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Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens Review

We put the super telephoto Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E ED VR lens through its paces.

|  Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features

AFS 500E FL Angle1jpg 1435827884

Super-telephoto lenses are always an expensive proposition, and this new 500mm f/4 from Nikon is no exception. Available for around £8200, this lens sports a lightweight, yet strong, weather-resistant build, electromagnetic diaphragm, super-fast silent focusing and a fluorine optical coating that repels dust and moisture. Although few people could ever justify the expense of this lens to buy outright, 500mm lenses are a popular choice to hire, and most good rental places will be falling over themselves to get hold of one. Will this lens be worth paying a premium for at rental? Or even worth the cash to buy outright? We'll take a look in the review.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Handling and Features

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The weight of just over 3kg may seem like a lot, but really it isn't for a lens of this type. In fact, it is really quite lightweight for a 500mm lens of any type, which will save those who have to lug it around all day from the extra expense of a visit to their chiropractor after each shoot. In fact, it's really easy to hand-hold, making a well-balanced combination with the relatively compact Nikon D600 body used for testing.

A silent wave motor powers autofocus, and focusing speeds are lightning-fast. Manual adjustments can be applied at any time via the wide rubberised focusing ring, which only takes a light touch to operate, but is smooth and well damped, making applying fine adjustments a pleasure. Four buttons are provided just beyond the focusing ring, which can be configured to serve as AF-ON, AF lock, or focus memory recall buttons.

Closest focus distance is 3.6m, and focusing is performed internally. The front element is too large to accept filters and there is no thread to attach them with. Nikon 40.5mm filters can be used via an internal filter carrier.

The Vibration Reduction system this lens is equipped with promises sharp hand-held shooting at shutter speeds up to four times slower than would be possible without the technology. Even though the system steadies the viewfinder image almost instantly, care still needs to be exercised. Hand-held shots at 1/30sec are possible around half the time, which is around four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb would normally recommend. 

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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Performance

During testing, this lens produced outstanding sharpness in the centre of the frame with excellent clarity towards the edges from maximum aperture, improving a little towards the edges of the frame when stopped down to f/5.6. 



How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.


Levels of chromatic aberrations are extremely low, only just exceeding 0.5 pixel widths towards the edges of the frame when stopped down to f/22. This low level of fringing should be very difficult to spot in normal image taking, even with areas of high contrast towards the edges of the frame.



How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.


Falloff of illumination towards the corners is well controlled for a lens of this type. At f/4 the corners are 2.2 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down to f/8.

Distortion is extremely well controlled with Imatest only being able to detect 0.6% pincushion distortion. This low level will be difficult to spot in normal photographs, but if you require absolutely straight lines, you'll be glad to find that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame. This should make applying any corrections in image editing software reasonably straightforward.

Thanks to Nikon's Nano-crystal coating, this lens is highly resistant to flare and contrast holds up incredibly well, even when shooting into the light at maximum aperture. A tube-like circular hood with a carbon-fibre effect finish comes supplied with the lens, which does a superb job of shading the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues. The lens comes supplied in a flight case, which provides ample protection against bumps and knocks.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Sample Photos

Value For Money

Some lenses are made to a price, and others are made to showcase the best a manufacturer can offer. I severely doubt Nikon made this lens to a price, unless of course they know plenty of folks who have eight grand floating around as pocket-money.

Those who need to be a little more careful with the pennies may look towards Nikon's AF-S 500mm f/4G lens, which is still available, for a more wallet-friendly £5800.

Sigma also produce a 500mm prime lens. Their 500mm f/4.5 EX DG HSM lens is a bargain by comparison at around £3760.

For more options have a look at to Top 10 Best Nikon Lenses of 2015.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Verdict

Just like with Nikon's other updates to their top-of-the-range pro lenses, this lens is capable of delivering the kind of image quality you'd come to expect from the best that Nikon can offer.

Although the £8000 price tag will put this lens way beyond the reach of many, features such as the relative light weight, fast focusing and superb handling will make this lens a popular choice for rental too. The lighter-weight alone is worth some kind of premium to pay over other alternatives.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Pros

Excellent build quality
Light weight for 500mm
Outstanding sharpness
Super fast focusing
Very low CA
Very low distortion
Effective VR system
Weather sealing
Customisable buttons on lens
Comes with its own flight case 
Fluorine coating on lens to repel dirt and moisture

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Cons

Expensive, but you get what you pay for in this case.


The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4 ED VR delivers outstanding sharpness, super fast focusing, and superb handling.


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Nikon AF
Focal Length500mm
Angle of View5
Max Aperturef/4
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size40.5mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus360cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsSlip-on front lens cap, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, HK-34 Lens Hood, 40.5 mm screw-in NC filter, CT-505 Lens Case, LN-2 Strap, Monopod collar

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