on February 23, 2007
After exhaustive research on many lens, I finally decided to plunk down the $500+ (at the time this was written) to purchase this lens. It may not be the best on the market but it compliments my Nikon 18-70mm DX lens nicely. I was looking towards Nikon's 18-200mm DX lens, however; the price pushed me to choose this one (as it was nearly half the price and my two lens can nearly cover all the range of the one 18-200mm).
build quality is cheap yet sturdy... the plastic is a little chinky but cuts down on the weight. My Nikon D200 has no problem handling the lens weight, however; I have heard (unconfirmed) reports that this lens is a little heavy for the lighter cameras (D80, D70, D40, ETC). The Ring Connector is metal and has a rubber gasket on the outside so as to provide minor protection (for the lens mount) from the elements.
You also have to keep this in mind, when discussing weight, quality & price; the bulk of the price of this lens is going into the glass elements (all 17 elements of them). It gets expensive when you place that many high-quality optics into a tube. I'm really not that surprised a the price, although $400 price-range would probably be more suitable for this lens
Focusing can be quite fast... at times. You'll find, at the Max 300mm focal range, that the lens has a pretty hard time auto-focusing in on a subject. At times it would focus pretty quick, at the 300mm range, while at others it cannot focus at all. You can get around this quirk by bringing the subject into near focus (manually) then letting the auto-focus take over; it works every time. I find this focus problem disappointing especially given the price of this lens.
The quality of the Bokeh (Out of focus areas of the photograph) is very nice and pleasing. The images are sharp, vignetting (dark areas in the corner of your photos) is hard to find and lens flare rarely a problem.
All I can say is that it works... it can come in handy. It's not going to stop the image guaranteed for you; it's only meant to slow down the rate at which the camera moves (vibration from holding). You can notice the difference; with it off you'll see that the image (at say 300mm) really bouncing around; then you flick on VR. It takes a sec or two but then the image smooths out, it still wobbles around, but much more slowly.
With VR enabled, you can usually go 2-3 (sometimes 4) stops down, then what you'd normally be able to do when hand holding.
THE "SHOCK" TEST:
I haven't "shock tested" my lens yet (IE dropped it) but I have heard (again unconfirmed reports here) that it holds up pretty well to a drop... although I would never recommend testing that out.
The 70-300mm range should be noted: Although the lens states that it is a 70-300mm zoom, this lens was intended for a 35mm camera or full-frame CCD/CMOS sensor Digital Camera. All (or at least the majority) of Nikon's DSLR (D200, D80, ETC) are NOT Full-Frame sensors. They are approximately 1.5x factor of a full-frame sensor (due to the smaller sensor size).
What does this all mean?
Well it's simple, since this is a 35mm lens and not a DX lens (ie built to account for the 1.5x factor in most nikon digitals) you have to apply the 1.5x conversion. This means that the Nikon 70-300mm on a Nikon DSLR will give an apparent zoom equivalent to a 105-450mm lens. I actually do not mind this apparent zoom and this should also cut down on vignetting; as what the lens projects onto the sensor is larger then the area of the sensor itself. In short: parts of the image spills over the sensor, since this lens was meant to project onto a full-frame sensor/35mm film.
Fast Auto-Focus (when working properly)
Vignetting is minimal
Image Stabilization (VR)
Flare is minimal
1.5x factor (105-450mm) makes for nice zoom
Colors are very good
Near Inability to Auto-Focus at 300mm range
Price (even though it is cheaper then the 18-200mm DX)
1.5x factor (105-450mm) might make it more zoom then you need
Lens could be faster (F/4 would have been nice)
I love this lens, even for it's quirks, however; you may want to wait till it drops in price a little more (it falls almost bi-weekly). It may not be the fastest on the market, but it's size, optics, image quality and VR make this a must have lens for Serious Nikon users!
on February 20, 2009
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.
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. It produces beautiful, sharp, contrasty images that are in general difficult to tell apart from those of the 70-300 VR. When you look closely, the 70-300 is the sharper of the two, by a fair margin. It is also lighter and easier to carry, and much less expensive, and it offers decidedly better AF performance thanks to its very good AF-S focusing system. To my eyes, the 80-400 VR matches the 70-300 VR's excellent, snappy, contrasty color rendition, or at least the difference is too close to call.
Vs. f/2.8 70-200/80-200 Zooms - The 70-300 VR has better VR than the original 70-200 VR, and if it doesn't quite match it for pure optical acuity when formally tested, it certainly seemed to match it in my use. The 70-200 VR is a VERY good lens, at least for DX, but unless you need the f/2.8 maximum aperture and are willing to carry it around (not a small issue), the 70-300 VR is in my opinion its equal, even looking closely. Older lenses like the 80-200 AF-S and 80-200 AF-D are excellent lenses as well, but they lack VR, are not sharper than the 70-300, and they are still heavier and more expensive. The catch is that these lenses are the only way to get the fast f/2.8 aperture that really is critical for many types of photography. That, and their superior build quality, is in my opinion their only advantage.
Vs 70-300 AF-D and 70-300G - The AF-D lens is a good lens, half the price of this VR version, but I don't think it's quite half the lens: the VR is substantially better in every important way. The AF-G version is one of the few Nikon lenses that is actually fairly poor in terms of optical performance. If cost or size is an issue I would forgo both of these for the 55-200 VR, which is a very good lens: smaller, sharper, and it has VR.
Vs. 55-200 VR - I love the 55-200 VR, and for many photographers it will be a better choice than the 70-300 VR. The 70-300 is definitely the better lens: better focusing, better VR, sharper (though the 55-200 is sharp, as well) and with visibly better, contrastier colors. But the 55-200 is much smaller, much less expensive, and surprisingly close in performance. Unless the difference in price is of little importance to you; or if you prefer smaller, unobtrusive lenses that still manage do their job exceedingly well, consider the 55-200 VR instead. The 55-200 has poor bokeh, which might rule it out for some, and it is a DX-only lens, which rules it out for film and FX users.
Vs 300mm f/2.8 AF-S II - I'm joking, right? Well, nobody is going to consider these lenses as alternatives to one another. You spend several thousand dollars on a 300/2.8 lens because you need the f/2.8 max aperture, and the 70-300 doesn't have that. Just as a matter of pure interest, though, at f/5.6 or f/8 I could not tell the difference between these two lenses in terms of sharpness, and I found the 300/2.8 couldn't match the 70-300 VR for color rendition. I spent a fair amount of time comparing the 70-300 VR, the 300mm f/4 and the 300mm f/2.8, and at f/5.6 the 70-300 was my pick. (I've since gotten rid of the f/2.8, though not due to the comparison with the 70-300 VR).
on January 2, 2008
I'm loving this lens, I really am. For $500, this lens is on par with the Nikon professional line of lenses, sans the wallet breaking prices. Yes, you are getting a plastic body (albeit high-quality) instead of a metal body, and it's a variable aperture instead of a constant one. But really, the differences end there. The lens is incredibly sharp from 70 up to about 200, where it tapers off some. Also, it has a curved 9 bladed aperture design which gives a pleasing looking bokeh. By comparison, the 17-55mm 2.8 gold ring lens has 7 curved aperture blades. Not necessarily the fairest comparison, but just wanted to note some of things you get for what you pay.
Like all telephoto lenses, the 70-300 is sizeable at 745g (1.6lbs roughly), and with the attached lens hood, it's hard to escape attention. I've gotten many "now THAT'S a lens!" comments while using it. I guess all my other lenses must not be real or something. However, I use this on a D80 with a battery grip which really helps balance the lens out and makes it far more comfortable to hold. Generally the weight of the lens is rested on my left hand under the barrel which makes it feel far lighter, but the weight still adds on my neck, especially if I use it with my sb600. Getting an aftermarket soft material neck strap has really helped out a lot, and gets me away from the large Nikon "steal-me" strap lettering.
The real meat and potatoes of this gem of a lens is the second generation VR technology which is rated for a full 4 stops of shaky, wobbly hand stoppage rather the 3 stops offered on the 70-200 VR. This has been tested by many independent reviewers and proven to be true. If the opinion of one non-professional reviewer can be added to that, I'm here to say I wholeheartedly agree with them. I've gotten shutter speeds down to 1/10th hand held and still come out with relatively decent shots. While this won't help you too much with sports shots, since you should be using a relatively fast shutter speed anyway, most other shots will benefit from it.
So uses? I've found this lens to be great for outdoor sports shots, daylight candid and some nature shots. It's also makes an excellent portrait lens under studio lights in the 70-105 range. Due to the slower aperture, it isn't terribly useful for indoor sport shots. The 70-200 2.8 would serve you better. Shots of the moon are also fun to take, but you'll need to do some sharpening in post if you take the shot at 300 where the lens is a bit soft, and will need to stop down a bit to correct that. Vignetting as expected is non-existent, but there is some CAs on the far telephoto end. These are correctable in Photoshop however.
All in all, you get second generation VR, 9 bladed aperture for pleasing bokeh, sharp optics, and relatively good build construction on par with the gold ring 12-24 f/4 (a professional lens with a plastic body), and being a non DX lens (doesn't have a reduced image circle) so you get to take advantage of the sweet spot. Drawbacks' being it is heavy, variable aperture, soft 200+ and does suffer from CAs at the far end. However, it is definitely a lens I will have for many years to come, and one I can confidently recommend to anyone.