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Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6G
© 2006 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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Nikon 70-300mm AF G

Nikon 70-300mm AF G. enlarge. I'd get mine at Adorama, Amazon or Ritz.

December 2006, updated April 2008

Introduction

Note: Does not autofocus with the new Nikon D40, D40x or D60.

This lens only costs about $140 brand new. The gray-market version is the deal of the century for only $110 here.

I've used this lens and it works just great. It's my first suggestion as the best inexpensive addition to a standard lens like the 18 - 55 or 18 - 70 mm lenses. I prefer this G lens to the more expensive 55 - 200 AFS (non-VR) for it's longer range and lower price. For DX digital cameras, I'd spend the extra and get the VR 55-200mm instead as the most useful inexpensive tele zoom.

The 70-300mm G is very lightweight and has a broad zoom range. At 200mm - 300mm it's soft at large apertures, which may be great for portraits but bad for landscapes. If using it for landscapes just put it on a tripod and stop down to f/11 at 300mm.

Personally I prefer my 70-210mm f/4 - 5.6 D since it's smaller, better made, focuses faster and closer, and is much sharper wide open at 210 mm, but heck, for $150 you can't go wrong. I suspect the $310 ED version is the same as this G lens optically.

If you want complete sharpness wide open at 200 mm and beyond you have to spend at least five times as much on a huge 80-200mm f/2.8 or ten times as much on the 80-400mm VR.

It seems identical to the $310 AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED with the exception of being half the price and having a plastic lens mount bayonet instead of metal. The ED version is also mostly plastic. Even the hoods and AF gearing are the same.

The only visible differences between the G and ED are:

1.) ED lens has metal mount, G has plastic. (also a slight difference in weight)
2.) ED has aperture ring, G does not. The G is easier to use for cameras made in the past ten years, and the ED can work even on ancient and manual focus film cameras.

The similarities are:

1.) Same specs for number of lens groups and elements
2.) Same size
3.) Same AF speed and gearing
4.) Same close focus distance
5.) Same nice 9-blade diaphragm
6.) Looks like the same optics inside and identical movement of the lens groups while zooming and focusing

Nikon 70-300mm G

Specifications

Nikon calls this the Nikon AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G.

It has thirteen elements in nine groups.

It takes 62mm filters.

It is 4.6" (117mm) long by 2.9" (74mm) around and weighs 17 oz (480g).

It focuses as close as 4.9 feet (1.5m), which is pretty good at 300mm.

It takes the HB-26 hood which seems identical to the HB-15 hood of the 70-300 ED lens.

It is also D compatible.

It has a great nine-bladed diaphragm.

Nikon Product Number: 1928, in catalog as of spring 2008.

Hood Nikon 70-300mm G Box

Nikon 70-300mm G HB-26 plastic bayonet hood and USA box.

Performance

Fine at most focal lengths, soft at 200 to 300 mm wide open.

It ought to be similar to the 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED AF since I suspect it has the same optics. This G lens has sloppier mechanics and a plastic mount; the three times as expensive ED version has a metal mount. I suspect the glass is the same on both but haven't actually shot them head-to head to confirm.

AF speed is identical to the 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED AF, which is slow. One full turn of the AF screw brings one from infinity to 40 feet. The 70-210mm f/4-5.6D AF is much, much faster.

Maximum Aperture:

70 mm: f/4
100 mm: f/4.2
135 mm: f/4.2
200 mm : f/5
240 mm: f/5.3
300 mm: f/5.6

Nikon 70-300mm G Bottom

Nikon 70-300mm G bottom.

Sharpness

As tested on a DX digital camera. Film will be tougher, since the real edges of the image aren't used with a digital camera's sensor. Film also has lower ISOs will lead to larger apertures and longer shutter speeds just asking for trouble.

It will be difficult for many people to get sharp images at the longer focal lengths because one will need to use smaller apertures, but that leads to longer shutter speeds and more potential for blur. Blur is also a problem because this such a lightweight lens. Big fat telephotos help stabilize camera shake due to their weight alone, and others incorporate additional special active stabilization. This $140 G lens has none of that, so don't blame softness on just the lens since it just as likely could be your technique.

70 mm:

f/4: sharp center, a little soft corners
f/5.6: sharp center, just a tad softer in the farthest corners
f/8: sharp all over
f/11: sharp all over

100 mm:

f/4.2: sharp center, softer corners
f/5.6: sharp all over, a little bit softer corners
f/8: sharp all over
f/11: sharp all over

135 mm:

f/4.2: reasonably sharp center, soft corners
f/5.6: reasonably sharp center, slightly soft corners
f/8: sharp center, slightly softer corners

200 mm:

f/5: soft; secondary lateral chromatic aberration
f/5.6: soft; secondary lateral chromatic aberration
f/8: reasonably sharp and less secondary lateral chromatic aberration
f/11: reasonably sharp.

300 mm:

f/5.6: Soft, or pleasant spherical aberration for portraits. Secondary lateral chromatic aberration.
f/8: Soft. Secondary lateral chromatic aberration.
f/11: Much better, still has secondary lateral chromatic aberration.

At 300 mm focus isn't always dead-on, either. Watch out for narrow depth of field as well at f/5.6. Try f/5.6 for deliberate soft focus effects, since that's what happens at f/5.6.

Distortion

I tested this on a digital camera. It will be worse on a film camera since film has a larger image area. Use it at about 90 mm for the least distortion.

70 mm: tiny bit of barrel distortion
100 mm: fairly neutral, just the tiniest bit of pincushion.
135 mm: very minor pincushion
200 mm: pincushion
300 mm: pincushion

Nikon 70-300mm Mount

Nikon 70-300mm G plastic mount.

Recommendations

If you are looking for a cheap, lightweight zoom for film or FX this is excellent for the price. I can't see any reason to buy the so-called ED version over this except for the metal mount and compatibility with my manual focus cameras.

For DX digital cameras, I'd suggest the VR 55-200mm instead because VR is a huge help in getting sharp pictures at long focal lengths.

For $140 US how can you go wrong? Idiots on eBay keep bidding the prices of these up above what they could buy them for new from a legitimate dealer! Try one here and if you hate it send it back. The gray market version here comes without the 5 year warranty, but for $30 less you might want to chance it.

On my D70 I can hand-hold it fine down to about 1/125 at 300 mm, at which point only about 50% of my shots are clear. Light weight works against you here, since a heavier lens would do a better job of stabilizing the setup. Of course the 80 - 400 VR lens stabilizes everything, but for over ten times the price you get less than ten times the stabilization with the 80 - 400 VR.

I doubt the glass is any different between the ED and G versions. Remember that the ED version really seems to be made by Tamron and only one small internal element claims to be ED probably for marketing and promotional reasons, not any of the important front elements. I don't really consider that the "ED" moniker means anything on the ED version.

Yes, compared to a professional lens like the huge $900 80 - 200 mm f/2.8 or $1,500 80 - 400 VR it's dinky.

If you stop it down a little or don't zoom beyond 200 mm its images look the same as the $1,000 lenses. Just don't expect it to last in heavy, daily professional abuse.

It keeps your money in your pocket where it belongs. You could spend a week in France for the $1,000 difference and make a zillion eye-popping photos you wouldn't get with a more expensive lens sitting at home. It's well worth the $150.

PLUG

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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