One of our readers, Christian Sasse, sent me a user review of the new Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR lens that has recently been announced by Nikon. I have not yet been able to obtain one myself (still waiting for NPS to drop ship it), so I requested Christian to provide some information, along with image samples from the lens for our future section called “User Reviews”, where we will be publishing shorter reviews of camera gear sent by our readers. Below is a summary of his findings.
Big thanks to Nasim and his team at Photography Life for letting me post my short review of the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E that I recently acquired for my wildlife photography needs. Since I have been using the Nikon 600mm f/4 before getting my hands on the 800mm f/5.6 lens, I decided to compare the two lenses, with the 1.4x teleconverter attached to the 600mm f/4. But before I go there, I would first like to talk about size differences between the two lenses. Here is an image showing the two lenses side by side (Top: Nikon 800mm f/5.6E, Bottom: Nikon 600mm f/4):
As you can see, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E is slightly longer than the 600mm f/4. However, that length difference is practically negated because of the shorter hood on the 800mm f/5.6. What I like about the hood on the 800mm, is that it is a single unit, versus the two stacked hoods on the 600mm f/4. This also means that you can assemble the setup quicker in the field. The weight distribution due to the fluoride lenses on the 800mm f/5.6 make it not only lighter but also well balanced, as it is no longer front-heavy, but instead has the center of gravity in the middle. I highly recommend to invest in a good tripod system with a Gimbal head, to buy protection for the lens (LensCoat is my top choice) and have a good protective case to store it – this is obviously a heavy investment.
I performed a preliminary comparison of the 800mm lens with the 600mm f/4 + TC-14E II (1.4x) using the Edmund Scientific Resolution Chart. Here are some 100% crops for your pixel peeping pleasure (Left: Nikon 600mm f/4 + TC-14E II, Right: 800mm f/5.6):
Both were shot on the Nikon D4 @ f/5.6, 1/2000 shutter speed to diminish camera shake. Because these lenses are huge and their focal length is so long, it was actually a difficult test to conduct, even if you have a very stable tripod and a delay timer. After taking repeated tests, the results seem inconclusive as the resolution of the Nikon 600mm f/4 is superb and to be honest, I cannot really see the difference. I think a more detailed analysis using the right tools in a controlled environment will identify which one of the lenses truly resolves more detail. Plus, a high-resolution DSLR like the Nikon D800 would be more suitable for this job.
Now that’s just my take on resolution. There are clearly some differences between the two lenses worth pointing out though. First, auto-focus speed is amazingly fast and accurate when compared to the 600mm f/4. It works very smooth with the D4 and is nearly always instantaneous, provided that you upgrade the camera firmware to the latest version. If you forget to upgrade the firmware, you will be surely disappointed with this lens, since autofocus will work erratically on an unsupported Nikon DSLR.
Second, contrast and colors are just outstanding – check out some of the images in this short review. Third, the VR is exceptional for video on the D4 compensating well for moderately heavy winds on the coasts. I was very pleased with eagle videos I took with the setup. Here is a sample video (warning, the image is a little graphic):
Since the Nikon D4 can autofocus with f/8 lenses, my next goal is try it out with the TC-14E II, which will give me a focal length of 1120mm! The Nikon 600mm would need the TC-20E III to get to that range and as you may already know, it does not work well with anything longer than the TC-14E II…
In summary, the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E seems to be an outstanding lens for sports and wildlife photography. Now I need to go back and take more wildlife pictures with it. Perhaps I will send an update to this short review later, as I play more with it. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below!
All images and video copyright of Christian Sasse, 2013.
Going forward, we are planning to publish more user reviews like these. If you would like to review any photography gear (cameras, lenses, accessories, etc), please use our Submit Content form and we will get it published. We will make sure to credit you via a link to your website/blog/portfolio, so it will be a great exposure for you personally (we have over 50,000 daily visitors) and your website will receive a “do-follow” link from us, which will increase your search engine rankings.