From the day Nikon announced their foray into the mirrorless camera market and began putting out their lineup of the Z-mount, mirrorless cameras, all Nikon users have been keenly watching the ever growing list of Z-mount, native mirrorless lenses. Among them, the most highly anticipated and most eagerly awaited lens was a telephoto zoom, something akin to the highly successful F-mount, 200-500mm lens. This zoom range is arguably the most versatile and very useful for a wide variety of photography genres right from sports to wildlife and for landscapes too.
Cometh the Nikon Z 180-600 mm lens!
Since it’s announcement and arrival on the market, I have been wanting to try one out. Finally, got a chance to do just that. A quick dash to Chennai was on the cards. I decided to make use of this opportunity and carry this lens along for a field test. Picked up the lens from my friend, Goutham – Bookmylens and headed to Chennai.
Travel to Chennai was quite incidental though. Hence, with visiting our relatives, friends et al, I had very little time for my endeavour. I decided to go birding on one of the mornings with my friend, Karthik Ramamurthy. My close buddy ( more, a brother I should say 🙂 Sriram (The Boardroom India) was also interested in joining along.
With all the plans in place, I was very excited to try this lens out.
Here’s my quick review.
First, a quick look at the specifications of the lens:
- Lens: NIKKOR Z 180-600 f/5.6-6.3 VR
- Focal Length: 180-600mm (3.3x zoom)
- Maximum Aperture: f/5.6 to f/6.3
- Minimum Aperture: f/32 to f/36
- Lens Elements: 25
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) at 180mm; 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) at 600mm
- Vibration Reduction: Yes; normal and sport
- Aperture Blades: 9, rounded
- Fluorine Coating: Yes
- ED Glass Elements: 6
- Aspherical Elements: 1
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Internal Zooming: Yes
- Teleconverter Compatibility: Yes (with both Z teleconverters)
- Focus Limiting Switch: Yes (two positions: full, and ∞ to 6 meters)
- Function Buttons: Yes, one
- Dimensions (Length x Diameter): 316 x 110 mm (12.5 x 4.4 inches)
- Weight: Approx. 1955 g (4 lbs 5 oz)
The lens is very compact for such a wide zoom range. The internal zooming mechanism ensures that the overall length of the lens doesn’t change, no extending out like the 200-500. This is an absolute blessing I have to say. It makes the lens that much easier to handle and works very well in tight spaces too.
It has a solid metal build with a sturdy metal mount too, no cheap plastics here. The lens feels rugged and has very good weather sealing as well. The lens is well balanced and inspite of being metal bodied, the lens weighs just around 2kgs, making it pretty good for hand-holding.
The zoom ring has a short zoom throw rotation of just 70°. So, getting from 180mm all the way to 600mm is very quick. People who have used the 200-500 know that it is a real challenge to manoeuvre through the zoom range of that lens. The zoom ring on the 200-500 needs a really long rotation, many a time, one has to take their hand off and rotate again!! That was a pain!! With 180-600, it is a breeze. I loved that!
The built-in 5.5 stops of image stabilisation aids in hand-held shooting and it really works and works very well.
Focusing & Image Quality
Nikon Z 180-600 focuses fast with hardly any hunting. Though the focusing speed is great, it is not at the level of the larger and the super expensive primes like the Nikon 400 f/2.8 or the 600 f/4 though. That would definitely be an unfair comparison anyways.
I would say, the 180-600 is quite a leap from the 200-500 in the auto focusing front. Not that 200-500 was a slouch, but it had its quirks. Nikon seems to have sorted out the niggles with the 180-600. Once focused, the lens is able to hold on to the subject quite well too.
The lens had no stutter in tracking this Common Kestrel as it took off and started flying away.
The sharpness and contrast are top notch across the zoom range, no qualms there.
The bokeh is pretty pleasing too. Bokeh is very subjective though and each to their own taste 🙂 I didn’t find it to be harsh or bad in any way.
As per the specs, the Nikon Z 180-600mm offers a minimum focusing distance of 1.3m (4.27ft) at the 180mm focal length and 2.4m (7.88ft) at 600mm which caters quite well for some good closeup shots. Works quite well too.
The Nikon Z 180-600mm also caters very well to videography. Here’s a quick video I tried.
The Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR is a winner from Nikon. Yes, f/6.3 could turn out to be challenging in certain low-light situations, am yet to try this out effectively. However, I do not see it to be struggling that badly either. Also, the lens switches to f/6.0 only after 300mm and changes to f/6.3 post 500mm. This is highly acceptable when compared to similar lenses from competition. Combined with the amazing ISO handling capabilities of modern-day cameras, this can somewhat be mitigated I feel. Not a complete deal breaker for me.
The lens handles so well, being compact and with internal zoom. Its VR works extremely well, focusing is slick enough with good quality images and comes at a very reasonable price. These hands down make the Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR a total value for the buck. I can surely recommend this as a true all purpose lens for wildlife photographers. What the hell, it could also be a great backup lens for people owning one of the Nikon super-telephoto primes. Paired with the Nikon Z 70-180mm, I think you are pretty much covered for any situation.
Need more time with this lens, am off to planning the next trip, see you later 🙂