Balancing Long Reach and Light Weight: Announcing the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S Lens04/06/2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.