I thought I would post this short and sweet article with my experiences so far with the new Nikon 800mm f5.6 Lens. This lens is just an engineering marvel, but then that is not the purpose of this short article. I mainly just wanted to share my experience with it so far and a few sample photos taken with it in the field. I have actually hand held this lens in a couple instances where the action happened in such a manner there was no time to tripod it or the bird was moving way to erratically.
First, here is a photo of the 800mm attached to the Nikon D4, all dressed up and ready to go. I have many Lens Coat products and I must say they have done a marvelous job on the lens coat for the 800mm, almost every inch of this delicate baby is totally covered and protected, more so than the lens coat for my 600mm.
The Arca handle is a nice touch when dragging this thing around in the field. For those that are interested in side stories, I named the lens Conan which is a play on words as its the biggest lens Nikon has, but yet in Irish it means ‘little wolf’ or ‘little hound’, both of which I find appropriate.
When we first purchased this lens our plan was not to try and make it a hand holding lens, but there have been a couple of photographic opportunities thrust upon me with no time to think, that it was hand holding or nothing. The opportunities happened with only seconds to minutes before the shot was gone and to me this is often what happens in the field, so I consider it a true test of this lens. Since I am talking hand holding right now, lets compare it to the 600mm lens.
It is actually half a kilo (17 ounces) lighter than the 600mm I regularly hand hold and I find it much more balanced. The 600mm definitely feels front heavy while the 800mm feels very balanced, this means I find myself able to hand hold the lens longer than the 600mm which is an added bonus. My gut feeling at this stage is not to say this lens ‘should be hand held‘ but more ‘it can be‘ and if that’s the only chance you have of getting the shot, then that’s a better chance than no shot.
Lets start with the first photo of a juvenile red tail hawk and let me describe the conditions that this photo was taken in. We pulled up at a car park area at the end of a long day photographing owls, it was late in the day, almost the kind of light you get before dusk. I saw a movement it the trees and spotted the hawk, it was about to grab a field mouse at the base of the tree, I grabbed the 800mm attached to the D4 that was ready to go in the back of the car. There was no time to mess with tripods and such, so I walked over to put myself in some sort of photographic opportunity which was a difficult prospect as the sky was that sucky winter gray sky we all love to hate at times. Because of the sky, I tried to place background trees behind the bird to give me a chance of a keeper shot. As you can see the conditions weren’t that great, so how did the 800mm perform in this environment?
NIKON D4 – F5.6 – ISO 1250 – Shutter 1/500th Sec – VR Normal
This is the resulting image and I think it speaks wonders for the power of the D4 combined with the 800mm lens, the photo looks awesome and there is wonderful detail in the bird. Remember the conditions were not that great, but if the 800mm can perform this well in those conditions then I can’t wait to see what future images it will bring me in good light. Below are two hundred percent crops so you can see the detail up close and evaluate for yourself.
I think those samples look terrific and I am totally impressed with the hand holding performance. This second image is again taken hand holding the 800mm in the same poor light, but now I have also placed darker trees behind the hawk which made shooting a bit tougher.
NIKON D4 – F5.6 – ISO 2000 – Shutter 1/800th Sec – VR Normal
These next two images will not only show you that it is possible to hand hold this beast, but that I would not have gotten these images without hand holding. There were a couple other photographers attempting to get this owl and let me tell you, they were all hand holding their various lenses as this owl flew at speed and with a totally erratic movement. It was a challenge just to get him in the view finder as he flew, he just kept moving in flight and constantly changing direction, I would consider this a good test for the 800mm. The light was ok, not terrific, it was a winter late afternoon light with a slight hint of snow falling, I would describe it as heavy overcast low light shooting conditions. The subject in question is a short-eared owl and it is approximately about 13 to 15 inches in height with a wingspan of approximately 35 inches, much smaller than a snowy owl or bald eagle for comparison.
NIKON D4 – F6.3 – ISO 400 – Shutter 1/1000th Sec – VR Normal
The image is pretty good for the conditions and hand holding, the eye is not quite as sharp as maybe it could have been but I am very happy with the result especially when you consider the crazy panning going on here.
The next image is of the same owl, but I had more time to stabilize myself and take time to get great hand held photos. The owl was in a snag, I took the stop and shoot approach, taking a few steps between each burst of photos. The last in the set were the closest and the best and are really beautiful examples of the 800mm in action in the field.
NIKON D4 – F5.6 – ISO 400 – Shutter 1/1000th Sec – VR Normal
Now a 100 percent crop of the face.
I wasn’t intending to challenge this lens or my skills by hand holding it, this just happened in a flurry of time with no time to think but I think you have to agree the photos I got are good quality and definitely keepers.
The last image I have to show at this stage is from the same day as the short eared owl in similar conditions except it is snowing fairly heavily and the D4 and 800mm are mounted on a Wimberley II Gimbal and Gitzo tripod. I had time to compose this shot and get the best look from the owl that was available at that time.
NIKON D4 – F6.3 – ISO 1000 – Shutter 1/1600th Sec – VR Normal
Here is a 100 percent crop of that photo, there is slight noise in the image but that is related to the shooting conditions and shooting through snow.
I hope I didn’t embarrass myself here with this post, but I figured that there would be people who would love to see real field photos and not shots set up under perfect conditions. When I get some perfect light opportunities I will post some sample images for you guys, but you can think of this as the 800mm poor lighting test.
I did have a set of shots get messed up with the 800mm attached to the D800, but I think it was all related to the Active VR mode somehow getting engaged on the VR settings and me not noticing it. All the shots were soft and blurred even though I was using good long lens technique on the gimbal and the bird was stationary (sitting). I haven’t had a chance but I am going to thoroughly test this scenario again and the 800mm with the D800.
For those that want to see the photo that was blurred from the 800mm with the D800 attached, on a Gimbal with good long lens shooting technique but Active VR accidently enabled, here it is. By the way there is a whole sequence of shots that are this bad, the light was good, the owl was sitting. VR must have got moved accidently while moving the tripod and camera into position and I didn’t notice, let me re-iterate I am not 100 percent sure of the cause of the bad images but can at this point only attribute it to the wrong VR setting being active.
NIKON D800 – F5.6 – ISO 250 – Shutter 1/2500th Sec – VR Active
Great shots. Seems like an impressive lens, but I guess it should be for that cost! Thanks for including the technical specifications like iso and shutter speed.
This is an impressive body of work, but I wonder why your ISO is relatively low. Do you shoot A priority and with ISO locked? I use a D3S with ISO at 1600 locked with tack sharp wildlife results. Would like to hear from you.
What lighting conditions makes you run at 1,600 ISO? I don’t shoot wild life, but until recently, shot Motor Cycle racing. I always tried to shoot at base ISO unless the weather forced me to go up.
I like lower noise in my photos, so my target is 200 ISO whenever possible, when that is not possible I adjust ISO to suit the conditions as best as I can estimate – In this case I know the owl will possibly launch and I have opportunity for flying shots and looking for 100oth of a sec (that kind of my personal std for stopping motion on birds in flight) – So I suppose the answer is – I shoot in A priority with the lowest iso I can get towards 200 ISO – I will shoot in shutter priority when chasing birds where the background changes from sky to cluttered or over water which is where the 1000th of a second comes from.
Go out to shoot moose – there are many many times I will be at 1600 – 2000 iso, the reason I bought the D4 – Moose come out early am and active late pm – in either case many times it is poor light so 1600 iso is quite common
Thanks for clarifying the shooting conditions.
Easy to sit here on the net and wonder why you were using such high ISO numbers. :-)
This is an interesting exchange. All I can tell you is that I am not getting any noise that I can discern regardless any practical enlargement. I am certain the sensors on both the D4 and D3s are comparable.
As I indicated earlier my A priority settings are almost always aperture 5.6-7.1; ISO 1600; resultant shutter 5000-8000. And of course no camera shake. We both get great pictures!
Let me explain it this way, I am married to a dentist and she is a perfectionist beyond perfectionist, I have great shots at 1600 iso – mainly moose stuff because that’s when I am shooting in the worst lighting conditions – she just prefers lower iso – I think the noise level is ok at 1600 but I think its better at lower iso’s – its a personal thing. I think on the short eared owl flying shot I needed just a little faster shutter speed, that think was a speed demon.
Where can I see some of your shots – you have a web site ?
Don’t worry ” Anything Canon can do, Nikon can do better ”
I have actually seen that lens at Nikon in Tokyo, way back in 1998.
Even had a photo of me with it. Unfortunately, it was ” Pre-Digital Era “, so, no idea where the photo is now .
One problem..It was ” Manual Focus “
Since an $18,000 lens doesn’t seem to cause any concerns or issues among this wealthy group, how about this one:
Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6 L USM Lens
•a super telephoto prime lens which is aimed at sports and wildlife photography made by Cannon. As the company it as, ” the world’s largest interchangeable SLR AF lens, in terms of both focal length and maximum aperture.”
Nice article – as always Robert…… But a few points keep sticking in my mind. You are a fairly young muscular male – evidently capable and adept of hand holding a 800mm. However, IMHO no one should go out planning to hand hold an 800mm lens – VR or no VR – and expect to be sucessful ! – That is why we have monopods and body pods – and no, I do not recommend tripods for this kind of work – too limiting and SLOW. For most of us, hand holding 800mm is not an otion. I use 300 2.8 W/2X and hand hold only as an absolute last resort. I am always ready on a monopod or body pod – but if need be, I will quick release and hand hold. Being on ergonomic support is always my preference, and not just for the reason of stabilisation ! ——In reponse to a previous comment regarding using a “spotting scope” for initial target acquisition – I use a Komura parrallax corrected 200mm briteline viewfinder from a rangefinder camera in the hotshoe of my camera body – and it has been working well for me – but it is a RARE item to find ! The 135mm viewfinders are much more common. I cannot believe that someone is not making these today for this purpose ! ! The problem is, lenses bigger than 300 2.8 will block the viewfinder unless a special mounting is used.
Thanks for the compliment – I agree on the hand-holding bit – this wasn’t really an article about that, it’s just what happened to me in those instance and I thought I would share the stories and samples.
I don’t just want to share PERFECT photos with perfect setups, because that is not always the opportunities you are given. For most part we will be supporting this lens with one means or another, but its kinda cool to see what it can do under these ‘not so ideal’ conditions.
I have always been a firm believer of not wanting to tell anybody how, when, where or why – because we all need to learn and find our own way and style. HAPPY SHOOTING :)
Facts of life.
– Cost $18,000 (add another $1080 if you pay state tax)
– Weighs 10 pounds
– Is 18 inches long
Warning: The lens cost will be used as an example in a divorce settlement to increase monthly payments.
As an amateur birder (and an absolute beginner at that), I love your articles. I can relate to much of what you write and prefer shooting hand held.
You mentioned “It was a challenge just to get him in the view finder as he flew, he just kept moving in flight and constantly changing direction, I would consider this a good test for the 800mm”.
I’m on a budget here so I can’t afford an 800mm or even a 600mm, but one of the key challenges with my 300mm f/2.8 VR II + TC 2.0 III combo is to quickly locate a bird in flight in the view finder and not waste precious shooting time in the process. Have you devised a “quick find” technique? Does anybody experiment with auxiliary low magnification spotting scopes or other gadgets to help finding the bird in the first place?
It will be difficult. With the 300mm f2.8 and a TC2.0 , you end up with a 600mm f5.6.
The only method I can suggest, is that if the bird is ” pre-focused ” when sitting on a branch, then you try to ” follow focus ” … The smaller the bird, the more difficult this will be .
As they say in Japan ….. ” Ganbatte Kudasai ” ….. ” Keep on trying. “
Yeah, that’s probably the way to go, unless the bird is already hovering in the air when I spot it. Eventually, I’ll be good at it and grow some serious muscle while practising ;-). We don’t have many big birds like owls and eagles in my area (Denmark, near Copenhagen), but we do have a fair number of buzzards and herons.
I have found that your eye gets trained after a while, so if you practice you will eventually be able to look at the bird, pick up the lens and hone in on it. I followed bald eagles for a long time in our local area and at the beginning I couldn’t get good photos, it took me too long to find them in the view finder. After a period of time, I just got better and faster, I even practiced on my running dogs to help.
This owl was a little harder than birds I have normally tried to shoot, the combination of much smaller, changing directions made it really hard to focus on it. Just as I would get it in the view finder, it would change direction and pop out of my view finder requiring me to lower the lens slightly to re-pick it up.
ON THE TC 2
that could be part of your problem, this is just my opinion but the TC 2 slows auto focus too much and ends up creating slightly soft images. We had one and were never happy with it. One of my favorite combinations is the 200-400 mm with TC1.4 and sometimes 1.7 – they were the only 2 tele-converters we were happy with, especially the 1.4.
The spelling will be wrong, I was 9 years old last time I was in Denmark but here goes –>
hvordan går det?
Re TC 2 – I agree, there are few keepers when photographing moving objects due to frequent focus hunting, the high pixel count and the slower frame rate of my D800 (making focus accuracy even more critical at 1:1 viewing).
I almost always stop down to f/8 with this lens combination to reach its sweet spot and I often use 3D tracking on moving targets since my focus point will always be in the wrong place.
Practice makes perfect, I guess. But a longer prime might help…
Re PS – Du staver fejlfrit :).
Det går godt her i lille Danmark, men det har været meget overskyet i januar og februar = færre muligheder for flotte fuglebilleder.
I agree that practice will definitely help. I wish I had a dime for every bad shot I took. If I had a dime for everyone of them I could just about purchase a 800mm. lol While using an old manual 500mm Reflex (N) with a D7000 take a look at this; www.flickr.com/photo…484954733/ . While not perfect by any means and will not win any awards, I am proud of it considering the equipment used.
I wish there really there was a Santa Claus.
I sold my wife, my left leg and a kidney to get this lens – just kidding
The truth of the matter is that it is an insane purchase, photography is not our only source of income, it’s an extremely serious hobby.
Having said that, photography is what gives me and my wife pleasure and what relaxes us after working our butts off on our day jobs. That is how we justified this expense, but our sAnity can always be questioned.
I noted in the EXIF data that you used aperture priority for the shots, even the owl flying shots where you had to track the target. Can you comment on that?
I would have thought that you might have gone with shutter priority for the flying owl just to make sure you froze the image.
Nice images and blog post. Now I just need to sell my car to buy the lens and body.
your post is very interesting and your photos are great. The real surprise was to visit your site and especially your graphic pen works, that reveal a great skill. The graphic pen design is a technique that requires a lot of patience and skill, but allows to highlight the shape of the subject in an essential way, stripped of any not required element.
Unfortunately I dont have your ability. I must therefore be content to use the Photoshop’s filter “graphic pen”. It ‘s very interesting to use this filter with with classical architecture subjects, while it is rare to find modern architecture subjects suitable for this type of processing.
THANKS for the compliment
and it doesn’t matter how you create art, all art is good :) The point is to be creative and it looks like you are doing that.