Nikon 500mm F4 My Experience

The Nikon 500mm F4 is by no means a new lens, I think it was updated to the current version in 2011, but it is a shiny new big toy for me! I’ve been lusting after some big glass for a while now, but as you likely know it is expensive and as a “starving” photographer it has taken me a while to get there. The wait was totally worth it, I love this lens already!

This is not my first exotic lens, I had the Sigma 300-800. I sold that lens to buy the Nikon 200-400mm and even though I lost a lot of reach, I did get a much sharper piece of glass and I did get VR (Vibration reduction), so I thought it was a perfect trade off. This last year when I switched from an APS crop factor camera to a full frame camera, I was suddenly not too happy with the reach of the Nikon 200-400mm. In effect the change of camera also lowered the effective reach from 300-600mm back to a 200-400. I found the 200-400 was plenty for most mammals, but was really lacking when it came to the birds. I love photographing birds and so I really needed more reach, no really I did NEED it! And so I finally bought the Nikon 500mm F4.

My Review of the Nikon 500mm F4

Using the Nikon Lens

First thing, it’s heavy! It weighs in at 8.5 pounds and so it is a tough lens to handhold. It can be done, but you want to do that for very long!

The Nikon lens foot is not very good, you’ll want to replace that right away. I always use the Kirk Photo products and I replaced the lens foot with their arca swiss style foot.

The lens does focus quickly…fast is a better word. Photographing fast moving birds in flight was fun with rock solid performance from the lens.

Some reviews complain about the placement of the VR switch. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it was not worth worrying about.

It’s built like a tank and I am confident that this lens will be around for as long as cameras use this type of glass.

It comes with hard case trunk for a case. Well it is awesome and nice, but seems highly impractical.

Nikon 500mm Images

I found the lens to be incredibly sharp. And the fabled bokeh is really creamy man! Sorry, bokeh is such a weird term and people go crazy talking about it. Anyway, the lens does a great job of blurring the background (bokeh) and actually it takes some getting used to. It almost looks like there is very shallow depth of field. It’s awesome. Here are some images that I took with the Nikon 500. I did not have the new lens foot when I took these images and so they are all handheld!

Nikon 500mm Images with TC 1.4II Teleconverter

I used the lens with a teleconverter which gave me an effective focal length of 700mm and F5.6. The focus was a tad slower, but nothing to complain about. It was noticeable though.

Is the Nikon 500mm F4 Worth the Money

Well of course that is a subjective question and so your results may vary. The lens as you can see from the link to Amazon below costs $8,500, you can buy a good used car for that much money. I use this lens to pay the bills and even at that it took a long time for me to save enough money and I had to part with my beloved Nikon 200-400mm to buy this lens. However, I shoot all of the time and I’ll use it several times a week.

Quality used Nikon 500mm F4 lenses are hard to come by and they seem to sell as soon as they appear on the market. They run about $7,000 when you can find one.

If you are a casual user, it might be better to rent the lens. Borrowlenses is the company that I recommend. It will set you back $673 for a 2 week rental…plus shipping. If you only take a big photo trip once or twice a year you can rent the lens for a lot less than buying it.

There are some important and expensive (of course) accessories that you will need or should buy.

The hard case is bulky and heavy and not an easy thing to fly with. Unless of course you check it in, but who does that with their gear? The Nikon soft case is $186.

The Nikon 500mm F4 lens does not come with a lens cap, you need one. The Nikon lens cap for the Nikon 500mm F4is $67. Aquatech makes an interesting option for about $40.

A circular polarizer can be used and it is a drop in filter made only by Nikon and that is $398. OUCH!!!

The replacement foot for the Nikon is $95 from Kirk Photo.

My Conclusions After Using the Nikon 500mm F4 Lens

For me it was an investment in my business and so I can justify/rationalize the expense. I loved using the lens from the minute that I picked it up. I’ve been able to take high quality images that I would not have been able to take with this lens and that says a lot. Like they say pictures say a lot, so take another look at the quality of the images…

Great Blue Heron in flight using the NIkon 500mm F4 lens by Jeff Wendorff

Heron in Flight using the Nikon 500mm F4

You can rent the lens from Borrowlenses by clicking their banner

lens rental

Feel free to go buy the Nikon 500mm F4 from Amazon!


Add yours
  1. Jeff

    Hi Dale

    I equally approve of Really Right Stuff products…

    I’ve never really liked the 1.7TC, but I admit I’ve not used it on the 500. The 1.4 is a no brainer. I am curious to see how the new 1.4 announced today compares.

    I’m leaning towards the Think Tank Lens Limo for a soft carry case. I see Lens Coat has a brand new one that is also of interest.

    Thanks for your excellent real world info.

  2. Martti Elsilä

    I have used this excellent lens since April with D7000 and D600. I took some time to be acquainted with the lens, Im not a pro. Especially AF tuning has required several trials, last value from this morning is +7. Unlike comments above, I have not had problems on day light with 2TC VIII which I happened to have. However Im planning to replace 1.4TC from Sigma (used with Sigma 70-200 f2.8) to 1.7TC VII from Nikon to have better low light performance. I have understood from several comments its merits verified to 2TC. Anyone having some experience between both of these TC:s?

  3. Jeff

    Nikon is now shipping the TC-1.4III and it supposed to be even better than the 2nd generation. I’ve not read many good reviews of the TC-2, but I confess that I’ve not used it myself.

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