Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras – Product Description:

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens This high-power, high-performance 4.3x telephoto zoom with VR image stabilization lens allows better hand-held telephoto shooting ED glass. High-power 4.3x Telephoto Zoom-Nikkor lens approximates the picture angle performance of a 105-450mm lens on 35mm SLR.  Two Nikon Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass elements deliver superior optical performance for both digital and 35mm photography. ED glass minimizes chromatic aberrations, contributing to superb contrast and resolution performance.  Focus as close as 4.9 ft throughout entire zoom range.  A Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast and quiet auto focusing, along with quick switching between auto focus and manual operation (M/A and M).  Vibration Reduction, engineered specifically for each VR NIKKOR lens, enables handheld shooting at up to 4 shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible, assuring dramatically sharper still images and video capture.  Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet auto focusing without changing the length of the lens, retaining subject-working distance through the focus range.  Non-rotating front element provides for convenient use of circular polarizing filters and the Nikon Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System.  A nine-blade rounded diaphragm opening makes out-of-focus elements appear more natural

Product Features :

  • 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens with f/4.5-5.6 maximum aperture for Nikon digital SLR cameras
  • Vibration Reduction (VRII) minimizes effects of camera shake to produce sharper images
  • 2 Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements delivers super contrast and resolution performance
  • Internal Focus (IF) system provides fast and quiet autofocusing; 4.9-feet close focus range
  • Measures 3.1 inches in diameter and 5.6 inches long; weighs 26.3 ounces; 5-year warranty

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras- Review:

BRINGS PRO-LEVEL PERFORMANCE TO CONSUMER TELEPHOTO ZOOMS

Never has my opinion of a lens changed so dramatically or so quickly as in the case of this 70-300mm VR from Nikon. My first copy, owned about a year ago, was utterly mediocre in nearly every way. It was fuzzy at 300mm, no better than reasonably sharp under 200mm, gave nice colors and decent focus performance but was no fun to use thanks to its sticky zoom ring and “hidden” focus ring.

I reviewed that lens, giving it three stars, warning that it was likely a below-average copy but that buyers should be aware that variations exist and to be sure to test a lens like this before purchase.

With that bit of history, the performance of my second copy of this lens, purchased a few weeks ago now, has stunned me. It has prompted me to sell my 80-400mm VR zoom (also an excellent lens, but less sharp, heavier and much more expensive) and has matched in most ways the performance of various pro Nikon zooms I’ve owned. Even at 300mm, where it is weakest, it equals at f/5.6 the sharpness of the Nikon 300mm f/4 AF at f/4, while improving on that lens’ color rendition and thus exceeding it in terms of overall image quality at all apertures.

How’s that for an encore?

I’ve had no choice but to radically alter my review. (Reader comments below as of today (1/28/10), apply to the first (three star) version of the review, and the caution that one must be aware of sample variability is as important as ever). I’ve decided to re-write my review based solely on the performance of my second sample, under the assumption that the second sample is representative and the first not.

The lens still has some “handling” issues that stem from its nature as a consumer-oriented lens, and it is still a “slow” lens, with a maximum aperture of f/4.5 – f/5.6 – although f/5.6 at 300mm still implies a light-transmissive opening of about 54mm, nearly as large as that of an 85mm f/1.4 (61mm). There is simply no way the lens could be faster without also making it larger, heavier and much more expensive – and such lenses already exist.

Build quality is good consumer-grade, meaning metal where necessary, plastic elsewhere, likely little or no weather-sealing and not designed to endure rough handling. That’s fine – another design choice that has benefits for size, weight and cost. Not quite so fine is the still-sticky zoom ring, which takes just enough effort to turn that near 300mm your subject will tend to jump around, maybe right out of the frame, as the hand holding the lens works in opposition to the hand holding the camera. Even worse in my opinion is the lack of a smooth, front-mounted focus ring, which I find fairly important in a long zoom. Notice that all the professional lenses have the focus ring in front of the zoom ring and usually larger than the zoom ring, so that small tweaks to focus are done easily and naturally with the photographer’s hands in the shooting position. The small, hidden focus ring on the 70-300 is unlikely to be used except when setting up shots of still subjects on a tripod, and that’s a shame because the lens is actually even better suited to other uses.

Those deficiencies are tolerable, though, because the 70-300 VR just about re-writes the book on image quality for consumer zooms in its range. It’s not just a matter of acuity, although acuity is excellent: like many of Nikon’s best lenses, the 70-300VR’s images exceed the level of quality implied by formal tests of it. These formal tests, and most reviews, independently consider the various easily-measurable aspects of lens performance – acuity, aberrations of various types, perhaps (though usually cursorily) color rendition; and then attempt to grade the lens based on some rational summation of its good and bad qualities. What is usually missed is that the perception of sharpness and of image quality relies on a much less linear and not easily definable combination of a lens’ optical qualities. The real performance of a lens can be more than the simple sum of its parts, or it can be less – and the perception of quality and sharpness in different lenses’ images can vary quite a bit between lenses that have similar measurable capabilities.

Whatever the explanation, the 70-300 VR is a genuinely excellent lens in terms of image quality. Even in comparison to some of the best and most expensive professional lenses I’ve used, the 70-300 VR more than holds its own. Between 70mm and 200mm, I don’t believe I have ever used a significantly sharper lens. Some might have an edge at one setting or another, but overall, within that range, I would put the 70-300VR up against any Nikon or third-party f/2.8 professional zoom and challenge anybody to see a difference in the resulting image. If there is one, my guess is that it would probably be in the 70-300’s favor, because although most of these lenses are similar in terms of acuity once f/4.5 is reached, they vary in their rendition of color, and in that area the 70-300 excels.

To be sure, the 70-300 is not likely to produce a BETTER image at f/5.6, say, than one of Nikon’s top pro zooms at the same aperture: those lenses are excellent, as well. But neither will the more expensive lens produce a better image, at least not without opening it up and taking advantage of its expensive larger aperture, which the 70-300 lacks. That is one trick that the 70-300 VR can not match, and probably the only reason for most people to consider paying up for the more expensive alternatives.

Towards 300mm the performance of the 70-300 VR drops off slightly – but only slightly. It’s still worthy of superlatives, because it manages to almost match the performance of Nikon’s 300mm primes in terms of pure acuity while retaining the outstanding color rendition and small-scale contrast that gives its images the snap and pop that distinguishes them from those of lesser lenses. Not only do I not hesitate to use this lens at 300mm, I do it at every opportunity. I know the images I get will look just as good, in any non-trivial way, as those at shorter focal lengths or made with any other lens I’ve had the opportunity to use. That’s a giant leap away from what I said about the first sample of this lens I owned, by the way: watch those sample variations!

I now give this lens a five star rating. Despite its minor issues with feel and handling, it offers such exceedingly good performance, and is so impressively superior to any of its competition within its price and focal length range, that I can not give it any less. It becomes for me, along with the 16-85mm VR, the 85mm f/1.4 and a couple of others, one of the few standout lenses that I will always be happy to have on my camera, confident that any just about any photograph taken with them will have first-rate, no-excuses image quality that for practical purposes could not have been exceeded. Remember, though, that my initial review of this lens gave it three stars. That is a BIG difference between samples: take care to ensure that you get a good one. If you do, it won’t disappoint.

Notes:

VR – This lens has Nikon’s VR vibration reduction system. It is very good. Although not the upgraded VR implementation later introduced as VRII, this lens’ VR does seem to offer subjectively improved VR performance than some early iterations of the VR technology, such as that found on the 70-200mm VRI and 80-400mm VR lenses; and it also seems to me to be a step more advanced than the VR found on some of the lower-cost lenses, notably the 55-200mm and 18-105mm VR lenses. As to VR itself, any variety, the secret is long-since out: it’s a revelation. Don’t even consider buying a lens in this range without VR unless you have a specialized use in mind that doesn’t require it. That might include tripod-only use or sports photography. VR makes a lens like this easily hand-holdable in normal lighting conditions, and hand-holdable in low light with some care. That by itself is a revolutionary improvement in the accessibility of telephoto photography to photographers at every level, and also to the quality of the resulting images. Anybody who grew up using non-VR telephoto lenses knows you’re almost always on the margins of camera shake when using them, often having to chuck three out of every four photos to get one good one. VR cures that completely.

Focusing – Fast and accurate. Nikon’s top-level pro AF-S lenses have exceedingly quick, snappy focusing, and the 70-300 doesn’t quite match them, but it is generally only one full step behind – a fraction longer to lock on; still quick. It is much quicker than the other consumer-grade AF-S lenses and also faster than the older screw-drive pro lenses, even on a pro body (with a couple of exceptions, perhaps). Out beyond 200mm it does drop off, as less light is reaching the focus sensors and the acuity has dropped a bit. For tracking motion out beyond 200mm, it will not come close to matching the pro lenses. In these cases I find the quickest way to lock focus is to back off the zoom, lock on, and then re-zoom. Cumbersome, unfortunately.

Bokeh – Quite good with this lens, a surprising deviation from most of Nikon’s consumer lenses. It is better to my eyes than that of any of the lenses mentioned below except the 70-200 VR and possibly the 300mm lenses. Bokeh is important in a lens like this: at 300mm, even with an f/5.6 max aperture, it’s easy to generate a great deal of background blur. That produced by the 70-300 VR is smooth, not likely to be distracting and adds to my confidence in recommending it vs. more expensive, professional zooms.

Vs. 80-400mm VR – The 80-400 VR is a great lens, but it is a full technological generation behind the 70-300 VR. It is a pro-level lens in terms of feel and build quality, and it is nicer to use.

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