Nikon D850 | 500mm F5.6E PF | ISO 320 | 1/1250sec | F7.1
Full disclosure: Roie Galiz is a beta product tester for Nikon Europe.
Wildlife photographers love millimeters – the more the merrier. But extra focal length comes with a cost, both literally and in terms of weight.
The new Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm F5.6E PF ED VR bucks that trend, including a PF (‘phase fresnel’) element to reduce the size and weight of what would otherwise be a large, heavy telephoto prime lens.
Nikon 500mm F5.6E PF key specifications:
- Optical construction: 19 elements in 11 groups (1 PF, 3 ED)
- Minimum focus: 3m (118 inches)
- Aperture blades: 9
- Vibration Reduction: 4EV (CIPA)
- Diameter: 106 mm (4.17″)
- Length: 237 mm (9.33″)
- Weight: 1460 g (3.22 lb)
When I put my eager hands on the new 500mm F5.6 PF lens and put it next to the flagship 500mm F4E, it felt like a toy, being so small and light. Actually, to my eyes it looked adorable. I was a bit skeptical that it could deliver the same performance, so when I packed my gear for a recent bear photography workshop in Kamchatka, I packed the older lens too, just in case, alongside the new 500mm F5.6E PF and 180-400mm F4E.
|A tale of two lenses: the 500mm F4 (left) and new 500mm F5.6E PF (right), with their included hoods attached.|
Holding this lens feels weird at first and I’ve never held a camera with a 500mm prime in one hand like I can with the F5.6E PF. The lens is so light that it almost feels unstable compared to the F4E, and the shift in balance with the lighter lens, back towards the camera, takes some getting used to. After the first couple of bear shots though, and some initial discomfort, I began to really see the benefits. This lightweight lens allowed me to easily move around, lay on the ground, photograph from the water from a low angle and be much more flexible than I could with the older and heavier F4.
Nikon D850 | 500mm F5.6E PF | ISO 1250 | 1/1000sec | F7.1
When loosing a stop of light, I expected to loose focus speed as well, but the F5.6E PF actually locks into focus very quickly. For bear photography, focus speed doesn’t have to be ultra-fast, so to really test the lens I went and photographed some Tufted Puffins flying around with beaks full of fish. The D850 + 500mm F5.6E combination delivered around a 70% hit-rate where the images were in sharp focus.
The minimum focus distance of the 500mm F5.6E is 3.5 meters, which is great for close-ups, but it’s too close for bears!
|Nikon D850 | 500mm F5.6E PF | ISO 200 | 1/1000sec | F8|
Would you rather have an F4 or F5.6? well, of course all photographers want that extra stop of light. Except for low conditions, though, I’d rather close the aperture to around F8 for extra depth of field. For this reason, most of the time I wouldn’t care about a maximum aperture of F5.6E compared to F4. ‘Most of the time’ isn’t all the time, though. In low light or when shooting fast-moving subjects, I would rather shoot at 1600 at F4 than 3200 at F5.6.
Vibration Reduction (VR)
Nikon D850 | 500mm F5.6E PF | ISO 200 | 1/800sec | F7.1
Typically when it comes to VR, the bar is raised with each new high-end lens that comes out. With the 500mm F5.6E PF I found VR especially useful since I didn’t have the sheer mass of the lens to help absorb shake, as I do with the F4. I didn’t really get to long-enough exposure times during the Kamchatka workshop to test it thoroughly, but I’m eager to do so as soon as I can.
I didn’t expect this baby lens to be capable of the same image quality as the F4E, but it is! The D850’s 46 megapixels place a huge demand on any lens, and the 500mm F5.6E PF really delivers. Bokeh looks great, I couldn’t persuade it to flare while shooting against backlighting and I didn’t notice any issues with chromatic aberrations.
All-in-all, I couldn’t find any drawbacks compared to the F4E when it comes to image quality.
Here is a sample comparison between the two, labeled as A and B. Both images were handheld, un-edited and un-sharpened and taken at F/5.6. See if you can tell which image was shot with which lens.
Still can’t decide? Here’s a 1:1 crop unsharpened.
And the answer is… A is the Nikon 500mm F5.6E PF and B is the Nikon 500m F4E.
Compared to the 500mm F4, the F5.6E PF lens is nice and easy to use handheld, especially with fast moving subjects I could easily keep the camera up and ready for hours on end and the image quality doesn’t seem to have been compromised at the expense of lightness.
I would love to have this lens in my backpack whenever I’m on a project in a sunny environment, just to avoid having to carry the weight of the faster lens. If I’m shooting in the jungles or the high arctic however, I would want every stop of light available, at which point I’d probably play safe and opt for the heavier F4E.
Roie Galitz is a professional wildlife photographer, public speaker, wildlife workshop leader and a GreenPeace ambassador to the Arctic.
Roie was in Kamchatka leading an expedition for photography tour company Phototeva. For more information and images visit his website www.roiegalitz.com and follow his Instagram – www.instagram.com/roiegalitz
Roie Galitz was not compensated for this article by Nikon or DPReview, and Nikon had no involvement in its publication.