Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm and 600mm f/4G ED VR lens reviews: legendary performers in the range


So what does all this mean to me and why did I bother writing a post on something we photographers should intuitively know by now? It’s evident that newer lenses produce better photos. It’s obvious but I believe we might sometimes loose just a little perspective with this’better’ scale.Take the vintage 43-86mm lens, recall this is reputed to be the’worst’ Nikon lens ever, this lens is older than many of its owners and to place it into perspective, 1 year earlier this lens came to market audio tapes were devised. That’s crazy, you would expect a lens that’s dubbed as the worst lens and made at a time prior to pocket calculators that it would be like shooting via a classic sock! It just isn’t. Yes it is soft, yes it is blurry at the edges, yes it moves in the highlights but it is still usable and frankly a shot taken with this lens and exhibited from the most common structure of our creation i.e. our telephones, nobody could ever know.Ok thus lets fast forward nearly half a century and compare what Nikon is up to now. The elderly 28-105mm lens that I’ve been using for over ten decades and taken literally tens of thousands of frames without incident, service or repair, how did these pictures compare? Pretty damn good in my view, yes its a’old’ lens but I have taken commercial jobs on it for my whole career. It has images have been in books, magazines, Adshels, posters and nearly every other printed media out there and I have never thought’oh that is a little soft/flat/distorted’.

Introduction

Even though Nikon has stuck with the F-mount for more than 30 decades, they’ve made lots of tweaks and improvements during that time, also it looks like each time they do, there’s a new acronym to learn. First, a little background, then the translation dictionary.The first F-mount appeared in 1959, and lenses which were produced from then until about 1979 are usually known as Pre-AI. These lenses are dangerous on many current Nikon bodies. With the exception of a modified F5, altered F6, or stock Df, D40, D40x, D60, D3xxx, or D5xxx, mounting one of these lenses on your Nikon will lead to harm, and thus don’t even try it. If you find that you have one of those lenses and want to utilize it on a current camera, you have to have the lens converted into AI first. Nikon used to try it, but today it is carried out by numerous independent companies.The first autofocus lenses appeared in 1986. All these possess a”CPU” built into the lens, however, this is in fact just a fancy way of stating it’s a digital transfer of fundamental lens info to your camera. Ever since that time, we have had several variations of autofocus lenses: D-type (1992) adds space information into the information provided by the lens into the camera, AF-I, AF-S insert in-lens focusing motors, and G-type eliminates the aperture ring (but is otherwise identical to D-type). The key items to watch for are non-D versus D or G. This is found by taking a look at the aperture designation on the barrel, which would be something such as f/2.8, f/2.8D, or f/2.8G for plain autofocus, D-type, and G-type respectively.

Unlike the Nikkor 600mm f/4, which as a manual focus lens at the time was first introduced in back in 1977, the manual focus 500mm f/4 was only introduced in 1988 after repeated requests to the maker to offer a smaller, lighter weight option as that made popular by arch-rival Canon. The current AF version was introduced in 2007, weighs 3880g, boasts 14 elements in 11 groups (including 3 ED glass elements), and a single Nano Crystal Coat. As well as an ultrasonic type AF motor, it focuses to 4.0m (3.85m in MF) also has the latest 4-stop VR II spec and a sticker price of $8,030 to match.

Until only recently the $9,999 AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G ED VR was Nikon’s longest and most expensive super-telephoto (though that position is now reserved for the new $17,900 fluorite based AF-S Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR). Even so, the 600mm f/4 can still lay claim to being the heaviest at 5,060g (weighing 470g more than the 800mm f/5.6). As with the 500mm f/4, this lens has VR II, Nano Crystal Coat and one extra glass element, bringing the total to 15 in 12 groups (with 3 ED glass elements), an ultrasonic type AF motor and focuses to 5.0/4.8M depending on the focus mode selected.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm - IQE

With a DxOMark Score of 25 mounted on a 36Mpix D800 this is without doubt a high-performance lens, but even while sharpness across the field even wide open is excellent, the Sharpness score of 16P-Mpix (from a theoretical maximum of 36-PMpix) is still a little disappointing. As for the other scores, the 500mm performs well within our expectations for a lens of this type.

That lens is an absolute workhorse and you or anyone else could anticipate any part of technology to withstand those years of day-to-day abuse and use with very little tender loving care without maintenance or repair.Move ahead a few more years and we’ve got Nikon’s latest and biggest zoom lens (nearly newest, a newer VR version has been published ). As you’d expect this lens takes fantastic shots but can it be a quantum leap forward from the older 28-105mm I’d? No I really don’t believe it is.It’s only physics at this point, actually camera detector technology is getting so damn good now that we’re literally starting to observe the actual glass of the lens in our shots. Making something physically strong yet entirely clear was black-magic a few hundred years back but glass has existed since 3500 BC, we’ve been refining it for a while now and we are getting pretty damn good at it. But a lens isn’t all about sharpness. This lens is extremely fast through the scope and having that f2.8 has already helped me out on a shoot after only having it for a week. It’s also much quieter to focus than the older one and it concentrates a lot faster and in reduced lighting, there is no mistaking this a far superior lens.Lens technology has in my opinion crawled along. We have been working with glass for more than 4500 years so its clear that we already had a deal on it 50 decades back. The apparent slow increase of lens improvements is nobodies fault, you can’t blame them ‘nailing it’ straight from the gate.
That lens is a complete workhorse and neither you or anyone else can anticipate any piece of technology to withstand those years of day-to-day use and abuse having very little tender loving care without maintenance or repair.Move ahead a few more years and we have got Nikon’s newest and biggest zoom lens (almost latest, a newer VR variant has been published ). As you’d expect this lens takes fantastic shots but is it a quantum leap forward from the older 28-105mm I’d? No I really don’t believe it is.It’s simply just physics now, actually camera detector technology is becoming so damn good now that we are literally starting to see the physical glass of the lens within our shots. Making something physically solid yet completely transparent was black-magic a couple of hundred years back but glass has existed since 3500 BC, we’ve been refining it for a while now and we are getting pretty damn good at it. However, a lens isn’t all about sharpness. This lens is extremely fast throughout the scope and using that f2.8 has helped me out on a shoot after just having it for a week. Additionally, it is a lot simpler to focus than the older one and it concentrates a lot faster and in lower light, there is no mistaking this type of far superior lens.Lens technology has in my view crawled along. We have been working with glass for more than 4500 years so its understandable that we already had a handle on it 50 years ago. The apparent slow growth of lens enhancements is nobodies fault, you can not blame them for’nailing it’ straight from the gate.
Ever since the excellent Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR (see my Nikon 24-120mm VR Review) was published, I have been thinking more and more about switching to it. I haven’t done it for one major reason: lens construct and weather sealing. The Nikon 24-70mm is built like a tank, and it has suffered all sorts of abuse . I’ve dropped it, exposed it to sub-zero / extremely hot temperatures, so used it in very windy and dusty environments, exposed it to extreme humidity and the list continues on and on…it’s lived it all and it’s still performing like a champ. I honestly don’t believe the 24-120mm could have survived all that.I would not suggest it for DX shooters, since it’s a not-so-useful 36-105mm equivalent focal length due to the 1.5x crop factor, so something similar to the Nikon 16-85mm VR are a fantastic cheap alternative.I’m certain you saw this coming — how can I not have the entire”lens trinity” together with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II in this article? I was once approached by a different photographer, who asked me what lenses I typically take with me when photographing landscapes. As soon as I showed him my lenses and told him that I rarely leave with my 70-200mm, he was rather surprised. He thought that the 70-200mm was too long for picture photography and asked me why I’d even bother taking this bulky and heavy lens. I showed him a few images from the day before that I took the 70-200mm lens and right after he watched my images, he explained that he would purchase it as soon as he returned home.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm - IQE

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX is one of the more reasonably priced lenses within this list, and it’s been a hot seller since it was released in 2009. It’s easy to see why: on a DX-style camera, the lens produces a field of view that’s near 50mm, which has been a favorite focal length for street shooters. The 50mm focal length is traditionally seen as the”normal” focal length, or comparable to that which we see with our eyes.The lens is small and light, making a very subtle camera bundle, and it produces nice, sharp pictures. With its maximum aperture setting of f/1.8, it may let in a great deal of light, which lets you shoot in dim situations without sacrificing shutter speed or boosting the ISO unnecessarily.The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is an outstanding lens: if you’ve seen flattering portraits of individuals where the background has appeared to melt away, it has probably been achieved with an 85mm lens. This Nikon lens, released in 2012, is an improved variant of a long time classic. The lens generates tack-sharp results even when used in its widest aperture. The lens also includes significant weather sealing so that it can be utilized in inclement conditions.This lens functions for both full-frame (FX) and APS-C (DX) Nikon cameras. It is worth noting that the lens remains classified as a telephoto lens, and when mounted onto a DX-style camera body, like the D5500, that impact will be amplified, with an effective field of view of around 128mm. If you want to get a portrait Where You Are Able to see a bit more of this desktop, the 85mm Might Be too telephoto for you (a 50mm lens will probably be more useful in this scenario )

Confirming user reports, the 600mm f/4 is slightly sharper than the 500mm f/4 and has excellent definition across the frame right into the corners. Despite that, as with the 500mm the sharpness is somewhat disappointing given the huge pixel count of the Nikon D800. Scores for Transmission, Distortion and Vignetting are all excellent, though CA is marginally higher than expected.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm - Versus

Comparing the 500mm with rival offerings, we can see that the Nikon is very close to the new 3460g $13,000 Sony. That said the Nikon is slightly sharper at full-aperture and has better uniformity, which is crucial in a lens like this and accounts for the slightly higher DxOMark Score. Compared with the newer, lighter (3190g) and more expensive ($9,499) Canon model though, it can’t match that at full-aperture nor has it the low levels of CA afforded by the three fluorite lens elements.

The point I’m attempting to create here is not about me blowing my own trumpet but about a common theme that started to run through those interactions with other business professionals.So finally we come to lenses. Lenses are often regarded as the soundest investment you will ever earn photography. Your’glass’ will very often outlive all other equipment you own and they will often see you through multiple camera body purchases.For instance, the current Nikon F-mount lenses have been around since 1959! I really don’t wish to sound as a Nikon fan-boy here however that’s crazy. To believe something that was designed and engineered in a time when we barely had a vaccine for Polio, no guy was to space, and at one time before computers had a name, Nikon made a lens mount that’s still used to this very day on their latest cameras. So yes, buying a Nikon lens is a fairly solid investment and I am pretty certain it is a safe bet that any Nikon lens purchased now will watch you through many years to come.So as a result of some little judgment from my industry cohorts and inadvertent peer pressure that left me feeling guilty, I begrudgingly decided to eventually purchase a fresh lens.For my type of work that mostly involves photographing individuals I wanted a fast zoom lens. My previous lens has been halfway there, at least, but really in terms of updating there is only one obvious alternative which has been the 24-70mm f/2.8.

However, while the Canon 500mm mounted on 5D Mark III is sharper optically than the Nikon model mounted on D800, at the light levels used for DxOMark score (1/60, 150 Lux), the excellent dynamic range of the Nikon D800 sensor helps it improve the DxO Mark Score and accounts for the level-pegging. In lower light levels, the Canon would have the advantage

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm - Versus

Although the two lenses are extraordinary performers, the Nikon can’t quite match the new $11,999 triple fluorite Canon in sharpness or in lateral chromatic aberration, however overall the two perform very similarly. Both have homogenous sharpness at maximum aperture and possess low distortion and vignetting and excellent transmission, but reason why the DxOMark scores are the same is due to the excellent noise and dynamic range of the Nikon D800 sensor.

While the benchmark scores are the same for the Nikon lenses as they are for the newer Canon models, in fairness, the metrics suggest the Nikon lenses aren’t quite a match for them in outright sharpness alone. But without a better, higher resolution camera to test them with it remains a draw in IQ. As for price, the Nikon pair are comparatively more affordable and a better value proposition. Either model will assure you of high imaging performance for many years to come and easily justify their legendary status. 

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