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Brian Tobey
Nikon NIKKOR 70-300mm f 4.5-5.6G VR AF-S

NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR G AF-S

POWERFUL TELEPHOTO 4.3X ZOOM | NEW $589

SHARPNESS:
 
8.8
BOKEH:
 
8.0
BUILD:
 
8.6
VALUE:
 
9.0
OVERALL:
 
8.6

PROSCONS
NICE VR
LONG FOCAL RANGE
AFFORDABLE

Last Updated: January 4, 2012 | By Brian Tobey Email Google+

SUMMARY


INTRODUCTION:

Nikon NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR AF-S

The Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR is a great lens for the price. Built for full frame FX cameras, it works great on both DX and FX. Sure there are lots of alternatives to consider when searching for a lens in this focal range. This lens stands out because of its optical quality, affordability and compatibility. It is quite versatile, and can be found in bags of all types of photographers.

Although it’s not the fastest lens (f/4.5-5.6), it’s more portable than the faster lenses in its focal range. I bring mine to sporting events like Hockey or Baseball. I prefer to use it on a DX camera for the extra reach. Oh and VR is fantastic. It uses Nikon’s improved VR system, “VR-II”, which is marketed as providing 4 additional f-stops of camera shake.

Nikon produces an older version of this lens without the VR feature, which sells for much cheaper. However, I’d stay away from it, its performance is much worse. Much much worse. Unlike the non VR model, this VR 70-300mm is built tougher with greater optical performance.

DX CAMERAS:

The Nikon 70-300mm VR works great for DX cameras. The equivalent focal range on DX is 105 to 450mm. DX provides a huge advantage at getting that extra reach. The 70-300mm has a built in silent wave autofocus motor, so it can autofocus with entry level DSLRs like the D3100 and D5100.

PURPOSE:

The 70-300mm provides a powerful zoom magnification at an affordable price point. With its VR-II stabilization, it can be used handheld with both FX and DX cameras to capture subjects at far distances. It works great for all types of photography including, nature, landscape, portraits, or general travel photography.


LIMITATIONS:

There are not many limitations of the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR. However, it is not the fastest lens, and you may want to consider other alternatives for fast action or low-light use.




PERFORMANCE


- SAMPLES (D700) -

Sample Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S NIKKOR 2
Sample Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S NIKKOR 3
Sample Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S NIKKOR 4

SHARPNESS:

The 70-300mm lens is sharp in the center wide-open from 70mm through 200mm. However, at 300mm it never really gets super sharp, even at f/11. I rarely shoot this lens at 300mm, but it is nice to have in case there is a need to get closer. The sweet spot of the lens is at f/8 between 70mm and 200mm, at this range the corners are sharp as well. If you want ultimate sharpness, consider the more expensive zooms. However, this 70-300mm is sharper than any DX lens I've used at these focal lengths.

At f/16 (FX), diffraction begins to set in, the overall sharpness is reduced.



- NIKON SPECIFICATIONS -
GLASS17 ELEMENTS / 12 GROUPS
DIAPHRAGM9 ROUNDED BLADES
MINIMUM APERTUREf / 32
CLOSE FOCUS4.90 FT (149.4 CM)
DEPTH OF FIELD SCALEYes
WEIGHT745 GRAMS (26.28 OUNCES)
DIMENSIONS83mm Diam x 88.5mm L
FILTERS67MM
MAXIMUM REPRODUCTION RATIO1:4.00




NIKON'S MARKETING:

Below are Nikon’s published MTF charts which show the contrast (10 lp/mm) and sharpness (30 lp/mm) of the 70-300mm VR at its largest aperture. It is a bit misleading because this lens is sharp from 70mm through 200mm and gets softer at 300mm. You can kind of see this in the chart with the black lines at towards the center (between 0 and 10 mark x-axis). What these MTF charts do not show you is how well it performs stopped down some. It’s f/8 performance is great from 70mm through 200mm. MTF is a lab test and is limited. Read more about MTF.






DISTORTION:

70-300mm vr distortion

The 70-300mm has some distortion when used on either an FX or DX camera. The good news is none of it is complex, and can easily be corrected in post processing. Adobe software has a correction lens profile for the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR. Just simply enable the lens profile in lightroom under develop settings to instantly correct the distortion. If you want to perform a course manual adjustment, the table below is what I found required.


FOCAL LENGTHFXDXCX
70mm+3.0+1.0+0.4
100mm-1.0-0.40
200mm-3.0-1.8-0.8
300mm-3.0-0.8-0.2



CHROMATIC ABERRATION:

The 70-300mm has some minor lateral chromatic aberration. It is easily correctable, and modern Nikon digital cameras correct it in the camera’s internal processing (Not in RAW). The lens does not exhibit any longitudinal or axial chromatic aberration.



VIGNETTE / LIGHT FALL OFF:

Light fall off, or vignetting, is not a major issue with this lens. Although at 300mm f/5.6 I did observe some minor transmission loss throughout the entire frame. The light fall off is pretty much gone by f/8. The image below shows the light fall off at 70mm and at 300mm at various apertures. Adobe Lightroom version 3 or greater will correct for light fall off, simply enable the lens profile.

Vignette Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR G AF-S Light Fall off


FLARE:

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S Flare

Most long zoom lenses are notorious for producing flare when pointed at bright elements. Clearly this lens has some flare when pointed at the sun. It is not an issue when the sun nears the horizon, like at sunset or sunrise. Overall flare is not a big concern with this lens, just be aware that with its long reach, it can produce flare when pointed at really bright objects. Use common sense.


COLOR ACCURACY:

Color rendition is not as important as it sounds for everyday shooting. In the studio, however, it is important. The 70-300mm is not the type of lens you’d use in a studio. With that note, the 70-300mm has some red-orangish hue to it. It is not a big deal, and can be corrected by adjusting the white balance. You can see the difference when comparing it to the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR-II in the bokeh example below.


BOKEH:

The 70-300mm has descent bokeh. Although not the best, it does a pretty nice job compared to other lenses in its price range. The cheaper DX alternatives, like the 55-300mm, 55-200mm, and even 18-200mm have much worse bokeh. In the example below, I have compared it to the professional 70-200mm f/2.8G VR-II AF-S. Unfortunately the example did not work as well as I had hoped because the 70-200mm when focused closely reduces is magnification power. So at focal length 200mm it behaves more like 135mm lens. Therefore I had to crop in the shot some for the 70-200mm, which in turn made the out of focus size appear larger than in the 70-300mm. Overall, when you look closely, you can see how the blurred circles of the 70-200mm are slightly more Gaussian. However, the 70-300mm does a fine job.

Nikon BOKEH 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S Comparison


HANDLING:

The lens features autofocus with manual focus override. This allows you to grab the focus ring at anytime and manually focus. Switches on the side of the camera adjust the VR settings and autofocus settings. The zoom ring turns easily with good resistance. The focus ring is a bit small and turns with some resistance. When zoomed, the front barrel extends and almost doubles the length of the lens. The focus is internal so the front element does not turn when focusing. (This is important when using filters like a polarizer.)

The focus will shift when zooming, so always refocus with every focal length adjustment. The zoom ring is stiff enough to not exhibit any zoom creep. Zoom creep occurs when the zoom ring is so loose that gravity can move the zoom when holding it up or down. Also, there is significant amount of air movement when zooming. This is the biggest disappointment of this lens, because overtime dust will invade.


USE WITH VIDEO:

I would not fully recommend using this lens with video. When changing focus, the magnification changes slightly. Also, when zooming, the focus shifts. I would stick to prime lenses for most serious video action.

70-300mm nikon f/4.5-5.6 af-s g vr d700

AUTOFOCUS:

The autofocus is moderately quick, silent, and always dead on accurate. Although the focus is faster than most DX lenses in its focal range, it is not as fast as the more professional long zooms, like the 70-200mm f/2.8 or 300mm f/4.

Manual focus is easy, just grab the focus ring. The M/A feature allows full manual override at any time.


BUILD QUALITY:

The 70-300mm feels well built. Although the exterior is mostly plastic, the internals are mostly metal and has a good weight to it. It has a mental mount with a rubber weather gasket. The filter thread is plastic. The focus ring is made of plastic and feels plasticy. The focus ring is small. The larger zoom ring however, has a comfortable rubber surround and turns nicely.


70-300mm VR size comparison

COMPATIBILITY:

All modern Nikon cameras work great with this lens. However, older film cameras which require an aperture ring will lose some functionality.


SIZE COMPARISON:

The 70-300mm is a long lens. Although not as large in diameter as the professional zooms, it does have similar length when extended to 300mm focal length. The image to the right shows it compared to the professional 70-200mm VR-II. You can see it is a bit smaller in diameter, but nearly just as long. Also notice that the zoom ring is larger. The good news is that it weighs much less than the 70-200mm.



FILTERS:

It takes 67mm screw on filters. Vignetting may be an issue if you stack more than two filters.



HOOD:

The HB-36 lens hood comes packaged with the lens. It is the standard plastic bayonet type. I would recommend using the lens hood mostly for protection as well as flare reduction. The hood comes off and on with ease and snaps into place. It can be reversed for portability.



SERIAL NUMBERS:

The serial number is positioned just below the “Made in Thailand” sticker. USA lenses will be prefixed with “US”. Serial numbers range from 2006000 – 2800000. Nearly 800,000 have been produced, all of which came from Thailand.




PRICING - PURCHASE SUGGESTIONS


PRICING HISTORY:


Current eBay Auctions
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VRII Lens. Absolutely Mint Cond.

CURRENT PRICE: $292
BID COUNT: 27
END DATE: Friday the 24th
END TIME: 00:48 ZULU

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

CURRENT PRICE: $264
BID COUNT: 23
END DATE: Thursday the 23rd
END TIME: 18:01 ZULU

Nikon Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SWM AF-S VR IF ED M/A Lens Excellent Cond

CURRENT PRICE: $240
BID COUNT: 12
END DATE: Saturday the 25th
END TIME: 21:21 ZULU

PURCHASING SUGGESTIONS:

I recommend purchasing this lens used. Nikon produced a large amount of these lenses and the used market is saturated with them. They are built tough and will last a long time, so purchasing used should not be a concern.

It is also a fairly modern lens, so I would not be too concerned about serial numbers. Instead, I would be more concerned about finding one with minimal wear and tear. Do not buy one that has been dropped or has any indication that it has been dropped. The table to the left shows current ebay auctions. I would recommend purchasing it from eBay or locally on craigslist, etc.

If you are considering buying this lens new, it comes at a high price. I would look at Amazon or Adorama. They usually have decent discounts, even with Nikon’s new pricing policy.



CONCLUSION



RECOMMENDATIONS:

If you’re in the market for a long reach zoom lens, I would recommend the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, especially if you are looking for something that is compatible with both FX and DX. The performance and build quality is a step up from other similar DX lenses like the 55-300mm VR or 55-200mm VR.

I would also recommend the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR when considering the 28-300mm FX VR. Although the 28-300mm covers nearly every focal length, it is heavy, bigger, and comes with a much higher price tag. Sure changing lenses means that you can miss opportunities, but most of the time you don’t and you can almost always use your feet to move back and forward.

For low-light users, I would look elsewhere. The older 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D is an option or if you have the cash the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR or VR-II is excellent.

I would recommend this lens over the 300mm f/4 AF-S. The 300mm f/4 is out dated and needs an update. It also lacks VR. Although, the 300mm f/4 is a great lens and it is compatible with Nikon's teleconverters which can extend the focal range further.

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