Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S review
Written by Thomas
The Z 600mm f4 TC VR S is Nikon’s fourth long telephoto prime lens for Z-mount aimed at professional sports and wild-life photographers. It has a large f4.0 focal ratio and comes with an integrated 1.4x teleconverter (TC) – and a price to match. The TC can be activated with a switch and converts the lens into an 840mm f5.6 lens – a feature that neither Sony nor Canon offer for their respective super-telephoto mirrorless primes to date. The new lens is also compatible with Nikon’s “external” Z TC-1.4x and TC-2.0x. This allows it to be converted into a 1200mm f8.0 or even 1680mm f11 lens.
Apart from the usual features like optical image stabilization, focus limiter, programmable function buttons, and control ring, the new lens offers the same additional features as Nikon’s Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S: There’s an integrated filter slot to drop in standard 46mm filters, a memory-set button to save focus distances, and the focus ring can be switched from non-linear to linear response with a choice of different rotation angles (on a Z9). It also offers a function (Fn) ring to recall the last-saved focus position, plus it has Nikon’s newest “meso amorphous” anti-reflex coating in addition to ARNEO coating to further increase contrast in challenging contra-light situations. Only the OLED display is missing. Nikon also managed to reduce the weight of the lens by over 0.5kg over its predecessor, the Nikon AF-S 600mm f4E FL ED VR, which was introduced in 2015 and still can be used via FTZ adapter on Nikon’s Z cameras. So, weight-wise Nikon has now almost caught up with Sony’s and Canon’s 600mm f4 lenses for mirrorless bodies – but those don’t carry an integrated teleconverter with them.
The Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S is made in Japan and costs 17249 EUR / 15497 USD / 15499 GBP. This seems like an extraordinarily high price, but Sony’s and Canon’s own versions are also all in five-figures and come without a built-in TC. If you’re interested in what Sony and Canon have on offer head over to Gordon’s Sony FE 600mm f4 GM OSS review so far or Canon RF 400mm f2.8L RF 600mm f4L review.
You can also have a look at my findings from testing Nikon’s other three long telephoto prime lenses in my Nikon Z 400/2.8 TC VR S review, Nikon Z 400/4.5 VR S review, or Nikon Z 800/6.3 VR S review.
Facts and features
Let’s compare the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S (“Z 600 TC” for short) to the Nikon AF-S 600mm f4E FL ED VR (“F-Nikkor”), Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S (“Z 400 TC”), and Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S (“Z 800”). I’ve also added some information on Sony’s FE 600mm f4 GM OSS and Canon’s RF 600mm f4 L IS USM just to give you an idea where the competition stands. 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.
The first thing which catches the eye is the apparent similarity of the Z 600 TC and the Z 400 TC from the mount up to the segment where the 4 function buttons (L-Fn2) are located. So, everyone who uses the Z 400 TC will feel immediately at home handling the Z 600 TC. [+]
Size (diameter x length): 165 x 437mm (6.5 x 17.2in.). The lens hood adds 125mm. The F-Nikkor is 166 x 432 mm + lens hood. Add 30mm for the FTZ adapter to use it on a Nikon Z camera. The Z 400 TC is 156 x 380mm + 127mm lens hood. Add 19mm resp. 33mm for the TC-1.4x or TC-2.0x. The Z 800 is 140 x 385mm + 126mm lens hood. The Sony is 164 x 449mm, the Canon RF is 168 x 472mm. So, although the Z 600 TC is the longest Z-Nikkor (so far) it is a bit shorter than the competition. 
Weight: 3260g (7.2 lb.) including tripod foot plus 248g for the carbon fiber lens hood. The F-Nikkor is 3810 g + lens hood. Add another 133g for the FTZ adapter to use it on a Nikon Z camera. The Z 400 TC is 2936g + 232g lens hood. Add 220g for the external TC-1.4x to get focal lengths comparable to the Z 600 TC. The Z 800 is only 2382g + 241g lens hood. The Sony is 3040g, the Canon RF is 3090g – both without lens hood or teleconverter. 
Optics: 19 elements in 16 groups including 4 special dispersion elements and two fluorite lenses but no aspherical element. The built-in 1.4x TC (marked in the image above) adds 7 elements in 4 groups. The lens has the newest “meso amorphous” anti-reflective coating in addition to Nikon’s ARNEO-coating to reduce flare, glare and ghosting plus fluorine-coating on the front element to repel water, dust, and dirt and make cleaning easier. The F-Nikkor has 16 elements in 12 groups with two fluorite elements. The Z 400 TC has a total of 25 elements in 19 groups when the internal TC is switched on, the external TC-1.4x adds 6 elements, the TC-2.0x 8. The Canon RF has 17 elements in 13 groups, the Sony EF 24 elements in 18 groups. [+]
Minimum object distance is 4.12m (13.5ft.) in manual focus with a working distance of around 3.7m and a maximum magnification of 1:6.6 which is not much but similar to what the F-Nikkor, Sony FE, and Canon RF offer. A magnification of 1:10 is achieved at 6.05m object distance. Using the built-in TC increases maximum magnification to 1:4.7 without changing the working distance. This is a bit better than the 1:5.8 which the Z 800 achieves. The Z 400 TC achieves a maximum magnification of 1:5.6 at 2m working distance or 1:3.9 when the built-in TC is switched on. [+]
Image stabilization: All three Z-Nikkors offer optical stabilization (VR) which works in conjunction with the body-based stabilization on Nikon’s full-frame Z cameras to achieve a claimed 5 stops of stabilization over 5 axes for the Z 600 TC. For the F-Nikkor the Z cameras only add roll correction to pitch and yaw correction from the lens’s VR. On a Nikon Z9 the Z 600 TC enjoys an additional 0.5 stop benefit from “Synchro-VR”. [+]
Filter-thread: The Z 600 TC has an integrated slot for 46mm standard filters and Nikon offers a slip-in circular polarizing filter as an additional accessory which can be easily rotated (399 EUR). The F-Nikkor has a slot for 40.5mm filters. [+]
Autofocus: Yes, with built-in AF drive which uses a voice coil motor (VCM) and optical encoder, just like the Z 400 TC. This AF drive technology seems to be the reason for Nikon’s health warning against strong magnetic fields. Manual-focus override is by simply turning the dedicated focus ring at the middle of the lens. On Nikon Z cameras introduced October 2020 or later you can reverse focus direction. The focus ring has the usual variable gearing (like all AF Z-Nikkors so far) which allows for very precise manual focus when turned slowly and can be switched to linear response with a choice of different rotation angles – but only on a Nikon Z9. Focus on the F-Nikkor works differently as it has a direct linear mechanical coupling between the focus ring and the focus action. [+]
Display: No, the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S (just like the other Z-Nikkors in this comparison) does not feature an OLED display. The F-Nikkor sports the usual distance and dof indicators on the focus ring. 
Additional functions: There are 4 function buttons at the front (L-Fn2) and an additional L-Fn button behind the focus ring on the lens which can be assigned different functions like AE/AF lock. Like the Z 400 TC the Z 600 TC offers a function ring in addition to the control ring all Z-Nikkors offer: it works in conjunction with the memory set button near the TC switch to recall saved focus positions by simply turning it a bit to the left or right. All lenses in this comparison also sport a focus-limiter which in case of the Z 600 TC prevents the lens to search focus closer than 10m (33ft.). [+]
Aperture ring: The lens has the usual slim multi-function control ring which on all three Z-Nikkors is located in front of the focus ring. The control ring can be assigned to operate the aperture (which is the default), exposure compensation, or ISO sensitivity – or simply switched off. The F-Nikkor has no dedicated aperture ring. [+]
Lens profile: All four Nikkor lenses come with a lens profile which can be controlled from the camera. Vignette control offers the usual options of High, Normal, Low and Off. Diffraction compensation and Auto distortion control can be activated or deactivated. [+]
All lenses in this comparison cover full frame/FX or smaller sensors. [+]
Price: 17249 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 15497 USD / 15499 GBP. The Nikon AF-S 600mm f4E FL ED VR currently sells for 13000 EUR / 12300 USD / 13000 GBP, the Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S is at 15000 EUR / 14000 USD / 13500 GBP, the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S at 7300 EUR / 6500 USD / 6300 GBP. Sony’s FE 600mm f4 GM OSS goes for 14000 EUR / 13000 USD / 12000 GBP, the Canon RF 600mm f4 L IS USM is 14000 EUR / 13000 USD / 13400 GBP. 
Use with teleconverters: The Z 600 TC like the Z 400 TC has a 1.4x teleconverter already built in which can simply be activated with a switch. The TC switch can be locked, and Nikon advises to do so to prevent unintended operation. But all three Z-Nikkors in this comparison can also be used with Nikon’s teleconverters for Z-mount: The Z TC-1.4x for 549 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 547 USD / 549 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. [++]
Accessories: The Z 600 TC comes with a well-padded case which offers good protection for lens and is the same for the Z 400 TC and Z 800. But the length of the Z 600 TC prevents the lens to be stowed away with camera attached (see below). But an attached Z TC-2.0x (or Z TC-1.4x) fits. It has two straps on the outside to carry a tripod plus a strap inside to secure the lens from inadvertently falling out when you open the case. It also has a grip on top and a shoulder-strap to carry it like a backpack. The lens comes with a carbon lens hood which is locked in place with a screw plus is reversible for transport. It has a rubberized front- and back-end plus it’s coated like black velvet on the inside to reduce reflexes. When you lock the lens hood in place it bends slightly out of shape. Using the lens hood (either normally or in reverse) is the only way to attach the slip-on front lens cover. [+]
Tripod mount: The Z 600 TC has the same tripod collar as the Z 400 TC and Z 800. The ring rotates smoothly – when unlocked – and has little play but there are no click-stops at 90 degrees. The tripod foot is firmly attached to the collar with four screws which can be removed with an Allen key. The foot weighs 121g. The whole construction feels very solid once the attachment screw is tightly locked. Under the rubber cap of the screw is a security slot for attaching an anti-theft cable. There are also two eyelets on the tripod collar to attach the included strap to – never use the strap on the camera to carry such a heavy load. Unfortunately Nikon missed out (again) to make the foot Arca-Swiss compatible. 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. 
Sealing: yes. All lenses in this comparison have a rubber grommet at the lens-mount plus further special weather-sealing throughout the construction. [+]
At a score of 0[-]/5/14[+] the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S turns out to be a very well featured lens with its preeminent and unique feature of a built-in 1.4x teleconverter. It weighs considerably less than its predecessor and has the new and improved meso amorphous coating to increase contrast in addition to ARNEO anti-reflex coating. It might miss an OLED display and its price is higher than the Canon and Sony 600mm f4 primes but remember the Nikon has the built-in 1.4x TC, essentially giving you two lenses for the price and weight of one: a 600mm f4 and an 840mm f5.6.
With its built-in 1.4x teleconverter and the ability to use Nikon’s Z TC-1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S can cover a 2.8x range of 600mm (f4.0), 840mm (f5.6), 1200mm (f8.0), and 1680mm (f11) focal length. Here is the angle of view of the different options (Auto distortion control activated) shot from the same viewpoint as in all my reviews:
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 600mm f4 TC VR S is very good (measured 99.2% in Reikan FoCal) with no outliers over a series of 40 shots on the well-lit and contrasty focus test target. And there is almost no focus variation whether the lens focuses from a closer distance or from infinity. On a Nikon Z9 the lens focuses in around 0.6 sec from infinity to 6.1m (1:10 magnification at 600mm), which is reasonably fast. On a Nikon Z7 it takes a bit longer. The lens showed more hunting even on well-lit targets than I’m used to see – a consequence possibly of the large circle of confusion from the 150mm wide entrance pupil.
The focus ring is 28mm wide, has a rubberized surface, and moves smoothly. It’s located over the tripod foot. So when using the lens hand-held turn the foot out of the way if you want to use the focus ring.
AF-operation of the lens is practically silent be it in photo-mode or if you record video with the built-in microphone. Only fast movements when focus is hunting generate a low hum.
As you pull focus, you’ll notice quite some focus breathing: the image became 16% more magnified when I adjusted focus from infinity to 6.1m. This is quite visible when shooting videos.
The lens changes its focus position slightly when switching the TC on/off. It is probably not bothersome when shooting video but for stills it is definitely better to refocus after changing the focal length. See the following 100% crops shot at 600mm f4.0 (after switching the TC off) before and after re-focusing:
To test the effectiveness of the image stabilization with the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S on a Nikon Z9 camera body, I did a series of 140 test-shots hand-held at 600mm focal length with shutter speeds from 1/640 of a second down to 1/20 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 100 shots from 1/640 down to 1/40 sec (4 stops) but the rest was clearly better than the average sharpness at 1/640 sec with VR=off. At 1/20 sec (5 stops) results became more erratic with 5 outliers in 20 shots. This is a very impressive performance of the combined optical and sensor-based image stabilization coming close to Nikon’s claim of 5.5 stops.
Next check out my quality results!Check prices on the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S 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!