Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S By Spencer Cox 98 CommentsLast Updated On February 14, 2023«1. Specifications & Build Quality2. Optical Features3. Sharpness Comparisons4. Verdict5. More Sample Images6. Reader Comments»Table of ContentsSpecifications & Build QualityOptical FeaturesSharpness ComparisonsVerdictMore Sample ImagesReader Comments
To address any questions over the sharpness in the sample photos in this review, here are some full-resolution raw files available for download, including one taken with the 1.4x TC and others at different apertures.
I think that these photos are plenty sharp once some default sharpening has been applied. I consider this a sharp lens even if not at the level of the 800mm f/5.6E FL, and I stand by our extensive testing for the review. But whether you think it’s sharp or blurry – or that the lens is excellent, but my technique needs improvement – you can be the judge without web-compressed JPEGs getting in the way: www.dropbox.com/sh/ru…YSuUa?dl=0
Spencer, you nailed it on this lens, I agreed with everything you said. Fortunately I own the 500mm f/4E VR FL, and I have the option of using the TC-14E III or 20E III. The first gives me an incredible 700mm f/5.6 and the latter, I only use for cases where it makes sense. Often it’s better for me to just switch from my D6 to my Z7 or D500 if I need more “reach!” Although usually 700mm is enough for me, it’s nice to have options. With the 800pf…you can’t ever go less than 800mm, severely limiting its potential for users and use-cases. However if you do often need 800mm or longer…it’s sort of a no-brainer!
The price and build quality plus performance for the money…all equals tremendous value for your money. Anyways, I’d love to have the 300pf and 800pf, however I’ll probably never own either. My 500FL is lightweight and well balanced, even with the TC-14E III attached. Now I’ve had the pleasure of trying both the new 800pf and the 800mm f/5.6E VR FL. At the time I was pondering buying the 500mm f/4E VR FL, a friend and colleague offered me his 800FL for $7,100 USD. For that low of a price at the time, I had to seriously consider it, even if I was forced to resell it, someday? Except the more and more I slept on it, the more and more I realized it was/would be a bad choice. I shoot at the 500mm so often, it’s actually surprising to me. The 500FL is my most used lens according to Lightroom, with my 70-200FL and 24-70mm being my second and third. Although I did recently sell my 24-70mm VR and D850, for an “open-box” USA model Z7 and new in box Z-mount 24-120mm f/4 S! Which is an awesome combo, btw!
Long story short (or long lens made short,lol) 800mm…is often too much focal length! Do I sometimes wish I had more reach, even when I have 700mm f/5.6? Very rarely, yes, but not often enough to justify the $7,000! So I’m happy Nikon has no current or even rumored 500mm f/4’s…because I’m in heaven/love with the 500FL! I have owned or used almost every modern Nikon and Canon super-tele prime and zoom. (As I’m a photojournalist and our newspapers have both Canon/Nikon)
I have been fortunate enough to have had the AF-S, AF-S II and both VR/VRII of both the 300mm f/2.8 and then starting with the Nikon AF-S II 400mm f/2.8 in 2005…I used every 300mm/400mm! I’ve had both 200-400mm’s and even both 200mm f/2G VR’s! In late 2019, I decided to sell my 400mm f/2.8E VR FL, in order to pay for my 500mm FL. I had the 400mm f/2.8G VR for quite a few years before getting the 400FL. Personally I liked the IQ slightly more/better from the 400G vs. 400FL. I actually think the 400mm f/2.8G VR has slightly better IQ compared to the newer supposedly better 400mm FL. Only reason I swapped to the 500FL was weight savings. I wish I could get away with the 500pf, but I use the TC-14E III so often, that extra stop of light is priceless!
800mm is awesome and Nikon hit it out of the park with this lens. No doubt about it, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Plus the original 800FL is now about the same price used vs. the new retail + taxes 800pf! If the extra size and weight don’t bother you…the 800mm f/5.6E VR FL is unreal. It’s a notch above even the best of the best, it outperforms everything! Lots of 800mm FL’s hit eBay for around $7,000-$8,000 USD in the past few months. At one point I think I saw like 7 different copies, lol. That’s a lot when maybe only 1300 or so exist on the planet? Make sure you get the matching 1.25x TC! That’s an important piece to have! It makes an unbelievable 1000mm lens that’s crazy sharp!
To be honest, it’s a bit ridiculous to list 800mm as a “Con” in a review of an 800mm lens. Most people who are interested in this lens will actually be so because of its focal length. Of course it’s not ideal to take, say, portrait shots, but then again, 85mm aren’t ideal for wildlife. Would you list that as a “Con” in an 85mm lens review? I don’t think so.
Also, 800mm is not really that extrem as a focal lenght. In the earlier days of DSLRs, many wildlife photographers used their 500mm and 600mm lenses on crop bodies exclusively, putting them at 750 to 960mm FF equivalent, depending on the crop factor. And I knew quite a few people who had in addition their 1.4x TCs basically glued on. A collegue of mine once said, in reference to that, “you are nobody nowadays if you don’t lug around at least 1000mm focal length”.
This isn’t the first lens review where I’ve noted the focal length could be an issue due to versatility. 800mm is great if you need it, but for many subjects – including plenty of wildlife – it’s simply too long. Combined with the f/6.3 maximum aperture, this is a specialized lens any way you look at it.
It sounds like for you and your colleagues, it’s specialized in a useful way. I trust that people in your position will be smart enough to recognize 800mm as a pro, not a con, in that case. But I don’t want the typical wildlife photographer to go into their lens search thinking they need the longest possible glass at all costs.
It’s definitely worth pointing out that the lens is too long for many subjects, no argument there. Still, that doesn’t make the focal length a general disadvantage (other than, for example, the 6.3 max aperture).
I just wanted to point out that 800mm is not that exotic, if you are talking in FF eqivalent. For example, the D500 + 500 f/5.6 PF – often refered to as the “ultimate budget/lightweight bird photography combo” – stands at 750mm, which is quite close.
Personally, I do mostly stalking bird photography, and even with 800mm, I often wish my subjects were closer…
thank you for reviewing another telephoto lens.
As I find discrepancies with Imatest results, I would like to have some revised & consistent set of results from all of PL’s reviews. And Nasim took a lot of time to adjust the testing procedure for the 800mm, as he said, to be ready to compare all the mixtures of lenses and TCs.
Indeed, if you look back to the results proposed at the time for the 800/5.6 E FL (photographylife.com/revie…f5-6e-vr/2), starting from those at maximal aperture, the Imatest scores are much higher than reported here (even in the corners the score is above 3000, in the center is close to 3400, in mid frame around 3300), giving even more emphasis on the sharpness/contrast differences with the Z 800/6.3 PF, as found in the pictures and some comment.
It is surely a lot of work to do, but a comprehensive comparison of the G & E lenses (200/2,300/2.8, 300/4, 400/2.8, 500/4, 500/5.6, 600/4, 800/5.6) with all the TCs (1.25x,1.4x,1.7x,2.0x) would be a much appreciated added value to your site & reviews. You know that all AF-I & AF-S do work on both mounts, so these comparisons might be really important for an unbiased evaluation of the lenses for those heavily invested in Nikkor glass.
Thank you for your attention!
Some people have asked about this before, so to be clear, all lens test results shown on Photography Life are comparable to one another if they share the same graphic design. A handful of our older lens tests have a very different graphic design, and those are not comparable to the newer results.
As for the charts that you just linked – those are older tests done on the Nikon D810 instead of the Nikon D850/Z7, and that was when we were using a different, older Imatest chart which calculated the scores differently. We’ve since moved to a chart that can better distinguish differences among today’s ultra-high-res lenses.
I’d love to go back to our older tests from the D810 and redo them on the newer chart, but it will be a huge undertaking. However, the tests of both 800mm lenses shown in this review are comparable to each other.
Thank you Spencer for the clarification.
Is it that you changed together the reference sensor, the target (now back-illuminated, not with flash anymore, with different projecting resolution?), the distances, and the calculus, and may be the fixtures/electronic curtains and vibrations’ damping? …may be the older set-up by Nasim was able to reach even better tuning and finer results, as he wrote at the time, with very time-spending adjustments.
Still I do not understand completely why the results should depend on the sensor used, as in this way it may seem that on 36MP body there are better results than on a 45MP body for the very best of long lenses… I do hope the AF-S 800/5.6E FL out-resolves also the 45MP sensors, as the true-life’s pictures here may suggest (focusing planes apart) :-) Otherwise it might be that also the newer Z lenses are capped for higher MP sensors that may come in the future…
Indeed, also the 600/4E FL naked reached around 3400 score, against the 3060-3119 of the older G version, so I was expecting bit better results from the same generation 800mm E FL, more in line with the 3400-3500 highest score of the first review. The 600/4E FL is awesome on the D850, also @840mm (much better than 400G+TC20Eiii), you can clearly see it starting from the viewfinder, but it degrades once paired with the TC17Eii or TC20Eiii.
But in any case… I can not mount any Z lens on DSLRs, so I have to get the 800/5.6E FL as lovely as it is to keep compatibility with the past, and to use it @1000mm/f7.1 for enhanced clarity against the other solutions :-)
Sure thing! But there is just no such thing as better or worse numbers when different charts and methodologies are used. A score of 3500 is not higher than a score of 3000 if the charts are totally different and non-comparable.
The new setup uses a backlit chart rather than the flash technique that Nasim used, plus a normalization factor to account for long lenses and chart differences. It’s not a better or worse method, but one that I chose because it allows our telephoto results to be comparable to our midrange and wide-angle results. Basically, all the test charts on the site are now fully comparable to each other, so long as they have the new graphic design. That wasn’t true in the past – you couldn’t compare the 800mm f/5.6 E numbers against Nasim’s non-telephoto tests at the time.
As for differences between these 800mm Nikkors, there’s not much in radical new news…. Besides what already been said here, and by Brad Hill (in a blog post, August 2022). Comparisons of my pair of 800’s over the past 10 months – testing on the Z9 – confirms the 800 f5.6E is distinctly superior, but the 800 PF runs a very close 2nd. This statement is highly contingent on atmospheric conditions, and thus time of day, the weather and subject distance. As is common knowledge, or should be, haze, dust etc can trash one’s aspirations: with either lens, and in fact any of the longer focal length telephotos. Together with more particles in the light path – directly related to subject distance – the magnification appears to be the dominant determinant of the smudging etc that ruins an image.
I’m still completing more thorough, objective tests on cooperative subjects, particularly at 30m and longer distances. In optimal conditions, the IQ of the 800 f5.6/1000 f7.1 equals if not beats the legendary 400 f2.8E FL. Nevertheless, in general, for subjects within 10-15m, one has to look twice to tell which image was taken with which prime: 800 E of 800 PF. Their bokeh tends to have its tell tale signature but not always. However, hands down, in optimal conditions when feasible on a steady gimbal the 800 f5.6E remains in its own class, when it’s worth the schlep. The 1000 f7.1 has its unique advantages when needed.
The Teleconverters also even out differences between the two; comparing the respective TC14 and TC2. The improved Z-TCs give the 800 PF distinct leverage as a 1120 f9 and 1600 f13, although the quality of the 800E with the vIII TC’s reminds me of my excellent results with the 400 f2.8E. Conversely, a Z MILC injects new life into the autofocus of the 800 f5.6E with a TC, besides obviating the need for focus fine-tuning.
IBIS aka VR – is the other important difference that favours the 800 PF. Combined lens VR and IBIS of the 800 PF on the Z9 enable much lower shutter speeds (on static subjects obviously). In challenging light, I’ve scored a decent hit-rate at 1/200, but I much prefer to keep the shutter at 1/800-1/1000 when possible.
This is a very useful description, it certainly suggests the 800PF has a place, when the option to have a 800mm F5.6 is an alternative option to be mounted on a MILC Body.
I am keen on the 800PF > Z9. I also know that a search and prudent purchase can find a used model 800mm F5.6E for not too much difference in monies needed to acquire the 800PF.
I have committed to the Z System and have not any intention of using F Mount Lenses + FTZ.
I have also moved on from Lenses such as the 400mm F2.8G, as the want to be portable and unburdened with weight is quite attractive, and recent methods adopted have proven this change to be correct for my needs.
The 800PF at 2.4Kg vs 800mm F5.6E at 4.6Kg, leaves me keen to have the the weight difference with the most attractive appeal, being the lighter in weight design.
The shorter length of the 800PF coming in at 385mm and being 75mm shorter as a model, has appeal as well.
I have a changed a Backpack recently and now have a Aeroplane Cabin Backpack that will accommodate this shorter length of lens.
The 800mm F5.6E is I assume the last of Nikons offerings for F Mount, at this level of build quality.
It is in my assessment this is a lens with depreciation to still to occur, when it is another 20-30% cheaper and I am more of a location photographer than a Transit Photographer, as health is already causing knee issues, the F5.6E, might become the 800mm Lens sought after.
Your post is one I will make a family member aware of, as they are fully primed to pull the trigger on a 800PF Purchase.
Thank you very much to you and your colleagues for all your efforts completing this review. The MTF data are as valuable as they are unique. These close a big gap, and particularly has PL is the go to resource for reliable MTF data to compare the more exotic Nikkor telephotos (and much more obviously).
However, it’s not clear how your current lab setup relates to the one on which the data is reported in earlier reviews? This applies especially to Nasim’s review of the 800 f5.6E FL. (This review is a major factor in why I own a Used copy of this exotic together with the 800 PF.)
It’s a mistake to underestimate the dinky bonus with the heavier 800 Nikkor in its dedicated TC800-125. This is likely part of the high price. One pays for effectively 2 prime telephotos of the highest quality, because the 1000 f7.1 is no less excellent, tightening the FoV to 1 degree (from 2). The design of the TC125 is not only optimized to pair with the 800 E, and no other, but each custom copy is built and fine-tuned as a bespoke pair. This is plain to read in their shared serial numbers. If either/both the Lens and/or its the TC125 is damaged, then the entire unit has to be shipped back to the Nikon Sendai factory.
It’s highly subjective whether the 800mm focal length can be classified as specialist/highly specialized, particularly in the realm of the wildlife genres. Perhaps it’s specialized for landscape certainly and also many aspects of sports photography, but wildlife too often demands 800mm and more ‘reach’. Too often smaller birds require this reach, and more – hence the widespread reliance on Teleconverters. As importantly, 400, 500 and 600mm etc are often too short for shy mammals, and for tighter framing of subjects. There are sound reasons why wildlife (also sports) photographers, exemplified by Moose Peterson, take strenuous efforts to travel and use these 800’s.
Compared to even relatively recently, the accessibility of the 800 PF has made 2022 the year of the ‘Democratization of the 800’, thanks primarily to technological advances to design this ergonomic marvel and produce cost effectively: in a word – Game-Changer! It also appears Nikon based their development decision on analyses of published exif data, so noting the high frequency of wildlife images taken with a 400 f2.8+TC2 and 600 f4+TC14 etc. In this context, when interviewed, last year, the designers of the 800mm PF explained why they prioritized this longer focal length, because:
“About 3/4 of NIKKOR F-mount 300mm PF lens users will use with extenders, but demand has been declining since the 500mm PF lens was introduced. At the same time, user demand for telephoto lenses is increasing as performance such as camera sensor sensitivity (note: higher sensitivity) continues to evolve. Taking these factors into consideration, we are prioritizing the planning of a hand-held Z-mount super-telephoto lens.” – inf.news.en
I was thinking about the 800 mm 6.3. Currently I am photographing with the Z9 and Z6 with the 500 mm pf 5.6. There are couple of reasons to stay with that lens. When you are hiking longer distances in the mountains weight counts. Also getting everything packed counts and the 500 pf gives me greater flexibility when using with the 1.4 times TC. I can shoot closer when required and I can back up without moving my position. Keeping your lens longer on the subject counts as well when photographing handheld.
I might have overlooked it – do you have a 500 pf review already ?
Thank you and your collaborators for this wonderful webpage !
Thanks Michael! Jason did a field review of the 500mm PF, although we haven’t tested it in the lab yet: photographylife.com/revie…e-pf-ed-vr
In general, I would recommend to keep the 500mm PF and not switch to the 800mm unless you are sure you need such a long focal length. 800mm is extremely specialized. It will require faster shutter speeds than the 500mm PF, to the point that you’ll often be doubling your ISO for a similar photo.
Unless 500mm is frequently not long enough for your needs, I would suggest keeping it and putting the money elsewhere.
Thank you Spencer – Jason’s review is very nice as well and matches my experiences. I must say that with the 1,4 times converter on the 500 pf I have no complaints on a Z9 or Z6. (In particular on the latter due to its great ISO performance and larger pixels).
In terms of weight the 500 pf and FTZ adapter have 1,6 kg. The 1.4 times TC weighs 190 g. So hiking with that combo is very flexible and below the weight of the 800 mm 6.3 alone of 2.3 kg. The saved weight allows you to add e.g. a landscape lens such as the z 14-30 and other stuff you might want to have on a longer hike in remote areas.
So even though the 800 mm has a great price to value it seems not to have best footprint for my purposes. The 400 mm f4.5 would be the choice of a lens. So maybe comparing this with the 500 pf might be an interesting article.
As described in Christopher Frost review of the 800mm, this lens is a little bit softer at its closest focusing distance. I think this explains why the 800mm was a little bit softer than expected in this review.
Steve Perry tested the sharpness of this lens and came to a better conclusion probably because he was not at the closest focusing distance.
That could be part of it. And I’ll highlight your wording here – “a little bit softer than expected.” You’re exactly right, that’s all it is.
I don’t want our tests here to get blown out of proportion. If you get blurry photos with this lens, it is not the lens’s fault – it’s most likely atmospheric distortion, slight missed focus, slight motion blur, and so on. The lens is plenty sharp.
I am an aviation photographer with D6/D500 + 640E and plan to switch to Z9 + 863PF. I am so surprised with the comparison results in about 856FL and 863PF that the weak sharpness with a less detailed cropped image of 863PF compared to that of 856FL. I am therefore interested in the results of 640E/TC with 863PF. So, would you be able to share the comparison with F mount 640E with TC14/ without TC14 and Z mount 863PF? Thank you.
Sure thing, Jiun-Wen. Nasim has already tested the Nikon 600mm f/4 + 1.4x TC head-to-head against the 800mm f/5.6E FL. The 800mm lens beat it by a very similar margin to how much it beat the Z 800mm f/6.3. That comparison is here: photographylife.com/revie…f5-6e-vr/3
In short, you will probably not give up any image quality with the 800mm f/6.3 (aside from busier bokeh) and you will save a lot of weight.
It all sounds rather impressive, but I still don’t see how 22 glass elements adds up to the price of a small new car. That being said, I suppose there’s a niche for this kind of lens too and Nikon seems to be catering to that rather well. That shot of the moon in particular nicely showcases the reach and quality; I definitely couldn’t replicate that with my shorter lenses. I don’t know enough about the birds to tell how feasible simply getting closer would be.
It’ll be interesting to see how much of this size and weight saving translates to the expected 200-600, as the 200-500 F-mount lens has become a common sight around race tracks, other outdoors sports, and I’m guessing wildlife photographers as well. For those that switched to the Z-mount bodies, that could be a popular lens. At least if they don’t increase the price too much from the €1500 price point of the 200-500.
Why Are Some Lenses So Expensive? by Nasim Mansurov
Interestingly, the 800mm f/6.3 PF has more elements than the 800mm f/5.6E FL, but it’s about $10,000 cheaper! So it’s not all about lens elements. Broadly speaking, the entrance pupil (focal length divided by maximum aperture) is the biggest signifier of a supertelephoto lens’s price. The larger the entrance pupil, the more expensive the lens. This one actually bucks that trend a bit.
Good! So we can expect sharpness figures for the Z 100-400 with the 2X TC, since you are equipped to test a 800mm focal length! I am very curious to see them!
You bet! ETA on that review is 2-3 weeks. When I tested them side-by-side in the field, the 800mm f/6.3 was noticeably sharper than the 100-400 + 2x combo. But I haven’t tested the 100-400mm in the lab yet.
I have been using the 100-400 for almost a year now, and I must say (from purely subjective opinion, no measurements) that with the 2X it’s slightly better than an equivalent crop (especially stopped down to f/16)… but not THAT much. I will keenly read if the numbers confirm my impression!
I have extensively worked with the Z9 > Z TC 2.0 > Z100-400, from September 2022 – January 2023.
The intention of the coupling was to experience the Set Up as a 800mm focal length.
I have images captured during the UK’s late Summer , Throughout Autumn and Worse Winter Light.
I captured images in Open Space, Shooting into Woodland Shade and in Woodland.
In good quality light at close focal lengths, I captured images that were on par with older images captured with a 400mm F2.8G + TC 1.7.
As the focal length increased, I was not quite satisfied with the IQ with the Z TC 2.0
Capturing images shooting into Woodland was very dependant on the quality of light available and the same for within Woodland.
As the Winter Weather progressed there was many reasons not to use the Z TC 2.0 and in early January 2023, the Z100 – 400 was used as a lens only.
The same locations were revisited and the Lens performed extremely satisfactory in all lighting available, it excelled in the Woodland Setting.
The Z TC 2.0 served its purpose, it supplied a great 800mm Focal Length Experience, which is a attractive option for how I carry out photography.
It has not given in use the same dependability I had from the F Mount Set Up I used, to have a similar focal length, the older method, was much more successful in use during the Winter in Woodlands.
During the Spring and Summer Months the Z TC 2.0 might prove to be improved, but I am now looking into the Z TC 1.4 and cropping.
The Z TC2.0 is now replaced by the Z TC 1.4.
I agree. The 2x TC with the 100-400 is good in good light, and below 600 mm equivalent. The 600-800 range is questionable. But then… the 1.4 TC would probably be a better choice!
It was not just the image quality that can be seen to be showing a loss of sharpness.
The maintaining a 1/800-1200s Shutter Speed, needs the Z9 to be using High ISO, -1.7-3.0 EV when stopping down to F14-F16, along with the AF System showing it is compromised, all add up to a High Risk of missing decent opportunities, which was the experience had.
The Naked Lens excels in the Low Light for my purposes and the Z TC 1.4, is yet to be trialled, but the settings outlined above will most likely not be used at any time, which should be kinder to the AF System.
I have similar experience with 800PF. I ordered the lens the day it was released and got it in July 2022. Traded in my used 800 5.6FL for no cost, of course testing them side by side first. 800PF is sharp, but not as sharp and contrasty as old 800FL was. Bokeh is worse especially when background is close to the subject.
When I got the 800PF I was already pretty sure 600 Z with or without TC was coming and I concluded that 800PF would have greater value than old 800FL by time the 600mm comes out. It was exactly so, now at least in Finland there are two used 800mm 5.6FL on sale for about 6900€ and they are obviously hard to sell. Now I have the 600TC. Maybe 800FL is the sharpest of three at long distances but it doesnt take teleconverters that well, just the 1.25x works good, even 1.4E III less so. Z telephotos take any converter better.
Those are really good prices for a used 800mm f/5.6! But I’m with you, considering the sheer weight of the 800mm E FL, it wouldn’t be a lens I’d consider, at least now that there’s an alternative.
You bring up a good point about teleconverters. I’m about to test the two Z teleconverters in the lab, but for field work so far, they are pretty good performers. No such thing as a perfect teleconverter, but I can’t complain overall.
There is a thing to note: the Z800PF can not be mounted on DSLRs :-( Contrary to many here, I am considering an used 800/5.6EFL+TC1.25x as a better alternative to the 600/4+TC1.7x to reach 1000mm f/6.7 or 7.1, as the 600+TC17 becomes a bit week in sharpness, but I used it to picture running wild boars under moonlight at 230k crazy ISO, something I doubt I can do with a Z9, but only with D# bodies. The pictures were not perfect, sure, but really rewarding for me that I was there in nearly total darkness: the DSLR focused, a bit slowly than in daylight :-), but got something I was hardly able to see in naked eyes! Instead, the 500PF is already unusable with the TC14 on DSLRs, as it closes to f/8, so focusing is a bit more tricky. I use the 500PF when the terrain is uncertain, like mud or snow, where balance on foot is more important.
The 800E FL would be heavier than the 600+TC17, but I trained myself with the AF-I 400/2.8 first, and later with the 400G, at the same weight, but more front heavy. The 600/4 is noticeably lighter and easier to manage.
May be, if you send us the links, I might have a look to the Finnish options on the used market, before searching it outside EU :-)
Here is link for used 800mm 5.6E; now there is actually three of them.