We asked Formula 1 photographer Mark Sutton if he would like to test-drive the new AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens during the British leg of the Formula 1 season.
Naturally, he jumped at the chance, so we loaned him one of the first lenses to land in the UK and sent him off to one of the sport’s most prestigious tracks.
Read on below to see his thoughts and images after spending the weekend with the lens.
Day 1- First Impressions
On Thursday July 2nd, the day of the worldwide launch of this lens, the NPS team brought one over to me and said that this was one of only three lenses in the UK. At first, when I picked up the lens in its case, I couldn’t believe how light it was. I actually asked if the lens was really in the case! I attached the lens to my Nikon D4s and mounted a monopod to it, although I was thinking “Do I even need this?” as it was so light.
I headed straight to the pit lane to take some technical images and show off this new piece of kit which had only just launched that morning. I went over to the Mercedes team and to my delight and surprise saw that Lewis Hamilton was in the garage talking to his mechanics and looking at his F1 car.
I kept on firing and firing. I couldn’t believe my luck – this was an exclusive, with no other agency photographers about. I couldn’t believe how quick the lens was able to focus on the subject and as Lewis moved around the car I captured some amazing images. It is occasions like this where having the right kit makes your job so much easier.
After this initial test I took the lens further into the pits and out on the track to check the improved tracking and focusing capabilities. It really is so much quicker. I have been using the older lens for the past two seasons and it is a definite improvement. It responds quicker; in Sports mode VR it tracks the car or driver’s helmet easily and every frame was sharp as the cars hurtled towards me at 200MPH.
Day 2 – Pits and Action
On the second day of the British Grand Prix I was ready for more pit work, so I went in search of drivers in their cars to grab a few spontaneous, candid portraits.
As you can see, it’s amazing to shoot into the dark garage with the D4s and with the 500mm focal length you can get closer than ever to the drivers in their cars. You can hardly tell that the drivers are in parked cars in dark garages in these shots. I especially like the image I grabbed of Jenson Button through the rearview mirror in his car – it looks like I was standing right behind it.
After the race finished, I focused on the podium. Sometimes with a 500mm you can find yourself too close, but I thought I would shoot tight frames and try for a better angle. The focusing is just stunning; it reacted quickly as I followed Lewis Hamilton spraying the champagne in every direction. I kept on shooting and was amazed at the results. I had a huge smile on my face after reviewing the the images on my computer.
Overall Thoughts on the New 500mm Lens
I can’t believe how light the new lens is compared to my current lens. The speed of focus and tracking for F1 is just perfectly matched to the D4s body and the sharpness of the images is greatly improved. Spot-on focusing offers the best and sharpest images.
Overall this lens is truly amazing, offering a massive update and improvement on the previous lens: increased speed on the autofocus, the overall lightness is amazing, and it has a perfect lens-to-camera weight ratio. And having looked closely at the images, I can see that the balance of sharpness and colours through the lens is incredible.
This lens is truly stunning- sharper, lighter, quicker and takes amazing images!
Stay tuned for more F1 updates as Mark shares his “Photo of the Race” from each leg of the competition.