In all the whirlwind Nikon mirrorless announcements yesterday, what normally would have been a top-tier headline – Nikon’s announcement of a new 500mm f/5.6E PF lens with a phase-fresnel element, selling for $3600 – almost became a footnote! That’s a shame, because this lens brings a lot to the table. For Nikon DSLR users, especially sports and wildlife photographers who want a lightweight option with as much reach as possible, it could be the lens you’ve been waiting for.
Although Nikon had already released a development announcement for this lens, the most interesting thing we learned with the official unveiling is the size and weight of the 500mm f/5.6. At 237 mm (9.33 inches) and 1460 grams (3.22 pounds) not including the tripod collar, this lens is essentially the same size as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL! That is quite an achievement for a 500mm f/5.6 lens, especially one with an MTF chart as good as this:
Normally, I would point you to our article on how to read an MTF chart, but it wouldn’t help much in this case – the chart for the 500mm f/5.6 is practically perfect. This is going to be one sharp lens, akin to Nikon’s other supertelephoto primes that can cost thousands of dollars more.
Nikon already has a 500mm prime lens (see our review), but it’s an f/4 version that weighs 3.09 kilos/6.81 pounds and costs $10,300. By comparison, the new lens is very portable, as you can see in the comparison below:
This new lens manages to attain its comparatively small size and light weight for two reasons. First, it is an f/5.6 rather than f/4, which certainly helps. Second, it uses a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, a specialized element that allows Nikon to replace multiple standard lens elements with one that is smaller and thinner. The result is a 500mm lens that, by all indications, will be easier to handhold than any other 500mm lens Nikon has ever released. (Even the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 weighs an additional 840 grams/1.85 pounds.)
Along with the PF element, this lens also has a fluorine coat on the front lens surface, which helps repel water beads on the surface, as well as making it easier to keep the lens clean. The 500mm f/5.6 PF also has an electromagnetic diaphragm, which we have only started to see in Nikon’s new lens releases recently (mainly supertelephotos, but also the 28mm f/1.4E). The 500mm f/5.6 has a 1:5.5 reproduction ratio as well, which is very close focus.
The 500mm f/5.6E PF has 19 elements in 11 groups, including three ED lens elements along with the PF element and fluorine coat. Here is a lens diagram provided by Nikon:
Along with the announcement, Nikon has also released some sample photos from the new lens to showcase its autofocus, sharpness, flare, and other performance capabilities. Take a look:
Nikon simultaneously announced that they are releasing the DF-M1, a dot sight accessory for telephoto photography to help keep track of a fast-moving subject. The DF-M1 will retail separately for $174.95. When it arrives, we hope to test it at Photography Life to see whether or not it truly helps track quick subjects!
Here is Nikon’s official press release for the 500mm f/5.6 lens:
Nikon Releases the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, a Fixed Focal Length Super-Telephoto Lens Compatible With the Nikon FX Format
Delivers Exceptional Agility that Makes Hand-Held Super-Telephoto Photography Enjoyable, as well as Offering Superior Optical Performance and Functionality
MELVILLE, NY – Nikon Inc. is pleased to announce the release of the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, a fixed focal length super-telephoto lens compatible with Nikon FX-format digital SLR cameras.The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is a high-performance, FX-format, super-telephoto lens that supports 500 mm focal length. The adoption of a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element has significantly reduced the size and weight of the lens, making hand-held super-telephoto photography easier and more enjoyable.
With a maximum diameter of 106 mm and length of 237 mm, the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, which weighs 1,460g (roughly the same weight as the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR) is significantly lighter than previous 500mm lenses which can typically weigh up to more than 3,000g. The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is designed with consideration to dust- and drip- resistance, which in addition to the fluorine coat applied to the front lens surface, allows greater agility when shooting.
The use of one PF lens element and three ED glass elements enables extremely sharp and detailed rendering that is compatible with high pixel-count digital cameras. In addition, the materials used in the new PF lens element have been developed effectively to reduce PF (diffraction) flare, allowing light sources to be reproduced in near-original colors. In combination with Nikon’s coating technologies, such as the Nano Crystal Coat, effective in controlling ghost and flare, extremely clear images are achieved.
AF speed has been increased by making lens elements in the focusing group lighter. The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is equipped with a VR mechanism that offers camera shake compensation equivalent to a 4.01-stop increase in shutter speed. The SPORT VR mode that has been adopted is especially effective when photographing fast-moving and unpredictable subjects such as wild birds, or in scenes such as sporting events. The stabilization of the image displayed in the viewfinder is also an effective feature for recording movies.
Additionally, the use of the Mount Adapter FTZ will allow the lens to be used with mirrorless cameras Nikon Z 7 and Nikon Z 6, also announced today. Users will be able to enjoy super-telephoto shooting at the 500 mm focal length with a system that is even more compact than ever before.
We are also planning to release the Dot Sight DF-M1, an accessory that is highly effective with super-telephoto photography. With super-telephoto shooting, a narrow field of view in the viewfinder tends to be made visible – making it easy to lose track of the subject. The Dot Sight DF-M1 makes it easy to keep track of the intended subject within the frame, even if the subject exhibits sudden movement.
PF (Phase Fresnel) Lens Elements
The PF (Phase Fresnel) lens, developed by Nikon, effectively compensates chromatic aberration, utilizing the photo diffraction phenomenon2. It provides superior chromatic aberration compensation performance when combined with a normal glass lens. Compared to many general camera lenses that employ an optical system using the photorefractive phenomenon, a remarkably compact and lightweight body can be attained with fewer lens elements.
- Significantly smaller and lighter with the adoption of a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, making 500 mm hand-held super-telephoto photography easier and more enjoyable
- Designed with consideration to dust- and drip-resistance; fluorine coat applied to front lens surface, effectively repelling water droplets, grease, and dirt
- Adoption of one PF lens element and three ED glass elements for extremely sharp and detailed rendering, compatible with high pixel-count digital cameras
- Optical performance that is not compromised with the use of the TC-14E III AF-S teleconverter
- Materials used in the new PF lens element effectively control PF (diffraction) flare
- Ghost and flare effectively suppressed with the adoption of the Nano Crystal Coat, enabling clear images
- AF speed increased by making lens elements in the focusing group lighter
- Equipped with a VR mechanism that offers camera shake compensation equivalent to a 4.01-stop increase in shutter speed, in two modes: NORMAL and SPORT
- Electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism adopted for extremely precise aperture control
We will release the Dot Sight DF-M1 (available separately), an accessory that is highly effective with super-telephoto photography. This accessory makes it easy to keep track of the intended subject, even if the subject exhibits sudden movement.
Price and Availability
The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR will be available September 13 for the suggested retail prices (SRP) of $3599.95*. The Dot Sight DF-M1 will be available for $174.95 SRP*. For more information on these and other Nikon products, please visit www.nikonusa.com.
I know there is so much to do for you and your friends at PL :-)
However, would you share a short update with us regarding your plans to do “the real test” with this lens ?
Hi, when photographylife will do a review for this great lens ?
This is one of our top priories for review in 2019, so keep an eye out!
The lens came back from Nikon France, they did some adjustment with AF.
The details seem better (perhaps not at the level of the older 4/500) ; AF, VR and handling are excellent.
i hope that sheep photo is not taken at wide open. If so, this lens has a better version of shitty bokeh that 300 pf has
I was not prepared for how tiny the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens is for a super telephoto. It is smaller, by a smidge, than my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens which is incredible. Its size makes it a game changer in terms of the logistics of traveling by plane. Going to Brooks Camp the float plane weight limit precluded my taking my 600mm f/4E lens, tripod and gimbal head, so I took the 200-500mm lens and shot hand held. If I had the 500mm PF lens it would have been on the D850 and the 80-400mm would have been on my D500. Prime 500mm at f/5.6 and zoom 120-600mm at f/5.6 – that would pretty well have covered it.
Mine was bought last week in Reims France.
It’s lightweight and easy to handle. AF is accurate without any correction.
But it’s not sharp, with AF and Liveview, with or without tripod ; tested on D850 and D800 E.
I sent it back to my reseller, waiting for news (from Nikon France?).
We compared with the former AF S 4 500 (non E) : huge loss of details
I don’t believe the mentionned MTF
Best regards from France.
Any follow-up on your case? Do you got better copy and test it again yet?
If it’s not sharp as you mentioned, huge loss of details is understandable. Hope it is just because of a bad copy.
When will Nikon release the TC 1.7 III ?
This is the most used of the 3 TC’s and the only one they haven’t upgraded.
(To go with this lens)
1.7 × f/5.6 is f/9.6, which is beyond the camera autofocus limit of f/8.
I’d think the 1.4 is by far the most used as it has the least penalty.
Any real wildlife, and especially bird photographer will know that low light subjects often occur. My concern is the f5.6, and with a 1.4 tele attached f8, would be way to slow for a lot of this type of photography. It my be light but will it be practical for those hard to get to shots.
I have a 300 F2.8 VrII. I recently got a 500 F4G series. Optically the 500 is a huge step. There are 2 points to make here. 1. When light gets low it is the slow shutter speed issue which takes over. With a long lens, even on a tripod, a slow speed is a worry no matter how good the VR is. 2. In good light the 500F4 produced far better images than the 300F2.8 with 1.4 TC VR ever did. I was surprised. Apart from removing the TC, the main thing which had changed was that with the huge 500 F4 (the G series weighs almost 4kg) I had stopped or using a monopod and invested in a Gitzo Systematic tripod. In my experience using a good tripod with lenses 300 and over produces better results than hand holding plus VR or monopod and VR. I believe that VR reduces the sharpness. The images with VR are better than no VR but not the maximum resolution the lens can produce.
I think the new lens would be great for travelling and great for wildlife but don’t underestimate value of a tripod.
I suggest you have your 300f2.8 properly calibrated with your cameras, I have shot that lens in VR and VRii models for the past 12 yrs with all three TC’s. I have owned the 500 f4 G lens and after proper calibration the 300f2.8 vrii with 1.7 TC produced better images and as I photograph a lot of big game in Africa the 300 f2.8 with TC’s are a lot more flexible especially using it from a SUV.
You are probably right about shooting big game in Africa. Is the SUV moving? I have had the 300 calibrated. It is fine.
My subjects are usually small birds, so the 500 on aD500 gives me a higher probability that the subjects will not be as concerned about my presence. Having said that, the 500 F4 on a tripod is extraordinarily good when precise focus is required. The depth of field at (effectively 750mm) can be quite shallow once you get closer, so tiny variations count.
Re the 300 with TCs: Yes it is very good too but the 300 with a 1.4 does not produce images which are as stunning as the 500.
I do find that the 300 is also much better on the Gitzo tripod than on the Gitzo monopod.
I guess my point about 500mm is that (I tend to see )VR as a back-up plan, rather than a first choice. My first choice is a tripod.
I am more exited about this lens than the Z series. I will get this lens, I started using the 300 f4 with the 1.4 and now find that I almost never use my 300 f2.8 as this lens is magic to travel with, plus using it out of a car in Africa on game drives it is fantastic to handle. The 500f5.6 on one body and 300f4 on another going without TC’s will be a fantastic combination. for BIF using the 500f5.6 on a D500 would be a killer 750f5.6 fov. This brings me to the main issue with mirrorless debate, that bodies are smaller saving all the weight. Well Nikon, maybe in future I will take to ML and the use of EVF for wildlife and BIF, but here is the real benefit of shaving weight go equipment giving us top quality lenses at this size and weight. This is the future for nature and sport. Give us a Z6 sensor in a DSLR body the size of the D500 and we as wildlife shooters will be static.
This lens looks really exciting. Now those who need a supertelephoto that is also compact have even more choices: this and the Canon 400mm f/4 DO II. What is also interesting is that Nikon mentioned that there will be (virtually) no degradation when the latest 1.4x converter is used, which would make this a pretty sweet and lightweight 700mm f/8 lens for decent light situations.
Now I’m very curious to see Canon’s upcoming 600mm f/4 DO, though I imagine that one will be quite pricey.
the bottom line i guess, the question one has to ask before purchasing 500/5.6epf – is it better to carry & pay much less for 300/4epf plus 1.4 teleconverter combo, which makes it 420/5.6epf, or is it better to carry & pay much more for 500/5.6epf… also, though 300/4epf will always allow you to go up from 300/4 to 500/5.6, 500/5.6epf will never allow you to go backward from 500/5.6
I think that is a very good point Ilya. In the UK the 300pf with 1.4tc (or 1.7tc) can be purchased for £1,800 new and just £1,300 used. Compared to the 500pf, which is £3,600, the 300pf with teleconverters looks very good value. Moreover, the 300pf with TC weighs just 950g, compared to the 1,460g 500pf. However, even without TCs the 300pf is not optically perfect showing low contrast in certain light conditions, and has a less than perfect VR system. So, the 300pf with TCs is very unlikely to be able to compete with the 500pf.
Additionally, there is a question as to how Nikon will optimise the lens autofocus systems. Traditionally the 500/4 and 600/4 were far better than other lenses at focusing on subjects in the 40-100m range (i.e. timid wildlife), so we can expect the 500pf to be similarly optimised. What will be critical for the testing of this new lens will be to establish the accuracy & speed of the AF on distant subjects, the contrast performance in low light, and the efficacy of the VR. It is also essential that the 500/pf is tested on DSLR bodies that excel in those conditions, which means D4, D5 and D500.