The Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR is Nikon’s longest zoom lens to date. At only 2kg weight, 316mm length, and optical stabilization the lens is very handholdable. And with its 3.3x zoom range reaching up to 600mm focal length it should be a versatile lens for wildlife, sports, or aircraft photography. The lens is made in China and sold at 1999 EUR / 1697 USD / 1799 GBP.
Facts and features
Let’s compare the new Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR (“Z-Nikkor” for short) to the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR (“F-Nikkor”) and Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 for Nikon F-mount (“Tamron”). Both F-mount lenses still can be used via FTZ adapter on Nikon’s Z cameras. I’ve also added some information about the Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S which turns into a 140-540mm f6.3-8 lens when used with a 1.4x teleconverter. As usual I’ve rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it’s better than average or even state of the art, a  if it’s standard or just average, and [-] if there’s a disadvantage.
Size (diameter x length): 110 x 316mm (4.3 x 12.4in.) plus 80mm for the lens hood. Zooming does not change the length of the Z-Nikkor. The F-Nikkor is 108 x 268mm extending to a total length of 435mm with attached lens-hood at 500mm focal length. The Tamron is 108 x 258mm extending to 434mm with attached lens-hood at 600mm focal length. Add 30mm for the FTZ adapter to use the F-Nikkor and Tamron on a Nikon Z camera. So, with lens hoods mounted the Z-Nikkor is as long as the Tamron (plus FTZ adapter) at 150mm focal length. Zooming in to 600mm adds 79mm to the Tamron while the Nikon stays put. The Z 100-400 + TC-1.4x is 98 x 222mm + 65mm lens hood + 19mm TC + 49mm when zoomed in to 400mm focal length. This adds up to a maximum length of 355mm of the Z 100-400+TC compared to the 396mm of the Z 180-600. [+]
Weight: 1960g (4.3 lb.) plus 184g for the tripod mount and 116g for the lens hood. The F-Nikkor is 2300g (including tripod mount) + lens hood. The Tamron is 1790g + 200g tripod mount + 108g lens hood. Add another 133g for the FTZ adapter to use the F-Nikkor and Tamron on a Nikon Z camera. The Z 100-400 + TC-1.4x is 1355g + 82g tripod foot + 63g lens hood + 219g TC adding up to a total of 1719g. But then the combo of Z 100-400 + TC-1.4x is 1/3-2/3 of a stop slower than the Z 180-600. [+]
Optics: The Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR has 25 optical elements in 17 groups including six special dispersion elements and one aspherical element. It has fluorine coating at the front lens to repel water, dust, and dirt and make cleaning easier. The F-Nikkor has 19 elements in 12 groups, the Tamron is a 21/13 design. [+]
Minimum object distance is 1.25m (4.1ft.) at 180mm focal length. Maximum magnification of 1:3.9 is achieved at 600mm focal length and results in a working distance of a bit over 2m. A magnification of 1:10 is reached at 5.99m distance and 600mm focal length (or 2.01m at 180mm). The F-Nikkor and the Tamron have a minimum object distance of 2m and achieve a maximum magnification of 1:4 resp. 1:3.5 both at their longest focal lengths. So the Z-Nikkor is more flexible at close range and offers a higher magnification of 1:6.2 on the short end than the other two lenses. The Z 100-400 + TC-1.4x achieves a maximum magnification of 1:1.3 at a working distance of 0.68m. [+]
Filter-thread: 95mm. That’s larger than most of us have filters for and may mean that you need to get new filters for the lens. But that’s par for the course as both the F-Nikkor and the Tamron need 95mm filters. The Z 100-400 takes 77mm filters. 
Image stabilization: All lenses in this comparison offer optical stabilization which works in conjunction with the body-based stabilization on Nikon’s full-frame Z cameras to achieve a claimed 5.5 stops of stabilization over 5 axes for the Z-Nikkors. For the F-Nikkor and the Tamron the Z cameras only add roll correction to pitch and yaw correction from the lens’s own image stabilization. [+]
Aperture ring and other control elements: The multi-function control ring of the Z-Nikkor is located behind the zoom ring and can be assigned to operate the aperture (which is the default), exposure compensation, ISO or focus. Neither the F-Nikkor nor the Tamron have a dedicated aperture ring. The Z-Nikkor also has 4 buttons at the front (L-Fn) which can be assigned one extra function like AE/AF lock. All lenses in this comparison also sport a focus-limiter which in case of the Z 180-600 prevents the lens to search focus closer than 6m (20ft.). The Z 100-400 has a dedicated focus ring in addition to the multi-function control ring. [+]
Autofocus: All lenses in this comparison offer autofocus with built-in focus drive. Manual-focus override is by simply turning the control ring – if MF is assigned to it. [+]
All lenses in this comparison cover full frame sensors or can equally be used on a cropped DX camera body. [+]
The Z-Nikkors come with the usual flimsy pouch with no strings to pull it close. The lens hood is included and locks in place to avoid accidentally falling off plus it is reversible for transport. A removable tripod-collar is also included which has two eyelets to attach a strap to as you should not use the strap on the camera to carry such a heavy load. Unfortunately Nikon missed out (again) to make the foot Arca-Swiss compatible (like the Tamron). The tripod foot has two mounting threads: one 1/4″ and one 3/8″. The latter can be used e. g. for mounting the foot directly on a half ball – which should give you the most rigid connection to a tripod. The F-Nikkor and the Tamron also come with a soft pouch, detachable tripod collar and reversible lens hood. 
Sealing: The Z-Nikkors are fully weather sealed. The F-Nikkor has the usual rubber grommet at the lens mount and the Tamron offers some additional weather-sealing. [+]
Price: The Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR costs 1999 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 1697 USD / 1799 GBP. The Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR currently sells for 1330 EUR / 1060 USD / 1140 GBP, the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 is 1060 EUR / 1200 USD / 1280 GBP. I think the price of the Z 180-600 is adequate compared to the older F-mount lenses or the Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S which currently sells for 2570 EUR / 2500 USD / 2420 GBP (plus Z TC-1.4x). 
Use with teleconverters: Both Z-Nikkors can be used with Nikon’s teleconverters for Z-mount: The Z TC-1.4x for 565 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 547 USD / 580 GBP and Z TC-2.0x for 660 EUR / 597 USD / 580 GBP. Keep in mind though that the Z TCs cannot be used with the FTZ adapter. [+]
The score of 0[-]/3/10[+] shows that the Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR is well featured: It is a relatively compact and lightweight 3.3x zoom lens reaching 600mm focal length at an adequate prize. It’s fully weather sealed, offers good close-up capabilities, and optical image stabilization. If image quality holds up the new lens should be a very interesting addition to Nikon’s line-up of long zoom lenses.
With its 2.1x zoom-range the Z-Nikkor 180-600 covers angles of view from 13.7 degrees to 4.1 degrees (diagonally) while the Tamron SP 150-600mm f5-6.3 Di VC G2 starts at 16.4 degrees. This is visibly wider at the short end as you can see below:
Using the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR on a cropped sensor results in a further reduction in angle of view equivalent to 270-900mm focal length reaching to 1260mm resp. 1800mm with the aid of teleconverters.
Focus and zoom
Focus accuracy and repeatability is critical to consistently produce sharp shots. Repeatability (the accuracy of focus on the same subject after repeated focus-acquisition) of the Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR is very good (measured 99.2% in Reikan FoCal) with only two very mild outliers over a series of 40 shots. At 600mm focal length the lens focuses in around 0.5 sec from infinity to 6m (1:10 magnification) on a Z8 which is a tad faster than the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S on a Z9.
The zoom ring has a short throw of 72 degrees between 180mm and 600mm focal length. It has a 54mm wide rubber surface with a good grip and moves with a bit of resistance. The lens shows no zoom creep. The focus/control ring is 11mm wide and is located closer to the camera. It has no rubberized surface but moves smoothly and can be operated with one finger.
AF-operation of the lens in photo-mode can hardly be heard from the outside or when recording video with the built-in microphone. But turning the zoom ring registers as a slight friction noise.
As you pull focus, you’ll notice a bit of focus breathing: the image became 4% more magnified when I adjusted focus from infinity to 6m at 600mm focal length and around 1% at 180mm focal length. This is hardly distracting when shooting videos and much better than the 16% of the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S.
I also tested whether Nikon’s zoom lens allows you to change the focal length without altering its focus. This characteristic is called parfocal. I focused the lens at 600mm and then zoomed back checking focus on the way. The Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR is parfocal back to 300mm focal length. Only at 250mm (and shorter focal lengths) there is the first softening. See the following 100% crops shot at 250mm f5.6 before and after re-focusing:
So when shooting stills it’s best to re-focus after changing the focal length. When shooting video this small focus error might not be relevant – unless you change focal length very fast: In this case the lens gets out of focus visibly until the control loop catches up and brings the lens back in focus.
To test the effectiveness of the image stabilization with the Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR on a Nikon Z8 camera body, I did a series of 160 test-shots hand-held at 600mm focal length with shutter speeds from 1/640 of a second down to 1/10 sec. I used the shots at 1/640 sec with VR=off as reference of how good my handholding was at the time of the test and Reikan FoCal did the chore of evaluating the sharpness of all shots.
Here’s the results: With VR=on the combined stabilization from lens and camera produced only 2 outliers in the 80 shots from 1/640 down to 1/80 sec (3 stops) but the rest was clearly better than the average sharpness at 1/640 sec with VR=off. At 1/40 sec (4 stops) distribution of sharpness looked similar to what I achieved without stabilization at 1/640 sec. 1/20 sec (5 stops) still resulted in usable sharpness in about half of the shots. At 1/10 sec results became very erratic and only 1/3 of the shots could be used for smaller output sizes. I’d rate this as 4 stops of stabilizing power but wouldn’t go beyond 1/80 sec to be on the safe side for handholding the lens when you cannot support your back or arms. This is a bit less than Nikon’s claim of 5.5 stops but still good.
Next check out my quality results!Check prices on the Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!