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Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR Review

John Riley reviews the 600mm super telephoto lens with VR from Nikon for full-frame cameras.

| Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features

Nikkor 600mm Front Oblique View

The AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR is a monster of a lens, certainly not something the faint-hearted will want to carry far. However, it has huge potential for sports and nature photographers and is a fast lens for its focal length. Let's see how it performs and how it handles in practice.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR Handling and Features

Nikkor 600mm With Lens Hood On Nikon D750

The Nikkor weighs in at a hefty 3810g, and make no mistake is a very large and unwieldy optic. It is quite front heavy, but adding the Nikon D750 supplied for this review does help to balance things up a bit. The lens is supplied in a very solid lockable trunk case and is unlikely to suffer any damage in transit. It should survive aircraft holds perfectly well if necessary. The immense lens hood locks firmly into place and can be stored in the case reversed onto the lens. The lens cap is actually an oversized nylon wrap that fits securely into place.

The VR system has normal and sport modes, the latter dealing with action subjects. They can be used when the lens is mounted on a monopod, for which a short collar is provided. There is a standard, very solid tripod foot that ensures secure tripod mounting. Four stops benefit are claimed, although, as always, high shutter speeds will still be needed for fast moving subjects, to arrest their movement.

The Nikkor focuses relatively close, to a useful 4.4m, thus opening up the possibility of shooting more variety of subject matter. Maximum magnification is 0.14x. There is a switch to limit the AF range to 10m to infinity if desired. This will speed up AF in the given range. The silent wave motor gives us fast, silent AF performance.

Nikkor 600mm On Nikon D750

The manual focus ring is smooth and can be engaged at any time. Focusing is internal, so there is no change in lens size as we  focus closer. The front element does not rotate, and as regards filters these are placed in a small slot at the back of the lens. The filter size is a modest 40.5mm. There is a plain filter supplied as standard to ensure the optical performance is maintained.

Weather resistance is a welcome feature, almost essential for a lens of this type which will be used principally outdoors.

Nine diaphragm blades make an almost perfectly circular aperture and stop down is achieved electromagnetically, thus ensuring very predictable and accurate aperture values. Lens construction is 16 elements in 12 groups.    There are 2 Fluorite, 4 ED (extra-low dispersion) and 1 protective glass elements, plus Nikon's Nano Crystal Coating. This complexity is to reduce CA (chromatic aberration) and flare to ensure the crispest images possible. The Fluorine coating repels grease and moisture on the front element, thus making cleaning easier.

Nikkor 600mm Lens Controls

There are various unmarked buttons on the lens, and these are intended to make possible various programming features that can be stored in memory. For example, a focus point can be memorised and then returned to whenever needed, perhaps to return to a branch that birds routinely land on.

Handling all of this is not easy as the kit is large, cumbersome to carry and heavy. However, once installed at pitch-side or maybe in a hide then the lens is very easy to use. Meticulous technique yields the best images of course, as the high magnification means that even the slightest vibration can take the edge off the sharpness of a shot. A knurled knob on the tripod bracket assembly enables us to rotate the lens into portrait format whilst on a tripod, a time saving and very useful feature.

The sheer size of the lens can have some unexpected consequences. Arriving at a bird hide at Pennington Flash I found that the lens was physically too wide to actually push through the windows to line up the lens on the birds. Removing the lens hood helped, just. There were no such problems at Martin Mere, a WWT site, where larger windows are provided.

The substantial  tripod foot makes a very satisfactory handle for carrying and generally handling the lens. There is a high-quality padded strap that attached to two lugs so that the lens can be carried leaving the hands free. In practice, this means that transporting the lens a fair distance is not so onerous. Tripods and monopods have their place and may help with many shots, if for nothing else but to avoid having to hold the lens for long periods. However, handheld shots are possible and the tripod foot can be used as support on hide windows, walls and any other handy surface. The VR system makes sure that images remain sharp.

Nikkor 600mm Filter Drawer

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR Performance

Sharpness is excellent, especially in the centre of the frame. All apertures from f/4 to f/16 show excellent sharpness at the centre, remaining good even at f/22, although that smallest aperture is clearly not the best option unless depth of field is the major requirement. This makes the widest aperture totally usable, which is very useful where higher shutter speeds are required.

The edges reach a very good standard of sharpness from the start, rising to excellent at f/11 and f/16 before diffraction takes its toll and we drop to good levels at f/22.

All of this would be in vain if camera shake were to take the edge off the sharpness, but fortunately, the VR system is highly efficient. Shutter speeds are possible that would have been unthinkable before the technology was available. At least four stops advantage from the conventional wisdom is very realistic, meaning a shutter speed of not 1/600 sec but perhaps even 1/30 sec is a reasonable expectation. This is fine for still subjects, but with moving ones a high shutter speed will still be needed to arrest movement.


Nikon600mm MTF

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. 

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 D750 using Imatest.


Technically, the lens is free from flare and distortion. Imatest measured just +0.356% of barrel distortion. CA (chromatic aberration) levels were extremely low and not visible in even quite demanding shots. This is very superior to long telephoto lenses of the past, which tended to suffer from CA.


Nikon600mm CA

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 D750 using Imatest.

The Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR lens delivers very sharp images, with beautiful, smooth bokeh. This is reinforced by the total absence of flare, which is hardly surprising given the enormous lens hood provided. In all the shots out in the field flare could not be induced and images were full of contrast and sharpness regardless of the direction of the light. Pictorially, a very satisfactory optic.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E Sample Photos

Value For Money

At £9650 this lens will be beyond the price bracket of many of us. VFM becomes a moot point in some ways as professional sports and wildlife photographers will simply seek the best tool for the job, and arguably this is it. There will be some amateurs who can also afford this, and if they do so they will have a very special optic in its own field. Canon users have their own equivalent, the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM at £8895.

Alternatives abound if it's the focal length that is the requirement and Sigma offer two versions of their 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS lens, one in the contemporary range at £739 and one in the sports range at £1199. The Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD is priced at £749.

Sigma also offer two prime lenses, the 500mm f/4.5 APO EX DG HSM (£3599) and the 800mm f/5.6 APO EX DG HSM (£4299) although none of these match the fast f/4 aperture of the Nikon.

Looking at smaller formats, the MFT users have two very fine Olympus lenses that offer the same field of view as the Nikkor 600mm. The 300mm f/4 IS PRO is as bright and priced at just £2199. The older 300mm f/2.8 is actually a faster lens again, priced at £5689. For more options have a look at to Top 5 Best Nikon Lenses of 2015.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR Verdict

The AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens is a very classy optic, beautifully engineered and delivering excellent high-quality images. It is a gorgeous lens for photographing sports and wildlife, but at the cost of weight, bulk and the inevitable price tag. It performs impeccably, and if you want a lens of this type and can justify the cost, then it will not disappoint.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR Pros

Beautiful, high-quality images
Fast and silent AF
Highly effective VR
Very well controlled CA
Excellent flare resistance
Low distortion

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR Cons

High price


The Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR is a superb lens for sports and wildlife photographers, at a price.



Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
Focal Length600mm
Angle of View2 - 4
Max Aperturef/4
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size40.5mm
35mm equivalent900mm
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnification0.14x
Min Focus4400cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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dannyr 13 46 United Kingdom
14 Mar 2016 10:36AM
Now that's a big lens! Interesting you compare it against the Olympus, although that's a 300mm so not a true comparison, although its still ends up the same focal length.
themak 9 1.1k Scotland
14 Mar 2016 11:58AM
I don't think it's correct to say f4 on m43 is as bright as f4 on FF.
14 Mar 2016 3:23PM
f/4 is a ratio, so it should be exactly the same. Otherwise, hand held exposure meters wouldn't work out.
themak 9 1.1k Scotland
14 Mar 2016 4:59PM
OK, it's as bright per unit area.Smile
lemmy 15 2.9k United Kingdom
14 Mar 2016 6:13PM

Quote:OK, it's as bright per unit area
Which is all that counts. It's equally correct to say that f/4 on this lens is not as bright as f/4 on 6x7cm. Equally pointless, too Wink

I get some twerps telling me that an f/2.8 lens is really an f/5.6. How 36x24 has become a holy grail I don't know. It only came about by accident since it was a convenient size for putting a still frame on film intended for movie use. Imagine the confusion if all lenses were marked with their FF light gathering. So, I'd put an f/2,8 lens on one of my Micro Four Thirds cameras but it would be marked f/5/6. I'd put an f/4 lens on a MF camera but it would be marked f/2.8.

Confusing or what?

themak 9 1.1k Scotland
14 Mar 2016 6:27PM
Agreed, but if you compare across formats it is worthwhile taking into account why one costs (and weighs) X times as much. Maybe it is 'just as good' for 1/4 the cost.
lemmy 15 2.9k United Kingdom
14 Mar 2016 6:42PM

Quote:Maybe it is 'just as good' for 1/4 the cost.
That'll be the day Grin. I've been using, buying and selling cameras for a long time and have found that you get what you pay for pretty much always.

The cost of a lens like this Nikkor isn't in the building of it which probably isn't greatly different from a professional quality 70-200 f/2,8 zoom. It's just that very, very few lenses of this type will be sold so the price must be hiked to make its manufacture worthwhile.

A Ford exec told me it was much the same with cars, too. Once you have the factory and plant, the cost of making a small car or a big one is little different, apparently.
themak 9 1.1k Scotland
14 Mar 2016 7:49PM
That's what I was thinking. On the point of the thing, is someone considering this lens going to be seduced by the lower cost of the Olympus (or M43 generally)? We seem to be seeing more across format and system lens comparisons, even when they're not compatible. There can't be that many people who would choose a system based on one lens review.
NeilSchofield Plus
15 1.7k 1 United Kingdom
15 Mar 2016 8:03AM
Weight and bulk shouldn't always be viewed as " cons", perhaps if you compared the lens to its predecessor, you would see that this lens is smaller and lighter and a step up technology wise

The real cons with this type of lens are the fact the the lens feet are not Arca compatible and require a plate or third party replacement foot( Kirk or RRS ), the lens hoods are fiddly and bulky, with snap on 3rd party ones being far better (Don Zeck) and the fact that they come with magnificent really expensive cases that won't fit with a body attached, those are the three areas that the manufacturers need slating on

A F4 600 mm is never going to be anything other than large and heavy because of the laws of physics however the weight can be a plus if you use the right support gear, particularly in hides, where I use a skimmer ground pod

Additionally a lot of people who buy this type of lens do so to shoot beyond 600mm, where its capability to take teleconverters is crucial, tracking AF capability is just as important however the review doesn't seem to cover these aspects and the only real comparators to this lens are its predecessor, the canon equivalent, and the sigma 300-800
lemmy 15 2.9k United Kingdom
16 Mar 2016 11:25AM

Quote:Weight and bulk shouldn't always be viewed as " cons",
A solid professional support will support a lighter lens just as well as a heavier one. I imagine you are an exception but for most people (and certainly me in my professional days) a 600mm Nikkor of half this size and bulk (with the same performance would be better.)

It couldn't be done, of course but nonethe less. given proper support I can't see any advantage to extra size and weight. I used to have a 400mm f/2.8 Nikkor and a (as I recall f/5.6, may have been f/4.5) plus a 300mm f/2.8 and f/4.5. In both cases the smaller lens got 99% of the use and the others stayed in the boot of my car. Unless you have specific use for these massive lenses (as neilschofield obviously does) they are a big, obstructive and expensive dinosaurs.

I once hired a 2000mm Nikon mirror lens to position in a hired flat overlooking a London siege situation. It comes with a kind of cradle to hold it, like an old ships cannon. I rented a with a massive flash to light the distant scene.

It sounded a great idea but given the amount of *rap in the London air near the Marylebone Road, all it yielded on test was a kind of grey soupy effect with a hazy window in there somewhere. Very nice for an impressionist painter but not something my picture editor would have appreciated Sad

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