There is no more essential tool or lens to the wildlife photographer than the 600mm lens. I can say with firm conviction that the 600VR AFS is a must own lens for wildlife photographers! Past iterations of the 600mm lenses when they were released didn’t always make it into my camera bag, they didn’t solve “the” problem for the price (have no problem recommending the 600AFS II!). That’s because not every new version brought a new or better solution to the same old problem. What’s the old problem? Not that is can be summed up in one word, but basically the problem is, getting a tack sharp image of a small subject up close. The MFD of the 600VR being three feet less (now we’re down to 15.7’) than the 600AFS II instantly makes it a problem solver. When you add to that its amazing sharpness, AFS speed and balance, it’s just a beautiful lens!
I’ll be upfront here, Nikon did me a huge favor and got into my hands one of the first production 600VR AFS as soon as it came in which I was more than happy to pay for after the first click. Why did I want one right away, what did I know? I had inside information. My dear friend and shooting bud Joe McNally shot an IP 600VR II while shooting for the D3 brochure. Once the announcement was out about the D3, Joe talked to me about the 600VR AFS and when Joe talks photography, you listen! Joe knows I’m a lens connoisseur (it’s his fault I had to have a 28f1.4AF since he loaned me his prior to my owning one) and he put it real simple to me, “I can’t see you not having it.” So hence, it’s in my hands now.
What does VR II mean? I have to admit, I missed that little II thing when I first read the announcement in regards to the VR part of this new lens. The 400, 500 & 600 VR II have two modes for VR operation (VR being turned on or off via a barrel ring), Normal and Tripod mode. The majority of owners of this lens I presume (probably pretty accurately) they won’t be shooting with the 600VR II handheld, but rather on a tripod. With that presumption, most would put the VR mode to Tripod since the lens is on a tripod it must equal Tripod mode. That seems all too logical to me. Wrong! Close reading of the IB for the 600VR, you’ll read that if you’re doing any panning, you need to be in Normal mode. Making a phone call to Nikon to clarify all of this for myself, Tripod mode is for only when you’ve locked the tripod, tripod head and lens on one subject (like a rock or landscape) and nothing, nothing is moving. All other times, you want the lens’ VR set to Normal. The II in VR II come from this new generation of the new “Tripod” setting, Normal & Tripod = II. (Note, using the Autofocus On buttons on the lens barrel turns off VR operation).
The 600 VR II also sports a new manual focus override mode (as well as the 400/500). You have the option of A/M and the well established M/A mode. What’s the difference? M/A permits you to manually focus to fine tune focus while still in autofocus mode. A/M does the same thing but, it has a less sensitive touch to your taking manual focus control as the M/A. So if you’re handholding and you hold the focusing ring while hand holding, you won’t disengage the AF easily in the A/M mode compared to the M/A mode. Personally, I’ve not found a whole lot of difference in operation, but I’m still playing with it. With using either mode, operation is still the same to reengage AF, simply remove your finger from the shutter release and than lightly touch it again to reinstate AF operation. Right now, I’m using the A/M mode because it’s new and I don’t know which is the better problem solver.
How does it work with teleconverters? Just as you would expect. With the TC-14e or TC-17e or TC-20e3, the sharpness is stunning. AF operation with the D3x, D3s or D3 with current firmware is pretty amazing to me, especially remembering back just a few years to when it wasn’t even possible. With the 1.4 & 1.7, I work in any light level with an AF sensor with the 3x & 3s no problem. I don’t have that much time in with the 2x to say the same thing about it yet. But the image results from all there converters attached to the 600VR is far better then any long lens / converter combo in the past.
You’ll notice the 600VR is wearing a LensCoat. This killer accessory protects your investment while at the same time looks good. It’s a no-brainer! You will also notice the lens foot has been replaced with the RRS LCF-13. And the last thing you should note, I don’t use the second, the largest shade. This is for many reasons, the main ones being I don’t need it and its diameter doesn’t fit in the overhead of more commuter flights.
It’s hard these days to keep up with the Jones with so many new bodies and lenses coming on the market. Making the most of your buying dollar is very important. I know I’m filling the strain! You’ve got to ask yourself, is focusing three feet closer, VR and better balance worth the price of an upgrade or new lens? Strictly talking from a business stand point, those owning this lens will technically have an advantage, it will produce better images especially for those with poorer long lens technique. Those with solid long lens technique in combination with good biological skills will make this lens an essential tool to their success. Bottomline, for the wildlife photography it’s a must have lens!