Nikon has announced updates to its 500mm and 600mm f/4 VR Nikkor lenses. The new lenses replace the original VR versions, which were announced in 2007. These new big Nikkors use fluorite glass elements to significantly reduce their weight. The 500mm f/4 E FL Nikkor weighs in at 6.8 lbs, and the 600mm f/4 E FL Nikkor is 8.4 lbs. That makes them currently the lightest 500/4 and 600/4 lenses on the market for 35mm format cameras.
Nikon has also updated the VR system in these lenses to add 4-stops of effective shutter speed, and introduced a “sport” VR mode, which should theoretically improve AF tracking of moving subjects. The lenses also gain electronic aperture control, which is intended to improve exposure accuracy during high-speed shooting, such as with the D4s DSLR.
I’ve put together a simple table comparing each of these new lenses to its predecessor. Major differences are highlighted in green.
The new Nikkor telephotos should prove to be sharper wide-open than the previous versions, with the 500mm f/4E FL holding a slight edge over the 600mm. (MTF charts from Nikon Japan)
My Thoughts on the new Nikon Super Teles
As a wildlife photographer, the new 500mm and 600mm Nikkors look to be significantly improved, especially when you factor in size and weight. As some of my long-time readers know, I traded in my 600mm f/4 VR last year for the 500mm VR, partially because of size and weight. The new 600mm weighs about the same as the previous generation 500mm lens, but it’s physical dimensions remain mostly unchanged. The new 500mm lens is now under 7 lbs., which can make a huge difference in transport and overall handling in the field. The reduced minimum focus distance on the 600mm lens is also a bonus, especially if you’re a bird or wildlife photographer. Many times I found myself in a blind in Texas unable to photograph a bird that had come inside the 14-foot range of my 600mm Nikkor. The MFD of the 500mm has been reduced to just over 11 feet; also an improvement.
You should be able to easily use these lenses with a 3-series Gitzo tripod; in the past, I used my 600mm lens (which was over 11 lbs) with a 5-series Gitzo. The reduced weight can be a major factor if your photography has you traveling through airports. I usually carry my big lenses in the Think Tank Photo Airport Security Roller to save my back.
Of course, all these improvements cannot be discussed without factoring in price. The 500mm lens lists at B&H for just over $10,000. That’s more than what the previous generation 600mm lens cost. The 600mm f/4E FL is over $12,000. For most of us, that puts these lenses squarely into the “dream about it” category. Of course, the previous generation lenses are still damn good. I’m incredibly impressed with my now “obsolete” 500mm f/4 VR; I found that it absolutely shined, even when shot wide-open with the TC-14EIII teleconverter. If your photographic needs call for frequent use of a super-telephoto lens for wildlife or sports, these new Nikkors will deliver the goods. If you only shoot occasionally, you might consider picking up one of the earlier models at a lower price, or even renting.