Balancing Long Reach and Light Weight: Announcing the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S Lens

04/06/2022Link22

Poised to shake up what it means to be a super-telephoto lens, Nikon has just announced the NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens. Summed up perfectly by the tagline “All the Reach, Half the Weight,” this lens is Nikon’s fresh take on an 800mm lens, which now uses a Phase Fresnel element to dramatically cut down on weight and size to make this huge focal length something that’s truly portable. More than just a sleek lens, Nikon also made sure to imbue this lens with a classy optical design, capable of being the logical progression from the F-mount 800mm version, and something that better matches the ethos of what its Z-mount mirrorless system is all about.

NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens
NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens

Reach

First and foremost, this is an 800mm prime lens. In and of itself, that’s a standout feature. It’s a super long focal length that’s purpose-built for acquiring close-up, tight images of distant subjects like birds, wildlife, and sports. It’s inherently a niche focal length, but the fresh, lightweight design makes this lens quite a bit more appealing to the curious photographer. Another key point about the reach: at launch, it is the longest lens available for Nikon’s Z mirrorless system and is the first Z lens to make use of a PF element, which first gained attention with the popular F-mount 300mm f/4 and 500mm f/5.6 lenses.

Mobility

What’s arguably more enticing about this new 800mm is its shockingly lightweight, portable build. Compared to the F-mount 800mm f/5.6 lens, this new Z-mount lens is 50% lighter! It’s still hefty—it is an 800mm lens, after all—but weighing a manageable 5.25 lb, this new 800mm f/6.3 can feasibly be handheld in certain circumstances. The other main aspect of the trimmed-down design is a 16% reduction in overall length, coming in now at just over 15" long.

NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S Vs 6" Soda Can
NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S Vs 6" Soda Can

Both benefits can be attributed to Nikon’s inclusion of a Phase Fresnel element, which features a unique layout that essentially replaces the need to use several other conventional glass elements in an optical design. The PF element is reminiscent of a Fresnel lens, with its fine concentric circles, and has the additional benefit of reducing chromatic aberrations and color fringing. Some additional contributors to the new lens’s reduced form factor are the smaller f/6.3 maximum aperture and the fact that it is a lens designed for mirrorless cameras with a shorter flange focal distance. About the aperture—it’s true this new lens is 1/3 of a stop slower than the F-mount predecessor but consider all the other benefits of this new design, as well as the fact that Synchro VR is supported for more robust image stabilization to negate any shutter speed differences required between the two lenses.

Detail

Besides the Phase Fresnel element, this lens also includes extra-low dispersion (ED) and short-wavelength refractive (SR) elements as well. All combined, these specialized elements virtually eliminate chromatic and comatic aberrations throughout the focusing range for truly accurate color rendering and the pristine clarity you’d expect from a high-level super-tele. A Nano Crystal Coat has been applied as well, which suppresses flare and ghosting for improved contrast when working in bright and backlit lighting conditions.

Speed

It’s natural for a focal length like this to be used in conjunction with the fastest cameras, like the Z9, for instance, and this lens needs to keep up with the blistering performance of a flagship camera. In terms of focusing, the lens touts a multi-focus system that uses stepping motors to deliver quick and responsive focusing performance that keeps up with subject tracking and continuous shooting modes. This system also allows full-time manual focus override for more stationary shooting applications, such as when working from a tripod and homing in on paused subjects.

On the other side of “speed” is Vibration Reduction, which compensates for the effects of camera shake by up to 5 stops to better suit shooting handheld with slower shutter speeds. When used with Synchro VR, up to 5.5 stops of compensation is possible. Considering the lightweight design of this new lens, it’s funny to say it’s actually feasible to shoot handheld with an 800mm lens, but it’s true. And VR is going to be a huge boon for those select times when you’re looking to employ the handheld flexibility of working with a free-moving super-telephoto.

Reliability

Finally, we get to reliability. As a super-telephoto lens that’s likely to be used by advanced amateurs and professionals alike, Nikon made sure to fit the lens with the appropriate sealing and durable design to handle the most inclement of conditions. Rubber gaskets prevent dust and moisture from getting inside the lens and the exposed elements also feature a fluorine coating that repels marking and is easier to clean than uncoated glass.

Just like the first super-telephoto of the Z system, the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, this new 800mm lens has an intuitive and highly functional arrangement that puts all of the controls, dials, and rings—like Fn buttons, a focus limiter switch, the control ring, and the memory set button—in an easy-to-remember position to reduce the need to move your eye from the viewfinder. Also, the lens has balanced weight distribution with the center of gravity placed over the rotating tripod mount for more natural panning when shooting on a tripod, monopod, or handheld. Additionally, in case 800mm isn’t long enough for you, the lens is compatible with the Z Teleconverters TC-1.4x and TC-2x.

Nikon’s new 800mm f/6.3 VR S is sure to be a hit for the Z system. It’s one of the most unique lenses out there for super-telephoto enthusiasts, featuring a refreshingly lightweight, portable design that makes it more appealing than the unbearably heavy super-tele primes of the past. It’s exciting to see Nikon finally tapping into the promised potential of mirrorless camera design and making use of their optical innovations to release a lens like this. What are your thoughts on Nikon’s new 800mm lens? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

Comments

22 Comments

Any word on how this lens performs on something other than the Z9 ( i.e. Z6, Z7...)?

No specific reports as of now but I can't imagine why it wouldn't perform just as well on the Z9 as it would on any of Nikon's Z cameras. The optics will play just as nicely on a Z9 as on a Z7, Z6, Z5, or even the Z50 and Zfc. In terms of balance and handling, I think the larger body size of the Z9 is probably a benefit since the 800mm is still a pretty large lens, but that will be the case no matter which lens is in use; the larger the lens, the better balance possible when using a larger camera body (or, put another way, the smaller the camera body, the more unwieldy a large super-telephoto lens is going to seem). The fact that this new lens is significantly lighter than previous F-mount versions, though, should make handling pretty consistent and natural from camera to camera.

Nikon please also make a 200-600mm PF, TC, F4.5 lens,  it would be the holy grail of telephotos for serious enthusiasts.  I would gladly buy the 800 pf and a 200-600 pf tc lens combo for all my wildlife work.

That would be a great, versatile option but I don't think Nikon has released a zoom with a Phase Fresnel element before, so I'm curious if that's a feasible option. They do have a 200-600mm lens on their official roadmap, though, so we'll see what the details are soon enough.

Canon needs to make something like this or even 600mm! 

Canon did just release a series of super-telephotos, but done the conventional, faster way. It will be interesting to see if and when Canon releases an RF lens with their own DO technology.

can this lens be used with a Canon EOS 1DX mark 2 body?

Unfortunately, no. It's a Nikon Z-mount lens, meaning it's solely intended for Nikon's line of mirrorless cameras. It isn't compatible with SLR or mirrorless cameras from Canon.

The f/6.3 aperture will not be a significant issue.  I use both the Z TC-1.4x and the Z TC-2.0x teleconverters on my Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens with excellent results and no loss of focusing speed at resultant apertures of f/8 and f/11 on my Z 9 camera.  The Z architecture and the new sensor technology provide for excellent performance from the new Z teleconverters.

Agreed, I think the max. aperture isn't too significant of an issue for the purposes of this lens. And also agreed regarding the use of the teleconverters; I've been happy with my use of then. It's tough to think of a situation when I'll need a 1600mm lens, though, but I'm happy the possibility is there.

And wouldn't a 1600mm (or even a ~1200mm with the 1.4x TC) lens raise real questions of atmospheric distortion (heat causing the air to be visibly distorting), given the distances it's likely to be used at? I know that's been an issue with highly magnified images at long distances - birders fight it all the time with spotting scopes, and serious astronomical telescopes often live on cold mountaintops (or in space).

This is about the most practical photographic lens we've seen that can get to the kind of focal length/image magnification where that becomes a bigger issue... Yes, it plagues 800mm f5.6 lenses, especially with teleconverters, the Canon 1200mm f5.6, and the old Nikkor 1200-1700mm f5.6-8 - but those are all much MORE exotic than this lens...

There would definitely be some atmosphere-related issues to deal with if using a lens that long, but I'm sure there are cases when the reach is still needed despite any aberrations to content with. I think it's a strong statement from Nikon to have released this 800mm as a niche focal length in a more accessible package.

1600mm? Sun, moon and deep space objects! :)

Lunar photography would certainly be a good subject choice for this lens and a TC. Solar shooting is trickier with the safety concerns and filter needs, but luckily you can use 46mm drop-ins on this lens.

I have a repetitive situation where 1600mm is what I use but wish I had more. I shoot the International Space Station with my Canon 800mm f/5.6, with 2x converter, on my old 1DMkIV, but have to manually focus while trying to follow the space station hand-held. I've gotten several useful shots where you can see the main ISS body and the solar panel arrays and even the separation between the arrays. But those shots are very rare. The 16-megapixel images don't leave many pixels for the ISS even at 1600mm + the 1.3x crop factor. If only I knew the Nikon 800 6.3 would be usable for the space station with the 2x converter, I might actually have to make the switch. But, it would also have to work in that configuration with my D500. So, does Nikon make an adapter for this lens that will actually autofocus on the D500? Wish I could attach a pic.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to use this lens on a D500 (or any SLR, for that matter). The Z lenses are designed for the Z system, which has a shorter flange focal distance; even if you could get this lens to physically fit onto your D500, it won't hit infinity focus, which will make photographing the ISS pretty much impossible. If you're up for using adapters, then you could go in the other direction and use your 800mm f/5.6 and Extender on a mirrorless body, but mixing between Canon and Nikon systems is going to lose you focus and maybe some other lens controls.

This new Nikon 800mm f/6.3 will be compatible with the Z 2x Teleconverter, and then you could use that on any current Nikon Z body to get more resolution than the 16MP DSLR- if you went with the Z7 II or Z9, you'd end up close to 36MP or so with a 1.5x crop of the sensor, and giving you a 2400mm equivalent focal length.

Strictly a very, very (20 verys.) niche lens. That is where the photo business is going today. To get the weight down an f stop of 6.3 will make auto focus an adventure. For pros & that's about it. 

f/6.3 isn't a challenge for modern high-end mirrorless cameras, especially the Z9. Early reviews indicate the focus speed is fast and accurate. This is also much less of a niche lens than the 800 f/5.6.

All good points here! I'm loving seeing a more approachable super-tele compared to the F-mount lenses of the past.

The only couple alternatives I can think of are the 100-400 and 400mm with the 2x TC, but both of those combinations are going to result in something slower, heavier, longer, and more unwieldy.

Like Patrick said, the AF issue won't be too prevalent with mirrorless cameras compared to the focusing restrictions and AF point sensitivity problems with DSLRs (one of the benefits of mirrorless over DSLR). Agreed this is a niche lens, though, but that's pretty true of any lens longer than about 200mm or wider than 24mm. It's great Nikon is working with a design that makes this niche focal length a bit more approachable.