Nikon 70-300mm VR
Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR (FX, DX and 35mm coverage, 67mm filters, 26.2 oz./745g, 5'/1.5 m close focus, about $497 new or about $300 used if you know How to Win at eBay). bigger. I'd get it at Amazon or B&H or used at eBay. Sometimes you can find them reconditioned at Adorama.
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This Nikon 70-300mm VR was the latest of many 70-300mm range zooms from Nikon back in 2006, and today is replaced by the 70-300mm AF-P VR which has faster autofocus but little to no compatibility with older cameras.
This lens was the first 70-300 to add Vibration Reduction (VR) to eliminate the need for a tripod, AFS focusing to allow instant manual focus override, and several hundred dollars in added expense. It's the only 70-300mm range lens that will autofocus on the D40, D3000, D60 and D5000.
For FX and film, this was my favorite tele zoom because it weighs less than the f/2.8 lenses and less than the 80-400mm VR.
This 70-300mm VR is the very best modern tele zoom lens to get if you prefer a dedicated tele zoom over a do-it-all zoom and want light weight and moderate price.
It's a nice semi-plasticy amateur lens with a metal mount. If you need tougher, spend twice as much on the fully professional 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D for $1,100. If you can do without VR (I can't), get the non-VR 70-300mm G for $150.
For DX, if you already have the Nikon 18-200mm VR, I won't bother getting this lens, too, since most of the range is already covered by the 18-200mm.
This 70-300mm VR G AFS lens works perfectly on all digital cameras, and most autofocus film cameras made since about 1990.
It's a G-type lens with no aperture ring. It won't work on any manual focus camera.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for more. Look in the G and the AF-S columns; you get the least of the features mentioned.
Nikon 70-300mm VR. bigger.
1.) Very sharp from 70-200mm.
2.) VR, which means you leave your tripod at home.
3.) Low distortion.
4.) Big, fat zoom ring.
5.) Evenly spaced zooming - no bunching up at either end.
6.) Easy manual focus.
7.) Fast autofocus.
8.) AF is very accurate.
1.) Plasticy barrel, but that's how we get the low weight I love.
2.) Plasticy, sticky zoom feel.
3.) VR makes a weird water-running sound. I can feel it through the camera body as it runs. (Other VR lenses merely hiss.)
Switches: Nikon 70-300mm VR.
Nikon calls this the Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5 - 5.6G IF-ED
AFS: Quiet AF and instant manual focus override. Just grab the focus ring.
VR II: Vibration Reduction, new version. This means you can get sharp pictures without a tripod. Nikon claims four stops sharper.
G: No aperture ring. Only works on cameras newer than about 1992.
IF: Internal Focusing. Nothing moves on the outside of the lens when it focuses.
ED: Magic glass for sharper images
SWM: Silent Wave Motor for fast, quiet focusing.
All this and more explained in greater depth on my Nikon Lens Technology page.
If used on a DX camera, it gives a field of view similar to the field of view of a 105 - 450 mm lens used on FX or 35mm film. (see Crop Factor.)
f/4.5 - 5.6.
17 elements, 12 groups, including two ED glass elements.
The yellow elements are ED. The red box shows the VR group.
Lovely 9 blade rounded.
Stops down to f/32 - 40.
Don't ever stop down this far because diffraction will give you very soft images.
4.5' (1.37m), actually measured, from image plane (back of camera).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
3.1 x 5.6" (80 x 143.5 mm).
26.260 oz (744.4g), as measured by me, naked (the lens, not me).
HB-36 plastic bayonet, included.
Soft case included.
Nikon Product Number
09 August, 2006.
10 December 2006.
$587, November 2014.
$587, May 2013.
$520, October-November 2010.
$540, August, 2010.
Nikon 70-300mm VR.
It performs better than any of the previous 70-300mm lenses.
This is the lens to get if your subjects hold still. If you need to shoot moving things in lower light, get the faster 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D instead. If size, weight and cost are no object (they are for me), get the 70-200mm VR or 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II.
Autofocus is as fast as my super-fast 80-200 AFS.
If you start off completely out of focus (subject at 6 feet and lens at infinity for instance) you may need to move it manually to get it started, and if it's way out of focus it may first focus in the wrong direction, bounce off the stop and head back the other way to acquire your target. So long as you're in the right zone, focus is fast!
It's as fast, or maybe a little slower, as the 18-200mm VR.
It's much faster than the pokey 80-400mm VR and the other 70-300mm class lenses.
It's as fast as my super-fast 80-200 AFS.
It's still not instantaneous as the Canons are, but it's much more accurate and consistent.
Sound and Noise
Focus is almost silent.
Manual Focus: Plastic on plastic.
Autofocus: About the same.
Ease of Manual Focusing
Excellent. One firm fingertip can move the always-on manual focus ring.
AF is dead-on at all focal lengths.
It's slower than Canon and it may be pokey at times, and the good news is that every shot comes out perfect.
Breathing is a motion picture term which refers to what happens as you pull (change) focus from near to far.
This Nikon 70-300mm VR changes magnification a little as focused.
Bokeh is neutral and much better than my 18-200mm VR. Here are complete images at the longer focal lengths shot on DX. The subject was 10 feet (3m) away.
At 100mm I cropped and show only the middle 50% of each dimension, resulting in twice the magnification of the other images. At 70mm I took the middle third of each dimension, or triple the magnification.
It has none on any modern Nikon introduced since about 2006.
On older generation cameras, it has just a little at the longest focal lengths. This lens is approved by the PPLFPA, Professional Patio and Lawn Furniture Photographers' Association, with a grade of "B." On Gen 2 cameras, it has none.
Here are the full DX guide images from which the crops are taken:
These crops are unsharpened and taken from Large Basic JPG originals.
Since I shot at five focal lengths, not 4, I had an extra spot open in this layout so I added a snap of me and the baby working on this. That's what you get for reading a noncommercial website!
It has a rubber gasket on the lens mount to keep crud out of your camera.
Filter Threads: Plastic.
Focus Ring: Ribbed hard plastic, only very slightly rubbery.
Markings: Paint. Gold metal nomenclature plate.
Internals: Mostly metal with some plastic.
Noises when shaken: Lots of klunking. This is normal.
Made in: Thailand.
Distortion on DX is quite good, much better than the 18-200mm VR.
On FX, it has moderate distortion.
Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion for critical use.
© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
Here's the proverbial Bad Photographers' Wall of Shame as seen on DX:
Here's a larger version of it at 70mm. Move your mouse over it to see it after correction with Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter per the table below.
Distortion on DX at 70mm, before and after correction (mouse-over).
This 70-300mm VR lens has very little, if any, falloff towards the corners of a DX frame. It is far superior to the 18-200mm VR, which has dark corners at 200mm and f/5.6 on DX.
This is the falloff as seen on a digital camera. It will be worse on film and FX. From what little I tried it, it still seems pretty good on my F100.
These are shots of an Expodisc. This is a tough test which shows even the slightest falloff. You'll never see this in normal photography. Ignore the minor exposure variations between frames.
Even better, I see excellent exposure uniformity between frames.
Falloff on DX. FX will be worse.
It works great on my F100. VR and AF work fine.
It works great on the F6 and F5.
If you go as far back as the F4, you lose VR, aperture-priority and manual exposure, while autofocus, matrix metering, Program and shutter-priority modes all work great.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for more. Look in the G and the AF-S columns; you get the least of the features mentioned.
Since it's designed for film cameras, you'll never have a vignetting problem, even with several stacked filters, on a digital camera. (See Crop Factor.)
On a film camera there's no problem either, even with two stacked filters. if you're going to have a problem, it will be at 100mm. Check there first if you're planning on using three or more stacked filters on a film camera.
There's no need for expensive thin-mount filters.
Here are shots looking directly into the blinding California sun. This isn't a nice sunset, it's looking directly at the sun. These photos don't convey how violently bright the sun was, except for the CCD blooming which is the camera's way of saying "Stop this idiocy before you go blind, you moron!"
Built-in flashes are often close enough to the camera that ultrawide lenses can see far enough down to see their shadow cast by a built-in flash.
This lens has no problem: it can't focus close enough or go wide enough, so even at it's closest focus distance there is no shadow from the built-in flash.
The effective focal lengths don't change with distance.
While the 300mm end of the 28-300mm VR gets shorter as you get closer, this 70-300mm remains an honest 300mm at every subject distance.
at closest focus (4.5') at 300mm on DX, full image.
100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.
No news here, this is typical for these kinds of lenses.
The serial number laser engraved (burnt black on black) into the plastic on the bottom rear of the lens barrel, just under "Nikon, SWM VR ED IF ø67, Made in Thailand."
Lenses for the USA have serial numbers prefixed by "US." If all you have is a number without "US" and you bought it in the USA, you most likely got stuck with a gray market lens and aren't covered by any warranty from Nikon. In the USA, Nikon warrants the their lenses for five years.
This 70-300mm VR works great on FX. It's sharp at all settings, except may just a tad softer in the far corners at 70mm and f/4.5.
Here are my observations on a D200 at 100%. Letters correspond to center - side - corner. Possible ratings are E - VG - G - F - P. These are subjective. Don't fret over differences between adjacent grades.
* Be sure you've got perfect focus.
It's normal for tele zooms to be worst at the long end, and that's the case here. It's much better at 200mm and below. Weirdly, it was worst at f/11, and got better at f/16! This is something weird. I have no explanation for it, but since I saw performance dip at f/11 I wanted to mention it. Use f/8 if you can, or f/16 if you need depth of field.
Of course sharpness is awful at f/22 and f/32 due to diffraction, like all lenses. This is due to the laws of physics, around which no lens yet has maneuvered.
It's noisy. You won't hear it in a camera store, but in a silent room I can hear the VR running at arm's length. This is normal.
Focus is quiet, but the VR system hisses and sounds like running water. It's noisier than the 18-200mm VR. The 18-200mm only hisses, but the 70-300mm hisses and hums.
I can feel the vibration of the lens' vibration reduction system when holding my camera!
You'll also hear a klunk when the VR starts, and another klunk when it shuts off a few seconds after you release the shutter.
Focusing and zooming sounds like plastic sliding on plastic.
This lists the percentage of sharp shots that I get with and without VR. The first figure is without VR, and the second is with VR.
Read Why VR is Important to understand more about what these ratings mean.
Now let's chart the slowest speed to get 50% sharp shots at each focal length, and with that, we can calculate how many stops we gain with VR.
"Real Stops Improvement" are how many extra stops I got, VR ON compared to VR OFF.
"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from VR OFF to VR ON, but instead comparing the speed one can use with VR ON to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length. That's called Lying with Statistics, and that's par for the course for marketing departments.
TIP: In dim light, fire several shots and pick the sharpest. Blur is a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even at slow speeds!
I live in the USA. My site gets read worldwide, so this won't apply to you if you're outside the USA. Any questions? Call Nikon in your country. In the USA, they are at (800) NIKON-US.
Lenses for the USA have serial numbers prefixed by "US." If all you have is a number without "US" and you bought it in the USA, you most likely got stuck with a gray market lens and aren't covered by any warranty from Nikon.
In the USA, Nikon warrants their lenses for five years.
I love the big fat zoom ring and the evenly-spaced focal lengths.
Many zooms crunch the focal lengths together at one end of the scale. Not the 70-300mm VR; everything is very well spaced.
Sadly it feels plasticy and there is stiction. Stiction, or static fraction, means you have to turn a little harder to get the ring to start moving than you do to keep it moving. This makes it difficult to set an exact focal length, since it's almost impossible to move the zoom ring just a little bit at a time.
Air blows out my camera eyepiece as I zoom.
The zoom will not creep, pointed up or down. This is a side benefit of stiction.
Focus Shift while Zooming
Focus shifts little, but it's still better to focus after you zoom.
Actual Focal Lengths
The focal lengths appear accurate at infinity. Here's a comparison of the 18-200mm VR and this 70-300mm VR at their 200mm settings at infinity:
IF (internal focus) lenses shorten their effective focal lengths as they focus more closely. The 18-200mm VR focuses much more closely than the 70-300mm VR, 1.5' instead of 4.5.' At ten feet at the 200mm setting it's obvious that the 70-300mm VR is holding 200mm better than the 18-200mm VR:
How different is 300mm compared to 200mm?
Getting to 300mm vs. 200mm is a main reason people get the 70-300mm VR over the 18-200mm for DX, so lets see how much difference there is.
This compares these settings on the 70-300. This isn't comparing the 70-300 directly to the 18-200. That's another day's work.
Focal Length Encoding Accuracy
The EXIF data agrees with the settings marked on the lens at 70, 100, 135, 200 and 300mm. it is fairly precise, so if you're just a little off the EXIF data will also be just a few millimeters off.
I have not correlated the accuracy of the markings to the actual focal lengths.
Today the 70-300mm AF-P VR replaces this original VR lens, with faster autofocus but little to no compatibility with older cameras.
The newer 28-300mm VR does the same thing with about the same size and weight, and also covers the rest of the range down to 28mm. It costs more, but if you get a 28-300mm, it renders a 70-300mm completely unnecessary.
This Nikon 70-300mm VR offered the best compromise of size, weight, price and image quality among all Nikon's tele zooms, until the arrival of the 70-300mm AF-P VR. they all cover FX, 35mm film and DX.
For DX I prefer the 18-200mm VR for its greater flexibility. I'll trade the 200 - 300 mm range in exchange for the all-encompassing zoom range of the 18-200mm, as well as the closer and more reliable focusing of the 18-200mm.
As of September 2009 this 70-300mm VR was the combination of performance, size and weight. I'm not going to take an f/2.8 zoom or the 80-400mm VR since they weigh too much to want to carry around all day, but today I use the 28-300mm VR to cover everything, or the 70-300mm AF-P VR if I need a small basic FX tele.
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