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Moose Peterson’s Shooting Tips for the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 Super Telephoto Lens

Gear Talk

Moose Peterson is a Nikon Legend Behind the Lens, Lexar Elite Photographer, recipient of the John Muir Conservation Award, and a Research Associate with the Endangered Species Recovery Program. Moose has a passion for photographing wildlife and wild places and educating the public about our wild heritage. He has been published in over 142 magazines worldwide and is the author of 26 books, including Photographic FUNdamentals. Moose has shot with a lot of super telephoto lenses and the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 is among his favorites. See why in his quick review with sample images.


The Amazing Nikon 800 f/5.6 AFS
by Moose Peterson

800mms is a magical focal length that I had longed to see in the Nikon AFS line-up. It is one of Nikon’s sharpest lenses ever. The 800mm f/5.6 delivers such amazing image quality that it’s nearly disconcerting because it shows off any flaws in your photographic technique. You must use proper long lens technique when shooting the 800mm on a fantastic tripod properly situated on Earth. At 800mms, you have a very narrow depth of field especially when you’re shooting up close and personal.

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Green-Tailed Towhee ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D800 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/400th of a second.

800mm f/5.6 vs the 600mm f/4

The lens itself is just a tad longer and a tad heavier than the 600mm f/4. However, I feel it is also a tad better more balanced and a tad sharper. So with that said, you could go with the 600mm and a 1.4x teleconverter and be in the same ballpark as the 800mm but it’s not quite the same. We are splitting hairs here but that’s what we do in photography – we look for the right gear for our own style of photography.

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Western Sandpiper ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/80th of a second.

The 800mm does have a tad more depth of field compared to the 600mm with a 1.4x and that might be important to you – it is to me, too. The 800mm works with the Auto Area AF whereas the 600mm/1.4x does not. That’s important to me as well. If this doesn’t make sense to you, I invite you to my website where I talk about this a lot.

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Greater Yellowlegs ©Moose Peterson- Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/7.1 • 1/400th of a second.

The 800mm’s Unique Teleconverter

The 800mm comes with its own teleconverter, the TC-800 1.25E, which produces a 1000mm f/7.1 lens when attached. The results from this combo are spectacular!

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Willow Ptmarigan ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/250th of a second.

Here’s the deal with this teleconverter: it can only work with its matched 800mm lens. The teleconverter has the same serial number as the 800mm and won’t work on other lenses, even another 800mm. As it was explained to me, the teleconverter is made as part of the lens at the point of manufacture. It’s not an afterthought. Don’t damage or lose that converter because there is only one.

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Osprey ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/320th of a second.

Making the Most of the 800mm

The 800′s greatest gift is its control over the background. To make the most of the focal length you must make the most of the background to make the subject pop while setting the stage for the story you’re telling. Image size is part of this as well and even though it’s 800mms, you can’t stand a mile away from the subject and get that huge image size. It just doesn’t work that way.

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Dipper ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/160th of a second.

You still have to get close, physically, and with critters that are usually within 60 feet. When you get that close you then have to think about depth of field. It’s to this entire craft of photography that the 800mm works so amazingly well.

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Savannah Sparrow ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/250th of a second.

Word of Advice: Practice Ahead of Time

My last piece of advice to the potential renter of this killer lens is to add a couple extra days to your rental on the front end. Its narrow angle of view takes a little time to get use to, especially if you’re planning on photographing any moving subjects. It’s a lot of lens to throw around and getting use to that does take a couple of days of constant shooting.

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Hudsonian Godwit ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/200th of a second.

Once you’re familiar with the 800mm, it will deliver images you just can’t imagine taking with anything else. This lens will go down as one of Nikon’s legendary lens designs. Shoot with it once and you’ll understand why.

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Short-Billed Dowitcher ©Moose Peterson – Shot on a Nikon D4 with the 800mm. ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/250th of a second.


 Special thanks to Moose Peterson for these tips. Share your own telephoto images in the comments below! 

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Alexandria Huff is a portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Her tutorials can be found here on the BorrowLenses Blog, 500px, Shutterfly, Snapknot, and SmugMug. She specializes in studio lighting. Follow her work on 500px.

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