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.
There have been a couple new cameras in the news lately. For Canon shooters, the new 5DS and 5DS R models deliver 50-megapixel (8688 x 5792 pixel) full-frame (36x24mm) images. I know many Canon shooters who have been waiting for something to get them over the 20 megapixel barrier, and these two cameras should do the trick. Canon is doing something similar to what Nikon did with the D800/e variants. The “R” model uses a software cancellation trick to eliminate the effect of the optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter. Both models are expected to be shipping by June 2015.
My take:I know many Canon shooters who have switched to the Sony system not necessarily because they wanted a mirrorless camera, but because they wanted to use their L-glass on a 36MP camera. With the aggressive price points of the 5DS (under $4k), the competition just got going again between Nikon and Canon. I’m very interested in seeing how well Canon has done increasing the dynamic range of their sensors, which has been fairly stagnant for the last few years.
Nikon also announced a new D810 variant for astrophotography, the D810A. This camera has the same sensor as the normal D810 (36MP), but offers a different kind of filter over the sensor; one with an Infrared cut filter. The idea here is to allow for better astrophotographic captures of nebulae, as the filter lets these unique wavelengths of light (H-alpha reds) through (see image samples from Nikon). The D810A also offers more flexibility in manual exposure for capturing long exposures (you can set times up to 15 minutes).
My take:This camera is a specialty item, designed for amateur and professional astronomers. The new camera offers great features for astronomy, but it isn’t at all suited for general-purpose work. I think it’s great that Nikon has the resources to release a camera such as this, because it means that they are doing well enough elsewhere to warrant the production of a specialty camera. But man, I still hope to see a 20+MP camera capable of 8fps for my birding work!
Spring is still a ways off here in the Rockies, but I did take advantage of some recent nice weather to field test my new Nikon 500mm f/4 AFS G VR Nikkor telephoto lens. In case you missed it, I switched to this lens recently after selling my 600mm f/4 VR. You can check out my podcast to hear about my rationale for switching.
Talk about alphabet soup! Nikon has announced a completely redesigned 300mm f/4 lens to replace its aging 300mm f/4 AFS model. The new lens is called the 300mm f/4E PF ED VR, and is available for pre-order here. The lens should start shipping by early February. It is an FX lens, meaning it will work on both FX and DX Nikon DSLR bodies. On DX bodies, the angle of view would be equivalent to 450mm.
I’ve been using the Nikon TC-14E teleconverter now for years. Even though it was “updated” to the MkII model a while ago, the only differences between the TC-14E and TC-14EII were the exterior cosmetics (finish). The optical formula remained the same (5 elements in 5 groups) between them.
Recently, Nikon completely redesigned their 1.4x teleconverter, and released the TC-14EIII. This new teleconverter uses a different optical formula (7 elements in 4 groups) and includes fluorine-coated front and rear elements to improve resistance to dirt and oil. The body of the TC-14EIII was also redesigned, to include a more prominent grip. It also includes weather-sealing (gasket) on the F-mount.
The real question is whether the new TC-14EIII is better optically than its predecessor. While all teleconverters will degrade an image, the 1.4x versions are usually the least destructive. The TC-14E/EII has long been considered to be an excellent teleconverter, delivering sharp results across a wide range of Nikon telephoto lenses.
Teleconverters restrict light coming into your lens. A 1.4x TC results in a one-stop loss of light. Thus a f/4 lens becomes a f/5.6 lens when shot wide-open using the converter.
Teleconverters magnify imperfections in your lenses. If you put a teleconverter on marginal glass, you’ll notice soft corners and other imperfections that you may not have seen. The better your base optics, the better results you’ll get when using a TC.
Nikon teleconverters (TC-14E, TC-17E, and TC-20E models) only mount on certain AF-S lenses. The F-mount is modified to work only with a specified list of telephoto lenses. You cannot physically connect a Nikon TC to lenses it is not compatible with.
On lenses with maximum apertures of f/5.6 or greater, autofocus may not operate well or at all unless you are using a newer Nikon DSLR, such as the D4, D800, D810 or D750.
In order to compare the TC-14E with the TC-14EIII, I set up my Nikon D810 on a tripod. I used mirror lock-up to eliminate camera shake. For each converter, I focused using Live View and then set the camera to manual focus to lock the lens focus. My test target was a newspaper taped to my wall about 8′ from the camera.
I tested each teleconverter on my Nikon 70-200mm f/4 AFS G VRII lens. I know from experience that this is an incredibly sharp lens that handles teleconverters well. I examined the teleconverters performance from f/5.6 (wide-open) to f/11. My rationale being that most of the time you’ll be wanting to use your lens as close to wide-open as possible to maximize shutter speed.
Once I captured the images, I viewed them side by-side in Lightroom 5 with all lens corrections disabled. I wanted to see any effects of vignetting or distortion on the images. I compared the center and corners of each aperture pair.
Overall, both the TC-14E and TC-14EIII were excellent in the center of the image frame across the range of tested apertures. As I moved to the outer third of the frame, The images from the TC-14EIII had slightly better contrast and sharpness. In the extreme corners, the TC-14EIII images were sharper than those using the TC-14E.
I also noticed that despite identical exposure settings, the images from the TC-14EIII were between 1/6 and 1/3EV brighter than those captured using the older TC-14E. This may be due to slight differences in optical coatings. Nevertheless, the histograms clearly indicated that the shots captured with the TC-14E were slightly underexposed as compared to the new teleconverter. Both converters handled light fall-off well.
At f/8 and f/11, both teleconverters delivered excellent results, with the TC-14EIII having a very slight advantage in the image corners.
For each of the images below, click to see a larger view.
The TC-14EIII is Nikon’s latest redesign of their venerable 1.4x teleconverter. Optically, the new design delivers slightly brighter and sharper image corners than the previous version. For photographers looking to maximize image quality on pro glass, the TC-14EIII is an excellent teleconverter. It also adds weather-sealing and dirt/oil resistant coatings, making it desirable for outdoor/nature photographers.
Overall, the optical differences between the new and old teleconverter designs were quite subtle. Unless you’re using top glass, such as Nikon’s telephoto primes, and a high-resolution camera like the D810, you probably won’t notice too many differences in everyday images. In fact, if your images are close-ups with out of focus backgrounds, then the improved corner sharpness won’t have any bearing on your photos whatsoever.
The Nikon TC-14EIII teleconverter lists for just around $500. The TC-14EII has been discontinued, but can be found on the used market.