicated side, because it also includes vignetting performance at the various other focal lengths. But if you specifically look at 800mm (the orange bars furthest to the right), you can see that the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 has essentially zero vignetting at 800mm. Meanwhile, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 also has extremely low vignetting, even wide open at f/6.3. It just isn’t a concern on either of these lenses.
Distortion performance is pretty much irrelevant on a supertelephoto lens like this, unless you are taking the most unconventional architectural photos I’ve ever seen (which would actually be pretty cool)! Still, since I tested it in the lab, I’ll mention it here – neither of these lenses has any meaningful distortion at 800mm.
To be specific, the Nikon Z 100-400mm + 2x TC combo has exactly 0.38% barrel distortion at 800mm, which is completely negligible. The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 has 1.19% pincushion distortion by comparison, which also is not enough to matter. Here’s a simulation of the 800mm f/6.3’s uncorrected distortion for context – nothing to worry about at all:
3. Lateral Chromatic Aberration
Here’s one area where the two lenses start to diverge: chromatic aberration. The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 has pretty high CA once you add the teleconverters, and you can see in the chart below that the performance at 800mm is on the high side (about 2 pixels of CA at f/11). This is enough to need correction if there are some high-contrast lines in your photo, like the edges of tree branches. Meanwhile, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 has negligible levels of chromatic aberration.
Now it’s time for the fun part – sharpness! Which lens is sharper at 800mm? It’s hardly even a contest, as you can see below:
Clearly, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is the sharper lens at 800mm. While the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is still usable in a pinch, they’re definitely on different levels here.
To the Nikon Z 100-400mm’s credit, it’s actually a seriously sharp lens, as you can see in my review. The problem is when you add a 2x teleconverter, you can’t expect groundbreaking performance any more, especially when the maximum aperture is now f/11. But for context, at its best focal length of 100mm, the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 looks like this:
That’s not going to help you if you only care about 800mm performance. But I wanted to throw the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 a bone, considering that it’s one of my all-time favorite Nikon Z lenses.
Value and Recommendations
Since the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is clearly the better performing lens at 800mm, the real question is one of value. Is the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 “good enough” that you can save money and use it at 800mm in a pinch?
For some subjects, the answer could be yes. I already mentioned the example of photographing a bird in a nest, or an airplane taking off. In those cases, I would be perfectly happy with the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 in combination with the 2x teleconverter. The same is true for basically any static subject, like a bird that’s perched or standing in the water.
The trouble is that, with a maximum aperture of f/11, you simply will not be able to consistently photograph fast-moving subjects. Even if you do succeed in getting your shot in focus, you’ll need to be at a high ISO value in order to compensate for the narrow maximum aperture. It’s just not a recipe for success.
Considering that the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 fixes these problems, and also has drastically higher sharpness at 800mm, it’s obviously the better lens. If you expect to be using 800mm frequently, I absolutely recommend saving up for the Z 800mm f/6.3.
In short, both lenses are great, but only if you stick to their strengths. The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is a phenomenal lens without teleconverters, while the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is great at 800mm and represents one of the best values in Nikon’s entire lineup.
As for specific prices, the difference is pretty substantial, although the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is less expensive than you would expect for an exotic supertelephoto. The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 costs $2700, with the 2x TC costing another $600. Meanwhile, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF sells for $6500.
You can check the current prices, and support my testing efforts at Photography Life, at the following B&H affiliate links:
- Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Nikon Z 2x Teleconverter at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF at B&H – Check prices and current sales
If you’re having trouble finding them in stock (these are all very popular products) or if you’re just looking for a good deal, you may also want to check eBay: