Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Review

February 12, 2019 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


Unless you really, really need the faster f/4 aperture offered by the AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR, then the new f/5.6 version is a more enticing proposition for most people - it offers the same feature-set and similarly high image quality in a much lighter, smaller, more portable package, at a much more affordable price-point than the f/4 lens.

Light enough to hand-hold all day and compact enough to fit inside a large shoulder-bag or backpack, the AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is a surprisingly small and lightweight full-frame telephoto lens that delivers excellent results in the field. The amazingly compact design and moderate weight allows the lens to be used hand-held in most shooting situations, without sacrificing too much in the way of build quality.

Sharpness is excellent even when shooting wide open at f/5.6 and remains high up to and including f/16. Geometric distortions and chromatic aberrations are kept to a minimum, although vignetting is quite pronounced at the lens' maximum aperture. If corner performance is critical, and you are shooting with a high-resolution FX body, you'd be wise to stop down to f/11 – but otherwise we wouldn't hesitate to use this lens wide open. The lens' bokeh is nice and smooth, and you can easily separate your subject from the background.

The AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR auto-focuses very quickly, especially if you engage the focus limiter. The AF motor is a little noisy as it locks onto the subject, but generally focusing is highly accurate and dependable. The inclusion of VR image stabilisation greatly enhances the use of the lens in low-light situations.

A 500mm prime lens is something of a specialist tool, obviously appealing most to avid sports and wildlife photographers. While some of those users will likely opt for the faster f/4 500mm Nikkor lens simply for the extra aperture stop, there's a lot to be said for this new lens, especially if portability is of more importance (not to mention cost). Nikon have done an incredible job of literally shrinking the size and cost of their 500m lens whilst maintaining image quality, so good luck in choosing between these two lenses!

4.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 5
Features 4.5
Ease-of-use 4.5
Image quality 4.5
Value for money 4