I just returned from Bosque Del Apache, a beautiful wildlife refuge in New Mexico, where I spent a week testing the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S. Yes, our copy of Nikon’s longest Z lens finally arrived! Of course, as a landscape photographer, I mainly used it for landscapes, not wildlife.
All right, that last part is a joke – I actually took thousands of wildlife photos on my trip. In a place like Bosque del Apache, it’s hard not to get wildlife in your photo with an 800mm lens. It hardly matters where you point it; a bird is sure to sneak in.
One day, though – after photographing the area’s famous sandhill cranes taking off at sunrise – I couldn’t resist a bit of landscape photography at 800mm. My reason was, why not? Plenty of good photos are born of trying something new. And this was the longest Nikon lens I’ve ever tested.
My subject in this case was a nearby mountain and low-hanging clouds. The 800mm f/6.3’s ultra-long focal length seemed to fit well for some detail shots. Or, maybe that was just my excuse to go back to my roots as a landscape photographer.
I should mention the obvious: There are plenty of reasons to avoid supertelephoto lenses as a landscape photographer. One of the biggest has to do with Earth’s own atmosphere. Even if you find a distant landscape that would look good with a supertelephoto, there’s going to be a lot of air between you and your subject. This can harm your photo’s sharpness due to atmospheric distortion, and it will shift the photo’s tones to be low in contrast and deep blue.
It’s possible to fix the blue color cast by converting the photo to black and white (see above!) but that isn’t the right solution for every photo. Naturally I wanted some color photos from this landscape, too. It wasn’t impossible to get normal-looking colors, but it required a lot of careful work in Lightroom.
Another issue with supertelephotos is that they require flawless technique if you want high sharpness at slow shutter speeds. The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S is a sharp lens, but that doesn’t matter if camera shake makes your photos blurry. Even using a good tripod and head, I saw plenty of jitters after magnifying live view. It would have been much worse if the wind had been a bit stronger.
One thing that helped was turning on the camera’s image stabilization, even though I usually avoid it as a landscape photographer. The subject was also bright enough that I could stick to reasonable shutter speeds over 1/100 second. (The one exception in this article is the earlier tree + hawk photo at 1/25 second; that one took a few tries before it turned out pixel-level sharp.)
That approach worked fine for this landscape, but it wouldn’t fly at blue hour, where your shutter speed will easily reach into the seconds. In conditions like that, you’d need to accept some low-level blur, or else use a rock-solid tripod on a nearly windless day.
But if you surpass all of those hurdles, is it worth it to use such a long lens for landscape photography? I’d say so.
On one hand, 800mm is just way too long if you want a classic, “grand landscape” type photo. But there will be times when the best portion of a scene is a tiny excerpt way in the distance.
Beyond that, plenty of famous overlooks – like Tunnel View in Yosemite or popular spots along the Grand Canyon – have been photographed to death. But how often have they been photographed at 800mm? You can get some unique photos even at the world’s most popular tourist spots with a lens like this.
Not that I’m recommending the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S for landscape photographers. It’s a well-priced lens for what you get, but it’s still $6500, and it’s clearly a wildlife lens.
Even if you’re suddenly convinced that you need a supertelephoto for landscapes (and you probably don’t), a more logical choice would be the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S, possibly coupled with a teleconverter. Although, if I shot with Canon rather than Nikon, I’d be tempted to pick up their 600mm f/11 for dabbling in wildlife and landscapes like this, since it’s only $800.
One of the best parts about photography is trying new things and seeing how the results. It won’t always lead to good photos, but you’ll learn something, at least. My experiment with the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 for landscape photography was just that – an experiment. And to me, the results show that supertelephoto lenses can work for landscape photography on occasion.
That said, I’m not planning to add a supertelephoto to my permanent landscape kit any time soon. My current maximum of 200mm is enough most of the time, and it’s much easier to use than an 800mm lens. I’d even say that the “perspective compression” of 200mm feels similar to that of an 800mm lens in practice.
Rest assured that most of the sample photos in my upcoming Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S review will be of wildlife, not landscapes. Compared to anything related to landscape photography with this lens, I care much more about its focusing speed, bokeh, and viability with teleconverters. Now that I’m back from my trip, keep an eye out for this lens review (among others) in the coming weeks.
I am sorry but these the some of the worst landscape photography examples. I am not a pro but there are so many things wrong with the images, starting with composition, contrast and even the subject matter.
Thank you for the feedback, Hullio!
Spencer, that is the best reaction ever to critique. Humble, polite acceptance, even if the critique itself is worded quite harshly. That being said, I feel like those indeed are photos of yours that look more like test-shots of camera settings rather than actual photos. Compared to the AAA+ photos we know you take (especially regarding light, atmosphere, compositional interest) these photos here really lack in every aspect. I don’t actually feel like it is because of the focal length and you struggling with 800mil in general, more like you simply had an uninspired day, focusing on wrong compositions and trying to use it like 100-400.
I feel like you should show more 800 mm photos of yours (provide links maybe?) and go out for another shoot with this lens. Even if it is more of a wildlife lens, I know it could be used for awesome landscape shots.
Part of why it was easy to respond that way to an aggressive comment is that I don’t feel much of a connection to these photos either! None of them are going in my portfolio – it was just cool to take landscapes at 800mm in general, and that’s all that I was interested to share.
I’d like to take more with this lens, hopefully with some better subjects that might actually be portfolio quality. We’ll see how it goes!
I really like long telephoto landscape pictures! Great article
I’m currently shooting with canon RP, and my next lenses will be probably 100-400 rf and 800 f11
Thank you, Guillem! I hope you enjoy those lenses. I’d definitely pick up the 600mm or 800mm f/11 if I shot with Canon. Very cool lenses without an equivalent from other camera companies.
One can take photos of everything with every lens. Portrait with 500mm, Landscape with a macro lens and macros with a tele lens. It all depends if one has found a good motive.
Yes, absolutely. And even though there’s usually a reason these things aren’t done, it’s better to experiment and see for yourself. Sometimes the photos turn out well, too.
Agree with the general principle. But 200mm is a limit of not photography but talking to my “subject”.
I must find a bigger trunk bag then ;)
It looks like it is a fantastic lens for sure. Thanks for your thoughts and great images Spencer.
Sure thing, Pierre! I liked it even more than I expected to. And I think I got some good wildlife shots, too – I’ll post some over the coming days.
Interesting and fun article; as always, thanks! But I have to give you a light-hearted (and totally amicable) bit of teasing about something you wrote in your opening sentence:
“…Bosque Del Apache, one of the best wildlife refuges in the US…”
I do not disagree with this assertion (nor would a good friend of mine – a retired biology professor / wildlife photographer who shoots frequently at Bosque), but I am not sure in what way(s) you mean that it is “one of the ‘best'” refuges. To some people (myself included), one definition of “best” for a wildlife refuge would be that it is very remote and cannot easily be visited by (bothersome) humans; it is, after all, a refuge for wildlife, not for us. Using the metric of remoteness with few human visitors, the highly-visited Bosque del Apache refuge might by some possibly be considered as one of the *worst* wildlife refuges in this country (from the birds’ perspective).
Okay, I’m picking nits and do apologize for that. But methinks it’s somehow best that we don’t telegraph what we think are the “best” wildlife refuges out of the concern that the moniker might attract more humans (and their noise, traffic, disruptions, litter, etc.); the wildlife might prefer fewer, not more, human visitations.
For what it’s worth… As always, thanks for an interesting article!
A great point, Mark. That sentence gave me some trouble when I wrote it. I couldn’t write “biggest” (it’s not) or “my favorite” (I’ve never been there before) and settled on “one of the best.” But after reading your comment, I see why that doesn’t sound right, either.
I changed that sentence to say, “… a beautiful wildlife refuge in New Mexico…” which I think captures the sense I was after.
Looking forward to the review. I’ll probably never own this lens but I may rent it. It’s more likely I’ll buy the 400mm f4.5 unless Nikon comes out with a native Nikon Z 500mm PF
The 400mm f/4.5 is the more logical choice for most photographers. In rare cases where you need the full 800mm (moon photography maybe), the 2x teleconverter can get you there.
About making sharp photos with an 800mm; i have noticed that sometimes not using a tripod , but making use of your body as a shock absorber + VR=On makes sharper photos.
Especially in a city.
if you take photos with a tele-lens with the subject so far away- you might as well take a less expensive solution due to the atmospheric haze.
Regarding your first point, that could be true at relatively fast shutter speeds. But it probably points also to a tripod technique with room for improvement. A solid tripod simply imparts less motion on the camera + lens system than handholding. I encourage VR on a tripod with long lenses, too.
Atmospheric distortion does harm a photo’s sharpness in many cases, but I didn’t run into very much here. Bosque del Apache is already at about 4500 feet elevation, and it was a pretty cold morning. Conditions like that can lead to some good pixel-level sharpness even at 800mm and infinity focus. Here’s a 100% crop of an image from this article.
I can confirm that with 500mm PF + D7200 (or D500), for instance.
It seems the PF lenses VR is really doing an excellent work with body, especially for moon shots for instance. At home (concrete building in a city), the best results I had were handheld, just leaning against a wall or a window jamb, and it was better by far.
The problem with tripods is they bring more “counter-shocks” and can transmit external vibrations and it seems the VR don’t handle these vibrations as well as slight body movements, at least with that kind of combo.
Probably, if you are in a building or a road that is on a structure/basement (in cities it’s quite common), the soil itself can transmit vibrations – from cars/trucks traffic for instance – thru the tripod that are not well handled by VR, while keeping the camera in hands may result in better absorption.
Of course, it may not be the same in backcountry places.
Whatsoever, if you’re unsure of “stability” of the soil, using your body as a shock absorber with VR ON may be the best way overall, indeed.
I hope this one’s better than the super teles I’ve tried. I find they’re OK close-to-mid-range, but they don’t focus sharply at infinity. So for the time being I’ve given up trying.
Next time, I’ll use a telescope lens, and see how that works.
Are you sure you aren’t just running into atmospheric turbulence? There’s only so much you can do unless you get lucky and it’s a windless day all the way out to your target, and there isn’t differential heating on top of it.
I’ve certainly run into plenty of times with my 100-400mm where when I punch in focus there’s wavering due to heat/wind/etc.
You can minimize how bad it is by shooting straight up…assuming your target is a nebula or the moon. Doesn’t help that much for a mountain a couple miles away of course.
Was thinking the same thing. Down here in flat marshy lands near sea level, an 800mm lens would probably be better used as a walking stick than attached to the camera for landscape photography. You’ll definitely want to bring a ‘plan B lens’ for when conditions don’t allow for such long lenses.
That said, the technical side of these lenses is certainly impressive. But 800mm is a really, really long lens with few practical uses. I suppose it’s one of those pieces of photography gear that is a must for some, and almost pointless for everyone else.
Two atmospheric effects that come to mind are:
1. haze: light scattering due to water and other molecules suspended in the air;
2. heat shimmer: the continually changing refractive index of air due to turbulence as heat passes through it. The heat shimmer blur in photography consists of both a static and a dynamic component. The dynamic component causes increased blurriness as the shutter open time increases.
That’s what I would have said, until I tried doing some test photos with a 300mm lens on a cool, cloudy, and windy day in a hilly area. The atmospheric turbulence was so bad it was visible in the OVF.
That’s why the OP and others are mentioning windless days. Better yet, windless first thing in the morning before the ground starts to heat up.
It’s possible to get sharp photos at infinity with this lens and maybe even something longer. I just posted a crop in reply to Peter Kers’s comment above. It’s a tiny, 100% crop, and the original file is very sharp at a pixel level in Photoshop. But the conditions were basically as you describe – a windless, cold morning. And Bosque del Apache is at a relatively high 4500 foot elevation.
I agree with the others, Pete – it’s probably not lens unsharpness that you’re seeing (at least not entirely) but atmospheric distortion. Is astrophotography what you intend to do? Atmospheric distortion is a problem there, too, although averaging shorter exposures is an option for something like planet photography.
“In astronomy, seeing is the degradation of the image of an astronomical object due to turbulence in the atmosphere of Earth that may become visible as blurring, twinkling or variable distortion. The origin of this effect are rapidly changing variations of the optical refractive index along the light path of the object. Seeing is a major limitation to the angular resolution in astronomical observations with telescopes that would otherwise be limited through diffraction by the size of the telescope aperture. Today, many large scientific ground-based optical telescopes include adaptive optics to overcome seeing.”
Any good for photos of the Moon (or sun)? On the other hand, a telescope might be a better choice.
It certainly is! Here’s a shot with the 800mm f/6.3 and the 2x teleconverter, cropped only slightly.
And a much tighter crop for detail.
A night of good seeing, I see.