Photo tips, tricks and my latest captures

Review of Nikon 600 F/4E FL ED VR lens

I was excited to received the new Nikon 600/F4 FL VR lens from Allen camera recently. Many people ask “why get the bigger 600mm and not the lighter 500 or 400mm lens”?  The choice depends on so many factors including the subject that one shoots. The famous Canadian nature photographer Brad Hill wrote an excellent article about this on his blog site.

http://www.naturalart.ca/voice/blog.html

Scroll down to the July 9th 2015 blog post where he talks about pros and cons of all three super telephoto lenses.

I like to photograph song birds that are very small and the Nikon 600mm works well for me. Since I have only full frame sensor cameras, I need all the reach I can get. Once you get spoiled by the quality of full frame Nikon sensor files, it is hard to go back to a crop sensor camera. My old 600VR is excellent but heavy at 11.5 LBS making it very difficult to handhold. When Nikon announced the new lens that was only 8.4 lbs ( that is 3 lbs. lighter than the older one), I was very excited. Nikon claims that this is the world’s lightest 600mm super telephoto lens.

You can read all about the specs of the lens on many websites and I am not going to go over that here.

AF-S-NIKKOR-600mm-f4E-95million-970-80

The new lens came in a custom made case which is light and modern compared to the wooden box of the older lens.

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The new Nikon lens is lighter than the newest Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM .

As soon as I lift the lens from the case I felt a  difference. The lens was  lighter and I knew I could handhold the lens at least for few shots. This is a big deal. I used one of the third-party straps ( Peak Design) to secure the lens and carried around my shoulder without much of  a discomfort. The next day I walked  closed to 2 miles at my local nature center carrying the lens. I took nearly 300 shots handholding the lens at various shutter speeds. Keeper rate was very high. I was surprised how well I could handhold the lens for extended periods. Kneeling down and resting the elbow on my knee while holding the lens makes low-level shots easier to make.( Rabbit and the Green Heron images). When upright, I press my elbow against the body to steady the lens.( Butterfly shots). With practice and good technique, sharp images are easier to come by.  Holding the lens pointing up to get an image of a warbler, way up on a tree top is much more difficult. I still could get a sharper image, but after few seconds I was shaking.

I also like the one piece lens hood instead of the two piece one in the older version. However the  smaller part of the older hood can be placed inside the larger one for travelling thus saving space.

The monopod collar is placed towards the back of the lens compared to the older lens. When a camera is attached, holding the lens from the monopod collar feels well-balanced. The monopod collar comes with a rubberized top for better grip. I attached a Wimberley P-50 plate to the monopod collar so I can mount the lens on a tripod. This plate feels large and P-40 plate may fit better. I don’t think I am going to replace the original foot with a third-party one as I did with the older lens. This lens going to be more versatile with a  monopod.

The biggest surprised for me was how well the new VR mode works. It is supposed to compensate for 4 stops of light and it does. It is possible to handhold the lens and take a sharp shot of a stationary subject at 1/30th of second. In my book that is just amazing.

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I came across this rabbit while photographing the butterflies. I kneeled down and supported the elbow and lens on my knee and got this low-level shot. With my older lens I had to adjust the tripod to lower level to get this shot and the rabbit would have gone by then.

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ISO 800, 1/800, 600mm, F4

This Green Heron was photographed handholding the lens.

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F4, 600mm, ISO 1600, D3, 1/500

How does it pair with the 1.4TC II teleconverter?.( I don’t have the latest Version III ).  Quite well. The autofocus is slightly slower compared to the bare lens but the IQ is maintained.

White Breasted Nuthatch at my feeder. Click on the image for bigger version.

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F5.6, 850mm, ISO 800, 1/500, 1.4TC II

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F5.6, 850mm, D3, 1/640 sec, ,with 1.4TC II

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Another improvement is the electromagnetic  aperture mechanism of the lens. With the older lens if you shoot at 9FPS with my D3, some of the frames have different exposures. This is much improved with the new one and I could notice the uniformity of the exposure during a rapid fire.

The new version is little shorter compared to the older version. (432mm Vs 444.5mm). This negligible difference makes a significant impact in portability. When I travel, I couldn’t pack the older lens with a camera attached to my Gura gear Kiboku 32L backpack. With the length difference, now I can pack 600FL VR lens with a D800 attached to one compartment of the bag.
VR implantation has changed as well. It is a switch instead of a ring/slider that can accidentally get turned off in the older lens. There are two VR modes. Normal mode is for everything except when the subject moves erratic or you’re on a moving platform like a boat when sport mode is used.. Sport mode is also recommended for panning. I have not had the opportunity to use the sport mode yet but normal mode is very effective.

The drop in filter size has changed to 40.5mm. The  Circular polarizer I had for older lens cannot be used on this one.

The minimum focusing distance of the new lens is 14.4 feet compared to 15.7′ of the older lens. The difference is only 15″ but that is noticeable and useful. This Hummingbird was photographed very close to the minimum focusing distance. I used the 1.4TC II for this shot.

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F6.3, 1/1250 sec, D3, 850mm, ISO 800

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F8, 1/1250, 850mm, ISO 640 D3

I came across this deer while I was walking to the car at the nature center. Taken handheld.

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F4, 1/160, D3, ISO 800, 600mm

So what about the image quality compared to the old lens? I have used the 600VR lens for about three years extensively and  am very familiar with it. The IQ of 600VR is stunning and it is going to be very difficult to top that. I feel that the IQ of the  new lens is at least as good  or slightly better. The AF acquisition may be a touch faster too. The 1.4TC II works very well with it. The AF with the TC may be slightly better too. The lens vignetting in the corners are improved. I feel the corner sharpness is better.

Is it worth upgrading? That is a very difficult question. If you use the lens mainly from a  vehicle or on tripod and are not planning to walk  carrying it, I would keep the older lens. However weight reduction, ability to hand hold for a short period and the very effective VR makes this a lot more versatile lens than the older VR version. If you’re looking for a 600 super tele, now may be the time to get the older lens at a great price from a person upgrading to the new one.

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14 responses

  1. Karl Chiang

    Great review. This is giving me a headache because I have the older 600mm. To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question!$$$

    September 12, 2015 at 4:41 am

  2. Cathy Beck

    Those are absolutely beautiful pictures, Harsha. I really liked the Monarchs b/c I have never paid attention to the whole butterfly before, just their wings and I was happy to note the wonderful white-dotted ‘body’ of the little thing. Also the deer was lovely.

    September 29, 2015 at 12:50 pm

  3. How well does the new 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens work with 1.4 III and 2.0 III teleconverters? Any loss in quality? Have you had the chance to test it with the teleconverters?

    January 11, 2016 at 5:20 am

    • I don’t have the version 1.4lll and 2.0lll. But I tested with 1.4ll and 1.7ll. With 1.4ll loss of quality is negligible. With 1.7 the af slows down just like the older vr lens with some loss of quality especially in bad light. When light is good 1.7TC is very usable with 600FL lens.

      January 11, 2016 at 5:42 am

      • where are you located? Perhaps we can get together and test the lens out with my 1.4E III and 2.0E III
        I’m really interested on how well this new 600mm lens performs with the 2.0E III

        January 12, 2016 at 2:34 am

      • Mike, I am in Mason City, Iowa

        January 12, 2016 at 3:03 am

  4. When shooting with TC 1.4 III, do you experience any vignetting (regardless f-stops)?

    January 13, 2016 at 4:22 pm

  5. Hi Harsha, When shooting with 1.4, 1.7 TCs, do you experience any vignetting?

    January 13, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    • Yes there is vignetting when shooting at the widest aperture but it is lot less compared to older 600vr

      January 14, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      • With the 600 G VRII I don’t see that but the new 600 E the vignetting appears even at f8.

        January 14, 2016 at 8:27 pm

  6. ian sempowski

    where do you the sweet spot for sharpness is with and without 1..4tc, thanks

    July 12, 2016 at 1:29 am

    • It is sharp at F4 and the sharpest at 5.6. I have very good results with a TC at 5.6. Most of the time I use this lens wide open.

      July 12, 2016 at 2:18 am

  7. I believe that the resolving quality of this lens is the very best I have seen. WOW! Among all the Canikons, LensScore rates this lens in 2nd place, just behind the 400 2.8 FL Nikkor. I think I am going to have to condition my 68 year old muscles to comfortably handhold this lens.

    Thank you for this outstanding review. It was interesting enough that I reread it several times.

    January 4, 2017 at 9:32 pm

  8. Nilamkumar Patel

    Wow… Very helpful tips for beginners like me…I have Nikon d 810 and I confirmed to buy btwn these two primes like Nikon 400 f/2.8 &Nikon 600 mm f/4 bz Mostly I M wildlife shooter.. So thank you for such beautiful tips..

    January 23, 2017 at 9:10 am

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