Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR

I bought the Nikon 70-300mm VR lens along with my Nikon D700 as part of the package. The following review pertains to its use in FX or Full frame format aka Nikon D3 D700 and D3x. Obviously the lens is going to perform better on DX frame bodies compared to full frame, but just to note that I have not yet used it on crop sensor body.

There are 2 other Nikon lenses in this focal length range the G lens and the ED lens without VR. I do not have any significant experience in any of these lenses other than the fact that I briefly mounted the G lens on D700 and the autofocus was so bad that I did not bother anymore. It may be a bad sample but I do not know for sure.

I come from Canon world and this focal length is very familiar to me. I have used the Canon 70-20mm f/4 L IS lens and the legendary 70-200mm f/2.8 L (non IS) lens. So I am aware of what to expect from lenses in this focal length range.

I am going to include this next paragraph in all my consumer lens reviews.
This is the current lens in the Nikon line up so though it is not weather sealed but of adequate build quality. I am not the person who looses sleep overbuild quality since half of those who comment on it do not have a clue about the materials used. In modern lens standard the only relevant question is weather sealing. All else is immaterial. Most people do not realise that expensive lenses withstand the same amount of abuse as this one baring weather effects. I will try to expand on this in some future blog. But suffice to note that this lens will take a lot of abuse before showing signs of it. The zoom is smooth and precise. There is no creep or other issues.

As I have noted several times before I was a canon user for a long time. When I got the Nikon D700 the Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR was the second lens that I tried. I had already used the 24-85mm f/2.8-4 D before and was pleasantly surprised with the good image quality especially considering it is a so called “consumer grade” zoom. I was expecting something similar in the 70-300mm also but I was totally taken by the superb image quality that this lens produced. The images were simply superb for any zoom consumer or otherwise, even when compared to the excellent canon zooms in this range. I also had the option of getting the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR. I also got to try the Nikon 70-200mm VR several times when shooting with my friend. My thoughts on Nikon 70-300 vs 70-200mm AFS VR lenses.

Lets see how the lens handles the usual parameters.

Chromatic Aberration:
Any long zoom lens especially of this range covering such a wide range is going to have chromatic aberration as it is almost impossible to remove it. So this lens has some chromatic aberration but it is in very moderate amounts. As far as I am concerned the key question is how easy is it to remove the chromatic aberration using a single slider in Lightroom (or similar software) without compromising image quality in any manner. In this regard I never had any issues. The chromatic aberration is very much within acceptable and should never be an issue.

Just like chromatic aberration distortion will be present in any lens be it Samyang or Canon or Leica. The key question again is whether is it visible in real world applications and if it is removable. Yes there is minimal barrel distortion at the 70mm end which is extremely minimal and easily correctable if need be. There is moderate pin cushion almost in the entire zoom range except may be at the end of zoom closer to 300mm. This is not easily seen in routine photography but when it does you do have to spend time to remove it. It is not as easy as removing say light fall off. But overall this is not a significant problem with this lens.

There is light falloff throughout the focal length range, but once again this is minimal and easily corrected in the RAW work flow without compromising image quality. This should be even better with crop sensor cameras and you should not see any light fall off at all.

This is one which differentiates a mid priced zoom from a super expensive prime. The good aspect of this lens is it handles Flare really well. For the most part I was shooting without the hood on but even then it did fine in most of the situations. There was not ghosting that I could see either. In contrast the 24-85mm lens exhibits severe Flaring without the hood. So the Nikon 70-300mm VR is excellent in this regard, being one of the strong points.

The lens is optimized for autofocus and with the Nikon D700 this simply zips through. It is extremely fast, quickly locks on to the subject, very little AF noise and very accurate. This lens handles AF as good as any lens constrained only by its widest aperture of f/4.5-5.6.

(For in depth explanation of various Auto focus settings and custom modes in auto focus for users of Nikon D700 D3 and D300 please see

Any telephoto lens will have a good bokeh and this lens is no exception. The bokeh becomes smoother as the focal length increases. The bokeh characteristics of this lens is very good to excellent.
(Just my take on bokeh, this is a new fad in lens evaluation in the recent years, this is one parameter that is given undue overimportance to the point of neglecting the image for the background. My thoughts on this in my latter blog).

Sharpness & Resolution:
A very important parameter for any lens. This is where the Nikon 70-300mm VR AF-S showsits true potential. Whether you use wide open or stopped down the lens is extremely sharp and at the same time has exceptional resolution. From 70 to 250mm or so it is sharp corner to corner. After 250mm there is slight decrease in corner sharpness albeit better than most lenses at this focal length. The resolution is exceptional especially considering the zoom range. Thereis some complaints of sharpness at 300mm but it may be due tothe reason it is too sharp from 70-250mm. To put things in perspective the resolution at 300mm is as good or better than the Canon 100 to 400mm F/4 L lens (which by itself is a very highly regarded lens). This lens is only bettered by the latest Nikon primes (VR) in this focal length range.

The size and weight of the lens is very low for this focal length zoom. This is very light and compact compared to the 70-200 VR. The zoom ring is smooth enough does not distract from framing. The AF noise is almost unnoticeable. The minimal focus distance is 1.5m which is a tad long but usual in a zoom of this range.

If you notice I have been very optimistic about this lens. Well as with any lens there are compromises and so there are drawbacks. The main drawback is its aperture range f/4.5 to f/5.6 in its focal length range. At 70mm it is f/4.5, becomes f/5.0 at around 135mm and is a f/5.6 lens at above 200mm. With good light this is not an issue. If you shoot with D700/D3 then the excellent VR of the lens combined with the camera's good ISO, for most situations this is a non issue. But VR and ISO cannot stop motion and if your subject motion is a little fast then you really feel the need for wider apertures. This is the most important and only significant drawback that you must consider before purchasing this lens.

If the slightly slow aperture is acceptable then this lens is a bargain considering its image quality, handling, zoom range and price. For FX cameras currently (Feb 2009) there is no better VR lens at this zoom range.


  1. i trust nikon lens sharp, Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  2. Very nice and informative content, I like this Author and would like to share another really good site which is related to this article.
    Canon ef 70-200mm f/2.8l USM