Kauai Na Pali Coast Nikon Z9 Photography

Capturing Nikon – 800mm Z – At Distance In Heat

The new Nikon Z PF 800mm VR 6.3 S lens has been receiving rave reviews.  Reviews from cameralabs, Photography Life, photoblogger, PetaPixel, and others sing its praises.  The lens is worthy of the praise.  I feel the same about the lens. The Nikon Z 800mm VR PF 6.3 S lens is a keeper for use in my kit. 

Almost all of the reviews point out the strengths and weaknesses of a Phase Fresnel designed and constructed lens. The images presented in these reviews show off the strengths of the lens – many of which are jaw dropping spectacular.  But what about the weakness’? What do those images reveal? What is the implication to me as a photographer? I could not find any discussion with example images. 

So I decided to test the Z 800mm in a shooting condition we might hope for it to perform well, but is not its strong suit.

First… There is a lot to Like

Below are example images I have captured with the lens Hand Held – an astonishing option for me as a photographer.

Rooster on the Roost – Hand Held Capture
Call of the Border Collie. Hand Held Capture












Swimmers and Snorkeler’s at Nua’lolo Kai Beach on the Na Pali Coast Kauai. 2,125 vertical Feet above and 1/2 mile away. Hand Held Capture
The Seiko of Makana Charter Tours leaves Nua’lolo at high-speed one mile in the distance. Hand Held Capture. My friend Dave often is the captain of this boat. The image is captured moments after arriving at cliffs edge and rushing to pull the camera and lens out of the bag. I was shocked to see a remarkably focused image.

The Test To Establish Where A Weak Spot Appears

Long lenses by their very nature are materially impacted by heat, sun angle, and distance to subject.  The Phase Fresnel type is even more subject to their presence.

So what does it mean to me as an owner of the lens?  The Nikon Z PF 800mm VR 6.3 S lens is going to struggle to produce an image of exceptional quality in 80+ degree (F) temperature, mid-afternoon, and the target is 1/3 of a mile in the distance. 

I am not telling a story most of us do not already know.  However, I believe it is important to know the limitations of your gear. This way you work to their strengths, and do not set yourself up to fail – unknowingly. It is great to have first hand experience and a fair comparison.  This approach allows me to know the true impact.  

The Test

Below are images of the Public Fishing Pier in Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii, USA taken at 1/3 mile distance.

Tripod:  Yes – Gitzo with Arca Swiss Head. Properly leveled.

Camera:  Nikon Z9

Shooting Solution:  ISO 64, 1/250th of a second, f11, 14bit Adobe Color, RAW, Auto Focus, Focus Area sWide.

No adjustments are made to the images post capture and are exported as JPEG’s at 2048 pixels and 72 pixels per inch in sRGB Color.

Full Frame

7:30AM 74 Degrees (F)

9:00AM 80 Degrees (F)

10:00AM 83 Degrees (F)

1:00PM 85 Degrees (F)

End of the Pier – 100%

7:30AM 74 degrees (F)

9:00AM 80 Degrees (F)

10:00AM 83 Degrees (F)

1:00PM 85 Degrees (F)

Middle of the Pier – 100%

7:30AM 74 degrees (F)

9:00AM 80 Degrees (F)

10:00AM 83 Degrees (F)

1:00PM 85 Degrees (F)

Roof of the Pier – 100%

7:30AM 74 degrees (F)

9:00AM 80 Degrees (F)

10:00AM 83 Degrees (F)

1:00PM 85 Degrees (F)

What is my conclusion after performing the test?

The Nikon Z PF 800mm VR 6.3 S lens is not going to be yielding its very best results when the sun is high in the sky, it is hot and humid, and your target if way off in the distance.  Let’s be clear, Nikon never promised such a result, and was upfront about the pluses and minuses.  It should also be known, these extreme kind of outlier conditions are not desirable for image capture anyway.

The Nikon Z PF 800mm VR 6.3 S lens is an outstanding lens.  I am pleased to own one. I look forward to the continuation of capturing superb images, that would otherwise not be available to me without this lens.  Also, I am glad I know, first hand, its limits and my limits in understanding how to use the lens.  I will continue to seek further understanding of how to best use the lens.  Great job Nikon.

*** Jeff’s Thoughts and Other Worthless Trivia ***

My friend and consul Alex Laws often says to me, “Do not go to a Hot Dog Stand expecting to be served Chinese food.”  What is the tie?  I did not make a mistake in expectations. I did not expect a PF lens to operate at its highest level of performance with the Sun beating beating directly overhead, in high humid temps and my target located way off in the distance.  This test successfully told me the limits as I currently understand them.
















2 Replies to “Capturing Nikon – 800mm Z – At Distance In Heat

  1. Really? You have a 5 degree change in temperature and that’s enough to be the root cause of bad photos? I don’t buy it at all. I could see a valid test with more control and a similar focus target. For example, how about using a heating pad on the lens barrel? How about greater temperature differences – maybe 10 degree increments up to 120 degrees? There is a laundry list of focus issues as well as atmospheric impacts that can affect image sharpness, and I suspect your issues have a different root cause.

    I appreciate the effort with the test, but I am not seeing anything like that with my 800mm PF and a far greater temperature range.

  2. If you look at the shooting settings it is worse than that “ISO 64, 1/250th of a second, f11” — how ANYONE believes they will use an 800mm for a general shot at 1/250th is beyond me — so I don’t know how much of his blur is from vibration, movement, or heat haze. I agree a very poor effort by the author.

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