Thoughts on the Nikon 600 f/4D ED-IF on a D7100

  • Soft wide open.  Likes to make everything glow like you’re on the set of The Bold and the Beautiful.
  • Never particularly sharp even when stopped down.
  • Over-exposes by exactly one stop when stopped down by one stop (i.e. to f/5.6) or more.
    • Note that the AF-S 200-400 VR also does exactly the same thing.  I’m currently talking to Nikon to try to get to the bottom of this.
  • Strangely milky when stopped down.
  • Sluggish autofocus.
  • Horribly inaccurate (mainly re. consistency) autofocus.
  • Autofocus is easily confused by even the faintest obstruction, anywhere in the frame.
  • Very strong field curvature.
  • Not as heavy as I expected.  Still very heavy though, make no mistake.
  • Sorely missing VR.
  • Bokeh is nice, but not as magical as I’d expect.
  • Poor resistance to lens flare.
  • Doesn’t work with modern teleconverters (e.g. the 1.4x TCIII – camera body insists it’s error “FEE”, despite the aperture ring being correctly locked at f/22).

My point of comparison is primarily the Nikon AF-S 80-400 VR.  That’s my go-to lens for most things, and certainly the things you’d use a 600 for.

In a nutshell, not nearly worth what it costs, even second hand and decades old.  I was surprised.  I assume the more modern models, particularly the current VR one, are massively better.

At a quick glance (I haven’t gone through all my test photos yet) the new Tamron 150-600 F/5-6.3 Di VC USD appears about as sharp wide open as does this Nikon 600/4.  At equivalent apertures (e.g. both at f/6.3, or f/7.1) it’s a little harder to judge… in part because the Tamron has:

  • VC (VR in Nikon parlance).
  • Much more reliable and accurate autofocus.
  • Way less mass, and that makes it easier to get the shot to begin with.  You can fairly easily hand-hold the Tamron, for example, while with the Nikon 600/4 it’s unreasonable to do so for more than ten seconds at a time.  Even on a monopod the 600/4 is unwieldy, and I missed a lot of shots just struggling to get it into position and held steady.

Which altogether mean that you get many times more keeper photos with the Tamron than the Nikon, even if maybe the Nikon is maybe very slightly sharper at f/6.3.  If you’re shooting wildlife, as I am, you’ll take a reliable, sharp-but-not-pixel-perfect-sharp option over a slightly sharper but unreliable one, any day.

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