This week, we discuss a very colorful location shoot: Rick went to the Labor Day Liftoff hot air balloon festival in Colorado Springs. This annual event is a big draw, with over 75 balloon crews operating this year. We also got our hands on the Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Z Nikkor lens. Jason offers his hands-on first look.
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The lens + teleconverter combo is sharp, but autofocus slows down
I went out again with the Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Z Nikkor, and this time I used the Z teleconverter TC 1.4x. This combination delivers the equivalent of a 250-840mm f/7.8-9 lens. Again, I’m still using a Nikon Z6 body, so autofocus performance is slower than what you’d see with a Nikon Z8/Z9.
Autofocus definitely slowed down a bit when using the teleconverter, but once focus was acquired it did a good job of staying locked in. What I found from my test shots was that sharpness across the frame was still excellent, even wide-open. Stopping down to f/11 improved edge sharpness slightly, but not enough to make me feel like I needed to do so. I feel that if you can handle the light-loss penalty (1-stop), and reduced AF performance, go ahead and use this combination wide-open. It’s very very good.
Here are a few full-resolution sample images from the Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Z Nikkor + Nikon Z teleconverter 1.4x. Click on any image to view it full-size.
Looking at sharpness and bokeh with neighborhood subjects
Walked around the neighborhood yesterday with the Nikon 180-600mm Z Nikkor and my Nikon Z6 body just to test the lens and see how it handled. I plan to get out to a better location soon, but my casual backyard tests suggest that this lens is quite excellent. Obviously, I need to find some better subjects (coming soon). But I just wanted to post a few un-cropped images from the Nikon Z6 so you can get a sense of sharpness and bokeh. I’ll have a Z9 to test with this lens in the coming weeks.
The lens Nikon wildlife photographers have been waiting for
When Nikon announced the long-awaited 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Z Nikkor telephoto zoom lens, I immediately placed a pre-order. This lens is the obvious successor to the 200-500mm f/5.6E VR (F-mount) for native Nikon Z mount. While the 200-500mm Nikkor is a tremendous value and excellent lens, the new native Z lens offers some substantial improvements, notably:
Internal zoom design with a short zoom ring rotation (70°)
4.3lbs (without collar or hood) vs. over 5lbs for the 200-500mm
5.5 stops of vibration reduction
Excellent zoom range from 180-600mm
While few people would argue that a 4+ pound lens is “lightweight,” it’s certainly easier to hand-hold than the 200-500mm. Zooming while shooting is very easy with a very smooth zoom ring and short rotation distance. With the 200-500mm, I sometimes felt that I was cranking the zoom ring all the way around the lens.
If there were any features I’d wished were different on this lens, it would be the tripod collar design (removable collar vs. removable foot), and better focus range limiter options. Nikon only offers full range and a 6m-∞ setting. Other companies sometimes include a short-range setting, too. Keep in mind that at 4.3 pounds (1.95kg), hand-holding this lens for prolonged sessions will still get tiring; you may want to use it with a monopod. The 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 Z Nikkor is over a full pound lighter, but also costs about $1000 more.
In my brief testing, focus seems quick and smooth, but I’ll wait to try it on a Z9 body before coming to any conclusions on speed. The lens has a 9-bladed aperture design, which should help with bokeh. There’s no VR switch on the lens; you turn it on and off via your Nikon Z camera body.
I hope to do some real-world testing of this lens very soon, but I think with its price point of under $1700, Nikon has a home-run on their hands with this lens.
Did you see the “supermoon” this week? We’ll offer some tips for photographing the moon and tell you why you don’t need to wait for a “super” event to get out there and shoot it. Check out Jason’s Night Sky Photography Handbook for more night shooting tips!