Nikon and Canon's telephoto fencing match has been getting ever more feisty, and now Nikon has landed a strong attack with its impressively portable new 800mm prime lens for mirrorless cameras.
The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S is, naturally, still pretty large and pricey, given it's a pro-level wildlife lens. But its design and marginally slower maximum aperture, compared to its Canon RF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM rival, means it's only 385mm long and weighs in at 2.385kg. That makes its 5cm shorter than its Canon equivalent and 755g lighter.
The most noticeable difference, though, is between the two lenses' price tags. The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S will cost $6,499 / £6,299 / AU$10,499 when it goes on sale later this month. That isn't exactly an impulse buy, but it is significantly less than the $16,999 / £19,099 / AU$28,999 tag on Canon's RF 800mm f/5.6L lens.
The main reason why Nikon's been able to shave off some significant weight from this lens' F-mount predecessor is down to its 'Phrase Fresnel' (PF) element. This design, which can also be found in some Canon telephoto lenses and in lighthouses, has ridges cut into its rear side. The dual benefit is a reduction of issues like chromatic aberration and a relatively lightweight design.
Unlike larger telephoto lenses, this means wildlife and sports snappers should be able to use the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S handheld for periods, rather than leaving it permanently mounted on a tripod or monopod. Nikon also claims that putting its center of gravity closer to the camera body makes it easier to taking panning shots.
As you'd expect from a pro-level S Line lens, Nikon's new 800mm is fully weather-sealed and has 5.5 stops of compensation if you pair it with a camera like the Nikon Z9. If you need even more reach, it's also compatible with Nikon's Z teleconverters to take the focal length up to 1120mm or 1600mm.
Despite stock shortages for mirrorless cameras and lenses, Nikon is confident that the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S will be available to buy later this month for that $6,499 / £6,299 / AU$10,499 price tag. Expect pro wildlife and sports photographers to snap them up pretty quickly.
Analysis: Just like old times
The camera giants may be facing the twin issues of declining demand and supply chain problems in mid-range cameras, but it's business as usual at the professional end – with Nikon and Canon duking it out for the hearts and wallets of pro snappers.
This new Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S might still be pricey and relatively niche, but it's a significant launch for wildlife and sports snappers. Not only does it represent the tech advances of mirrorless cameras, being 2.3kg lighter and 16% shorter than its F-mount counterpart for DSLRs, it significantly undercuts the price tag of its Canon rival.
The Canon RF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM, which is currently out of stock in most regions, will still likely offer performance advantages (including that brighter maximum aperture) that go some way to justifying its higher price tag. But the size of the price gap could help sway well-heeled hobbyists and professionals towards Nikon's mirrorless system, particularly given how impressive the flagship Nikon Z9 is.
If that turns out to be the case, it'd be an impressive turnaround for Nikon, which until recently was looking rather left behind in the pro mirrorless space in comparison to Sony and Nikon.