Along with the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens has also been announced (the first announcement was posted here). Initially, I wanted to post both announcements in a single article, but after reading about the new 800mm lens in detail, I decided to do a separate post on it. Why? Because the new 800mm has a lot of new technological advancements that I believe will make their way into future Nikkor lenses. At a jaw-dropping price of $17,899.95, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 is surely not for everyone. However, considering what this lens has to offer, there is no other equivalent lens on the market today in terms of optical performance – more on this below.
Until the 800mm f/5.6 came out, Nikon’s longest super telephoto lens was the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR. To get longer focal lengths, one would have to use teleconverters – 2.0x with the 400mm f/2.8 to get to 800mm f/5.6, 1.4x with the 500mm f/4 to get to 700mm f/5.6 or 1.4x with the 600mm f/4 to get to 840mm f/5.6. Unfortunately, no other TC combination resulted in acceptably good autofocus performance and accuracy. So why do we need a dedicated 800mm f/5.6 lens, if one could get to 800mm with teleconverters? Because teleconverters degrade image quality, AF performance and AF accuracy, whereas properly arranging optical elements inside the lens can yield maximum performance. So a true 800mm lens will always yield better results than a shorter lens with a teleconverter attached to it. In addition, with the latest generation Nikon DSLRs that can autofocus at small apertures up to f/8, one could get even longer focal lengths with a separate teleconverter. Which is exactly what Nikon did with the 800mm that ships with the TC800-1.25E teleconverter that provides additional magnification to get to 1000mm. Sounds like an overkill, but it has its uses – whether in sport, news, wildlife photography or other special needs.
Aside from the added focal length, what else does the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E have to offer? First of all, the lens is the first of a kind from Nikon to feature fluorite elements, which provide superior optical characteristics than glass and reduced weight. That’s where the new abbreviation “FL” comes in for the first time – it indicates a lens with one or more fluorite elements. Nikon did not indicate in its marketing materials exactly how fluorite works when compared to glass and how much lighter it truly is. If it is significantly lighter, we might soon start seeing the same technology on older super telephoto lenses or newer professional lenses. Second, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E is also the first Nikon lens that comes with an electronic diaphragm, which is supposed to allow for better and more accurate blade control. While diaphragm blades on conventional “D” and “G” type lenses are operated by mechanical linage levers, the new “E” type lenses will be controlled electronically. I am not exactly sure yet of the full advantages of the electronic diaphragm, but again, we might start seeing more “E” lenses going forward. Lastly, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 is an insanely sharp lens that has no equivalents. Take a look at its crazy MTF chart:
I recently posted an article on how to read MTF charts. One thing that I pointed out in the article, is the definition of a “perfect lens”, which would look like a flat line on the top of an MTF curve. I first said that a perfect lens does not exist, so a straight line MTF curve is impossible to get. However, the above MTF chart tells a different story – the 800mm f/5.6 is pretty darn close to being perfect. In comparison, even the superb Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II does not show the same type of optical performance. I don’t know if it is the design of the lens or the fluorite elements that are to blame for this, but there is nothing from Nikon that performs close to what the 800mm f/5.6 is capable of. Impressive, isn’t it?
I can’t wait to see what these technologies can do to enhance future Nikkor lenses. Wouldn’t a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E FL ED VR be superb? Or better yet, a Nikon 300mm f/4E FL ED VR would be very nice…
The Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR is available for a preorder from our partner B&H for $17,899. Expected availability is April of 2013.