The 800 combo for bird photography...

Nikon D800 body with the Nikkor AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens - a bird photographer's dream?

I have been using this combination for 18 months now and still marvel at the image quality and detail it is capable of delivering, especially for bird photography. Not every photo that one snaps away with this combo will be a winner though - this is a very unforgiving setup: 36MP married to a focal length of 800mm giving a 16x magnification in 36mm SLR terms. Any small vibration (if not handled well by the excellent 4.5 stop VR mechanism), the slightest defocus and very shallow, unforgiving depth of field can so easily lead to disappointment if you are new to this setup. Another trap many new owners fall into is that they try to use their long super telephotos to photograph distant specs on the horizon! At 800mm heat haze is a real spoil sport! But if you use proper long lens technique and give this combo the necessary respect it deserves the results can be truly out of this world! Do I think the 800mm is the ideal lens for bird photography? No, I don't - it is a highly specialized piece of kit, a real pleasure to use but certainly not a good all round compromise - if you plan on owning only one super telephoto you should strongly consider a 500mm or 600mm.

Another consideration is that of pixel density on your sensor and the apparent image size you are recording at actual pixels. Lets take a Nikon D800 body at 36MP with a 500mm lens (10x magnification) and compare it to a Nikon D4s with 16MP and put that on the 800mm (16x magnification). The D800 in 1.5 crop setting gives a 16MP image and 500x1.5=750mm - very close to the 800mm but much more versatile. So although I always feel the 800mm lens deserves the best body Nikon can offer i.e. the D4s one can get very similar results with a much less expensive and more versatile setup like a shorter lens with a higher pixel body. Off course one shouldn't compare the 11 fps D4s with the much slower D800 but if image quality is your only consideration then a high MP sensor married to top quality glass is the best combination: putting that 36MP sensor on the unbelievably sharp 800mm Nikkor and properly filling the frame just keeps on taking my breath away... and now there is the D810 body without an AA filter, a higher frame rate, larger buffer much more suited to wildlife photography with improved AF... watch this space to see what it is capable of :)

Red-billed Teal Anas erythrorhyncha - Nikon D800 with 800mm f/5.6 exposed at 1/1600 sec; f/7.1; ISO 500

Greater Painted-Snipe Rostratula benghalensis - Nikon D800 with 800mm f/5.6 exposed at 1/1250 sec; f/6.3; ISO 640 with a closer crop below.

Not bad for ISO 640... Bear in mind these are downsized jpegs.

I have no financial interest in Nikon...