The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL are remarkably different lenses despite the similarities in focal length and maximum aperture! The Z 800mm f/6.3 PF is a $6500 mirrorless lens made with the utmost attention to minimizing weight. Meanwhile, the 800mm f/5.6E FL is a massive $16,300 DSLR lens that prioritizes image quality above all else. Which one is right for you? That’s what I’ll try to answer today.
Build and Handling
The Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL is the largest and heaviest lens that I’ve ever handled. It’s not for the faint of heart. With a weight of 4.59 kilos (10.1 pounds), it’s not something you’ll want to handhold. Or, I should put it – if you do handhold this lens for long periods of time, it’s a good way to put on some muscle!
Meanwhile, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is hardly small, but it’s like a feather by comparison. The Z 800mm f/6.3 weighs 2.39 kilos (5.26 pounds), so you could practically carry two of them for the weight of the 800mm f/5.6E FL. Not to mention that it’s a slightly shorter lens, so that weight is closer to your body. Side by side, the difference is stark.
As for other handling related features, both lenses have some of Nikon’s highest-end design choices. You get multiple function buttons, control switches, and AF recall buttons. Build quality is absolutely top-shelf on both lenses.
In short, the construction of both lenses is excellent – the only big difference is weight. If you intend to shoot handheld or carry your lens long distances, the Z 800mm f/6.3 PF is easily the better choice. For tripod-based photographers, especially when shooting close to your car, it won’t make a big difference.
Neither lens has an objectionable level of vignetting, even in the worst-case scenario. To be specific, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF reaches a maximum of 0.81 stops of vignetting at f/6.3, while the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL maxes out at 0.96 stops of vignetting wide open at f/5.6. (These figures occur at infinity focus, and you get a very slight drop in vignetting as you focus more closely.)
At narrower apertures, these already negligible levels of vignetting decrease even further. For instance, at f/8, the Z 800m f/6.3 PF has 0.63 stops of vignetting, while the 800mm f/5.6E FL has 0.53 stops.
Distortion is basically irrelevant on lenses like this, but tough luck – I tested it in the lab, so I’m going to show the results anyway!
The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 has 1.19% pincushion distortion by my tests. The 800mm f/5.6E FL has slightly less, with 0.59% pincushion distortion. Neither figure is high enough to matter, even for subjects like architectural photography (hardly a common subject for an 800mm lens anyway). For context, here’s what 1.19% pincushion distortion looks like:
Now for everyone’s favorite test – sharpness! Which lens has the greater resolving power? Here are the two charts with my measurements in the lab:
As you can see, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL is definitely the sharper lens wide open. The 800mm f/6.3 PF is still quite good, but the 800mm f/5.6E FL reaches an even higher level. Stopping down to f/8, the Nikon Z lens improves a bit while the F-mount lens stays about the same. In other words, the differences at f/8 are narrower, but still favoring the 800mm f/5.6E FL. By f/11 and f/16, the two lenses are pretty much interchangeable, as is usually the case at such narrow apertures.
Let’s look at some real-world sample photos to clarify these differences a bit more. A big thanks to Verm (John Sherman) for providing the following samples. I’ve cropped them to an extreme degree, about 1000 pixels wide, in order to show the differences as clearly as possible. This represents a mere 1.5% of the area of the Nikon Z9’s sensor.
We’ll start with both lenses wide open at 800mm. Click to see them full size:
The 800mm f/5.6E FL is definitely ahead. It’s not that the Z 800mm f/6.3 S is bad, but by comparison, it will need more extensive sharpening in post-processing to have pixel-level crispness.
Here’s the comparison of both lenses with a 1.4x teleconverter:
This time, the results are very similar, with the 800mm f/5.6E FL taking the cake.
When he sent me these photos, Verm wanted me to note that these were the sharpest shots he got out of each combination, and that no sharpening has been applied other than Capture One’s default.
There’s no denying that the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF is weaker than the 800mm f/5.6E FL side-by-side. I would still categorize the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S as a sharp lens, and with a bit of sharpening in post-processing, you’ll get extremely crisp photos. But if you’re willing to carry about twice the weight and pay 2.5x the price, it turns out that you do get some optical benefits!
Value and Conclusion
At the end of the day, even though the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL is still the king among telephoto lenses and beats the 800mm f/6.3 in sharpness, only one of these two lenses makes sense for the typical wildlife photographer. That, of course, is the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF.
Nikon has done an amazing job creating a lightweight – even handholdable – 800mm supertelephoto that barely compromises on maximum aperture. Not to mention that the price of $6500 is stunningly low for what you get. I’m not surprised that the 800mm f/6.3 is out of stock so often.
Yes, the 800mm f/5.6E FL is the higher performing lens. But if you want that last 5% of image quality, you will need to carry a significantly heavier bag, not to mention spending $16,300. For that price, you could buy the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF, the Nikon Z9, and the Nikon Z8, and still have $300 left over! No thanks – the 800mm f/5.6E FL is a beauty, but it’s not a practical choice these days, unless you find a good price on the used market. (And predictably, they are selling for some really good used prices now that the 800mm f/6.3 exists.)
There are still some photographers for whom the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL is the right choice, but if that applies to you, you already know. For the other 99% of sports and wildlife photographers, I recommend the Z 800mm f/6.3 PF instead.
You can check the current prices, and support my testing efforts at Photography Life, at the following B&H affiliate links:
- Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 PF at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL at B&H – Check prices and current sales
If you’re having a hard time finding a copy of the lens in stock at those links, you can try our eBay affiliate instead:
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about this comparison! I know it was controversial when I first posted this comparison (it used to be part of my Z 800mm f/6.3 PF review), but our team has used three copies of both lenses, and I stand by our testing. These are both excellent lenses, and the 800mm f/6.3 PF is clearly the more practical choice even though the 800mm f/5.6E FL edges it out optically.