The consensus seems to be that Nikon’s newly-announced Z 800mm f/6.3 is selling for a good price at $6500. But that assessment only scratches the surface. In fact, for the focal length and aperture it offers, this is the least expensive exotic supertelephoto in Nikon’s recent history, by far.
The metric I’m using to make that claim is entrance pupil. The diameter of a lens’s entrance pupil is its focal length divided by the aperture. For example, a 300mm f/2.8 lens has an entrance pupil of 300/2.8 = 107mm. As another example, this metric shows that a 400mm f/2.8 is pretty equivalent to an 800mm f/5.6 in total capabilities. This is borne out by the fact that a 2x teleconverter can be attached to the 400mm f/2.8 and turn it into an 800mm f/5.6.
Most of the time, what you’re really buying (and carrying around) with an expensive telephoto lens is a bigger entrance pupil. You’re not just buying reach – hence why the Canon 800mm f/11 is so cheap, for example. You’re buying reach plus maximum aperture.
Lenses from almost every manufacturer can be graphed by their entrance pupil versus their price to give you a remarkably tight trend line. Here’s a graph of all Nikon telephoto prime lenses announced since 2000, aside from specialty lenses (like macro lenses). The Y-axis is the lens’s entrance pupil, and the X-axis is the lens’s price at announcement, adjusted for inflation:
You can see that there’s a very tight spread across these lenses, which makes it easy to predict how expensive a Nikon telephoto lens will be, plus or minus about $1000. There are only two outliers in the entire chart, and both are 800mm lenses.
On one hand, the Nikon F-mount 800mm f/5.6E FL VR was much more expensive than it “should” have been according to this trend line, launching at $17,900 in 2013, which is about $21,800 in today’s dollars. That’s about $7000 more than Nikon’s history would have predicted.
The other outlier is in a more favorable direction: today’s Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3. Although it’s a third of a stop slower than the F-mount version, it still gathers a lot of light for the focal length, with a similar entrance pupil to a 500mm f/4 design. Because of that, a reasonable price estimate would have been about $10,000, similar to the Nikon F-mount 500mm f/4E FL VR. A higher estimate wouldn’t have been surprising either, considering the outlandish MSRP of Nikon’s other 800mm prime.
Yet Nikon went with $6500 instead. Maybe this is because Nikon is deliberately lowering the price of the lens and taking less profit per unit in an effort to shift high-end sports photographers to the Z system. Combined with the Nikon Z9 – which also launched at a lower price than expected – Nikon has created a uniquely-priced, highly competitive unit for sports photography. There’s simply no other system currently on the market that can match the specs of the Z9, plus the focal length and aperture of the 800mm f/6.3, for the $12,000 combined price.
And yes, the Nikon Z 800mm’s price is still high. $6500 is hardly cheap and not justifiable for many photographers out there. If you’re on a budget, the way to go is still the used route – something like a Nikon D500 with an older lens that matches your price range. The used market is filled with 300mm f/2.8 AF-S II lenses and similar, all of which cost much less than they did at launch.
But for photographers who want the most current telephoto glass, this one is worth a serious look. Compared to all other Nikon telephoto primes of recent memory, the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 is by far the least expensive for the focal length/aperture combination.
Given what I’ve covered in this article, you’d be wise to predict that the 800mm f/6.3 is going to be out of stock for a while. If you want the lens or even think you might want it in the next couple years, you should pre-order it today. You should also ideally sign up for NPS to link your order to your account if you’re a professional photographer who hasn’t done so already. The Nikon Z9 still hasn’t shipped for many non-NPS members who placed their order the day of the announcement; the 800mm f/6.3 is sure to be the same way.
We’re affiliates with B&H (pre-order) and Adorama (pre-order) and would love it if you support Photography Life through those links, but I also suggest pre-ordering from smaller retailers that may be able to ship sooner than the huge stores. Place some pre-orders online just in case, but also talk to your local retailer and see if you can get your name higher on the list there as well. With the Z9, we have heard more success stories from people who took that approach, aside from NPS members who were prioritized by B&H and Adorama.
Let me know below if you have any thoughts about the 800mm f/6.3’s launch and uniquely low price! I won’t be getting this lens myself as someone who rarely photographs wildlife (one more spot in line for everyone else!) but I’m interested in hearing your plans with this lens if you’re going to buy it.