Nikon's new super-telephoto lens reaches to 600mm but won't break the bank

Shawn Knight

Posts: 15,208   +192
Staff member
In brief: Nikon has introduced a new super-telephoto lens for its Z-series mirrorless cameras that won't break the bank, or your back. The Nikkor Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR features 25 elements in 17 groups, and affords a minimum focus distance of 1.3m at its widest and 2.4 meters when fully zoomed.

The VR in its name stands for vibration reduction, and is roughly equivalent to a 5.5 stop increase in shutter speed to reduce blurry photos due to camera shake when shooting handheld.

At just 1,955 grams (or 4.31 pounds), it is not nearly as heavy as one might expect. The zoom mechanism is completely internal, meaning it should feel totally balanced as you traverse the zoom range. The internal zoom also makes the lens a bit more resistant to the elements, although Nikon says dust- and drip-resistance is not guaranteed in all situations or under all conditions.

According to PetaPixel, the lens transitions to f/6 at 300mm and f/6.3 at 500mm. And if 600mm of reach somehow isn't enough, the unit is compatible with Nikon's TC 1.4x and TC 2.0x teleconverters to stretch the focal length out to 840mm or 1,200mm, respectively.

The new lens accepts 95mm filters, which can be carried over from other lenses you may already have bought filters for. There are also four lens Fn buttons onboard that can be assigned to a variety of operations, and a lockable lens hood with release button should keep the hood from inadvertently coming loose.

Nikon's latest could be a boon for wildlife or sports photographers on a budget or those that simply aren't serious enough about shooting to justify spending many times more for a fast prime lens. The Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S lens with the same reach but a wider aperture, for example, commands over $15,000. The new Nikkor Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR is a fraction of that at just $1,696.95.

Pre-orders are open now ahead of a scheduled ship window of late August 2023.

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I use a 100/400 Tamron zoom all the time. Yeah, it a "slow" lens at f4.5/6.3, but with the IOS of the camera, it's DARN good at getting a sharp image. Usually, I will shoot a burst of 3-5 images. 99.9% of the time, one of them is crystal clear. I don't bother with a tripod either. I've taken really good photos of the moon, even with a 2x teleconverter. To save clost to 14,000.00 dollars on the faster lens, I could live with that.
 
I use a 100/400 Tamron zoom all the time. Yeah, it a "slow" lens at f4.5/6.3, but with the IOS of the camera, it's DARN good at getting a sharp image. Usually, I will shoot a burst of 3-5 images. 99.9% of the time, one of them is crystal clear. I don't bother with a tripod either. I've taken really good photos of the moon, even with a 2x teleconverter. To save clost to 14,000.00 dollars on the faster lens, I could live with that.
I concur. I have a 18-400 Tamron, f4.5/6.3, bought for 450 euros. I use crop so it`s x1.5. Best all-around. For telephoto, there`s also a good Sigma 100-600 to be had for 1000 euros. If you`re not a pro, you can get the cheapest and not miss a thing.
 
You simply cannot compare a 600mm f/4 to a zoom 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3. They are completely different things. The glass inside the 600mm is orders of magnitude better. The cheap one is going to have all kinds of chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, and overall softness. I'm sure it will be just fine to pack with you on your trip to Yellowstone, but photographers that sell their pictures need much better.
 
Seems a great "entry" level - at only 2 KG is actually transportable for flights etc in hand held - don't have to worry handlers throwing around your 600/f4 or 800/5.6 - even if they are tough
Still I would prefer a technically better 300-600- as any serious photographer will have the excellent 70-200/2.8 and a second body - Canon. Nikon etc put a lot of effort in those 70-200/2.8 lenses as they a work horse for pros

Great to see internal zoom - fine dust can be a psychological nightmare - ie hearing scraping - that probably has no effect
 
My Tamron 150-600 came in less than that and with the 2x extender it's still sharp as a tack. A little slower, yes but with a mirror-less full frame Canon body speed isn't a factor. Nikon makes good lenses but this one doesn't sound too earth shattering. Now my Hasiblad with the 5000mm lens is a different story ..... LOL
 
You simply cannot compare a 600mm f/4 to a zoom 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3. They are completely different things. The glass inside the 600mm is orders of magnitude better. The cheap one is going to have all kinds of chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, and overall softness. I'm sure it will be just fine to pack with you on your trip to Yellowstone, but photographers that sell their pictures need much better.

The small aperture can lead to noisier image and busier bokeh that are less professional, but I really doubt the aberrations will prevent a picture to be sold. Lens design has come a long way and these modern lenses are fairly well corrected. There are plenty of prime-rivalling zooms as well, such as Canon 200-400 and Sony 70-200 GM II.
 
Still I would prefer a technically better 300-600- as any serious photographer will have the excellent 70-200/2.8 and a second body - Canon. Nikon etc put a lot of effort in those 70-200/2.8 lenses as they a work horse for pros

I doubt many will also carry their 70-200 if this zoom covers the intended use. Weight can be a problem for wildlife hiking and switching lens can lead to missed sports/wildlife moments.

Starting wider will also pair better with the new and alternative professional choice, 35-150, that might eventually come to Nikon / Canon.
 
I doubt many will also carry their 70-200 if this zoom covers the intended use. Weight can be a problem for wildlife hiking and switching lens can lead to missed sports/wildlife moments.

Starting wider will also pair better with the new and alternative professional choice, 35-150, that might eventually come to Nikon / Canon.

Yeah I was thinking of myself in Southern Africa in mid 90s visiting National parks in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South African for over 6 months - I had a Kombi Camper Bus to carry my stuff - had 3 bodies ( one just a FM2 for triggered shots ) - Would have been great to have this modern stuff then - trying to keep Velvia, Sensia and Kodak equivalents cool - not sure how photos worked out - had a Nikon 80-200/2.8 , a Sigma 400/5.6 , some wides and your basic 50mm - I haven't bought any lenses for ages - last ones Nikon 300/F4 and the Nikon 200-500 and the last camera a D750= mainly just use my pixel phone for photos out and about my son - my dogs etc .
Also glad I went then - Parks were crazy cheap - even booking whole private campsites for myself in parks for say $10 a night - Unless the camp had a caretaker - the next closest person may be 30 miles away - I felt safe nearly always - Caprivi strip drive bordered Angola - warring factions then - In South African was still safe in Parks , small towns - yeah areas of Jo'burg , Shanty towns etc - but you don't go there .
In the heat of the day in Kalahari would siesta outside my camper in the shade - figured lions were doing the same somewhere else.
anyway the 80-200/2.8 photos were in a another league than the Sigma - Mainly sharpness - but lense coating as well , and less aberration - in my camera bag now always have in it my 85/1.8 - apparently the 1.4 is stunning - but was much more expensive and heavy - anyway love the photos with 85mm
 
It will be interesting to see how it compares to the Sigma lens. The internal zoom is very nice, that much is for sure, but how is the rest of it? Guess we'll have to wait and see. :)
 
I use a 100/400 Tamron zoom all the time. Yeah, it a "slow" lens at f4.5/6.3, but with the IOS of the camera, it's DARN good at getting a sharp image. Usually, I will shoot a burst of 3-5 images. 99.9% of the time, one of them is crystal clear. I don't bother with a tripod either. I've taken really good photos of the moon, even with a 2x teleconverter. To save clost to 14,000.00 dollars on the faster lens, I could live with that.

How are you saving $14000 on a lens that retails for $1699. I know which lens I'd rather put on my Nikon. Nothing against Tamron, I own a few but the new 180-600 is in a different league and exceptionally good value given it IQ which is far better than the Tamron.
 
You simply cannot compare a 600mm f/4 to a zoom 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3. They are completely different things. The glass inside the 600mm is orders of magnitude better. The cheap one is going to have all kinds of chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, and overall softness. I'm sure it will be just fine to pack with you on your trip to Yellowstone, but photographers that sell their pictures need much better.

Orders of magnitude is a gross exaggeration. Yes the prime is better, but it's not 9x better as the price would suggest. Modern zooms have amazing IQ for their price. The main benefit of the prime is bokeh and ability to keep ISO much lower in low light. We have already seen IQ comparisons of the zoom and new 600 f/4 and there's about a 15% difference IMO. That's highly acceptable given one is $16K and the other $1.7K. Also with the amazing AI sharpening software you can get the sharpness of the zoom very close to the prime.

The other amazing thing about the Nikon is this zoom is actually very close to it's rated FL and looks to be at least 590mm. Most of the competing 600mm zooms are closer to 560mm.
 
Orders of magnitude is a gross exaggeration. Yes the prime is better, but it's not 9x better as the price would suggest. Modern zooms have amazing IQ for their price. The main benefit of the prime is bokeh and ability to keep ISO much lower in low light. We have already seen IQ comparisons of the zoom and new 600 f/4 and there's about a 15% difference IMO. That's highly acceptable given one is $16K and the other $1.7K. Also with the amazing AI sharpening software you can get the sharpness of the zoom very close to the prime.

The other amazing thing about the Nikon is this zoom is actually very close to it's rated FL and looks to be at least 590mm. Most of the competing 600mm zooms are closer to 560mm.
I didn't know that about 600mm's often being a decent amount under. I have the Sigma 150-600mm. What's the consensus on the range of that lens? Also, are there any shots to compare it to this new lens?
I will say though, that the bokeh (or anything out of focus with highlights, even in daylight) on the Sigma (at least on mine) looks somehow different, or off.
 
"Nikon says dust- and drip-resistance is not guaranteed in all situations or under all conditions."

They seem to be saying that about all their Z lenses these days. Compared to their F-mount lenses, it seems like 'none' of the new Z-mounts are ever marketed as "weatherproof" (at least not without some disclaimer about "not all situations"). I wonder if this has something to do with the design of the Z-mount itself, or if Nikon is taking a more conservative approach to marketing when it comes to water and dust penetration.

Not that I mind, I just wish they used actual IPxx ratings in their marketing, so that it was easier to quantify what situations a lens could be expected to survive.
 
The cheap one is going to have all kinds of chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, and overall softness.
I hate to disturb your rant here but, "barrel distortion", is almost entirely exclusive to wide and ultra-wide angle lenses. Long lenses are much more likely to have "pincushion" distortion.
 
I will say though, that the bokeh (or anything out of focus with highlights, even in daylight) on the Sigma (at least on mine) looks somehow different, or off.
If you're that concerned with "bokeh", you, need something with a far wider aperture than f 5.6. I'm thinking something along the lines of a 300 mm f 2.8. Either that, or a 500 mm reflex cat. They're so cute, with all the little light donuts in the background.

FWIW, I don'y think digital sensors respond as well to off axis light as does film either.
 
"Nikon says dust- and drip-resistance is not guaranteed in all situations or under all conditions."
It sounds like corporate self defense protocols to me. You know, for when an obviously abused lens comes in for "warranty repairs".

"All I did was try and take some pictures of a tornado outside in a violent thunderstorm. Waddya mean that's not covered?"
 
It sounds like corporate self defense protocols to me. You know, for when an obviously abused lens comes in for "warranty repairs".

"All I did was try and take some pictures of a tornado outside in a violent thunderstorm. Waddya mean that's not covered?"
Agreed. I just wish they provided the IPxx rating (and responded "there is no IP-rating for tornados" when people try to scam the company). Like, I am still happy to buy their gear, just let me know what it can and cannot survive in advance. Am I being afraid of a foggy day on the coast, or can it handle an unexpected downpour? Pollen in the spring going to be a problem, or will it survive pretty much anything up to "dust storm in the Sahara"? Current Nikon communication on their Z-mount hardware leaves a lot to be desired in this.
 
Now my Hasiblad with the 5000mm lens is a different story ..... LOL
Did you misspell "Hasselblad", on purpose? :confused:

I was in a portrait class where Hassies were provided, I think with a 150 or 160 mm (180 maybe?) prime. It was actually too damned sharp. I took to using my Nikon 35. w/an 80 to 200 f 2.8 instead. When you blew the prints up to 11 x 14", it introduced just enough softness, that you didn't have to d*ck around with soft focus filters
 
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I use a 100/400 Tamron zoom all the time.
Back in the day, (45 yrs ago or so), I had a Tamron 75-150 mm f 3.5 - 4.0. The fit and finish were superb. It may actually have been made in Japan as well. IIRC, it took great pictures too. .
 
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