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Nikon 600mm f/4 FL ED Lens Review

Nikon 600mm f/4 FL ED Lens Review


A New Era in Super Telephoto



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2020:  The Nikon 600mm ED FL lens Review, This lens is my favorite go-to lens for bird photography. It has the capability of bringing your subject close enough to fill the frame and that makes for great images. The Nikon 600mm f/4 is what I consider a must-have lens for serious bird and wildlife photographers. Nikon is an Optics company first and foremost, and the Nikon 600mm demonstrates that in all areas, performance, sharpness, and ergonomics. This optical instrument captures high contrast, very sharp images, and is a true professional-caliber lens, with the robust weather-sealed outer shell and durable glass coatings it ranks superior among lenses. As I looked back on the images taken with this lens - the only bad images were due to my fault. Consider the image of the Super Moon on the last night of 2017 - What a wonderful way to recognize this fine lens for what it is - exceptional. 

I do like this lens! It is Nikon's best 600mm f/4 to date - fantastic and using this with a 14III TC it has become my go-to BIRD lens. The resolution, clarity, contrast, and the color is knocked dead beautiful.  I am very impressed with the performance of the lens out in the field and the images it produces.  Nothing comes close to the performance at this focal length especially using a TC 1.4,  a perfect combination when used with this lens.

Bottom line up front: If you are reading this article because you are considering a purchase - you are most likely leaning toward the longer 600mm vs the 500mm or 400mm. Basically, the sharpness between the three titans is only a marginal difference, the 400mm KILLS in the speed and bokeh race though.  I made the same decision you are trying to make - For me I knew what I wanted, it was 400mm and 600mm.  If I had to choose only between a 500mm or the 600mm, I think I would go with the 600mm unless that extra pound of weight is a factor for you, but when I carry a lens weighing 6.8 pounds I carry support!!, either a Dual Rapids harness, a tripod or monopod. The difference in weight is 1.5 pounds (500 vs 600).   I used a 500mm and it does handle slightly better "if" you have to carry it and shoot from the hip, but that is not my style - thus the weight was not a factor in my choice, I wanted a "bird" lens, so I got the 600 to compliment my 400.  At the end of the day whether you go with a 500 or 600 the image quality and performance will be mostly equal, so it boils down to weight, cost, and optical reach.

In the field: The 600mm performed very well and held up to daily use throughout the year I have owned it so far. After my purchase, I used it exclusively for 6 months solid to ensure it was well broken in and no problems surfaced.  I discovered the extra length did require me to "think" more when I was shooting; such as keeping an eye on my shutter speed because image quality will suffer if your shooting "technique" is not up to par. Everyone knows that the longer the focal length the more susceptible to blur your image will be, and when shooting across open areas the lens will pick up any "air turbulence aka heat waves" and emphasis those due to the focal compression - these challenges are all inherent with the longer focal lens.

Mostly I never doubt the lens ability to capture the image - in most situations the lens simply performs, The only challenges are as the light level begins to diminish and I am shooting with a 17 or 20 TC -but that is not the lens issue more of a camera focus limitation with higher f stops.  I can state without hesitation, I would recommend this lens to anyone who wants the best money can buy and has the capital to spare for it.  

The reported MTF charts show this lens having greater resolution capability than the predecessor 600mm. I can attest that sharpness is only one of the factors that drive folks into this lens and Nikon has seemed to answered all the questions.

In July 2012 Nikon release an updated Nikkor 600mm and the wildlife and sports photographers went nuts!  Following that came what was to be a fleet of lighter, sharper super telephotos from Nikon starting with an 800 Super Telephoto and most of the use drooled but only a few could commit to a lens at that price.  Nikon was on a path of sharper lighter lenses than with a reworked 400mm we were amazed.

This July two years following the 600mm VR update,  Nikon has once again upped the ante when it comes to the super-telephoto lens market, following the very successful release of the newly updated Nikon 400mm with its super sharp, super-fast, and newer lighter glass made of fluorite,  Nikon has carried forward the momentum and now looks to be adding it to all there longer heavier lens.  keep your browser marked on a possible re-release of the 200-400mm f/4 from Nikon.   Having used the latest 600mm and shoot regularly with the newest 400mm FL lens, I placed my pre-order for this wonderful 600mm fl lens.  A superior instrument and tool for the photographer.  Let's take a look-see at what we will be seeing shortly.

Nikon has incorporated two fluorite lens elements that have helped shed almost 3 pounds off the 600mm lens, and if Nikon is telling the truth which I think they are - the new 600mm weighs the same as their new 400mm at just over 8 pounds. What this means is we no longer have to decide between these two fine lenses 400mm vs 600mm based on weight alone as now that argument is mute.

Looking at the lens construction you will notice the distribution of the larger lens elements which make the new 600 better balanced, in further comparison if you take some time and visit the Nikon site and take a look at the new 400mm design construction you see a similarity in design concept in Nikon's Newer Super Telephotos.

Nikon carried forward all the familiar knobs and switches and added FL, E, and SIC  tags to the new lens placard and here is a breakdown of what the new tags mean;

FL = Fluorite Lens Element:  Fluorite (FL), a lightweight mono-crystal optical material, has excellent optical properties while reducing overall lens weight to improve balance and handling, especially useful in longer focal length lenses.

SIC =  Super Integrated Coating:  Nikon Super Integrated Coating is Nikon's term for its multilayer coating of the optical elements in NIKKOR lenses.

E =  Electromagnetic Diaphragm Mechanism: An electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism in the lens barrel provides highly accurate electronic diaphragm or aperture blade control when using auto exposure during continuous shooting. With conventional D/G type lenses, the diaphragm blades are operated by mechanical linkage levers.

Of these three new features, I believe the Electromagnetic Diaphragm Mechanism will be a much-appreciated feature as well as the Fluorite lens elements. The electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism operates in sync with the camera for fast automatic exposure control and consistency between shots, even when using your teleconverter.

Improved VR + With new VR features your images should be more predictably sharp especially if you're shooting from a tripod and the sports VR mode allows for shooting fast and erratic moving sports subjects, using the SPORT VR mode will give you a more stable viewfinder image, handheld or when using a monopod, even if you’re planning.

Two other great improvements is the new carry travel case custom fitted and rugged and well padded for such a fine instrument.  The new case actually makes it likely you will take it on the road with you and not shoved in your closet.  The other requested feature is the ability to remove the lens collar and foot, not sure why but now you can.

The drop-in filter size is smaller in diameter for the newer 600.

As a personal note for those who may be moving to this new lighter lens, I can say you will appreciate the lighter more nimble characteristics of the new 600mm and will need to re-train yourself for carrying and balancing this nice Nikon Instrument. 

Finally, we all find ourselves contemplating the many choices in the Super Telephoto lineup from Nikon, but one thing is certain none of these instruments are cheap, and with this newer technology comes the added cost at around $2,000.00 for the ability to own this fine lens.   Considering this new trend and the ever-increasing cost of ownership of the newer Nikkor lens one may at some point consider the used market of Nikon's yesterday's greatest, or third party. Even Nikon's non-pro lens is creeping up the price charts such as the newly released 300mm f/4 PF lens @ $2,000.00.

Real-World Experience:  I have a spectacular 600mm ED FL lens. It is amazing, I am in awe when I see the images in raw. The only thing holding back this lens is me. Nikon has made a wonderful upgraded lens, well worth the wait and price in my opinion.  Technology changes and Nikon used it in this lens.

Challenges using this lens: It is a long big lens; I sometimes find myself trying to take the "long shot" across 1/2 mile of open field - the problem is atmospheric haze and disturbances (heat waves) which destroy the image quality, not the lens fault. The second challenge is the wind, this lens is large so, if it is windy you need much higher shutter speeds. Finally, finding my technique, If you get in the zone this lens is a REAL performer. with a crop body and 1.4 Teleconverter, my lens looks like 1,260mm which makes it very difficult to track birds in flight. If I find this necessary I remove the 1.4 which gives me a better option otherwise I shoot with an FX body naked lens, and that gets me in the zone for birds in flight.

Overall:  Pros who have the funds will more than likely buy a Nikkor 600mm f/4 because they know it delivers pro-level performance. Enthusiast photographers will normally consider this lens and other viable options like a 200-500 or 300-600. This Nikon 600mm is one of the finest super telephotos available, and you require a top-shelf pro lens for birding, wildlife, sports/action this lens is at the top of the heap.


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