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Prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses because prime lenses don’t have extra glass inside that moves in order to zoom. This results, in better quality photographs due to less diffraction. Diffraction increases with the higher number of lens elements in zoom lenses.

Nikon teleconverters work best with Nikon’s prime lenses. Because the  Nikon AI-S Nikkor 600mm F/4 ED-IF manual focus telephoto prime lens image is being enlarged, the effective lens aperture is decreased. Attaching a Nikon TC-300 2x teleconverter to the lens causes a aperture reduction from the native f/4 down to f/8. The lens requires more light and slower shutter speeds with an f/8 aperture. Aperture aside, the Nikon TC-300 2x teleconverter transforms the Nikon AI-S Nikkor 600mm F/4 ED-IF into a 1200mm telephoto lens.

The shallow depth of field bokeh that an f/4 aperture produces is lessened by the stopped down f/8 aperture. However, bokeh is also affected by compression. Compression pulls the background in closer. The Anhinga in this photograph was more than 100 yards away, but the wetland background was empty space for more than five times that distance. The 1200mm lens while focused on the subject compressed or pulled in the distant out of focus background and amplified the f/8 aperture’s bokeh effect.

  • The stopped down f/8 aperture which is the bane of phase detect autofocus in low light, and Nikon’s stated minimum allowable aperture for autofocus to function is completely irrelevant with an old manual focus lens (heh, heh).
  • The Nikon TC-300 2x teleconverter multiplies not only focal length but also any lens aberrations. However, Nikon’s superb AI-S Nikkor 600mm F/4 ED-IF build quality on my copy of this 38 year old prime lens mitigates the image degradation often sited with 2x teleconverters. 
  • F/8 aperture bokeh is often satisfactorily achieved with compression. The deeper depth of field of the f/8 aperture is often more desirable  to render a sharp subject. However, the f/8 aperture requires more light. The fast shutter speeds often needed to freeze wildlife movement produce unacceptable high ISO  graininess without good light.
  • The image quality of often distant wildlife subjects is the point of this lens. This lens enables me to render photographs that would not otherwise be frugally possible. All lenses have limitations. Learning to work around those limitations is where the fun lies.

Roseate spoonbill (manual focus)

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The Nikon AI-S Nikkor 600mm F/4 ED-IF manual focus telephoto prime lens was manufactured between 1982 and 1986. The lens is 1.64 feet long and weighs 27.5 pounds not including 2x Nikon TC-300 teleconverter, which was used to achieve the 1200mm focal distance used to render this image.

No vibration reduction was available on older Nikon lenses. The increased image magnification of the 2x TC-300 teleconverter coupled with the 600mm lens amplifies the slightest camera movement and causes image blurring.

A Gitzo GT5533L Systematic Series 5 Carbon Fiber Tripod (Long) was used in combination with a WH-200 Wimberley gimbal head to hold the lens steady enough to eliminate camera shake. The WH-200 Wimberley gimbal head which has a 100 lbs load capacity weighs 3.15 lbs. My Nikon D850 camera weighs 2.2 lbs. Therefore the total tripod load is around 32.22 lbs.

A handy rule of thump is, tripod load should minimally equal two times the actual load or, 64.44 lbs in this case. The tripod’s load capacity of 88 lbs exceeds the rule of thumb by 23.56 pounds, and indeed the Gitzo tripod in conjunction with the Wimberley gimbal head held the 27.5 lbs lens steady. A 1/2000 sec shutter speed and a Nikon MC-30a remote trigger release were employed to further minimize camera shake. In addition to doubling the focal length the TC-300 teleconverter stops down this f/4 lens to f/8. At f/8 the auto iso used to render this image with a 1/2000 sec shutter speed was 1600.

Finally, the Nikon D850’s focus peeking was used to obtain focus in live view. Although focus peeking is common in the electronic view finders of mirrorless cameras, to the best of my knowledge the D850 is the only full frame digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera to offer focus peeking.

Great egret noir

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This photograph was produced with my manual focus Nikon AI-S Nikkor 600mm F/4 ED-IF coupled with a Nikon TC-300 2x teleconverter. This combination produces an equivalent 1200mm focal length at an f/8 maximum aperture.

Old, indestructible pro-level Nikon f mount lenses are quite relevant with newer camera bodies such as the Nikon D850 used in this photograph. As a case in point, I used the D850’s focus peeking feature to focus this photograph from over 100 yards.

Focus peeking is common in mirrorless cameras and micro photography. Nikon’s D850 is the first Nikon DSLR to natively offer focus peeking. With modern photographers shunning manual focus lenses for auto focus lenses, the telephoto application of focus peeking is rare. I’m using focus peeking to facilitate the use of a classic unwanted manual focus telephoto 600mm prime lens manufactured between 1982 and 1986 on arguably one of the best modern DSLR cameras to date.

By exploiting Nikon’s timeless backwardly compatible f mount lenses on a modern camera, I’m learning a great deal more about photography at a minuscule fraction of the cost of a modern auto focus nikkor 600mm prime lens

A noir photograph seemed appropriate for a first experiment with a 38 year old manual focus lens and complementary to my current reading of Andreas Feininger‘s The Complete Photographer: The Definitive Guide to Modern Black-and-White and Color Photography.