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Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Review - Performance

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Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Performance

The lens is consistently sharp, edge to edge being very even. Both centre and edge are very good from f/5.6 to f/16 and it is only beyond there that it softens. f/22 and f/32 are not as crisp, but they are usable where depth of field is the priority.

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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D810 using Imatest.


CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very well controlled both centre and edge. There are conventional lenses that may have even lower CA, but at a real cost in bulk and weight. The lens has a PF element to reduce CA without having to use special, heavier glass. This enables a smaller, lighter lens, and the PF element is clearly working very well.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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 D810 using Imatest.

 

Distortion is +0.40% pincushion, an excellent result for a telephoto lens.

Bokeh is an interesting mix, with beautiful, smooth gradation where there are large masses of tone in the background. The only slight question mark is with areas of very fine detail, such as a backdrop of fine branches and twigs, which can tend towards looking a bit “busy”.

Flare was not generally observed in normally lit subjects, but backlight did cause a significant lowering of contrast.

Vignetting is not an issue, starting off at -0.7 EV at open aperture, reducing to -0.4 at f/8 and then less than one third of a stop throughout the rest of the range.

VR (Vibration Reduction) delivers the promised four stops advantage with ease. This enables some amazingly slow shutter speeds with still subjects, but moving ones will, as mentioned above, still need high shutter speeds.

In summary, an excellent overall performance. We will be adding more photos shortly. 


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Sample Photos

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Aperture range

 


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Comments


LenShepherd 13 4.4k United Kingdom
9 Dec 2018 8:40AM
There is a partial error in the review in that VR should not always be switched off on a tripod, contrary to the advice in the review.
Nikon's tripod mode VR advice for several recent lenses with tripod mode VR ability has been updated to take account of improvements in VR technology.
The instructions that come with this lens, and that are on Nikon websites, say
"NORMAL and SPORT vibration reduction can reduce blur when the camera is mounted on a tripod. OFF may however produce better results in some cases depending on the the type of tripod and shooting conditions."
Put another way, with a very stable tripod used in optimum conditions with spike tripod feet if on grass, best results are likely with VR off. If the tripod selected is not very stable relative to the camera shake effect at 500mm or there are strong side winds, best results are likely with VR on.
When using a tripod there is often time to take more than one shot.
My advice is each photographer should do there own pre critical shoot testing to determine when VR ON and when OFF produces the best results in their typical shooting situations.
9 Dec 2018 10:31AM
I agree Len that sometimes VR on can produce better results on a tripod than VR off, although I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that when I mentioned a tripod it would be a rock solid one. In those circumstances, VR off would be the best option. However, in the case of rapid moving subjects then a high shutter speed will be needed anyway, to arrest subject movement. I also have always had the feeling that whatever tiny delay locking on VR requires might mean missing the peak of action in some shots, so in those circumstances VR off would be my personal choice.
I also agree with you where you suggest individual photographers should experiment and find out what gives the best results for them.
Thanks for adding the comments. More images to follow soon - the review period has been plagued with atrocious, wet, windy weather.
sneal 14 7 7 United Kingdom
9 Dec 2018 1:40PM
Thanks for the review John.
This is a cracking lens and very useable in the field owning to its light weight. I find the four AF-on buttons are a great help in the handling. Not yet tried them as focus recall but I'm sure the day will come soon!.
I've added a few images to an album in my portfolio - https://www.ephotozine.com/user/sneal-62785/album/nikon-500mm-f-5-6-pf-11445
LenShepherd 13 4.4k United Kingdom
9 Dec 2018 7:20PM

Quote:I
However, in the case of rapid moving subjects then a high shutter speed will be needed anyway, to arrest subject movement. I also have always had the feeling that whatever tiny delay locking on VR requires might mean missing the peak of action in some shots, so in those circumstances VR off would be my personal choice.


Living where I do in the Yorkshire Dales many of the best views are across narrow steep sided valleys. A consequence is about 75% of my landscape work is at 400mm and longer.

I suggest you perhaps check out your view on "VR delay" against the lates VR (and IS) designs.
It was over half a second with the original 80-400.
On lenses like this one and the 200-500 zoom the delay is reduced to near instantaneous.

VR running before the peak of action eliminates the delay factor with typically older than 6 year old lens designed.

In addition VR even at shutter speeds faster than 1/500 helps AF better keep on the intended target. This can help a lot with birds in flight.

I was interested in your comment on occasional flare issues. It was an issue Nikon acknowledged from day one with the 300 PF. I only found it an issue with the sun very close to the subject.
Nikon say of the 500 PF in the specification "by adopting newly developed lens materials flare effect due to the characteristics of the PF lens is optimally controlled. As a result, light sources can be reproduced in near original colours."
So far despite deliberately trying I have not been able to produce lens flare. This is not quite the same as saying it is never present.
peterjones 19 5.1k 1 United Kingdom
29 Sep 2020 11:09AM
Nearly two years later I have found this review very useful as I have just bought a 500mm f/5.6 because of the current price reductions.

Thank you John for your excellent review and Len for your invaluable input.

No excuses, I just have to go out there .....

Peter.
10 Dec 2020 2:09AM
Thom Hogan suggests erratic edge acuity loss is to be expected if you shoot handheld over 1/500s with VR on.
With it off and handheld I see some softness at 1/1250s but not at 1/3000s.
LenShepherd 13 4.4k United Kingdom
11 Dec 2020 9:28AM

Quote:Thom Hogan suggests erratic edge acuity loss is to be expected if you shoot handheld over 1/500s with VR on.
With it off and handheld I see some softness at 1/1250s but not at 1/3000s.


This is an area where I part disagree with Thom
VR traditionally can only help with achieving camera shake reduction at slower than about 1/500 shutter speeds - though it can help keep the focus on an erratically moving subject at faster shutter speeds.

Several years back Nikon said the VR checked for camera shake 1000 times a second.
At shutter speeds faster than about 1/350 (part dependent on the camera body) exposure is by a moving slit in the shutter curtain - with relatively few VR corrections during each part of the slit.
There is some evidence that VR/IBIS in recent lenses checks for camera shake much more frequently than 1/1000 - leading to more accurate VR camera shake mitigation. Nikon has not commented on this detail.

Nikon has provided a VR "gain" at different shutter speeds for a single lens - the 200-500 at 500mm - with most VR gain at as slow as 1/6 of a second!
Ziggy - you will be lucky to get 3 stop VR equivalent at 1/250.
As far as I know no other manufacturer has provided performance at a range of different shutter speeds for either in lens VR equivalent or IBIS - and Nikon has not provided this information for anything other than in lens VR with the 200-500.

I have been using Nikon's VR for over 16 years, and have never managed to induce the issue Thom refers to - and I do own the 500 PF.
There is the odd occasions when VR corrects in the opposite direction to something like wind blown foliage with a slight softening of some detail in the foliage - though with the intended subject kept sharp.

Summing up - VR does not help reduce camera shake at faster shutter speeds.
IMO at slower shutter speeds it is better to get a sharp image when VR helps than to worry about the remote possibility VR might occasionally adversely affect background detail.

Digressing slightly, several recent Nikon lenses - including the 500 PF - have VR sensitivity sentative enough to detect reduced camera shake with many tripods, though Nikon clarify on an extremely stable tripod in ideal shooting conditions VR off can get even sharper results.
With years of experience an extremely rigid tripod - as in at least a Gitzo Series 3 or equipment - and good long lens technique - is needed to get the highest resolution with a lens as long as 500mm.

As the benefit of VR etc and IBIS varies from camera to camera, lens to lens, photographer to photographer and with issues like strong winds my advice is do your own tests to find out when VR etc helps you get sharper results with your equipment in your typical shooting conditions.

11 Dec 2020 3:32PM
Thanks for sharing this.

I've just acquired a 500 PF.
Another session with it, with VR on Normal, generally showed sharper results than without, handheld at 1/1250 to 1/1600s. There was little difference at 1/3000s.

I used the 200-500 mm for a long time. The main benefit of VR with it was making it easier to keep an erratic bird in the frame. Otherwise I didn't see much difference between on and off handheld and got consistent slightly soft results that AF tuning and a trip to the tech didn't fix.

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