As Nikon’s longest zoom lens to date the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR nicely complements the Z 70-180mm f2.8 or the Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S for all those who want to cover the long end with a lens that is neither to large nor to heavy or expensive. It also offers 50% more reach than the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S and can be used with teleconverters should the need for even more reach arise. Optically the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR turned out to be a very good performer: Very sharp across the full frame at all focal lengths, good image quality with Z TC-1.4x, fast and reliable autofocus, with colour aberrations, coma, focus-breathing, and distortions very well controlled. Add to that the effective optical image stabilization and a very nice Bokeh. Plus you get a full feature set with weather sealing, multi function ring, function buttons, and focus limiter. All that at a relatively low weight of 2kg and a reasonable price of 1999 EUR / 1697 USD / 1799 GBP makes the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR a very interesting addition to Nikon’s line-up of long lenses.
What’s not to like – apart from the flimsy lens pouch? Well, I had hoped the optical image stabilization were closer to Nikon’s claim of 5.5 stops. But make no mistake: The 4 stops I achieved in my tests is still an effective support should you be shooting the lens handheld. And I have other small gripes: Close-up performance is soft outside the center (better stop down to f11), the lens is not perfectly parfocal, and the tripod foot is not Arca Swiss compatible.
Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR compares to some alternatives.
Compared to Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR
I didn’t include the lens in my quality comparisons as my tests from 2015 were done on a 36MP Nikon D810. But if you look at the comparable test shots in my Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR review (where the lens came Highly Recommended) it is pretty obvious that the F-Nikkor was an excellent performer from 200-400mm focal length – perhaps almost at the level of the new Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR. But at 500mm there’s a clear softening of the F-Nikkor. So optically the Z-Nikkor is the superior lens, has the more versatile 3.3x zoom range with 20% longer reach and a slightly shorter wide end and it’s also more compact and lighter than the F-Nikkor when you include the FTZ-adapter in the calculation. I wouldn’t overrate the constant f5.6 focal ratio of the F-Nikkor as the focal ratio of f6.3 of the Z-Nikkor collects only 1/3 of a stop less light and is only effective at the long end from 500mm onwards. If you already own the F-Nikkor you can still use it via FTZ adapter and produce very good images. But otherwise I’d recommend getting the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR for your Z-system camera.
Compared to Tamron SP 150-600mm f5-6.3 Di VC G2
In my Tamron SP 150-600mm f5-6.3 Di VC G2 review from 2016 I was pretty impressed with the performance of Tamron’s 4x zoom on a 36MP Nikon D810 and gave it a recommendation. Tamron also proved that it is not a deal-breaker to make the tripod foot Arca Swiss compatible. For my review of the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 I repeated the most critical tests with the Tamron on a 45MP Z8. The comparisons show that the Tamron is still very sharp in the DX image-circle up to 300mm. But at longer focal lengths only the center sharpness can (almost) keep up with the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR. My recommendation is the same as before: If you already own the Tamron you can still use it via FTZ adapter and produce very satisfying images. But otherwise I’d recommend getting the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR for your Z-system camera.
Compared to Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon’s Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S is a viable alternative to the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR only if you seldom have the need to shoot beyond 400mm focal length or you use the Z 100-400 with a Z TC-1.4x teleconverter which turns it into a 140-560mm f6.3-8 lens. Optically the Z 100-400 is as good as the Z 180-600 while being lighter and more compact – but more expensive. Only when using it with the TC-1.4x at 560mm it falls a bit behind the Z 180-600 plus you lose 2/3 of a stop of focal ratio (f8 vs. f6.3). So if you already own the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S it might be a good alternative to get the Nikon Z TC-1.4x instead of investing in the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR: It saves money, weight and space in your camera bag. But if you want to reach 600mm without fiddling with a teleconverter and you cover the shorter focal lengths with a 70-180mm or 70-200mm zoom lens, the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR probably is the better alternative.
For more details see my Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommended.
Compared to Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S and Z 800mm f6.3 VR S
With the very good image quality of Nikon’s Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR zoom lens it is interesting to compare its performance to some telephoto prime lenses in Nikon’s line-up.
In my Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S review the lens came Highly Recommended and impressed with its small size and unrivalled low weight of 1160g. It’s more expensive than the Z 180-600 at 2800 EUR / 3000 USD / 2700 GBP and you need to think about how you cover the shorter focal lengths. But besides it’s small size the Z 400 also offers a one stop advantage in focal ratio giving you shorter shutter speeds, lower ISO, or shallower depth-of-field. Interestingly my tests showed that image quality is comparable between the Z 400 and Z 180-600 at 400mm or when using the Z 400 with a TC-1.4x. My recommendation? I’d only give up the flexibility of the Z 180-600 zoom lens when I need the lightest 400mm lens in my camera bag and want the one stop advantage.
When you need even more reach than 600mm you can put a teleconverter on the Z 180-600 – or use Nikon’s Z 800mm f6.3 VR S. The comparisons in this review show that optically the Z 800 is clearly superior to the Z 180-600 + TC. But then the Z 800 is more than three times as expensive and 115mm longer (incl. lens hood). Interestingly the Z 800 is only 144g heavier than the Z 180-600 + TC-1.4x while offering a one stop advantage in focal ratio. So if you need the best image quality at focal lengths of 800mm or longer and the one stop advantage the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S is the lens to get. But if you have a limited budget and don’t want to give up the flexibility of a zoom lens the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR (+ teleconverter) is the better alternative. For more details see my Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommended.
Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR final verdict
The Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR is so sharp across the full frame at all focal lengths that it rivals some S-class zoom or prime lenses in Nikon’s line-up. It works well with the Z TC-1.4x, comes with a fast and reliable autofocus, and has colour aberrations, coma, focus-breathing, and distortions very well controlled. It also has effective optical image stabilization and a very nice Bokeh. With its relatively low weight of 2kg, full feature set, and a reasonable price the Nikon Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR offers a very good price/performance ratio: Highly Recommended!
- Relatively compact and lightweight for a zoom lens reaching 600mm.
- Very good resolution and contrast across the full frame at all focal lengths.
- Good image quality with Z TC-1.4x teleconverter.
- Effective optical image stabilization – although a bit below Nikon’s claimed 5.5 stops.
- Fast and reliable AF operation and very low focus breathing.
- Very nice Bokeh.
- Practically no longitudinal colour aberrations or purple fringing.
- Very little vignetting and no distortions – through lens-profile.
- Weather sealing, multi function ring, function buttons, focus limiter.
- Reasonably priced, very good price/performance ratio.
- Close-up performance could be better outside the center.
- Lens is not perfectly parfocal.
- Tripod foot is not Arca Swiss compatible.