Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor

 
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Updates
11/30/2018: Field Test & Gallery Images added

 

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Field Test

An impressively lightweight & sharp supertelephoto lens

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 11/30/2018

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO 900.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

Introduction

A 500mm supertelephoto prime lens that's easy to handhold, features fast autofocus and promises sharp image quality? Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, not anymore, thanks to Nikon's Phase Fresnel technology. This optical technology, which was first introduced in Nikon's 300mm f/4 PF lens, allows Nikon engineers to create sharp lenses using fewer elements and thus a smaller and lighter lens design. The new Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF is Nikon's second lens to use Phase Fresnel technology.

Compared to a Nikon 500mm f/4 lens, you save a lot of money and weight with this f/5.6 PF model but miss out on a full stop of light-gathering ability. With sensors getting better not only at higher ISO speeds, but also with respect to low-light autofocus capabilities, many users will consider it a worthwhile tradeoff. Let's take a closer look at the Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF and see how it's designed and how it performs in the field.

Key Features and Specs

  • Full-frame super telephoto lens
  • Relatively compact and lightweight due to Phase Fresnel technology
  • 9.33 inches long (237 millimeters)
  • Weighs 3.2 pounds (1,460 grams)
  • 19 elements in 11 groups
  • Includes Phase Fresnel element
  • Nano Crystal Coat
  • Vibration Reduction for up to 4 stops of shake correction
  • Weather resistant design
  • $3,596.95 USD

Lens Design and Handling

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review -- Product Image
Nikon Z7 + FTZ Adapter + 500mm f/5.6E PF

Thanks to its Phase Fresnel design, like the 300mm f/4 PF lens before it, the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens is remarkably compact and lightweight given its focal length and aperture. The Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF is 9.33 inches (237 millimeters) long with a maximum diameter of 4.17 inches (106mm), which is not small in general but certainly is for a 500mm full-frame lens. Where the lens particularly excels is with respect to its weight, which is a mere 3.2 pounds (1,460 grams). The lens balanced very nicely on each camera I used, including a Nikon Z7 with an FTZ adapter, Nikon D500 and Nikon D800E. In use, the 500mm lens feels a lot like a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, albeit physically larger. The lens hood, which is unfortunately not carbon fiber, adds a few inches to the length of the lens but it remains a very compact 500mm full-frame lens.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review -- Product Image
Nikon D500 + 500mm f/5.6E PF

To help put the impressive feat of engineering that is the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens into perspective, let's compare it to the Nikon 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens. Obviously with the 500mm f/4, you gain light-gathering capabilities to the tune of one stop, but you also gain a bit in terms of optical performance. However, with that said, the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens is about half a foot shorter, over an inch narrower and it weighs less than half as much as the 500mm f/4. That's a substantial difference and in practical terms, having used Nikon's exotic telephoto lenses before, it means that the 500mm f/5.6 is much easier to handhold and use for extended periods of time. Further, the 500mm f/5.6 PF costs $6,700 USD less than the 500mm f/4 FL lens, which is a major savings.

Despite the lower price, the 500mm f/5.6 PF still offers pro-level build quality. It is dust and moisture resistant and features a magnesium-alloy lens barrel. Further, it has a fluorine coat on the front element to help protect the lens from the elements and make it easier to clean. The lens has a rotating and removable tripod foot as well, which works quite well. I wish that the bottom surface had a more pronounced texture, but other than that, it's a good tripod foot and does its job.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review -- Product Image

The 500mm f/5.6 PF lens also features four programmable buttons near the end of the lens barrel, which can be used to trigger autofocus or for focus recall functionality. The lens includes five switches, including control for focus mode, focus limiter and Vibration Reduction modes. The design of the lens is very similar to other high-end Nikon lenses, featuring traditional Nikkor styling. I appreciate the inclusion of a nice focus scale as well, and the focus ring itself is wide with a ridged rubberized surface.

Ultimately, the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF lens is a remarkably impressive lens. It is very light for its focal length and has pro-grade build quality and functionality, making it a really nice option for serious photographers looking for a supertelephoto lens that won't break their back nor their wallet.

Image Quality

The Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens features 19 elements in 11 groups. It includes a single Phase Fresnel element, 3 extra-low dispersion elements and special coatings including Nano Crystal Coating and Super Integrated Coating.

Before getting into the lens' performance, it's worth considering the Phase Fresnel element in particular. The technology allows for smaller and lighter lenses but there is a potential tradeoff to consider. Because the lens utilizes optical diffraction to its advantage, if there is a strong light source within the frame or just outside of the frame, you may get ring-shaped colored flare in your image. This is not a situation I personally observed in my image files, but if you do experience it, you can work to minimize it using Nikon's Capture NX-D software, which includes a PF Flare Control feature.

Sharpness

The Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF lens is very sharp. While the f/5.6 maximum aperture means that you occasionally need to shoot at higher ISOs, the lens delivers detailed images, even when shot wide open. In the image below, we can see good separation of individual hairs and even see water droplets on the squirrel's chin.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 450.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 450.
100 percent crop. This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 450.
100 percent crop. This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

In this second image of a red squirrel, which was also shot wide open, you can literally count the hairs on the squirrel's face. The lens resolves more than enough detail to not only print a large file at very high quality, but it also gives you a bit more flexibility when cropping, as the source you're working with is high quality. You aren't going to expose flaws in the lens' resolving power by blowing up the image file.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1250.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1250.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

One of the most impressive aspects of the 500mm f/5.6 lens' optical performance is its sharpness wide open at f/5.6. This is important with most lenses, but is especially important for a telephoto lens, as you may often be shooting wildlife or sports, where light-gathering is particularly important for maintaining a high shutter speed. If a lens you are using for landscape images needs to be stopped down, that is not necessarily problematic for most photographers. However, if a wildlife lens needs to be f/8 or f/11 to produce a sharp image, that can be very limiting in numerous ways.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1000.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

Vignette

There is minimal vignette when shooting wide open on a full-frame camera. What little vignette that is present is easily corrected.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click here for the RAW file.

Bokeh

With its maximum aperture of f/5.6 and minimum focus distance of around 10 feet, it can sometimes be tricky to get a lot of subject separation with the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens, but it can be done. In the image below, which was shot very close to the minimum focus distance, you can see that the squirrel's hands and the branch in the back are thrown nicely out of focus. The quality of the bokeh on the lens is quite good. The lens has a 9-bladed rounded diaphragm, which helps keep the edges of out of focus areas soft and not distracting.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon Z7, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 3600.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon Z7, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 3600.
100 percent crop. This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

In this other test image, the subject is a fair bit further away, but the lens still does a nice job of not only locking focus on the porcupine's face, but also of throwing the foreground and background out of focus in a nice way. With an f/4 lens, the tree in the front and evergreens in the back would be softer, which would look better, but f/5.6 at this focal length is still sufficient in many cases.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 3200.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

Ultimately, I like the bokeh on the 500mm f/5.6 lens, and if you can get close to your subject while keeping the background far away, you can get soft backgrounds with good subject separation and depth. If the price for having a lightweight and easy to use 500mm lens is that sometimes the background is not creamy soft, I'm okay with that.

Shooting Experience

With modern cameras becoming ever more proficient at higher ISOs, the need for a really fast lens, such as f/2.8 or f/4, is becoming less critical. While a 500mm f/4 lens will offer more light-gathering capabilities and better subject separation, it is a much heavier and more expensive lens. Even in low light, I find that f/5.6 works well on cameras such as the Nikon D500 or new Nikon Z7 thanks to these cameras' impressive high ISO capabilities and really good autofocus systems.

My shooting experience with the 500mm PF lens has proven to be very positive. The lens is easy to use for extended periods of time, even handheld, thanks to its lightweight design and good VR technology. Further, it's sharp and its autofocus works well, even in lower light. If you shoot a close subject – which is admittedly a bit more difficult with a nearly 10-foot minimum focusing distance -- you can still get really nice subject separation despite the f/5.6 maximum aperture. The images don't have quite the same depth as you'd get from a 500mm f/4 lens, all else equal, but the images look really nice. Besides, there's a lot of value to be found in using a lens that is easy to carry or store in a small backpack.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 800.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

Autofocus

The internal-focusing Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF lens features Nikon's Silent Wave Motor AF system, which proved to deliver fast and quiet autofocus performance across many shooting situations. On all three of the cameras I used, focusing was quick and accurate. In low light, there was occasional hunting, but it's a fast lens.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 800.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
In this image, the subject was heavily backlit and in the shade, making it a difficult focusing situation. Nonetheless, the 500mm PF did a good job of locking onto the subject, despite the bird being placed in front of a bright branch in the background.
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 800.
100 percent crop. This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

The lens can close focus to 9.84 feet (around 3 meters), which produces a maximum magnification of 0.18x (1:5.5 reproduction ratio). This is okay in a lot of cases, but it can be challenging when photographing small animals because it's not a very close focus distance. While autofocus performance is impressive, I do wish the lens could focus closer. That's essentially my only complaint about the lens' performance.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 2000.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
This is about as close as you can get with the 500mm f/5.6 PF.

Expanding further on autofocus performance, the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens can keep up with moving subjects as well, as the autofocus in the lens can make adjustments, both small and large, on the fly in short order. Subject tracking and continuous autofocus depends upon the camera you are using too, but for the lens' part, it performs well.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

Vibration Reduction

With built-in Vibration Reduction rated for four stops and its lightweight design, the 500mm f/5.6 PF is a great lens for shooting handheld. The VR has Normal and Sport modes as well. In my testing, I was able to shoot handheld with a D500 (for a 750mm-equivalent focal length) at shutter speeds as slow as 1/25s, which I think is really impressive. Granted, I can't see many situations in which I'd want to use that slow of a shutter speed with a 500mm lens, but nonetheless, the VR is very good.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/25s, ISO 2000. VR Disabled.
100 percent crop. Vibration Reduction Test. Shot handheld. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/25s, ISO 2000. VR Enabled.
100 percent crop. Vibration Reduction Test. Shot handheld. Click here for the RAW file.

Shots from the Field

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO 1000.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 280.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 180.
This image has been cropped. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1400.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO 800.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens Field Test Summary

An impressive engineering achievement for Nikon

What I liked:

  • Lightweight design
  • Impressive sharpness when shooting wide open
  • Fast autofocus
  • Good Vibration Reduction

What I didn't like:

  • Phase Fresnel technology can result in some odd flare, although it wasn't an issue for me
  • Minimum focus distance is not very close

The Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens was immediately interesting to me as someone who enjoys wildlife photography because of its relatively small size and lightweight design. One of the most limiting aspects of a large telephoto lens is that it doesn't easily fit into a bag, it's heavy to carry, and it often requires at least a monopod for any form of extended shooting. It is possible to handhold a 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4 or 600mm f/4 lens, but it is not easy nor comfortable. On the other hand, the 500mm f/5.6 weighs about the same as a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, which makes it easy to carry and very easy to use for long periods of time. Plus, its Vibration Reduction is very good, making it even easier to get nice shots when handheld.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D800E, 500mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 3200.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

I was concerned that the lightweight design and f/5.6 aperture might come with some compromises, such as perhaps a softer image or slow autofocus, but neither of these worries came to fruition. The 500mm f/5.6 PF delivered sharp images and fast autofocus performance with each camera I used. Further, the lens has pro-level build quality, making it a great choice for photographers who regularly shoot in adverse conditions.

In the end, not only is the 500mm f/5.6 PF lens considerably smaller and lighter than a 500mm f/4 lens, but it is also nearly $7,000 less expensive. The 500mm f/5.6 PF is sharp, fast and light, making it an excellent option for wildlife and sports photographers.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED AF-S VR Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 750mm-eq., f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 1100.
This image has been modified. Click here for the RAW file.

 

See more real-world photos in the Nikon 500mm f/5.6E Gallery

 

• • •

 

Product Overview

(From Nikon lens literature) Nikon Inc. is pleased to announce the release of the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, a fixed focal length super-telephoto lens compatible with Nikon FX-format digital SLR cameras.

The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is a high-performance, FX-format, super-telephoto lens with a 500 mm focal length. The adoption of a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element has significantly reduced the size and weight of the lens, making hand-held super-telephoto photography easier and more enjoyable.

AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Product Image

With a maximum diameter of 106 mm and length of 237 mm, the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, which weighs 1,460g (roughly the same weight as the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR) is significantly lighter than previous 500mm lenses which can typically weigh up to more than 3,000g. The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is designed with consideration to dust- and drip- resistance, which in addition to the fluorine coat applied to the front lens surface, allows greater agility when shooting.

The use of one PF lens element and three ED glass elements enables extremely sharp and detailed rendering that is compatible with high pixel-count digital cameras. In addition, the materials used in the new PF lens element have been developed effectively to reduce PF (diffraction) flare, allowing light sources to be reproduced in near-original colors. In combination with Nikon's coating technologies, such as the Nano Crystal Coat, effective in controlling ghost and flare, extremely clear images are achieved.

AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Product Image

AF speed has been increased by making lens elements in the focusing group lighter. The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is equipped with a VR mechanism that offers camera shake compensation equivalent to a 4.01-stop increase in shutter speed. The SPORT VR mode that has been adopted is especially effective when photographing fast-moving and unpredictable subjects such as wild birds, or in scenes such as sporting events. The stabilization of the image displayed in the viewfinder is also an effective feature for recording movies.

Additionally, the use of the Mount Adapter FTZ will allow the lens to be used with mirrorless cameras Nikon Z 7 and Nikon Z 6, also announced today. Users will be able to enjoy super-telephoto shooting at the 500 mm focal length with a system that is even more compact than ever before.

AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Product Image

We are also planning to release the Dot Sight DF-M1, an accessory that is highly effective with supertelephoto photography. With super-telephoto shooting, a narrow field of view in the viewfinder tends to be made visible ? making it easy to lose track of the subject. The Dot Sight DF-M1 makes it easy to keep track of the intended subject within the frame, even if the subject exhibits sudden movement.

PF (Phase Fresnel) Lens Elements
The PF (Phase Fresnel) lens, developed by Nikon, effectively compensates chromatic aberration, utilizing the photo diffraction phenomenon2. It provides superior chromatic aberration compensation performance when combined with a normal glass lens. Compared to many general camera lenses that employ an optical system using the photorefractive phenomenon, a remarkably compact and lightweight body can be attained with fewer lens elements.

Primary Features

  • Significantly smaller and lighter with the adoption of a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, making 500mm hand-held super-telephoto photography easier and more enjoyable
  • Designed with consideration to dust- and drip-resistance; fluorine coat applied to front lens surface, effectively repelling water droplets, grease, and dirt
  • Adoption of one PF lens element and three ED glass elements for extremely sharp and detailed rendering, compatible with high pixel-count digital cameras
  • Optical performance that is not compromised with the use of the TC-14E III AF-S teleconverter
  • Materials used in the new PF lens element effectively control PF (diffraction) flare
  • Ghost and flare effectively suppressed with the adoption of the Nano Crystal Coat, enabling clear images
  • AF speed increased by making lens elements in the focusing group lighter
  • Equipped with a VR mechanism that offers camera shake compensation equivalent to a 4.01-stop increase in shutter speed, in two modes: NORMAL and SPORT
  • Electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism adopted for extremely precise aperture control

Optional Accessories
We will release the Dot Sight DF-M1 (available separately), an accessory that is highly effective with super-telephoto photography. This accessory makes it easy to keep track of the intended subject, even if the subject exhibits sudden movement.

Price and Availability
The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR will be available September 13 for the suggested retail prices (SRP) of $3599.95*. The Dot Sight DF-M1 will be available for $174.95 SRP*.

1. Measured in accordance with CIPA standards in NORMAL mode when a digital SLR camera equipped with a full-frame, 35mm film equivalent image sensor is used.
2. Diffraction phenomenon: Light has characteristics as a waveform. When a waveform faces an obstacle, it attempts to go around and behind it, and this characteristic is referred to as diffraction. Diffraction causes chromatic dispersion in the reverse order of refraction.
*SRP (Suggested Retail Price) listed only as a suggestion. Actual prices are set by dealers and are subject to change at any time.

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