I just returned from Bosque Del Apache, one of the best wildlife refuges in the US, where I spent a week testing the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S. Yes, our copy of Nikon’s longest Z lens finally arrived! Of course, as a landscape photographer, I mainly used it for landscapes, not wildlife.
All right, that last part is a joke – I actually took thousands of wildlife photos on my trip. In a place like Bosque del Apache, it’s hard not to get wildlife in your photo with an 800mm lens. It hardly matters where you point it; a bird is sure to sneak in.
One day, though – after photographing the area’s famous sandhill cranes taking off at sunrise – I couldn’t resist a bit of landscape photography at 800mm. My reason was, why not? Plenty of good photos are born of trying something new. And this was the longest Nikon lens I’ve ever tested.
My subject in this case was a nearby mountain and low-hanging clouds. The 800mm f/6.3’s ultra-long focal length seemed to fit well for some detail shots. Or, maybe that was just my excuse to go back to my roots as a landscape photographer.
I should mention the obvious: There are plenty of reasons to avoid supertelephoto lenses as a landscape photographer. One of the biggest has to do with Earth’s own atmosphere. Even if you find a distant landscape that would look good with a supertelephoto, there’s going to be a lot of air between you and your subject. This can harm your photo’s sharpness due to atmospheric distortion, and it will shift the photo’s tones to be low in contrast and deep blue.
It’s possible to fix the blue color cast by converting the photo to black and white (see above!) but that isn’t the right solution for every photo. Naturally I wanted some color photos from this landscape, too. It wasn’t impossible to get normal-looking colors, but it required a lot of careful work in Lightroom.
Another issue with supertelephotos is that they require flawless technique if you want high sharpness at slow shutter speeds. The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S is a sharp lens, but that doesn’t matter if camera shake makes your photos blurry. Even using a good tripod and head, I saw plenty of jitters after magnifying live view. It would have been much worse if the wind had been a bit stronger.
One thing that helped was turning on the camera’s image stabilization, even though I usually avoid it as a landscape photographer. The subject was also bright enough that I could stick to reasonable shutter speeds over 1/100 second. (The one exception in this article is the earlier tree + hawk photo at 1/25 second; that one took a few tries before it turned out pixel-level sharp.)
That approach worked fine for this landscape, but it wouldn’t fly at blue hour, where your shutter speed will easily reach into the seconds. In conditions like that, you’d need to accept some low-level blur, or else use a rock-solid tripod on a nearly windless day.
But if you surpass all of those hurdles, is it worth it to use such a long lens for landscape photography? I’d say so.
On one hand, 800mm is just way too long if you want a classic, “grand landscape” type photo. But there will be times when the best portion of a scene is a tiny excerpt way in the distance.
Beyond that, plenty of famous overlooks – like Tunnel View in Yosemite or popular spots along the Grand Canyon – have been photographed to death. But how often have they been photographed at 800mm? You can get some unique photos even at the world’s most popular tourist spots with a lens like this.
Not that I’m recommending the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S for landscape photographers. It’s a well-priced lens for what you get, but it’s still $6500, and it’s clearly a wildlife lens.
Even if you’re suddenly convinced that you need a supertelephoto for landscapes (and you probably don’t), a more logical choice would be the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S, possibly coupled with a teleconverter. Although, if I shot with Canon rather than Nikon, I’d be tempted to pick up their 600mm f/11 for dabbling in wildlife and landscapes like this, since it’s only $800.
One of the best parts about photography is trying new things and seeing how the results. It won’t always lead to good photos, but you’ll learn something, at least. My experiment with the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 for landscape photography was just that – an experiment. And to me, the results show that supertelephoto lenses can work for landscape photography on occasion.
That said, I’m not planning to add a supertelephoto to my permanent landscape kit any time soon. My current maximum of 200mm is enough most of the time, and it’s much easier to use than an 800mm lens. I’d even say that the “perspective compression” of 200mm feels similar to that of an 800mm lens in practice.
Rest assured that most of the sample photos in my upcoming Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S review will be of wildlife, not landscapes. Compared to anything related to landscape photography with this lens, I care much more about its focusing speed, bokeh, and viability with teleconverters. Now that I’m back from my trip, keep an eye out for this lens review (among others) in the coming weeks.