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

WIf you wanted a portable, bright telephoto lens with high image quality for a camera with a full-frame sensor, thee Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR was one of the few good choices. But now there is the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR: a super telephoto that you can easily use out of hand thanks to an especially low weight and good image stabilization.

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Portable supertele: Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR

This powerful AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens is significantly smaller and lighter than other lenses with the same focal length. This is possible due to the use of a Phase Fresnel lens element, as can also be seen with the AF-S NIKKOR 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR lens introduced in 2015. The Phase Fresnel (PF) element was developed by Nikon and offers superior correction of chromatic aberration when combined with an ordinary glass lens element. By using a PF lens element, a remarkably compact and light lens can be realized with fewer lens elements. A compact and portable lens makes shooting easier and therefore extremely suitable for a wide range of different shooting conditions, such as documenting sports events or photographing unpredictable movements of wild animals.

BUILD AND autofocus

AFS 500E FL angle1

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is Nikon's second telephoto lens with Fresnel technology and also the longest in terms of focal length. But with a length of only 237mm, Nikon clearly shows the advantages of using Fresnel lenses. And the weight is also very low, at only 1460 grams. That saves about 15cm and half the weight compared to Nikon's other 500mm, the 500mm f/4 FL ED VR. That is another stop brighter, but if you have to walk around for a day carrying it, you will really feel it. The lens contains 19 lens elements in 11 groups, and these lens elements have Nikon's well-known Nano Crystal Coating. The front lens has a fluorine coating so that dirt, grease and moisture cannot easily attach to the glass. Naturally, this lens meets all professional requirements and is well sealed and robustly built. It has a large, rotating tripod base and a filter drawer at the rear, as well as a whole series of switches. The top one has three modes: A/M, M/A and M. This allows you to influence the action of the autofocus or to switch to manual focus. Below it is a switch to limit the autofocus range, and below that, a button for selecting the correct setting for the image stabilization. Still further down is a button with which you can choose between AF-L, Memory Recall and AF-On, and below that, a button for switching the sound signal for the autofocus on and off. And that is certainly a useful function for nature photography. Furthermore, the lens has extra eyes on the tripod collar, so you can carry the camera and lens by the lens. This relieves pressure on the mount and ensures a better balance. The autofocus works accurately and quickly, although that depends on which camera you use. The shortest setting distance is only 3 meters. That is not unusual for these kinds of lenses, but it does limit you in photographing small birds, for example. One meter closer would have been nice.

Specifications
Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR
Price @ Amazon
Image Stabilization:+
lenses/ groups:19 / 11
length x diameter:237x106mm
filter size:95
Weight:1460
Lens hood:+

IMAGE QUALITY

RAWREZZ

A lens like the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR will probably mostly be used at full aperture. For starters, f/5.6 is of course not super bright, and you need relatively fast shutter speeds to get sharp shots, especially if your subjects move (fast). Furthermore, stopping down with a long focal length like this is of limited use. You do get a little more depth of field, but it never gets the near-to-the-horizon depth of field you can get with wide angle. The image quality at full aperture is therefore what it's all about with this lens. And we can be brief about that: it's good. The sharpness is high, in both the center and in the corners. Chromatic aberrations are very low, and that also contributes to the high sharpness.

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VIGNETTING, FLARE AND DISTORTION

RAWvignet

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR has little trouble with vignetting. What you need to pay a bit more attention to with a lens with Fresnel technology is backlighting and bokeh. Fresnel elements have the reputation of providing a distinct bokeh that is characterized by rings in the blurry light circles. That is something that this Nikon fortunately does not suffer from. The bokeh can even be called extremely good. Glitters on water in the background become beautiful, soft bokeh balls, with a small gradient towards cat eyes at the sides. 

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What you have to be careful about is shots taken straight against the sun. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR does not always have problems, but depending on the angle of incidence of light, you can sometimes lose so much contrast that it is no longer possible to get a well-exposed shot. In all the shots we took with the 500mm, this fortunately happened only once.

RAWdistort

It is hardly surprising to see that the distortion is extremely low. We don't expect anything else from a long telephoto with a fixed focus. Overall, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR delivers an image quality that is in line with the high expectations you may have for a lens like this one.

Viewfoto3840 Nikon500mmPF

ConclusiON: REVIEW Nikon AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR @ Nikon D810

Use the Lens Comparison or look in our list of reviewed lenses to compare this lens with other lenses.

WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".


Focal Length
mm @ FF
Total score
Resolution
lat. C.A.
Vignetting
Distortion
AF accur.
AF speed

500
500
8.7
8.4
9.8
8.1
8.9
8

Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens if the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you use lens correction profiles in Photoshop or Lightroom to convert RAW files, then the RAW scores for distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration are even better.


Focal Length
mm @ FF
Total score
Resolution
lat. C.A.
Vignetting
Distortion
AF accur.
AF speed

500
500
8.8
8.4
9.7
9.0
9.0
8
Price @ Amazon

PROS

  • Outstanding image quality
  • Super light and compact for a 500mm
  • Fast, silent AF
  • Good image stabilization
  • Solidly built

CONS

  • “Only” f/5.6
  • Loss of contrast with the sun in frame
  • Shortest setting distance only 3 meters.

The Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is a lens that you really enjoy taking with you and that you can easily walk around with all day without getting tired.

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is one of the most interesting super telephotos of recent years. Especially with these kinds of long focal lengths, the benefit you can get from the Fresnel technology is very high. Of course, with the more traditional 500mm f/4 from Nikon, you can get a little more blur in the background and shooting against the sun is less of an issue, but you pay - literally and figuratively - a high price for it. The 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR costs less, weighs less, takes up significantly less space in your bag, and the image quality is excellent. The Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is a lens that you really enjoy taking with you and that you can easily walk around with all day without getting tired. This is also the ideal super telephoto to use on one of the new Z-cameras from Nikon. Then you really have the ultimate compact super telephoto set for safari. 

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Jan Paul Mioulet
Author: Jan Paul MiouletWebsite: https://www.mioulet.nl/
Jan Paul Mioulet is zelfstandig fotograaf sinds 1994. Hij heeft zich beziggehouden met veel vormen van fotografie, van portret tot sport, van bruidsfotografie tot reclamewerk. Inmiddels is hij al bijna vijftien jaar gespecialiseerd in architectuurfotografie. Hij is een van de oprichters van DAPh, de Dutch Architectural Photographers, een collectief van een aantal van de beste Nederlandse architectuurfotografen. Van 2010 tot 2014 was hij hoofdredacteur van PF, Professionele Fotografie, het magazine voor de Nederlandse en Vlaamse vakfotograaf. Naast zijn fotografie schrijft hij voor PF en CameraStuffReview over techniek en allerlei bijzondere wetenswaardigheden rondom fotografie en camera’s.

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