Last Updated on 06/21/2023 by Chris Gampat
Several telephoto zoom lenses have had problems with autofocus speed when we tested them. But the new Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR is quite an incredible difference. More specifically, when Nikon told us that it’s not an S series lens, we were even more shocked. Then consider the fact that it’s far less than $2,000, and you’ll be even more amazed. With built-in image stabilization and Nikon’s steps forward with the Nikon z8, I truly think I want to say that they overall can hold their own with Canon and Sony.
Editor’s Note: We tested a pre-production version of this lens while out with Nikon.
Table of Contents
- The aperture range is 5-6.3
- Full frame (FX)
- 70 degree zoom angle; meaning that you don’t need to crank it over and over to get from one range to the other.
- 25 lens elements in 17 groups
- Vibration reduction
- 9 aperture blades
- 1 fluorine-coated optic
- 6 ED glass elements
- 1 aspherical element
- Full autofocus range of a bit over 4 feet or infinity to 18 feet away.
- Super lightweight lens that is easily hand-holdable, weighing just 1955 g (4.3 lbs).1
- Covers an extremely broad focal range, from a versatile 180mm to an extreme 600mm. This is equivalent to 270-900mm when DX crop is engaged.
- A short minimum focus distance of 4.3 ft (1.3m) at the wide-angle and 7.9 ft (2.4m) at the telephoto position enables close-up shots of flowers, insects and more.
- Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization performance equivalent to a 5.5-stop increase in shutter speed effectively reduces blurring in dimly lit surroundings and/or with handheld shooting.2
- Utilization of a stepping motor (STM) ensures fast and quiet autofocusing.
- Internal zoom mechanism maintains balance, increases zooming stability and dust resistant performance.
- Customizable Fn buttons at the front end of the lens barrel are easy to use when shooting handheld.
- Designed with consideration for dust and drip resistance3, in addition to an antifouling fluorine coating on the front lens element enables easy removal of dust and dirt.
- Maintains superior resolution when using the Z TELECONVERTER TC-1.4× or Z TELECONVERTER TC-2.0× to extend the maximum focal length to as much as 840 mm or 1200 mm, respectively.4
- Construction of 25 elements in 17 groups, using six ED glass elements effectively compensate for chromatic aberration, with nine aperture blades for a round, natural bokeh.
- Extremely short ring throw of only 70 degrees to adjust from the widest to longest focal length.
If you’ve used a long Nikon telephoto zoom lens, you’ve more or less used them all. This isn’t an S-series lens. So while it has weather resistance, it lacks some of the features of the company’s higher-end lenses like tons of switches. But honestly, you probably won’t need them. In real life use, this makes the lens easier to use. All you’re doing is zooming in, zooming out, and shooting. While I had a few autofocus hiccups, I expect that from a pre-production lens.
In the hands, this lens feels light enough to take it around on a walk during a hot NYC day. But it’s also huge — make no mistake.
The new Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR has full weather resistance. And as we’re told, it will be as durable as many of the other lenses that we’ve tested. That’s wonderful to hear, as Nikon’s lenses are unusually well-built when it comes to withstanding the elements.
On top of all this, it has a great metal feeling to the body. However, it doesn’t feel heavy when using it with the Nikon z8. If anything, it felt very balanced. If I were to compare it to the R5 with the Canon RF 100-500mm L lens, I’d say that the Nikon z8 would be lighter while having a further zoom range using the Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR lens. Of course, Canon wins in the wide end. But Nikon wins on the telephoto end. It’s tough to beat — and at $1,699.95 it’s going to be a steal.
Ease of Use
Because the Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR lacks having a ton of buttons and switches, it’s easier to use. That, combined with the 70-degree rotation angle on the zoom ring, makes it pretty simple to zoom in and out. I, however, am one of those oddballs that would want a push-pull zoom lens as I felt it could be even faster.
I’ll admit that there were times that I couldn’t get a shot of a bird because I couldn’t zoom fast enough. This was the case a few times with this lens. But despite missing a lot of great shots, I still came away with photographs I really loved.
I initially had a few problems with autofocus on the Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR and the Nikon z8. But once I made a few tweaks, it worked pretty flawlessly. There were a few times that I couldn’t nail birds hiding amongst branches — but I can blame the same thing on any camera system out there.
However, I truly mean it when I say this. What impressed me the most is how fast the lens focused when focusing at a close range to the end of its range. Several lenses that we’ve used have had problems here. But the Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR nailed it.
Believe it or not, this one lens alone instilled confidence in me that I hadn’t previously had with Nikon lenses and cameras before. Despite this being a pre-production lens, I’m thoroughly impressed and hope that the upcoming firmware to support the lens doesn’t mess with the lens too much.
The following photos are from a pre-production Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR on a production sample Nikon z8. They received some editing in Capture One.
Well, thus far, I’m very impressed with the new Nikon 180-600mm f5-6.3 VR. It can produce beautiful image quality. Though it’s lacking character, I kind of expect that from Nikon and super telephoto lenses like this. But what I’m impressed with is the autofocus speed and performance. Considering the price point, I think that Nikon will be selling a whole lot of these.
We’re waiting for a production quality review unit. Stay tuned.