The Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S is the longer version of Nikon’s Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S for those who need 50% more reach but can live with a one stop slower focal ratio. Both lenses are almost identical on the outside with the same control elements in the same positions. Both lenses also share Nikon’s newest meso amorphous coating for increased contrast in challenging backlight situations, the additional function ring for fast recall of a stored focus distance, and the well padded lens case. But their unique feature is the built-in 1.4x teleconverter which can simply be activated with a switch transforming the new 600m f4 into an 840mm f5.6 lens. I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the built-in teleconverter: It really makes the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S (and Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S) a unique piece of optics!
My tests confirmed that the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S is indeed an excellent performer with contrast and resolution across the full frame on a very high level (even when used with teleconverter) and colour aberrations, coma, and field curvature practically non-existent. And its optical image stabilization working together with the IBIS of any full-frame Z camera body proved to be very effective giving the lens a 5 stop boost in handhold-ability. It is also equipped with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a professional Z-Nikkor – apart from the OLED display.
What’s not to like? Optically I have only one small issue: focus breathing is on the very visible side which might annoy videographers. Regarding features: The lens case is not long enough to accommodate the lens with camera mounted and I’d love Nikon to make their tripod foots Arca Swiss compatible. Is price another issue? Well, it’s definitely an extremely expensive lens, but comparatively speaking in a similar ballpark to rivals: Both Sony and Canon charge around $13k for their respective 600mm f4 mirrorless lenses and while that makes them $2.5k cheaper than the Z-Nikkor at the time of writing, neither includes the convenience and flexibility of a built-in 1.4x tele-converter. The TC effectively gives you two lenses for the price of one: a 600mm f4 plus an 840mm f5.6 lens – with a flexibility in the field that two separate lenses could not match. That makes the asking price for Nikon’s Z 600mm f4 TC VR S look more reasonable.
Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S compares to its F-mount predecessor, the Nikon AF-S 600mm f4E FL ED VR, the Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S, and Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S.
Compared to Nikon AF-S 600mm f4E FL ED VR
In 2015 Nikon introduced their best 600mm f4 lens so far. It set new benchmarks for optical performance and also came with a reduced weight over its predecessor. I didn’t have a chance to test the lens so I’m only inferring from reports/reviews I read and Nikon’s MTF-charts: It’s optical performance is still top notch so if you already own the AF-S 600mm fE FL ED VR you can use it via FTZ adapter on a mirrorless Nikon Z body with excellent results. And as was reported elsewhere with focus speeds (on a Z9) to match the speed on an F-mount body. But imagine which shots you could get when a 1.4x teleconverter is only a switch away: No hassle with dismounting and mounting the lens and TC in the heat of the moment – or carrying an 800mm f6.3 with you. Plus, the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S is 0,7kg lighter than the combination of F-Nikkor and FTZ adapter (not accounting for the weight of an external 1.4x teleconverter) and Nikon moved the center of gravity back towards the camera which certainly makes the new lens more nimble on a gimbal. And with 5+ stops of image stabilization you could shoot it handheld at shutter speeds that are unrivalled by the F-Nikkor. So, in the field the new Z 600mm f4 TC VR S should prove to be a more versatile instrument than the AF-S 600mm f4E FL ED VR.
Compared to Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S
In practice Nikon’s Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S is just the 400mm version of their new Z 600mm f4 TC VR S. Which also means it costs less (-2250 EUR / -1500 USD / -2000 GBP), weighs a bit less (-0.34kg) and is shorter too (-5.5cm). Optically there are only minor differences – apart from the significant differences in focal length and focal ratio: When used with the Z TC-2.0x the Z 400 TC is a bit sharper (at 800mm f5.6) than the Z 600 TC (at 1200mm f8.0) in the center but its FX-corners are a bit softer. So, choices are easy: If you need more reach, get the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S – if you need more light-gathering power, get the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S.
For more details see my Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommend.
Compared to Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S
Nikon’s Z 800mm f6.3 VR S is the optimal tool if you need to reach 800mm or thereabouts. It’s slightly better than the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S with internal TC switched on, costs less than half of it and is 0.9kg lighter. Use it with Nikon’s Z TC-1.4x teleconverter to get to 1120mm focal length and it still is neck-and-neck with the Z 600 TC with Z TC-2.0x. It does have 1/3 of a stop less light gathering power, but I wouldn’t overrate this difference.
For more details see my Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommend.
Nikon Z 600mm f4 TC VR S final verdict
Nikon has another winner in its line-up of long telephoto optics. Their Z 600mm f4 TC VR S is an excellent lens with one extremely compelling feature over rival systems: It has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter which changes it into an 840mm f5.6 lens at the flick of a switch. The lens also produces very sharp images with virtually no field-curvature or colour aberrations and can confidently be used wide open and with the built-in 1.4x teleconverter. Its Bokeh is very nice and the optical image stabilization of over 5 stops together with its reduced weight proves really helpful with hand-holding the lens. All this makes the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S another unique “two-for-the-price/weight-of-one” lens for sports and wild-life photography and rightfully earns it a Highly Recommended – despite its eye-watering price tag.
- Excellent resolution and contrast across the full frame at 600mm focal length.
- Built in 1.4x teleconverter.
- Very good image quality with built-in 1.4x teleconverter.
- Very effective optical image stabilization.
- Very good close-up performance.
- Practically no longitudinal colour aberrations or purple fringing.
- Only little vignetting and no distortions – through lens-profile.
- Very little field-curvature.
- Reliable AF operation.
- Very nice Bokeh, although with some risk of double contours.
- Weather sealing, multi function ring, function buttons, focus limiter.
- Nice lens pouch.
- Relatively strong focus breathing.
- Tripod foot is not Arca Swiss compatible.
- High price.
- Lens pouch not long enough to leave camera mounted.