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Nikon Nikkor-P 300mm f/4.5 Test Review (manual focus, not AI)
© 2004 KenRockwell.com

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Introduction

This was the world's first 300mm lens with an automatic diaphragm. It was introduced in the mid 1960s.

Remember that you need to convert it to AI for about $25 to mount it on a modern camera.

It comes in a nice genuine leather case. You can get them used today for about $200.

Specifications

This early Nikkor-P version has only five elements. Later Nikkor-H versions had six elements.

It weighs 2 pounds, 7 ounces (1100g), is 3.1" (80.0mm) in diameter and 8" (203mm) long.

It takes 72mm filters and has a built-in telescoping hood.

It focusses only as close as about 12 feet.

It has a six-bladed diaphragm that stops down to f/22.

It has two tripod mounting threads: one for horizontal photos and one for vertical. It does not have an adjustable rotating collar as modern lenses do.

Performance

It has no distortion and no ghosts. Go ahead, point it into the sun at sunset. You won't get a any ghosts like you do on the $1,700 80-200 AFS.

It has severe magenta/green secondary lateral color. This effect is the reason Nikon developed ED glass. This means that you can get green and magenta color fringes on sharply contrasting objects at the edges of your image. This effect is more obvious as one stops down, since the edges get sharper.

To be honest, the newer 300 f/4.5 ED-IF has corrected this chromatic aberration somewhat, but ultimately isn't really much better overall optically, although you would think it should be. For some reason the f/4.5 300mm Nikkors have never impressed me that much.

I actually had a tiny bubble (thank you, Lawrence Welk) inside my front element. In the good old days lens instruction manuals always cautioned that this was a "normal byproduct of precision lens manufacture," and I never saw it. I'm told that with the special glass they did concoct for this lens that one would occasionally see these bubbles and it was considered by some as a status symbol, since you could show stupider people what special glass you had. Not yet ED glass, but magic just the same.

Performance aperture-by-aperture:

f/4.5: just a little loss of sharpness. Falloff.
f/5.6 falloff gone, swell sharpness center, lateral color affects edges.
f/8: optimum.
f/11: edges become worse since chromatics become better defined at smaller apertures

It was reviewed in Modern Photography magazine in March 1966. They found f/16 optimum.

Recommendations

This lens, like all Nikon lenses of its era, is built like a tank. These were the days that Nikon was building the reputation on which it now sits. These lenses were built to last forever, and the one you buy today, 30 years later, should work just as well as when it was new.

I was never very thrilled with this lens optically. For $50 you can get the old and very good 200mm f/4 Nikkor-Q instead and just enlarge from the center with about the same quality, since the 200mm is sharper. The 200mm is also very easy to find used. Heck, the performance of many of the cheesy 70-300mm lenses out there may be just as good, but about an important stop slower.

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