It’s finally here – my Nikon 500 PF review and full field report! And let me tell you, it’s a doozy!
In fact, I may have to apologize for the length. This review is really detailed and goes on for a bit longer than I wanted. I’ve had so many questions about this lens and there are so many different facets to it that it was difficult to keep it down to just the video you see below. Plus, I’ve had tons of questions about it, and I wanted to make sure those were addressed as well. Although the way I figure it, if you’re in the market for a $3600 lens, you probably don’t mind some extra details and tips for field use.
As for coverage, this 500PF review pulls no punches. We start off looking at build (and talk about a major design flaw with the foot/collar), then we discuss handing (my favorite aspect of this lens), then it’s on to things like VR performance, TC performance (or lack thereof), sharpness and on and on. There’s a lot to it, so I’ll stop babbling at the keyboard and let you get to it.
Oh, and after the video, check out the sharpness tests below – and some of my favorite photos from the field test. Enjoy!
Foot Update 01-02-2020!
Thanks to the recommendation of one of our readers, I ended up ordering the foot pictured below:
Instead of a lock / release mechanism, this one screws directly into the tripod screw socket hidden under the foot mount on the collar. Very secure, great build quality and even comes with the little safety pins pre-installed. Plus, it’s a little longer than the OEM foot, making for a nicer carry handle. Works perfectly with my RRS quick release clamps too.
The price is right as well – just $60. I’m not an affiliate or anything and don’t get a dime from this recommendation. I just think it’s a nice product. Check it out if you’re concerned about the foot on the 500PF.
500 PF Sharpness Tests
Please Note – the images have been resized for this page. Click the image to get the full-size version in a new tab (you may have to click them one more time when they open to get to full size, depending on your screen resolution). Also, remember my 300PF isn’t quite as sharp on the left side as the right. (That’s why you gotta watch the video first!)
Below is the test target used for the tests and the regions featured in the images below:
Test #1 – 500 PF Vs. 200-500
Test #2 – 500 PF Vs. 300 PF (and 300 PF + TC)
With 1.4TC E III Attached (420mm)
Test #3 – 500 PF Vs. 600 F/4 E
Field Test Photos
Below are a few of my favorite shots from the field tests. Note that I actually captured quite a few more, but just didn’t have time to process them all before the review went live. Click the images for a larger version.
PS – If you enjoyed this post, I think you’ll REALLY like my e-books, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography and Secrets To The Nikon Autofocus System as well as my new Noise Reduction video workshop. They’re filled with hundreds of tips, techniques and information just like this. Check ’em out – click here (hey, it’s free to look 🙂 )
Steve, as always thanks for another great review. You are able to combine your teachings for both beginning and experienced shooters, no small feat. And I always seem to come away with another technique gem, the one on sport mode to stop the AF point from moving is definitely something I am going to try out. My experience on the TC is the same as yours but I do plan to use it a fair amount (other than smaller BIF!) realizing that sometimes I will say, darn I missed focus on that because of the TC! Thanks again.
Thanks so much for this review, Steve, and also for elementary things like reminding me to ask local dealers 🙂 It changed everything here 🙂 Coming back from a 5 month project abroad I felt I have to reward myself for the work and I was curious about the 500 PF all the time. Then I talked to a good friend of mine who is a wildlife pro himself. He then showed my some results he got with a 200-500 when shooting ibex in Switzerland (being forced to go as light as possible for medical reasons) and I was really… Read more »
Great Information Steve thank you as always!!!!
there is new revised foot for this lens. It has additional material toward camera for better balance
Hello Steve. Your review was very good, thank you. I’ve been hesitating about 500pf for a long time. I live in Turkey. I am not a professional photographer. I have 300pf and 200-500 with the d850. But I use 200-500 to take a full moon photo :)) I need your advice. Which one do you think I should take?
– 500mm pf
– 300mm f / 2.8 vr ii + 1.7 tc eii
– For Sony A7 R4 + 200-600mm
Hi Steve, thank you so much for this review! It really helped me in my decision, which lens to buy. After our trip to Costa Rica and my upcoming trip to Alaska, I was looking for a suitable solution to extend the focal length. As you know, I do have a serious shoulder problem and I’m not able to handle heavy gear or even handheld a heavy lens. I rented the 180-400 mm for some days, to test it in this respect, but very quickly figured out, that it is an absolute no go. What a pity, as it is… Read more »
The replacement foot your recommended is excellent! What a great tip.
Big glass is not dead ! Very instructive video Steve. The Elk portrait is breathtaking! So are other pictures!!
I have a little wiggle if I use this lens on my D5 or D850 not like the other lenses all fit well but not this one, Is that normal or I should return it??
I have the same slight movement but it does not seem to impact the lens performance. It will be interesting to see what Steve says
Thank you, Nick, for your reply and I’m happy to hear that
I may have been too hasty in my reply. I was referencing my new Nikon 180mm-400mm zoom whereas you must have been talking about the 500mm PF
Yes it’s about 500mm pf
Most Nikon teles do that – no biggie. My 500PF, 180-400, dn 600 F/4 all have just a slight wiggle.
Thank you, Steve, for your reply this add more confidence to me to keep the lens
Steve, If my memory serves me right you said you had acquired the Nikon 180-400mm T/C zoom lens and would be doing a field trial. Is this still a possibility that you will publish something?
I checked the base of the lens from behind it was shaking and the screws are loose and need to be tightened, Thank you and I appreciate the help
I just want to offer a caution about the replacement tripod collar you mention in your review—the Hejnar Photo H129. It is an improvement over the Nikon tripod collar, but it is IMPERATIVE that you make sure that it’s screwed together tightly and that it stays that way. I recently took my new 500mm PF on a trip to Costa Rica and used the H129 collar with it on my tripod. Twice the screw holding the pieces of the collar together came loose. The first time, I was able to catch the camera and lens as they slid off the… Read more »
Hi Tina –
That’s disturbing to hear to say the least. The single screw the holds the foot to the collar has never come loose on mine at all, but it’s good to know it can happen. I agree with Loctite too!
I suggest blue loctite, anything put on with red will be very difficult to loosen up and at times requires heat to break the bond.
As always, great review. Your honesty really comes through and you have a talent for packing in loads of info in a very clear way. With this 500 PF and the 300 PF, I’ve read about some unusual lens flare caused by the PF element when shooting into the sun. What are your thoughts on this? Have you experienced this type of flare? Is it as bad as some people say? Do you have any samples? Thanks!!!
I’ve never seen it with my stuff, not once.
Good to know. Do you have any experience with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED Lens? If so, how does it compare to the newer PF version? Thanks!
Have a 200-500 (just rebuilt) but have tried the 600 f/4 E version $12,00+ – love results but it’s heavy. I hear Nikon patented a 600 f/5.6 PF version and may be introducing this summer. Have read a few 500 f4 E vs f5.6 PF to project to a 600 f5.6 PF. The AF system on the 500 f5.6 PF version is smaller therefore just as fast as the 500 f4 E version. Other than 1 stop difference should I wait for the lighter 600 f5.6 PF at about $6,000??
I wouldn’t hold my breath on a 600PF anytime soon. I don’t have any inside info, but the fact that they are still unable to fulfill all the orders placed back in August, I’d say the 600PF is a looonnngggg way off!
Just saw the previous comment and now see I’m not the only one having trouble getting ahold of one!
Very much enjoyed your review. Incredibly detailed. I ordered this lens months ago through B&H and it is still on backorder. Do you by chance know anyplace that has them in stock?
I appreciated your review and have tried to get this lens. However, strange things seem to be happening. Any news of its being shipped in adequate quantities to the US. Are there serious production issues causing the delays. If so, how will these issues effect quality.
Nikon lists it on back order, while Amazon states it is currently unavailable.
Can you clarify what is going on?
No clue – it seems like they greatly underestimated demand and can’t keep up. Generally when Nikon has high demand, quality doesn’t suffer, so I wouldn’t worry about that.
Thanks for the thoughts. “No clue” is good.
Perhaps too many people read your comments on the 500 and bumped up the product demand, sort of a Johnny Carson effect.
I will hang in there.
I believe that here in Canada, nobody has yet seen the shadow of this lens; I ordered mine in october and I hope receiving it in spring for bird migration.
I really enjoy your blogs and books and I’m a big fan of your work. Just wondering if you have an advice for a 70-200 2.8 lense for the D500. I’m struggling between the Nikon VRII, Nikon FL and the newest Tamron G2.
Greetings from Germany
Great Review of 500 5.6 and love your books. – I have NikonD 810 and D500 Presently have Tamron 150-600 G1 and Ninkon 80-200 2.8 and Nikon FX 28-300 3.5-5.6 Should I upgrade the Tamron to the G2 ( considered nikon 200-500 worried about weight) or keep the G1 and get the Nikon 500 5.6 and give up the advantages of the zoom Shoot wildlife, BIF and landscapes. Going to the Artic this summer and planning a trip to Africa next year
Just bought your new book, weekend evenings is saved 😉
Question, I have this rule that all my gear is going to fit in my backpack. Current i shoot with the D850 and the D500 toghether with 20 f1.8G, 24-70 2.8E, 70-200 2.8E and the 300 f4E PF. Most of the time the 300 with TC-1.4 is attached to the D500 for bird catching. Is it worth to ditch the 300 over the 500 for bird ”hunting”?
If you’re usually using the TC, then yes, it’s worth the change. The 500PF is absolutely sharper than the 300 PF + TC and gives you an extra 80mm for the same F/5.6.
Thanks Steve, I will go for the 500. If I need a 300 i can use the 70-200 with TC-1.4. (280 mm FX, 420 DX @ f4). If I do the math correct the 500 will be a whopping 750 mm with DX.
Hurray, got my 500 PF yesterday. Replaced my 300 PF+TC1.4. Thanks for the review.
Tyronne, when did you place your order? I’m thinking of ordering, but have no idea how long the wait will be. Thanks!
The recommended foot looks just like the Wimberley replacement foot. https://www.tripodhead.com/products/replacement-feet-main.cfm
Awesome – I don’t think they had that out when I purchased the other, although the Hejnar foot really is good, no regrets at all.
The Hejnar foot is a little more than 0.5 inch longer which some may find useful.
BTW The Hejnar link goes to the wrong lens.
The 70-200 and 500PF use the exact same foot, so same foot. That’s the one I purchased.
Hi Steve Thanks for the in depth review. Am really on the fence with this lens. Have the 300PF+1.4 & 200-500 ,use with D500/850. Can see corners are better than 300+1.4 ,but as must crop alot( hate to but need to, until birdies get more tame here 🙂 ), I really wonder if its worth the investment., for 80 mm more.. Yes AF seems better, but can get a 500 4 EDF no VR used for same price, or 600 4 for a bit more used.& light here (except summer) is not so intense .Bokeh seems the same as 300PF+1.4… Read more »
I’d say if you can get the 500 F/4 to go that route. The 500 PF is incredible, but it’s not F/4. I certainly wouldn’t give up my F/4 glass for it, but it is a nice supplement.
Fantastic article Steve! I have a different problem with the collar. The foot is very secure like you said some probably would be. But the collar can not be tightened down! I can turn that knob as hard as I can and I can still move the collar on the lens! This really sucks when connected to my gimbal head. I can be holding the camera and in the heat of the moment, as I move the camera around, it just slides in the collar and I have to stop to re-align it. VERY FRUSTRATING! I sent it into Nikon… Read more »
That’s really disappointing to hear. Normally, the non-removable collars are actually really nice – and I’ve not had that issue on my 500PF. I hope they can get this taken care of for you very soon, I can see how it would be incredibly frustrating!
Steve, one feature that you left out that I saw in another review. There is a tripod screw socket under the tripod foot when removed. I use a shoulder strap, like Black Rapid, to carry my 300 f4E and will carry my 500 f5.6E the same way. Kind of a nice feature for those of us using shoulder straps.
Yup, good point. I hate using straps, so it never occurred to me.
Steve, another great video. Keep them comin’. My 500 PF is on order and hope to have it soon. I’m concerned over the “foot” issue. Be interested in hearing from others regarding the best solution. Does adding a plate alleviate the risk of disengaging that Steve mentioned or is a foot like that from Kirk or RRS a better solution.
I have a solution, I think, but I don’t want to really recommend it until it comes in at the end of the week.
Also, it happened with my lens and a few others, however, there’s also a good chance it’s due to manufacturing variances and some units won’t have an issue at all – probalby most. The info is in there to make people aware of it and cautious.
Steve, as always informative & objective reviews. My 500PF just arrived and I’m loving it; especially the lack of weight compared to the 200-500mm. I’m very conscious about the foot issue and would love to hear about your solution you alluded to above.
Hi Steve, just got you wildlife book. You were right, if you just pick up a few tips its work the price of the book. And I used a tip you had, and it was worth it. My question, what is your thoughts when you compare the sharpness of the 500pf and the 600 F4. I am using the 600 F4 and I enjoy seeing the barbs on the feathers of a bird. Will I still see that on the 500PF? I want to use the 500pf for quick moving subjects where the tripod is sometimes more difficult to manage,… Read more »
Excellent review as always! I’ve owned the lens since day one and have shot a couple thousand photos with it. It’s an absolute game changer for me. It’s so portable, I can carry it for many hours over miles, no problem at all. I shoot almost exclusively birds, and this lens is so sharp, so easy to carry, and paired with a D500 I don’t think theres a better set up for birders. I sold my 300 PF to help fund the purchase, but I’m hanging on to my 500 f/4 for the moment but will probably sell it too.… Read more »
Outstanding review and provides both charts and real world subjects which is much more informative. I like that such an objective approach was taken in comparing this lens to alternatives. I received mine in October through the NPS program and have also found that I do not hesitate to grab the lens for a hike. I looked into replacement feet from RRS and Kirk but they share the same shortcoming of the stock foot, they do not extend pass the vertical section of the foot. I mounted a P-20 plate and as with what you did Steve it extends about… Read more »
Bruce, I find the same with the Kirk foot on a Gimbal mount. I shoot with a D500 and grip, the combination is slightly rear heavy even when pushed as far forward as possible. If there was just another inch on the back end it would be much easier to balance.
The Wimberley P-20 plate is only 3.9 inches long but it fastens with 2 screws into the Nikon OEM foot and I have mine set so it extends 3/4 inch past rear of the foot and this works quite well. It seems much better to be able to adjust the mounting of the foot to the head as best suits you and a foot alone cannot provide this capability.
Hi Steve. Fantastic photos, you’re a real master.
Steve, I have had my 500PF for a couple of weeks now and totally agree with your review. My Kirk foot arrived today and it is better but not perfect. Much more difficult to actually release the foot. I am going to contact Kirk and suggest that they put a more positive lock out in place as well. For reference, I have the older 600mm f4 VR as well as the 300PF and the 200-500, so it was great seeing your comparisons. The one other crazy test I tried was using the 1.7 TC, and much to my surprise it… Read more »
Thanks for the kind words – glad to hear it works well with the Z too.
You are very welcome. I cobbled together a simple solution for the “inadvertent release” that you noted in the review, this is for the Kirk replacement. Total cost about $5.00 and a few minutes of time. The kind words are small repayment for the knowledge you pass on.
As my 500 PF is on order, please share your simple solution Bill.
Bill, my 500 PF arrived and though I love it, I’m a bit concerned over the foot issue. Please share your $5.00 solution with us.
Hi Steve An outstanding review mate on this lens. I thoroughly enjoyed your in-depth thoughts. I use the 200-500mm on a D500 quite a bit and whilst I find this a reasonably good lens, the keeper rate on shots can be quite low at times. I have found the 200-500mm not as good in low light, it really needs a brighter day to get some wildlife shots nailed. And at 200-300mm as well as at the near end, 480-500mm range it doesn’t perform nearly as well, even though its been properly calibrated. For the 200-500mm I found the optimal to… Read more »
Another fantastic review – you nailed it once again Mr. P! The 500 PF certainly looks like a beautiful lens, and your comprehensive review will be an invaluable aid when people are deciding on a telephoto. I’ve purchased all of your e-book and video offerings, and am constantly using the techniques you teach when out and about with my D750 and 200-500. Of course, I’d love to own the 600 f/4 but the price here in Australia is over $17,000 – certainly not an option for my limited budget. Regarding the recent (mostly typo) updates to the Secrets To The… Read more »
Hi Terry – thanks! I don’t have any record of the typo changes though, I just do them as they come in. There weren’t too many, maybe 5 or 6 I think total. It’s pretty mature copy at this point.
Thank’s a lot Steve for your excellent review; most of the time, I use my D500 and 300 F/4 +TC -14E III for small birds photography; handling is a charm and I don’t need a tripod; for better sharpness and long shots, I will certainly use the 500 F/5.6 and keep the 300 alone for birds in flight, the best of both worlds for me.
Have been seriously looking at the 500 PF so very much appreciate your taking the time to not only review it but compare it to the 300 PF +/- 1.4 TC and 200-500. For me the 200-500 is too heavy to hand hold and travel with and the zoom difficult to adjust. I find myself either going with the 80-400 or the 300 PF with a 1.4 attached to either the d500 or d850. Have learned much from both your books and recent NR video. Looking forward to your exposure book.
Wendy. I’m in the same situation as I own the 80-400 and find it to be a very good lens. However, I’m considering the 500pf. Using a TC with my current lens is a solution but becomes limiting in lower lighting conditions. I’m probably at a minority but I don’t see the issues when going one level higher in ISO given the capabilities of the D850. Just curious why you are considering this lens given what you have?
I have only used the 1.4 TC with the 300 PF f/4 lens. Have not used it with the 80-400 due to f/8, potential focusing issues and higher ISO. The 80-400 has served me well but looking for more reach for birds and distant wildlife. I have used the 200-500 with good results shooting youth baseball from outfield into home plate. But have yet to use the 200-500 on a trip since for me it is cumbersome to zoom and heavy to handhold. As an enthusiast, the expense of the new 500 is hard to justify, but I would use… Read more »
Excellent review, Steve, thanks, Appreciate
Sold the 600 F/4 (5090g) and all its appurtenances. We shoot mostly from inside vehicles in South Africa so the 600 is a pain wrt maneuverability inside a car. The 500 F/5.6 is as easy and light weight to handle as the 80-400 which replaced my 70-200 f2.8 and 2xTX III.
Thanks Steve! Your overview of the 500pf was very helpful and I appreciate the many tests you do to provide solid information about its performance!
Steve, Great, informative review as always. I really appreciate everything you do. I cuurently use a two camera system, Nikon and Olympus (paired with the 300mm f4, weights just over 3 lbs., and camera about 1 lb., and 1.4 TC for 840 FOV at f5.6) and I’m not sure the 500PF offers anything I can’t get with my current setup. I do have two questions. One, is there a sharpness increase, and if so, how much, with this lens by stopping down both with and without the TC. I’m hoping the answer is no, or minimal. ;-). Secondly, on your… Read more »
Hi Bruce –
The lens is pretty good wide open, and the truth is I never stopped it down – F/5.6 was enough loss of light LOL!
As for the video course, you gotta have PS too (almost 2/3rd of it is PS related), so I wound’t recommend it with just LR.
Thanks Steve. I appreciate your honesty. I do have your wildlife and autofocus books and enjoy them both. You have a great ability to cover both novice and enthusiast level shooters in your guides which is a rare talent.
Thx you. A very good review indeed. i own it myself and i have the 500/4E and the 200-500;
for now i look to replace the 500/4 for the 600/4E and sell the 200-500VR also. all three 500mm lenses did not makes sense of course
i was missing only one thing in your review: this lens is a little bit sensitive for backlit conditions, so my short experience untill now.
The conditions were almost always overcast when I was testing, so I don’t think I ever had any backlight to test in! I’ll keep an eye out, I can always add to this page. 🙂
Sensitive to backlit subjects? i cannot agree with you about this. Compared to me 300 f/4D, the 500 pf is worlds better, I dont have any experience with any big primes though, so maybe you’re right, but from my experience its very very good in this regard.
Steve – Another excellent review and discussion of the pros and cons of the 500 f/5.6 PF and the alternatives. I’m really glad you mentioned out of focus backgrounds since that’s probably more important than the pure sharpness comparisons for me. I don’t own the lens yet, but from a size standpoint, it is very similar to the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 – and that means this lens travels incredibly well either for a hike or for air travel. I came to the same conclusion you did. There is a place for this lens in addition to my 600 f/4. Probably… Read more »
Thanks Eric! Yup, I’m looking forward to using the 600 F/4 and this together. I think it’ll be a great combo.
Very informative Video.Your in depth impartial analysis is what every one requires.
Hi Steve, Well, I checked your site earlier today…. and now I see your promised review is here! On first read, the advantage over the 300 PF comes across clearly, and your comparisons confirm my field tests with D850 and Z7 over the past 1+ month. AS you so rightly say, this 500 PF will not replace any of my lenses, the 400 f2.8E FL especially. But for its ergonimics are a boon in hiking over distance and/or in rougher country. As to zoom advantage of the very good 200-500 Nikkor, I prefer the 70-200 f2.8E FL (to the latter):… Read more »