It is not only top end cameras that are becoming more sophisticated as we work our way into the third millennium, but the lenses that fit on them too. This professional offering from Nikon is one such example offering not only things like internal focus and vibration reduction but focus preset, focus limiter, a Meniscus front element and is the first Nikon lens that features their new Nano-Crystal anti-reflective coating. We take a look at what all this technology gets us in image terms.
Focal length 300mm
Angle of view 8º
Filter size / type 52mm drop in
Construction Elements/groups 11 elements in 8 groups
Focusing type Internal SWM (Silent Wave Motor)
Closest focus 2.2m
Dimensions (Dia x length) 124x268mm
Mounts available Nikon,
Tripod bush Yes (Supplied)
Price (SRP) £ 4495
Build and Handling
This is a professional lens and the build quality lives up to the status. Everything fits well and works smoothly, as it should do on a product that has been designed without compromise.
Going forward from the mount, we first encounter the drop-in slide for the 52mm filters. To the right of this is a button to set the focus memory. Next is the collar for the tripod mount that is not removable and has a knob to secure the orientation. When loosened, the lens/camera combo rotates extremely smoothly. This collar also has two lugs on it for the attachment of a carrying strap. Next is a ring switch encircling the lens with a press button lock on the left side. This is the on/off switch for the Vibration Reduction (VR) mechanism. In front of this is the distance window marked in metres and feet alongside of which is what can only be described as the control panel! It consists of no less than five slide switches that control, from top to bottom, M/AF, focus limit (Full / 6m to infinity), VR Normal/Active, Memory recall M-AF on/lock, and a switch to turn a warning bleeper on and off! Initial thoughts are that you will need a pilot’s licence to drive this lens, but as you get used to the functions they almost all become obvious why they are there!
This is followed by the two step manual focus ring where the first 20mm is the same diameter as the first half of the lens and then steps up to some 15mm greater diameter for the remainder, another 40mm. The ring is a joy to use. The next area, again 15mm greater in diameter, has a large grip area and is indented at the four compass points where buttons are placed. These are all memory recall buttons and when the facility is switched on and has been set, a press of any one of these buttons will return the lens to the chosen point of focus more or less instantly! A great boon if you are shooting action where you are likely to need to return to a single area (goalmouth etc.) repeatedly. You have now arrived at the front end of the lens but it is further extended by Nikons excellent carbon-fibre lens hood which is incredibly strong and lightweight. It is held in place by a knurled knob.
Prime lenses are, by their very nature, fairly easy to assess for handling and although this is a large lens it handled well with the VR function enabling frequent use without support, the only restriction being the photographers ability to support the weight. Panning is detected automatically and worked even when panning at 45º as with a bird taking flight. We suggested that the AF-S lens range from Nikon was a little too fast for it’s own good on consumer cameras where the autofocus speed was concerned and to that end we tried this one on a pro spec camera, the D2X. The results were mind blowing to say the least as the combo focussed easily as rapidly as the human eye can, and that is fast! Tracking too, is a product of the camera and the lens combination and again, this combo produced great results but the same lens on the D70 was no slouch either. Focussing was also good on the lower end camera, due mostly to the wide aperture.
Unsurprisingly, the optical performance of this lens stood up to very close scrutiny. Excellent wide-open performance was enhanced to somewhere around the stunning mark when closed down by just one stop. Aberrations and distortions are controlled to such an extent that they were negligible even under test conditions and, as can be seen from the chart, the performance at the edge of a cropped sensor was virtually equal to that of the centre boding well for Nikon’s decision to stick with the DX format. Overall, nothing to pick holes in!
Click on each of these two comparison photos to view full size versions
300mm f/2.8 at f/2.8
300mm f/2.8 at f/8
Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use this graph look at this article: How we test lenses
The advanced sophistication of this lens, with the whole thing being peppered with buttons, knobs and switches, belies the ease with which it can be used once the basic concept of how the lens works is overcome. The speed with which it does work has to be experienced to be believed. As far as we can ascertain, the only gimmick is the on/off for the focus confirmation bleep which would soon be turned off, never to be switched on again such is the accuracy and speed of the autofocus.
In summary, the positive points of the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 VR are:
Almost instant, accurate and silent autofocus.
High optical performance.
Handy memory recall.
Good build quality
The negative points are:
Price (but you get what you pay for!)
Number of buttons and switches (easily learnt)
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Test by Ian Andrews www.wildaboutkent.co.uk