Nikon D500 camera with Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens

This post on the Nikon D500 camera with Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens is by Dragos Stoica (website | Facebook |Flickr):

I think I am the classic case of the guy that fell in love with photography when he was a child and pursued his passion with stubbornness. And here I am almost 20 years later making another extreme edge decision and adding to the "tools list", the new Nikon 800mm F5.6E FL ED VR and also the new very attractive crop D500.

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Yep, we all know why. Because when you love wildlife there is no "too long" focal length combo. I shot with the "old" heavier 600mm F4 VR for the last 4 years on my D4 and D800, and I liked it a lot, but it is not the most comfortable lens to carry around, especially on airplanes. That's why I finally decided to sell it and get a lighter zoom solution. That was in the end the Sigma Sport 150-600, which by the way, is indeed a great lens for the price and versatility that it offers.

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Then again, my little super-tele and wildlife dwarfs that jabber inside my brain all the time, made me "lose my mind" again, and go for the combo mentioned above. A great deal for the bank, that has my devotion for the next five years. Regardless of the sacrifices, it's always worth it for me, when I see a very good capture on the screen.

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Because I have had the 800mm and the D500 for only about a month now, and the job is keeping me pretty busy, the time for putting these babies to work is scarce. Nevertheless, I managed to get some fast results with the new toys.

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To be honest the first thing that popped into my head, was exactly what I did four years ago with the 600mm. Get the 10 megapixels Nikon 1 J1 and with the FT1 adapter, mount it on the 800mm, to get a shot of the moon in a night atmosphere condition. Taking advantage of the 2,7x crop factor is perfect for these kind of shots.

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Mounted directly on the 800mm we get to a relative 800 x 2,7 = 2160mm equivalent focal length. Awesome right? (That's the shot with the blue background of the moon)

Well of course I couldn't help myself, to add some teleconverters. I have the 1.25x that comes with the 800mm, the older 1,4x II version, and the 2x III version that unfortunately is at a friends and I haven't got it back yet for testing. I know that the 2x loses to much IQ and will take the F5.6 to a F11 equivalent, so I am not too anxious about that combination. But the 1,4x still looked really good. 800 x 1,4 x 2,7 = 3105mm. (Black background moon shot)

I can't wait to take this gear on a photo trip to the beautiful bird paradise from the Danube Delta here in Romania. But until then I managed to get some nice shots in some lake parks in Bucharest, where in the reed areas the birds are gathering as if they were in the Delta.

A funny heron was trying to swallow a rat. I followed him for about half an hour, he didn't manage to do it. He abandoned the rat eventually, and he settled for some fish. Dozens of egrets were fishing their meals, ducks, turtles, coots with juvenile, sparrows and a funny squirrel of course.

On a sunny Saturday we had a small air show in Bucharest so I got to put the D500 with the 800mm on airplane shooting mode. This is where the big distances to the subject and the heat air distortion really limits the sharpness and the contrast. It is the classical problem of shooting big focal length over very big distances in bad atmosphere conditions.

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And since I started with the moon, I thought I would end it with the sun. I captured the sun between two tall apartment buildings from 1 km away. Dialed down the F stops, shutter speed and ISO for a really underexposed frame to get the black spot's solar explosions from the suns surface. I was glad that there were some right in the middle.

What are my first impressions with the new toys? The focus system in the D500 is pretty good indeed. Haven't got time yet to put the 800mm on a good ride with the D4 or the D800 to feel a real comparison, but I agree that the D500 is by far the best crop sensor body from Nikon at the moment. Very good ISO SNR for a crop sensor and a great pro-like body. The 800mm is a top supertele lens. The new design has indeed an improved weight balance and is much easier to handle. I can tell comparing it to the older 600mm.

I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and I am sure the gear, as much as I, can't wait to get out there, and capture great photos throughout the world.

All photos © Dragos Stoica (website | Facebook |Flickr).

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Plug

    Great post! Really enjoyable pictures. You freeze, or almost freeze the propeller blades. Is that intentional or is it necessary because of the very long focal length and hence fear of shake?

    • Alphageist

      Having shot air shows for a few years, I can say that it isn’t always possible to “blur” props as the air craft aren’t always flying in positions that you can always pan with. Sometimes the planes are coming at you and sometimes they change direction very quickly. There are other issues like FL, VR, environmental variables and where you are positioned and difficulty in switch/changing positions/locations. This usually isn’t an issue with jet air craft. Also, using high shutter speeds lets you focus on composition and anticipating where the aircraft will be.

    • dabug91

      I was at the Red Bull Air Race in Indianapolis today and was shooting solely with my 70-200 f/4 mounted onto my Nikon D750, and I found it to be a somewhat difficult time trying to balance propeller movement with panning etc. I mostly shot at around f/8 with shutter speeds ranging mostly from 1/800 to 1/4000.
      I’ll be going back for the race tomorrow with my 200-500 f/5.6E and hopefully I will be able to nail down the best combination of shutter speed and ISO. It’s quite easy to completely freeze the propellers (about 1/1600 or faster), but nailing a panning shot with a tack sharp plane and props with the perfect amount of motion blur definitely takes some skill and practice.

      • russ

        I find shooting in shutter priority mode at 1/800 frequently works on my D500 and 500mm to capture prop motion.

      • Seb

        These really do not work for me. Frozen props are the ultimate deal-breaker.
        Shooting planes a lot myself (I’m a pilot, so it tends to be one of my preferred subjects), anything longer than 500mm with DX means your way too far and atmosphere will ruin your pictures so much that it almost doesn’t matter which glass you’re using. You’re just not close enough.
        DX with 70-200mm f/4 and 300mm f/4, or 200-500mm with FX are perfect, that’s as long as you need for smaller birds or partial shots of big birds.
        The amount of prop motion can be a matter of taste, but I like mine between 1/60th and 1/200th, 1/250th tops, depending on RPM and background. 1/60th usually to enhance panning during low fly-bys or at really low RPM on the ground, because at high RPM the prop blurs too much (better than frozen, but not good either).
        Yes, it’s hard, yes you need to train, yes you keep a small percentage. But at least when you get a keeper, it’s a really good one.

        So, with regards to the planes, I’d say first up slower shutter. Second, get closer. Third, get better light (i.e. better placement, or if not possible, later in the day… yes, that means not taking some of the pictures) or own the silhouette. Shadows pushed too hard into recovery just ruin the picture: halo, color issues, contrast issues.

        So, it’s a matter of taste, but none of these would be keepers for me, except maybe the one with the two Yak52 from the bottom (owned the silhouette on this one, well done). That’s unfortunate, because in fact your framing tends to be really good in my opinion. Good thing, because that’s the hardest part 😉

        However… once we get out of aviation, the birds (the animals) are really great, perhaps a tad too much sharpening (something feels harsh in the bokeh), but that’s an easy fix. Congrats!

    • Dragos Stoica

      Thanks, yeap I didn’t want to have the whole image with a motion blur so shooting hand held with and equiv. of 1200mm…

    • Alphageist

      I don’t know why my previous original entry was flagged as spam, so here is my reply (again).

      Having shot air shows for a few years, I can say that it isn’t always possible to “blur” props as the aircraft aren’t always flying in positions that you can always easily pan with while expecting everything in focus and whatnot. Sometimes the planes are coming at you and sometimes they change direction very quickly. Imagine trying to use slow shutter speeds (slower than 1/125 for certain planes) on very bright and sunny days or while shooting into the sun. You can’t always have the sun behind you and you are less likely
      to find/use ND/Polar filters with the really long teles. I don’t know if there are filters for the 800mm. :p Also, if there is a formation flight with different aircraft, some propellers may “blur” better than others. This may be attributed to the engine of the plane (turbo prop, etc). The soulution is to use even slower shutter speeds so ALL propellers in the flight formation are blurred. There are other issues like FL, VR, environmental variables and your position and possible difficulty in switching/changing positions/locations. This usually isn’t an issue with jet air craft. Also, using high shutter speeds lets you focus on composition while anticipating where the aircraft will be. Too much time spent on panning to get the perfect shot of prop blur can result in manny missed opportunities. All in all, great shots!

  • Eric Calabros

    The price of the lens indicates its review should include F-35 refueling shots

    • Dragos Stoica

      They are coming 🙂

    • Dennis

      I have a ton of images of the F-35B, but I shot them all with my D810 with Nikkor 80-400 so they don’t count in this discussion. All hand held and sharp though.

  • Scott Taylor

    They watch TV on the sun; who knew?

  • John Mackay

    I don’t like the combo myself. Unless the bird is really close and small it doesn’t give any advantages over the d810 other than frame rate as air limits sharpness on that lens very very quickly. As for af the d810 has great af too and the full frame view finder makes tracking and subject acquisition much easier. It is a good combo for video though.

    • Bob Thane

      Usually yeah, 800mm especially on crop can be too long for sharp shots. But in colder climates, or for shooting birds that are in flight and fairly high, it’s a great tool. And sometimes it’s worth getting the shot even if it won’t be fully sharp zoomed in – it’ll still look good as a print if it’s a great moment.

      • John Mackay

        true, but cold and bright conditions shooting small distant subjects is quite niche! I find 1200mm fov too long for birds in flight unless they are very distant to the point you can only get photos that look good pretty small. My main point is that I almost never want my d500 on my 800mm, my 810 lives there and my d500 on my 300f4pf. Anything the d500 can do on it my d810 can do almost as well, but
        it can also do more.

        • Bob Thane

          Haha, definitely. I do agree that 400-600 is generally more useful for wildlife, so while 800 is handy to have sometimes it’s probably not going to be most people’s main lens. Especially since a 600+1.4 tc or even 400+2tc are almost as good. The only time I’ve ever really wished for 800mm on crop would have been shooting eagles on a lake. Sometimes they’re on the opposite side of the lake as you, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. But for most subjects it’s definitely overkill.

          • Paul Johnson

            Gotta disagree. Most of my shots with my 800mm are less than 100ft. The closer I can get, the better. I use a J5 with enough light, my D500, or the D810. In the dark, it’s my D4. No problems with atmospherics at this range and I like to fill the frame.

            • Bob Thane

              That is another use mentioned earlier – but my comment was with regards to longer distances.

            • Paul Johnson

              I think my main disagreement is with your statement that “400-600 is generally more useful for wildlife” and your cavalier remark that the “600+1.4 tc or 400+2tc are almost as good.” I’ve never aspired to be “almost as good,” and the 800 is my main bird lens. I also own the 400+2 tc, and you either haven’t tried it or you have low standards. It’s amazing without the tc, but the 800 is my choice.

            • Bob Thane

              Absolutely. If 800mm is your main focal length, buy an 800mm lens. If you need 800mm for 1-5% of your shots though, most people are going to be better off using a TC rather than spending $20k on a good 800mm lens.

            • Paul Johnson

              I did buy it. And all the other gear I mentioned. That’s what you do when you want the best.

            • Bob Thane

              Yeah, you mentioned that – it’s a focal length you use a lot, so that makes sense. Most people don’t use that focal length enough to justify a $20k purchase though.

        • Carleton Foxx

          You’ve should come to the midwest in winter. It’s week after week of extremely cold and bright.

  • Tomáš Andraščík

    its nice lens and photos ok but perhaps new nikon 600 mm f4 FL is sharper than 800 mm 5,6 and
    lighter weight
    It would be interesting to compare the sharpness of the 600 mm F4 Fl with 1.4 extender with 800 mm 5.6 …
    In my experience, crop sensors with small pixels do not like the photo shoot long distances especially when the atmospheric haze

    • Dragos Stoica

      You can find already the comparisons between the new FL 600mm and 800mm.

      800mm has the best MTF chart. And for sure adding a TC doesn’t beat the real focal lenght.

      Check tests here :

  • Ettore Cattoli

    Good shots but I dont like freezed props. Isn’t possible to do a little of panning?

    • Dragos Stoica

      Shot them hand hold, that’s why I didn’t try panning. Pretty tricky with the 800mm on a crop sensor.

  • D500 use 18M Pixel will be better
    20.8M Pixel … no detailed in the picture.

  • smith0100

    Great pictures! Good job.

  • fanboy fagz

    my eyes deceiving me? are these 2×3 ratio? seems a bit off?

  • Max

    Take that, P900!!

  • nice job! nice pictures, almost too close–;))) thanks !

  • KnightPhoto

    Enjoyed the article and presentation. Now don’t forget to add the J5 to your kit!

    • Dragos Stoica

      J5 doesn’t work with long super tele lens. Nikon decision. J4 does, but to buy it just for 8 MP more…neah…

  • Eric Frame

    5 year loan to buy a camera and lens? damn, someone has a serious GAS problem. lol

    • Morris

      in a way i agree, but in another i mean, life is short, one spends money for his own happiness, if this man works hard everyday it’s up to him how to fund his happiness 🙂 thats all that matters, we are not only slaves of this society and have no right to buy what we dream even if we cannot afford it in the short term, long term is an option ? fine for me 🙂

      • Dragos Stoica

        I agree with you both !

        I never buy gear just to sell it afterwards or to not use it. I am working hard for it, and trying to become a better and better photographer day by day. 800mm is a lens I can use for years and years.

        • Morris

          enjoy 🙂

  • Roberto Solari

    Nikons 800mm is incredible, razor sharp!!

  • Eric Duminil

    Crazy that you managed to see sunspots, I didn’t know it was possible with a DSLR + telephoto! I’m blind in one eye, so I’m surely not gonna risk it.

    • Dragos Stoica

      Had sunglasses on, when I was looking through the viewfinder. Really dark sunglasses :)). the settings were ISO 50, F22, 1/8000, and some twicking on the raw file

  • Tomáš Andraščík

    Maybe so … but the new 600 mm f4 FL has a higher resolution than 800 mm FL 5.6,,, / lensscore … 800 mm is two years older year after year, the new lens will increase in resolution, so that whichever reviewed 600 mm f4 FL with 1.4 extender will be comparable to the 800 mm 5.6 … photography heretofore not make a comparison of these two lenses do not know why: D

  • Dragos Stoica
  • outkasted

    The one thing I’ve never regretted was buying photo equipment. I have never purchased a camera or lens that I did not use or is no longer used to where I have to sell it. As time goes on and I get older I am looking for quality photo equipment that will enhance my creativity. I’m at that point that after contemplating over the many months that it is time to purchase a BIG BOY lens. Of course I’m second guessing the $$ sacrifice of either saving or just going ahead and purchase through a loan from bank. I have to think of it as borrowing money for a small car…but wait that small car does not make money. Photography does. It makes me enough extra income $20,000 -$23,000 per year on top of my current job. With that said It looks that if i do buy or purchase I can make the money back over a couple of years. It also will allow me to upgrade pricing which has not increased in 6 years. So I think ill will save enough to put $5000.00 toward the purchase of a 400mm/2.8 FL and D500 and borrow the remainder, knowing that i can pay it off over the next few years.

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