The Biggest, Baddest AF-Nikkor Lens: 800mm f/5.6 AFS G VRII

The Nikon 800mm f/5.6 FL ED VR lens is big and sharp, with a price tag that requires a bank loan. (Image courtesy of Nikon.com)

Back in July of 2012, Nikon announced they were developing a monster 800mm f/5.6 AFS VR lens. Today, they announced that this lens is being released and is available for pre-order.

The first question that comes to my mind is “why would anyone want this lens, when you can use a 600mm + 1.4x teleconverter and effectively have an 840mm f/5.6 lens?” Well, I suppose there are a couple of things at play here. First of all, Nikon has quietly implied that only FX-format cameras are their top-end. The D300s, the only “pro” Nikon DX camera, was released in 2009, and other than adding video, it’s the same sensor as the D300 which was released in 2007. Nikon is basically saying, “if you want an action camera, you need a D4.” The only cameras in Nikon’s current lineup that can shoot over 6fps are the D300/s (with grip), D700 (with grip) and the D3s/D4 flagships. Which means if you are a wildlife or extreme sports photographer who wants to take advantage of a modern sensor, you need a long lens to pair with your FX format body. Secondly, sometimes a company needs to produce something this impressive just to demonstrate their engineering excellence. This new lens definitely does that.

The new Nikkor 800mm f/5.6 AFS G VRII is quite a beast. It not only represents the longest modern AF-Nikkor lens available, but also uses some new technology. It has fluorite glass elements in addition to ED elements and Nano Crystal coatings. This leads to (on paper) a seriously sharp lens. In fact, one quick glance at the MTF charts tells you that this lens is going to be crazy sharp wide-open. Which is a good thing, because with a maximum aperture of f/5.6, most photographers will need to use this lens wide-open.

Nikon’s MTF chart for the 800mm f/5.6 FL ED VR lens is impressive.

The new Nikkor lens also has what Nikon describes as an “electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism” which is said to improve exposure during continuous shooting. I’ve seen small variations in exposure when I shoot fast with my D4 and 600mm f/4 lens, so this is a new technological improvement.

The 800mm Nikkor also includes a dedicated 1.25x AF-S teleconverter. When used with the lens, you get an effective aperture of f/7.1. Autofocus is possible with the newer Nikon DSLRs like the D4 and D800, which use the latest Multi-CAM 3500 autofocus module. With the converter attached, you get a 1000mm focal length.

Specs

Specification comparison between the 800mm f/5.6 and 600mm f/4 Nikkor lenses.

The Nikon 800mm f/5.6 FL ED VR Nikkor is big, but actually lighter than the Nikon 600mm f/4 AFS G VRII lens by about 500g. That’s likely due to the use of new lightweight and/or composite materials in the construction. It’s slightly longer than the 600mm, so packing it in normal camera bags will be a challenge. I’m able to fit my 600mm f/4 AFS G VRII lens in a Think Tank Photo Airport Security 2.0 roller, and based on my measurements, this lens should fit in that bag, too. With any lens this size, you’re going to want a solid tripod and a Wimberley gimbal head.

See full specifications of the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 FL ED VR lens here

Of feature of importance to nature photographers is the minimum focus distance (MFD). When photographing birds from blinds, sometimes you’ll end up with animals closer in than you can focus. The 800mm lens has a minimum focus distance of over 19′ (5.9m) while the 600mm can focus to 16.4′. Neither is as good as the 200-400 f/4 AFS G VRII Nikkor, which can focus down to 2m (6.6′). Of course, these big primes are truly remarkable optically (which is why we dream about owning them).

With a price tag of over $17,000 US, the 800mm f/5.6 FL ED VR lens is a specialty item for only the most serious photographers in need of a tack-sharp lens with maximum reach. I can’t imagine that Nikon will be mass-producing this lens. For the rest of us mortals, here are some alternatives for going long.

Nikon autofocus lenses

Sigma Autofocus Lenses

Tamron Autofocus Lenses

And of course, you don’t have to buy big glass for that once in a lifetime trip. Consider renting from a reputable company, like LensRentals.com. Just make sure your tripod is sturdy enough!

 

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