Nikon developing a 500mm super telephoto with compact Fresnel design

Super-telephoto ordinarily means a super-sized lens — but Nikon has a 500mm up its sleeve that’s compact enough to shoot without a tripod. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR will be designed with both high performance and portability in mind. The lens has yet to see full release details, but Nikon confirmed the lens development on Thursday, June 14.

Longer focal length lenses are typically heavier because they require more glass components to support the telephoto capabilities. The Nikkor 500mm, however, uses fewer glass elements because of what’s called a Phase Fresnel design, designated by the PF in the lens name. A Phase Fresnel lens uses diffraction to help cut down chromatic aberration, which is where the edges of objects have an odd color fringing, an image flaw most common in high-contrast edges.

While a typical lens uses multiple glass pieces to combat chromatic aberration, a Fresnel lens uses a single piece. Fewer pieces mean a lighter lens, which is a big deal when working with extremes like 500mm. Nikon hasn’t said just how lightweight the lens will be, but says the lens will be small enough for handheld use with fast subjects, such as sports and wildlife. Since longer lenses require faster shutter speeds to prevent shake, that “faster subjects” designation on that claim is important — a tripod will probably still be required for scenes that require a slower shutter speed.

Nikon says that the longer the lens is, the more challenging it is to combat chromatic aberration, which is why a lightweight 500mm lens is a significant announcement for the Nikon lens lineup.

The upcoming 500mm will use Nikon’s FX mount, which is designed for full frame cameras (such as the Nikon D850) but can also be used with a crop sensor DX mount, adjusting the focal length for the smaller sensor. Pre-release details on the upcoming lens are slim, but by the name of the lens, the 500mm will also have image stabilization, designed by that VR. The ED also indicates the use of extra-low dispersion glass, another lens element that fights chromatic aberration.

The 500mm follows the 300mm Phase Fresnel lens introduced in 2015. At the time, the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E ED VR was the lightest full-frame 300mm on the market, weighing 1.7 pounds. Nikon’s current 500mm lens is an AF-S Nikkor 500mm F/4E FL ED VR, which also made claims for a lower weight than competing options with similar features. That lens weighs almost seven pounds and costs more than $10,000.

So far, Nikon has only announced the development of the lens, so photographers will have to wait for more details on price, specifications, and the launch date. Nikon expects to announce final specifications and pricing sometime during 2018.

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