Putting the issue of cost to one side, the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S makes you resent using a regular teleconverter with a lens. It’s very easy to get used to switching the built-in 1.4x converter in and out as you need. The lens also delivers superb results albeit with slight loss of sharpness when the teleconverter is used and the subject is near to the closest focusing point.
It’s a big heavy beast of a lens with a massive asking price but it’s an absolute delight to use.
Built-in 1.4x teleconverter
Big and heavy
What is the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S?
The Nikon Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S is a telephoto lens with a twist. It’s not a zoom lens but it has a 1.4x teleconverter built in to enable its standard focal length of 600mm to be taken up to 840mm. We saw something similar with the Nikon Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S.
If 840mm isn’t long enough the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S can be used with the Z 1.4x or Z 2.0x teleconverters giving a maximum focal length of 1680mm.
Without the built-in teleconverter engaged, the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S has a maximum aperture of f/4, but this drops to f/5.6 with the teleconverter in use.
As an ’S’ lens, the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S is a premium lens aimed at professional photographers and it’s priced accordingly. Its price is so high that it’s likely that photographers will hire it for special events rather than make a purchase.
Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S price and release date
The Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S’s is price £15,499 / €17,999 /$15,499.95, it went on sale on 2nd November 2022.
Product type: Super-telephoto prime lens
Announced: 2nd November 2022
Mount: Nikon Z
Format: Full-frame (FX)
Focal length: Without teleconverter: 600mm, with teleconverter: 840mm
Maximum aperture: Without teleconverter: f/4, with teleconverter: f/5.6
Minimum aperture: Without teleconverter: f/32, with teleconverter: f/45
Construction: 26 elements in 20 groups with 3 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, 2 SR (Short-wavelength refractive) element, 1 Super ED Glass element and 2 Fluorite elements
Coatings: Fluorine, Meso Amorphous Coat
Focusing system: Silky Swift VCM internal system
Minimum focus distance: 4.3m
Maximum reproduction ratio: Without teleconverter: 0.14, with teleconverter: 0.2x
Stabilisation: Up to 5.5EV compensation with Synchro VR with the Z9, 5.0EV with lens alone
Number of diaphragm blades: 9
Filter : 46mm drop-in
Weight: 3260g / 115oz
Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): 165 x 437mm / 6.5 x 17.3 inches
Nikon constructs the Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S from 26 elements arranged in 20 groups, but 7 of those elements (arranged in 4 groups) make up the teleconverter. Amongst the 26 elements, two are made from fluorite to boost image quality while keeping the weight down. There are also 3 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, 1 Super-ED element and two SR (Short-wavelength Refractive) elements. These elements combine to reduce chromatic aberrations and enhance image sharpness across the frame.
Nikon also applies its Meso Amorphous Coat to reduce ghosting and flare, thus ensuring good contrast and colour reproduction when shooting into the light. In addition, the front element has Nikon’s Fluorine Coat, which repels fingerprints and water droplets, and makes it easy to wipe-clean.
Focusing is handled by the Silky Swift voice coil motor (SSVCM) and an optical ABS encoder, which detects and communicates the lens position. The focusing takes place internally which means the lens doesn’t change length nor does the front element rotate during focusing.
As you’d expect with a lens of its calibre, the Nikon Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S is weather-sealed.
The front element of the Nikon Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S is huge, so instead of accepting front-mounted filters, it has a slip-in filter holder just in front of the rear element. This accepts 46mm screw-in type filters.
Build and handling
You have certain expectations of a lens like the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S that commands such a high price, and its build quality doesn’t disappoint. It looks very smart, feels robust and it’s weather-sealed at every joint or moving point. I was able to test the weather-sealing during some heavy downpours of rain and the lens came through them unscathed.
While Nikon has made some weight-savings with the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S, it’s still a hefty lens and weighs 3.26Kg (115 oz). It’s also 43.7cm (17.3-inches) long, so while it can be taken in the cabin rather than be stashed in the hold for a flight, it’s a big lens.
That weight is too heavy for me to hold steady for minutes at a time, which means the composition varies a little from shot to shot when I shoot a sequence handheld. The lens is stabilised and gives up to 5.5EV shutter speed compensation when paired with the Nikon Z9, Z7 II or Z6 II to benefit from the Synchro VR. With other cameras, there’s a claimed 5EV benefit. However, it’s most likely to be found in the hands of sports and wildlife photographers who will need to use fast shutter speeds to freeze subject movement.
According to Nikon, the centre of gravity of the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S is in the middle of the tripod foot to help with balance. That certainly helped when using the lens on a tripod or monopod, it only took a minute or so to balance the lens and Nikon Z II on a gimbal on a tripod.
There are three rotatable rings on the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S. The first, which sits closest to the mount is the manual focus ring. This has a smooth action and can be used to adjust the focus manually if necessary when autofocus mode is selected.
Further forward from this, there’s a slim Control Ring that has square-textured covering that distinguishes it from the ridged rings. This can be set (via the menu) to adjust a setting such as the aperture, exposure compensation or ISO. I tend to use it for adjusting exposure compensation, but occasionally, I’ll switch to using it to set the aperture value.
A little further forward towards the front element, around the mid-point of the lens, there’s the Function (Fn) Ring that can be used to recall a stored focus point.
The wide front section of the lens, which occupies around a third of its length, also has ridged, rubberised coating but this is for more assured handling and protection, it’s not a control ring.
There are also L-Fn and L-Fn2 buttons with functions that can be customised via the camera menus. There are actually four L-Fn2 buttons distributed 90° apart around the lens barrel to ensure there’s always one in convenient reach.
These buttons are joined by a focus-limiter switch and an AF/M focus switch. The autofocus system can be set to operate across its full range (down to 4.3m) or from between 10m and infinity, which could be useful when shooting through a crowd or foliage.
Using a teleconverter with a lens normally involves removing the lens from the camera, attaching the teleconverter and then mounting the whole assembly on the camera. With the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S, the built-in 1.4x teleconverter can be moved in and out of position with the flick of a switch. It makes switching between 600mm and 840mm very quick and easy. The movement is signalled by a soft ‘clunk’ sensation when the teleconverter lands in its new position.
This switch is accompanied by a lock switch, which is useful because there were a few occasions when I moved the teleconverter in or out of position accidentally.
A button just below the teleconverter switch enables the focus position to be saved for recall using the Fn ring mentioned earlier. On all cameras apart from the Nikon Z30, once the focus point has been stored, rotating the Fn ring moves the focus to the stored point and, as long as the ring is held, the focus won’t move when the shutter button is pressed.
Nikon has also built in a security slot to accept a Kensington anti-theft cable, which seems like a sensible move for a lens at this price. There are also two strap lugs for attaching the supplied strap and carrying the lens between shots. This reduces the risk of damaging the camera’s lens mount by using a camera strap.
I tested the Nikon Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S on the Z7 II, and for the most part it got subjects in focus very quickly and quietly. There was the occasional miss when using the Z7 II’s subject detection and the camera failed to recognise the subject in the frame, but selecting a small AF point soon got the image in focus. I’m confident that it would slicker with the Nikon Z9’s superior subject detection focusing.
The built-in teleconverter really came into its own when I was shooting a rugby match. Standing behind the tryline, I was able to flick it in and out of position as the play moved up and down the field. It enabled me to get more framing-filling images than would be possible with a single focal length lens, and it’s quicker to use than a zoom ring.
The results are superb, nice and sharp and with lots of detail in distant subjects, subtle skin texture is visible on players who were at the other end of the field. Furthermore, the sharpness is maintained well across the frame.
I shot the match with the lens on a tripod-mounted gimbal. This gave me the freedom to swing the lens around and keep the subject nicely framed, without having to bear any of the weight.
The lens also impresses for wildlife photography, and again it’s handy to have the ability to swap the teleconverter in and out. On this occasion, I shot with the lens hand-held or supported on a monopod.
When photographing a rather tame squirrel, I noticed that the images taken at 840mm aren’t quite as sharp as those at 600mm, but they’re still perfectly acceptable. Compositionally, the difference is having the whole squirrel in the frame at 600mm and photographing its upper body and head at 840mm.
Nikon supplies a deep hood with the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S and I kept this attached at all times to protect the front element from damage. It also does a great job of preventing light from scudding across the glass and causing flare. However, flare is suppressed very well even when shooting towards a light source.
Chromatic aberration and vignetting are also kept under very close control. Turning off the automatic correction profile indicates that there is very slight pincushion distortion but the profile does a great job of removing it.
The two questions I have been asked most frequently about the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S are, ‘how heavy is it’, and ‘how much does it cost’. At over 3Kg or 7lbs, it’s a hefty lens, for scale, the Nikkor Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S weighs ‘just’ 2.385g (5lb 4.2oz), making it 875g (1.9lbs) lighter. It also retails for less than half the price of the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S. But it’s less flexible and 1/3EV slower than the Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S when the teleconverter is used.
The Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S is a similarly heavy lens, weighing 2.95Kg (6lb 8.1oz) and retailing for £13,499 / $13,999.95.
Unfortunately, long, fast lenses are heavy – and usually expensive. Including a teleconverter within a lens is also technically very difficult and that makes them even more expensive.
Those issues aside, the Nikon Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S is a superb lens that delivers excellent image quality with only slight doubts about it when the teleconverter is in use and the subject is close to the nearest focusing point.