Nature shots are usually cropped, because it is not possible to get close enough to the subject so that you can make a frame-filling picture. A camera with a DX sensor is a perfect teleconverter for such situations. A telephoto lens on a camera with a DX sensor, like the Nikon D5500 or D7200, gives you more megapixels than a cropped picture from a shot taken with a Nikon D810, with a full-frame/FX sensor. The Nikon 300 mm f/2.8 AF-S ED VR II is an extremely compact telephoto lens, suited to nature, sport and landscape photography, with super-fast auto focus and built-in image stabilization. It is ideal for demanding (semi-)professionals who set the highest requirements for optical and mechanical quality, but for whom a Nikon 300 mm f/2.8 is still too heavy or too expensive.
Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR @ D7100, 1/800 sec, f/5.6, 400 ISOWith a shortest setting distance of 140 cm and a magnification of 1:0.25, the Nikon 300 mm f/4 PF ED VR is not really a close-up lens. If you do use this lens from a short distance, then you will benefit from an unbelievably small focal depth and a beautiful bokeh.
Build and auto focus
The two most notable characteristics of the Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR are naturally the compact dimensions (15 cm is unbelievably short for a 300 mm FX telephoto lens) and the low weight (750 grams). If you compare that with the Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4, then that is nearly half. If you want to work for a long time with a light telephoto lens with high image quality, then you can’t beat the Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR.
This lens is equipped with an electromagnetic aperture, which provides more accurate exposure for shots at high framerates. Nikon’s Fluorcoat repels water, dust and dirt, without a negative effect on the image quality. With this coating, the glass can easily be cleaned, without damaging the surface, and the durability thus increases. The lens is so light and compact that you do not need a tripod collar, and it does not come with one. With the RT-1 tripod mount ring, the lens can turn freely between the vertical and horizontal mode.
Anyone who read our review of the Nikon 300 mm f/4 on a Nikon D810 is already familiar with the principle of a Fresnel lens. If not, then you can read a comprehensive description of it there. A Fresnel lens is a special, ribbed lens that is used, for example, lighthouses, overhead projectors and in viewfinders of SLR cameras. The use of a Phase Fresnel lens element (PF) provides both shorter length and a remarkably lower weight of the lens, without any decrease in the image quality.
This 300 mm telephoto lens is outfitted with built-in vibration reduction technology. According to Nikon, that’s good for 3 stops. Nikon has made a service report that the lowest serial numbers of this lens (the firmware of lenses with a serial number of 205101 or higher has already been updated) need to undergo a firmware update, so that the VR can achieve better results on a Nikon D800, D800E or D810.
With a 300 mm lens on a body with a DX sensor, I start with a shutter time of 1/1000 of a second in order to be certain that the shot has no problems with motion blur if I photograph by hand without support. Due to the compact dimensions and manageable weight of this 300 mm telephoto lens, that could be 1/500 of a second. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised with the practice shot below, which I shot by hand with image stabilization and a shutter time of 1/40 of a second.
An advantage of the using a lens designed for cameras with an FX sensor on a camera with a DX sensor is that you do not have any trouble with vignetting and therefore no trouble with cat’s eye bokeh in the corners. The brightness is not entirely optimal for a great bokeh, but the long focal distance and the 9 rounded lamellae make it really very good. In multiple shots, I was pleasantly surprised by the bokeh, which showed no disruptive rings.
Vignetting, flare, chromatic aberration
Nano Crystal Coat reduces image shadows and light flecks effectively, so that the brightness and the contrast of images increases. The application of a Fresnel element in the Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4 PF ED means that this lens can be more sensitive to light edges with a bright light source that is shining directly into the lens. We encountered little of it, but above you can see a shimmering edge of a roof in the bright sun, with light flecks. To compensate, Nikon has even included an extra light flecks correction for PF under the vignetting correction in its own RAW converter (CaptureNX).
Chromatic aberration, vignetting and distortion are all perfectly controlled: Vignetting is still just visibly present at the largest aperture; we measured half a stop of vignetting in jpg files. After 1 stop stopping down, it is impossible to recognize.
Chromatic aberration (red/green edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners) is as good as absent. An element of ED glass (extra low dispersion) and the PD element effectively limit chromatic aberration to a minimum.
A resolution test of a lens on a camera with a 24-megapixel DX sensor is even more critical than the same test with a 36-megapixel FX sensor. This lens also shows very high image quality here. The sharpness at full aperture is already very high, with the corners not lagging behind the center. After stopping down 1 stop, the highest sharpness was achieved in our measurements.
Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR @ D7100, 1/800 sec, f/5.6, 400 ISO
Conclusion Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR review with Nikon D7100
- Fantastic image quality: sharp, no CA, little vignetting
- Nicely light and compact
- Built-in image stabilization
- Extra well-sealed against dust and splashwater
- Fluorine coating provides extra protection against dust and moisture
- More expensive than the Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4
- Excludes tripod mount
- Possible color rings with bright backlighting
If you want to work for a long time with a light telephoto lens with high image quality, then you cannot beat the Nikon AF-S 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR. As far as image quality is concerned, it is a dream lens. And the built-in image stabilization makes it possible to choose very long shutter times (1/40 sec) and still come home with sharp pictures.