Nikon 500mm F/5.6 PF Lens Review

Nikon 500mm F/5.6 PF Lens Review

Nikon 500mm F/5.6 PF Lens Review

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Light - Compact - Exceptional

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When knowledge became available that Nikon was to release a new Phase Fresnel Super Telephoto my Intel was a bit off - I thought it would be a 600mm PF but instead, Nikon announced the 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR. That being said.  WOW!  Nikon is stepping up their game with super-prime less than 4K. The Nikkor 500mm PF EF f/5.6 opens the gates for those on a moderate budget and looking for a longer prime under 4k, the new lens comes in around $3695.00, I understand it is not exactly cheap but compared to the 500mm f/4 it is a bargain. 

After many years of using the older 300mm f/4 lens, I jumped at the new 300 PF lens when it was released and it is awesome - super sharp, compact, and light.  Enter the new 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR and this new lens looks to be following the same compact lightweight footsteps as the 300mm. 

If you need a 500mm prime under 4k Nikon offers one option the Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF lens. But is it worth the $3600 price tag or should you go with the more versatile and economical 200-500 for less than $1,500.00? The Nikon 200-500mm is such a compelling lens and matches the focal length and f stop of the 500mm /5.6 PF lens.

I feel the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF lens is geared to the pro enthusiast who demands a long prime lens but will not or can not shell 10K+ for the opportunity to own the faster 500 f/4 or 600mm for that matter.  Considering this was announced when the Z series cameras - it shows how much Nikon is in the game for photography and thinking of smaller, lighter gear.

Great Blue Heron Calling Out

Great Blue Heron Calling Out

Taken with a Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF ED lens and 1.4 TC (700mm)
Prime 500mm f/5.6 vs 200-500 f/5.6 zoom - My thoughts: I prefer primes but appreciate the flexibility of zooms, This will be a hellish decision for many and given my track record for longer zooms, I think I would just shell out the extra cash and get the 500mm Prime, it will be the faster focus, offer more energetic weather sealing and to me, that means longevity, use and resell. + almost half the weight of many of the zooms - 3.2 pounds vs 5+ pounds for the zoom.  If you want to travel light and carry a super-telephoto then the Nikon 500mm PF is a good choice.

If you are on a tighter budget - the 200-500mm f/5.6 has many positive reviews, and some of the images taken with the 200-500mm lens are remarkably sharp.  At the end of the day Nikon has given you two nice choices - now the only problem is choosing which one.

Why Choose the 500mm Nikkor over zooms that cover the 500/600mm range? You choose the Nikkor 500mm PF if you demand the highest quality without compromise for a rugged fully weathered sealed prime lens and want Nikon glass on your Nikon Camera with minimal weight.

Why Choose a 500/600mm zoom over the Nikkor 500mm PF? You don't shoot in foul weather, you have other photography interests but do wish to occasionally shoot wildlife/nature/birds, the flexibility of the zoom is a key factor, and most of all cost savings.

Below is a breakout of possible choices to help scratch your itch for a Long lens.

Choices for 500mm under $6,000.00      
  Price Weight Weather
Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6 $3,596.00 3.2 lbs Yes - Pro
Sigma 500mm f/4 $5,999.00  7.3 lbs Yes - Pro
Nikon 200-500mm  $1,396.00 5.07 lbs Limited
Tamron SP 150-600mm $1,299.00 4.38 lbs Yes
Sigma 150-600mm C $989.00 4.3 lbs Limited
Sigma 150-600mm S $1,799.00
6.3 lbs Yes
Sigma 60-600mm S $1,999.00  5.95 lbs Yes

Great Blue Heron with Fish

Great Blue Heron with Fish

Taken with a Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF ED lens
If you shoot in poor weather conditions I would consider the 500mm PF lens to be the first choice over the 200-500mm.  Me personally I never liked lenses that are not internal focus/zoom because each time the lens is extended and retracted the air is pulled and pushed inside the lens with the eventual introduction of dust.

The downside to the 500mm PF lens is the starting aperture of 5.6 which basically limits you to only the TC1.4 extending the reach to 700mm FOV equivalent but with an aperture of 7.8 and at the maximum of what the current cameras can autofocus with and even with my 600mm f/4 I sometimes wish it was a faster lens.

Order your Nikkor 500mm PF lens through my Amazon Affiliate Link hereOn a Personal Note:  I ordered my Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF back in Sept and one-year later my lens was delivered. It is stated that Nikon is only making about 1000 per month.  Thus if you are leaning toward the Nikkor 500mm and in urgent need, they are available in limited numbers - Amazon ships in about one month following your order.

** You can now find the New Nikon 500mm PF lens in stock at many camera retail stores - online.

All the images in the gallery were taken with a Nikon Z6 and the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF lens handheld. After a few weeks of using this lens, I can attest the Nikon 500mm PF lens performs as well as my $11,000.00 Nikon 600mm FL lens in every way, only much more compact and lighter. This lens is a pleasure to carry around all day without too much fatigue and match this lens with a Black Rapids two-point camera/lens strap to make carry effortless.  

Those curious about the performance difference between my Nikon D850 and My Nikon Z6 using the Nikon 500mm PF lens - The D850 has a faster focus response and the difference is slightly noticeable but not so much as to make me hesitate using this lens on my ZD6/Z7.

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Patrick Smith · 4/2/2020 6:12:32 PM

The biggest issue with buying this lens is you can now buy a 500mm f4gVR for around the same price. Which by the way has a VRII system and is just a fantastic lens in every way. I personally own the 400mm f2.8 VR FL and find that the 400mm just beats all of the other super Telephotos Nikon makes in sharpness, by a noticeable margin. The exception and by far the sharpest lens Nikon makes is the 800mm FL, but the 400mm is not far behind it. I’d personally love to own a 500 PF, but would I ever buy one? Heck no is the answer, I’d way rather spend a couple hundred extra and get the 500mm f/4 VR used. People really take good care of their supertele lenses and their made to last 25+ years. So buying a 7-10 year old lens is perfectly safe and it will lose less value resell wise. You’d have to be either stupid or just need the weight savings to buy the PF in my opinion. I realize that size is important to many people, but for me I can’t see paying almost the same price for 5.6 lens when the f4 is so much more versatile.

TrueToad · 4/28/2020 3:27:36 PM

I agree with an f/4 being more versatile but those older 500mm lenses are heavy, over 8 pounds. Been there done that with the older 400mm then upgraded to the lighter FL version and added the 500mm PF for situations when I can't travel with a large/heavy lens. Once you use a 500 f/5.6 PF you understand why people like the lens.

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