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NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S Lens Review

John Riley has been putting the super-telephoto NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S lens through its paces to find out if it's a lens that those who are dedicated to long-range shooting will want in their kit bag.


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Nikon has now extended the usefulness of the Z range of mirrorless cameras with the introduction of the longest lens to date, the Nikkor Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S. We might hesitate at calling any 800mm lens compact, but as such beasts go, the new Nikkor Z is reasonably so, and reasonably light, helped considerably by the choice of a modest f/6.3 maximum aperture. The addition of VR tempts us to think that even hand-holding such a lens could be a viable prospect. Armed with the new lens and the 45.7MP Nikon Z7 II full-frame mirrorless camera, time to find out how this ultra-telephoto handles and performs in the real world as well as in the technical tests.

 

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NIKKOR Z 800mm F/6.3 VR S Handling and Features

There is no escaping that any 800mm full-frame lens is going to be big. This new lens is no exception, but by opting for a fairly modest f/6.3 maximum aperture, this is mitigated somewhat and it weighs in at a tolerable 2385g (5lb 4.2oz). This is not light, especially after a while in use, but it does mean that the lens can be used handheld without becoming too much of a weight training exercise. In this context, the VR system is essential and this is true even when mounted on a tripod. Add compatibility with teleconverters (Z teleconverter TC-1.4x gives 1120mm and TC-2.0x gives 1600mm) and we have a huge risk of camera shake and even tripod shake. Should we wish to use the lens on a crop sensor Z series camera, the "35mm equivalent" fields of view would be 1200mm without converters and 1680mm or 2400mm with.

Let's take a tour of the lens, starting with the huge front element, admirably protected by the huge bayonet fit lens hood. This clicks smoothly into place and is released by a catch that has to be turned in a contra-flow direction to the direction required to remove the hood. This ensures that accidentally undoing the hood is really not possible. The hood can be reversed onto the lens for storage or transport and there is a very large soft lens cap that will effectively protect the front element. There is no filter thread as 46mm filters are inserted in a filter slot at the back of the lens.

There are four L-Fn2 buttons placed equally around the lens barrel and the function of these can be programmed via the camera menu. There is potentially a slight risk when hand-holding that the bottom button can be depressed whilst holding the lens, so the photographer's grip needs to be adjusted to take this into account. There is a long list of options, including switching the buttons off if so desired.

 


 

The first lens control ring can also be programmed via the camera body. The default option is aperture and this affords us a silent aperture ring, ideal for videographers. Other options are exposure compensation and ISO.

The second ring is for manual focus and this is also active in AF once the shutter release is pushed halfway. When using MF an approximate electronic distance indicator appears in the viewfinder. Focusing is down to 5m (16.41 feet) for a maximum magnification of 0.16x. This is achieved with an IF (Internal Focus) system, so the length of the lens does not extend. The AF system is fast, virtually silent and locks on most of the time without difficulty.

There is a very substantial tripod collar with two strap eyelets for attaching a (provided) neck/shoulder strap. There is also a security point used for mounting a third-party cable to prevent theft on location. This is within the knurled knob that loosens the tripod collar so it can be rotated for horizontal or vertical shots. Closer to the camera body, the L-Fn button is programmable from the camera body and by default is a focus lock. There is the usual AF/MF switch, but if the camera body should be switched to MF then that takes precedence over the lens switch. There is also a focus range limiter, offering a choice of full range or 10m to infinity.

On the opposite side of the lens barrel is the Memory Set button. This locks in the current AF point, which can be recalled by pressing a button that has been assigned “Memory Recall” from the camera menu.

 


 

 

Finally, the filter slot can be withdrawn and the filter drawer allows the use of 46mm screw-in filters. There is an optional polarising filter assembly C-PL460 that comprises a complete drawer with the ability to rotate the polariser.

Lens construction is 22 elements in 14 groups, including 3 ED (Extra-Low Dispersion), 1 SR and 1 PF. The SR (Short Wave Refractive) element refracts wavelengths of light shorter than blue to help reduce CA. The PF (Phase Fresnel) element also reduces CA, but can make the lens more liable to coloured ring flare (PF flare) although if a problem this can be mitigated using Nikon NX Studio software. The diaphragm has 9 blades. The lens utilises Nikon's Nano Crystal Coating plus a Fluorine coating on the front element to reduce contamination by water, dust and grease.

Using an 800mm lens is something that does take some practice. The field of view is very narrow, and even finding the subject can at first be an issue. The weight means a tripod is more comfortable, but most of the sample images in this review were shot hand held, which gives much greater flexibility but is much harder work. It is possible though, and the excellent VR system is a vital part of that. Without it and we realise just how much we waver about when holding heavy lenses. No mistake, it is a heavy lens, being two and half bags of sugar heavy, but for an 800mm that is actually pretty good. The length is as much of a problem in that the lens becomes a bit unwieldy. As regards carrying, then a camera sling fixed firmly to the tripod mount works well, although holding it as well may seem a sensible precaution

However, as with all things, practice is the key, and there is nothing quite like a “light” 800mm to really get to grips with that wildlife and no doubt sports as well.

 


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Comments


LenShepherd 14 4.5k United Kingdom
19 May 2022 8:30AM
Is there a typo - as in the missing "7" from the description of the camera body used.

Should you at some stage consider the tripod and heady you use for your tests?

While the Manfrotto 055 tripod and 115 head used for your standard testing are relatively affordable I find they have relative inadequate stability with focal lengths longer than about 100mm.

Clarifying it could take the image up to 10 seconds to stabilise with this tripod set-up is useful - and also to me a very clear indication a much more stable tripod/head despite the significant cost is needed to reasonably test this type of lens.
19 May 2022 10:09AM
Thanks Len, it's true that testing very long lenses is a challenge, but it can be done with care, using various techniques, even a second tripod under the lens barrel to stabilise things, and certainly using the delayed action for usually a 10 or 12 second delay. Even better when this raises the mirror on DSLRs before the shutter fires. With mechanical shutters there is also shutter vibration and this can peak at certain shutter speeds, which will then potentially create anomalous readings at that point.

Thanks again for the input, always appreciated.

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