I just returned from my trip up to Arctic Norway, to encounter subtropical weather down here in Oslo. As it happens I also had a reservation for a review sample of the new 800 Nikkor that became available at the same time. So, I loaded up the car and started to explore this newcomer.
First impression is that it is very well made (but see later) and fairly light weight for its focal length and speed. The dedicated 1.25X TC is really cute and very tiny so an item I for one probably will lose in a short time.
The caveat is the tripod collar - again. I understand Nikon has a policy here that does not include what I personally consider a viable design. The foot is made in two pieces and material is pared down to the bare minimum in order to shave off a few grammes of weight. On the other hand the tripod foot doubles as a convenient carrying handle, well padded too, and has a decent 3/8" hole in addition to the usual (and for a lens this size, way too weak) 1/4" mounting holes.
I quickly found out what I feared a priori: this lens is not really helped by giving it the best possible tripod support as the poor tripod mount makes any difference to a bog standard flimsy unit nearly moot. Obviously Nikon thinks tripod == VR on is mandatory. Not my preferred choice of operation to put it mildly.
Well, 'nuff said about that. For the initial testing I attached my trusty D3X (the D800 is currently in for NPS service - it crashed in the Arctic). D3X has not the superspeed AF module of current top cameras like the D4 and thus AF speed was slowed down a bit, but provided enough light is present the lens still focused pretty fast. With the TC the AF, as expected for the D3X, was more a hit or miss and in lower contrast situations the camera refused to focus at all. I got a D4 NPS loaner so will repeat the AF testing with that model and expect a substantial improvement.
Today's commitments brought me down the Oslo Fjord and I availed myself of a nice vantage point to shoot the remote view of the city of Oslo with the 800. This would show the feasibility of using such a long lens for landscapes. As it turned out, I left the 1.25 TC on so in effect shot the scene with 1000 mm f/7.1.
Here is what the scene looks like (50 mm)
And a 100% crop of the sail vessel (seen as a tiny white dot in the first frame) with the City Hall of Oslo as a backdrop. The City Hall is the two-pronged brown building "immediately behind". In reality the boat is 5 km away and the City Hall is 19 km away. So, the gap between the two subject is no less than 14 km. The houses in the very background sit on a foothill about 25 km away. Do note that heat waves and turbulence are not evenly distributed as the more remote details (higher elevation) are rendered more distinct than the seafront buildings.
Suffice it to say that you do get what you pay for, in optical terms. Just wish Nikon would alter their thinking on tripod support.