OMG... The Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR lens is AWESOME

OMG... The Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR lens is AWESOME

Feb 8, 2019 ~ OK. I guess you can see I am kinda excited about my new lens. We have talked about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) before, and I really did think I had all the equipment I needed. Bill got on the waiting list at B&H for the new Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF lens back in August when it first became available. At the time, I thought, well… it isn’t a f/4 and with a teleconverter it would be f/8 …so … I will just skip it since I have my fantastic Nikkor 500 f/4. It was more in the “would be nice” category. I really didn’t think the image quality would be near as good, and why buy another lens with the same focal length?

Finally, after all the glowing reviews and chatter about how danged good it was got to me. I decided to go ahead and order one. My plan was that I could save up some $$$ while I was waiting and then I wouldn’t be jealous when Bill finally got his (Rationalization no. 1). Besides, it is getting harder and harder to lug that monster lens around (Rationalization no. 2). I decided to skip the long line at B&H and see if I could do better at our local store, Houston Camera Exchange. They also have a waiting list, but I was assured it was much shorter than B&H AND if I was willing to make a $500 deposit I would get it faster. It seems Nikon ships limited quantities to the stores once a month, and the folks that have ponied up serious cash get first dibs. I placed my order on Jan 17 and I would be no. 3 on the list. My chances were… “Well, maybe. Maybe not. Depends on how many we get. Can’t promise anything.”

I got the call on Jan 27 that it would be in on Jan. 29. Dang!

Bill’s ginormous 600 f/4, my 500 f/4 in camo, the new tiny 500 f/5.6 PF and the 300 f/4 PF lens. Art in the background by Margret Wallace

Bill’s ginormous 600 f/4, my 500 f/4 in camo, the new tiny 500 f/5.6 PF and the 300 f/4 PF lens. Art in the background by Margret Wallace

Let’s just take a look at these telephoto lenses. I added Bill’s 600 f/4 in the lineup for context. Width, length and weight. Length dimensions are without the lens hood which add a lot, plus you have about 2 lbs of camera to manage.

The new Phase Fresnel 500 f/5.6 weighs less than half that of my old 500 f/4. And the weight is roughly a third of his 600 f/4 at about half the size. Nikon wrote a lot about the Phase Fresnel technology when the 300 f/4 PF lens was released. It is the same technology in the new 500 f/5.6 PF but evidently the larger lens is much slower to produce than the now easily available 300 f/4. Anecdotal evidence is availability is better in Europe and Australia than in the US and Canada. Many people have been waiting since the end of last summer like Bill. This shortage is so serious Nikon has issued a second apology.

If you want to read some of the stellar reviews then check these out: TechRadar, DPReview, and Ari Hezeghi. Be careful, you will want one, too….

OK. Enough of all of that, let’s see some PICKTURES!!!! First real trip out was to Texas City Dike. It was overcast and windy and rather cool. My plan was to use the new lens “bare” - that is without any of the teleconverters to see if the image quality matched up to my old 500 f/4 < henceforth known as the “Heavy 500”. Bill Maroldo volunteered to use the Heavy 500 to provide some comparison shots.

Tortoise Kitteh at the dike - Click to embiggen if you want to pixel peep.
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

There were at least half-dozen feral cats hunkered down in the grass next to the granite boulders at the beginning of the Dike. We see them often and I know they get fed at the bait houses if they don’t find enough from the fishermen.

The above is about 15MP out of 46MP… roughly a 1/3 of the original. I had to use Mad Photoshop Skillz on some trash and part of a black kitteh at the side, but you wouldn’t know if I didn’t own up, Right?

Black and White beauty
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

There was a pretty black and white kitteh hopping around on the boulders. In fact, it was his movement that made me notice the others. I did do a bit of remedial work on his skinned up nose; kittehs should always look their best no matter what their circumstances.

Walking around carrying this … tiny lens was so much fun. It feels about the same as when I was carrying the Sony 70-400 GII (which weighs 3.3 lbs) back in the day.

American White Pelican flying toward me
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

I have written about my ongoing quest to improve my BIF skills and I have been doing much better lately. Hand-holding the Heavy 500 (6.81 lbs plus 2 lbs of camera) is definitely possible, especially if the bird is high in the sky. Holding it UP high, the weight is pressing against your body and you can kind of use that to stay steady. But, if the bird is lower in the sky or flying toward you, holding that monster out level and tracking birds is a real strain. That is where this new lightweight wonder is … awesome.

Go ahead and click to embiggen the American White Pelican flying overhead. Look at that feather detail…

Big boy comes in for a landing…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

I followed him circling around and even the landing. Now, Pelicans are not exactly a challenge as they fly slow and straight. But a black AND white bird does require some thought to properly expose. Nikon’s dynamic range and ability to handle higher ISOs is the main reason I switched from Sony. Plus the autofocus in the D850 is superb.

Oh. I have been using both a multi-point focus mode (3-D or 9-point) and toggling back to single point by programming the Preview button on my D850. It is extremely helpful for perched birds that you know are going to fly. Not available on all cameras, but you might dig up your manual and check. I did not know you you can program the focus buttons on your lens to do the same thing until reading Ari’s review listed up top. I can see most of the Nikon primes have those buttons; not sure about other brands.

Mine! all mine!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

We found a Great Blue Heron guarding a pile of bait shrimp he had found. Gulls and even young Brown Pelicans were edging closer to get some of the spoils. And we got a chance to do some REAL field testing of the new lens.

At that time, Bill Maroldo was shooting my with my Heavy 500 and I was using the new Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF. We had the same camera bodies, same conditions, subjects and lighting.

You tell me what you think. All the images will embiggen so you can pixel peep.

Great Blue traveling down the granite boulders
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

I had selected this on for the blog because of the wings up. When I asked him for one of the Great Blues to show a comparison, he says… I have one just like that.

Great Blue traveling down the granite boulders
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/4.5 ISO 1000

And the images are virtually identical. You can see what settings we were both using for the same subject. Bill was on my right, a tiny bit closer but we cropped the photos the same without even knowing what the other did.

(It is creepy sometimes, my friends….)

Want to see that again? Mine on the left, his on the right…. A tiny bit of difference at the feet and the wing dips a bit lower on his. I think it was more our relative positions; we must have clicked at the same time.

Now, what do you think about image quality? The new 500 f/5.6 PF is lighter and much cheaper than the 500 f/4. Yep, it is not f/4 and with a TC it will be f/8 but those are limitations you can work with.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/3200 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000

There were two Brown Pelicans hanging around a fish cleaning station waiting on handouts. They weren’t even in the water, but just in front of the fishermen. I got low and fairly close for this; it is not cropped much at all. I remember using f/8 because he is big and close and I wanted to be sure that bill was all in focus. The 1/3200 sec shutter speed was just to compensate for the kinda high the ISO - the sun had been peaking in and out of clouds; I could have shot it much slower.

All that nice bokeh in the background is the water. No comparisons here; he was shooting with the 300 f/4 PF for this subject.

Brown Pelican fly by
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000

Well, of course it is going to be a keeper. I have been out a few more times, with Bill and I swapping out the two 500s for more images to compare. With no teleconverter it seems to be as sharp as the 500 f/4. Looking back, most of my images with the new lens are at f/6.3 and f/7.1. And those are about the same as I would use with the 500 f/4. I have used it with the 1.4X teleconverter and in low light, it hunts for the focus. In brighter light there seems a negligible lag.

It is fun and I am really enjoying the lighter weight for just walking around and for flight captures. I have no plans to sell my Heavy 500; if I was shooting from the car window or on a tripod with my crate, then that would be my go to lens. But for BIFs, it is wonderful.

What do you think? Is this tempting you to come over to the Dark Side? Are you on a waiting list for the 500 f/5.6? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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