When the 500mm 5.6 PF lens came out a number of years ago, it completely rocked my world. This lens was so small, light and incredibly sharp..it was hard to believe. Cree and I liked the lens so much we had to buy two of them, no sharing with this lens! The convenience of having a light telephoto lens when tracking down elusive birds or walking miles photographing bears was huge.
The 500mm PF is still a fantastic lens, but now we have converted over to mirrorless bodies and Z lenses. When the 600mm 6.3 PF Z lens was announced, I was very interested. But I was already shooting the 600mm F4 and also using the 100-400mm 5.6 with a converter…did I really need another telephoto? We just came home from a week in Alaska photographing wildlife and northern lights (join us in March) using the new 600mm 6.3 PF, and I am already wondering why we didn’t buy this lens sooner…it is amazing!
First take a look at this comparison to the 600mm F4. As you would expect, the size and weight difference is huge. The 600mm 6.3 PF weighs about 3 pounds, similar to the 100-400mm, the 600mm F4 weighs seven pounds. The 600mm PF is 11inches long (14 inches with hood attached), just a little longer than the 100-400mm. The 600mm 6.3 PF has all the lens buttons of a pro level telephoto…focus recall, control ring, L-fn buttons, focus limiter switch. Basically every switch I have on my 600mm F4 is on the 600mm 6.3 PF.
What about performance? I can state right now that this lens seems as sharp as the 600mm F4 (as others have reported), it is just one of those incredibly sharp telephotos Nikon has produced recently. Wide open at 6.3 it is tack sharp. Birds are great subjects to evaluate sharpness, especially the fine details of feathers. We photographed some Bohemian waxwings in Alaska eating berries, and the images were tack sharp. The autofocus was very quick and snappy. But what really made a difference was walking around in the snow and wind carrying such light camera system. I used the Z8 with the 600mm 6.3 PF and couldn’t believe how light it was for a 600mm setup. I never used a tripod, VR and hand held worked great.
What about using at 100-400mm 5.6 with 1.4x? I have used this setup many times, and it works well for 560mm at F8.. The images are sharp and autofocus works well. But does it compare in quality to the 600mm 6.3 PF…no. While image quality and autofocus is good (at F8), the 600mm PF is in a class above, as you would expect for a prime telephoto lens. I really see the 600mm 6.3PF working great in conjunction with carrying the 100-400mm 5.6. I use the 100-400mm a lot, love this lens, but I am now going to be carrying the 600mm PF on trips where I think I will need a longer telephoto. The combined weight of the 100-400mm and 600mm PF is still less than the 600mm F4. If I am shooting wildlife all day long, I will always use my 600mm F4 first. But for those trips where weight is an issue, or for diverse shooting, I’ll bring the 100-400/600mm PF combo.
What isn’t to like about the 600mm 6.3PF? The only issue to be aware of is shooting at F6.3. F6.3 won’t let in as much light as F4 or F2.8 lenses, so you will use a higher ISO for images in low light. The second variable is how your background will render at F6.3. If your subject is far away from the background, then no problem. Take a look at this moose Cree photographed at 6.3…I like the bokeh of this background. But if your subject is close to the background, it will render with more detail than if you were shooting at F4 or F2.8.
One other advantage should be pointed out about this lens. Often the difference for capturing a wildlife image is simply getting your camera on the subject quickly and taking the shot. The 600mm 6.3PF is so light and small you can instantly grab your camera and get the shot…quicker for sure than getting the 600mm F4 into position. I think I could hand hold the 600mm 6.3 for most of the day it is so light. Another choice would be the new 180-600mm, a very nice lens with the flexibility of a zoom. But that lens is longer and over a pound heavier, so it might not be as easy to hand hold for extended periods of time.
The 600mm 6.3 PF costs $4800. If this lens fits in your lineup, you won’t be disappointed.