Nikon Announces the 800mm f/6.3 PF

Nikon today announced the 800mm f/6.3 VR S phase fresnel (PF) lens for the Z System. Previous to this, Nikon produced 300mm f/4 and 500mm f/5.6 PF lenses for the F mount, while we'll eventually get a 400mm ~f/4.5 version for the Z-mount to add to the 800mm. Hmm, 300, 400, 500, 800. All that's missing in the PF line now is 600mm.

I should note that the PF focal lengths don't seem to be chosen by accident. The F-mount had 300mm and 500mm PF lenses, and many DX users, particularly D500 owners, bought into those lenses. A D500 with the 300mm is effectively a very svelte 450mm, while with the 500mm effectively a really small 750mm. Hmm, the Z System PF lenses are 400mm and 800mm. That seems to indicate that Nikon really wants you to mount them on an FX body. 

The big attraction of the PF lenses is optical quality and reach at low weight and lower-than-exotic pricing. The PF lenses also tend to be somewhat shorter than you'd expect for the same focal length.

The new 800mm f/6.3 hits all those points. At 2.3kg it's light for 800mm, while remaining with a reasonably fast aperture (most 800mm exotics are f/5.6). Price comes in at US$6499, which is fairly reasonable for a high quality, pro spec, telephoto lens. Other than the fresnel flare impact on strongly backlit subjects, the published MTF figures for the 800mm look like those of an exotic. 

Lots of Nikon enthusiasts have been salivating at the idea of such a lens as the 800mm, and I'm pretty sure this is going to be another in a long string of sell-outs that are near impossible to get in the short term without an NPS priority purchase token.

When Nikon's VP enthusiastically explained the lens to me, I think he was a little put off by my initial reaction, which was lukewarm. 800mm isn't a focal length that really entices me for sports and wildlife. Why? 

Generally if you need 800mm to get the subject framed properly, lots of small things start to get in your way, no matter how good the lens is. Heat waves are a persistent problem the further you have to look through air. In many of the places I photograph, even at 500mm I often find myself dealing with them, and the net result is that this adds a wavy aliasing that doesn't look particularly good, no matter how high the lens' acuity is. My solution has always been to get closer with a shorter, wider aperture lens (to allow subject/background isolation choices). Of course, you can't always get closer, which makes people pull out teleconverter or longer lenses. 

On safari, "pokeys" also start to become a problem the further you are away from the subject. By that I mean things like twigs, branches, grass, reeds, or other natural phenomena will get in the way of the low-to-the-ground, eye-level type of photography I like to do. On top of that, with small birds, such as bee-eaters and rollers, I like to be cropped loosely, as they can disappear out of your frame in almost any direction if you try to frame too tight (something I'll show in an upcoming article). 

Of course, the folk that will get most excited about the 800mm are the birders. It's tough to get in close to small birds without building an artificial environment (feeding area, or hide). Even then it can be problematic to consistently get close. So I have no doubt there will be high demand for this lens. Such high demand that the 800mm PF will be out of stock for months. 

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