The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S is a pro-grade super-telephoto prime with powerful reach and an impressive set of high-end features. There’s no getting away from the fact that super-tele lenses are typically big and heavy. However, thanks partly to the inclusion of a Phase Fresnel element the Z 800mm certainly isn’t massive and, at 2,385g, you don’t need to be a bodybuilder to tackle handheld shooting. By comparison, the Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S and Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM are both noticeably heavier, weighing in at 2,950g and 2,860g respectively.
Mount: Nikon Z
Lens construction: 22 elements in 14 groups
Angle of view: 3.17 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 9
Minimum aperture: f/32
Minimum focusing distance: 5m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.16x
Filter size: Rear, 46mm drop-in
There’s 800mm of key feature in this lens. The monster super-telephoto reach is particularly ideal for bird photography, as well as for action, sports, wildlife and pretty much any time you can’t get as close to the subject matter as you might like. It can even come in useful for landscape photography, when you want to compress perspective for creative effect.
Although undeniably a big and heavy lens, it’s relatively compact and lightweight for an 800mm prime. The Phase Fresnel element helps to boost image quality as well as enabling a downsized design, and it’s joined in a high-quality optical path by three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and one SR (Short-wavelength Refractive) element. The combination aims for negligible chromatic aberration across the entire image frame. Nano Crystal Coat is applied to minimize ghosting and flare, and the front element has a moisture/grease-repellent fluorine coating.
The fast and virtually silent autofocus system is based on dual linear stepping motors, while voice coil motors power the optical 5-stop VR (Vibration Reduction) system. Effectiveness is boosted to 5.5 stops in Synchro VR mode, which teams up with the in-body stabilization of full-frame Nikon Z system cameras.
The lens comes complete with a drop-in 46mm filter slot and is compatible with Nikon’s Z-series 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters, should you ever feel that even 800mm doesn’t really cover the distance.
Build and handling
Build quality feels of a consummately professional standard, with a tough, solid and extensively weather-sealed construction. As you’d expect, the lens comes complete with a tripod/monopod mounting ring and strap lugs. There’s also a security-conscious Kensington lock. Supplied accessories include a lockable hood, padded strap and high-quality slingback padded soft case.
As with build quality, handling is fully pro-grade. The customizable manual focus ring operates with smooth precision and there are plentiful onboard controls. At the rear there’s an A/M focus mode switch, an autofocus range limiter which can lock out the short end between 5-10m, a customizable L-Fn button and a Memory Set button for storing a custom focus distance.
Further forward there’s a secondary customizable control ring which can be assigned to the likes of ISO, exposure compensation and aperture. The last of these works well for stepless aperture control during video capture, at which the lens excels with minimal focus breathing. Next up is a rank of four L-Fn 2 buttons, situated at 90-degree intervals around the lens barrel, ideal for autofocus on/hold functions.
A major performance boost in practical terms is that this lens gives you freedom of movement without needing to rely on a tripod or monopod. It’s only half the weight of the Nikon AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR F-mount lens, making handheld shooting comparatively easy. Even so, camera-shake is an ever-present danger at such a long focal length, so the VR system with its dual normal and ‘Sport’ modes really earns its keep, enabling consistently shake-free shots.
Super-fast autofocus is well able to track even rapidly moving subjects and, combined with VR, you can be assured of an excellent hit rate even for tricky action subjects. The lens isn’t quite as scary-sharp as the Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S but sharpness is still thoroughly excellent even when shooting wide-open, right across the entire image frame. The 800mm is certainly more than sharp enough to satisfy the super-high-resolution demands of Z 7, Z 7II and Z 9 camera bodies.
Both axial and lateral chromatic aberrations are absolutely negligible, there’s very minimal and easily corrected pincushion distortion, and resistance to ghosting and flare is excellent. All in all, performance is pretty epic and, when there are no second chances in action and sports photography, this is a lens you can really count on to deliver the goods.
We run a range of lab tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master testing suite. Photos of test charts are taken across the range of apertures and zooms (where available), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberrations.
We use Imatest SFR (spatial frequency response) charts and analysis software to plot lens resolution at the center of the image frame, corners and mid-point distances, across the range of aperture settings and, with zoom lenses, at four different focal lengths. The tests also measure distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration).
Although the f/6.3 aperture rating isn’t exactly ‘fast’, the lens delivers optimum sharpness when shooting wide-open. At f/6.3 and f/8, sharpness is fabulous at the center of the image frame and remains excellent right out to the extreme edges and corners. Sharpness drops off a bit at f/11 and narrower apertures but is still very impressive.
Across the whole image frame and throughout the entire aperture range, both axial and lateral chromatic aberration is absolutely negligible, even without taking advantage of Nikon’s automatic in-camera corrections.
There’s a very slight touch of pincushion distortion but it’s of a very low order and will generally go unnoticed. Automatic correction is available if you feel the need.
This lens gives you telephoto super-powers in a relatively manageable package. The downsized build comes courtesy of a modest f/6.3 aperture rating and a Phase Fresnel optical element, a technology that’s commonly used to focus the beam in a lighthouse. The addition of highly effective optical VR that works in tandem with IBIS in Z system full-frame cameras, plus a useful range of handling extras, ensures top-quality results time after time, with excellent consistency even in handheld shooting. When you need to nail the definitive moment in action, sports and wildlife photography, this is a lens you can really rely on, and for less than half the price of the Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S.