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Nikon 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF
(AI-s manual focus) © 2007 KenRockwell.com

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Nikon 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF

Nikon 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF. (enlarge.) You might find it used looking around here.

Introduction

This is the smallest fixed-focal length 300mm lens ever made by Nikon. It is very handy, sharp and well made. This is the best manual-focus 300mm to get, short of the f/2.8 versions.

ED means it has Nikon's magic glass for excelent sharpness. IF means internal focus, meaning it focuses instantly with just the flick of a finger. Nothing moves externally.

It has some funny light falloff characteristics, even stopped down, of which you should be aware if you often shoot subjects with flat, evenly lit backgrounds. This is probably a minor point, but could drive some people crazy.

It works great on the Nikon D3, with great sharpness even wide open at f/4.5 without any corner lateral color fringing. You have to be very precise with the D3's manual focus indicators to get the sharpness of which this combination is capable.

Variations

Nikon has made many 300mm f/4.5 lenses.

The earliest 300mm f/4.5 Nikkor-P (five-element, 1964 - 1969) version was relativly awful. I had one.

The five-element version was replaced in 1969 by the 300mm f/4.5 Nikkor-H with six elements.

This traditional six-element lens was made in newer and newer mechanical packages (with the same optics), ending with 1981's 300mm f/4.5 AI-s version made through about 2000. I've never tried any of them.

A non-IF 300mm f/4.5 ED (1977-1979) may have had nice ED optics, but was slower to focus, bigger, and didn't focus as close.

This ED-IF weighs less, is smaller, foccuses much faster and closer (2.5m instead of 4m) than any of the other versions.

Since as of 2007 all these versions sell for about the same price, you ought to setttle for nothing other than the real ED-IF version, which cost something ridiculous when is was new.

Specifications

It weighs 35 oz (990g), has seven elements in six groups, is 3.1" (80mm) around by 7.9" (200mm) long.

It has a 72mm filter thread and a built-in telescoping lens hood. It has a removable tripod collar.

It has a nine-bladed diaphragm. Sometimes the blades in different samples get a little out of round, leading to uneven star patterns from very bright points of light.

The diaphragm has no glass behind it, so make sure that the blades are clean as seen from the back of the lens. If you buy one of these from a photojournalist watch out; they could be very dirty from the lens being hauled around with no caps. Unlike the front of the lens that can be cleaned, these blades don't get cleaned and can have twenty years of crud caked to them.

It sold for $900 at NYC discount in 1994. This was always a very expensive lens, seling used today for a song.

Performance

It has such a tiny level of distortion that I really can't even see it, far superior to a zoom. Use -0.1 with DX cameras and -1.0 with FX and film cameras, at infinity, in Photoshop CS2's lens distortion correction filter.

It has no ghosts, so point it right into the sun and blast away.

Even with the ED glass it still has some magenta/green lateral secondary chromatic aberration.

Here's the break down by aperture:

f/4.5: very sharp all over. Illumination is peak at a point in center, rolls off away from it. This looks a little weird.
f/5.6: real sharp. Even illumination in central 10mm, falls off away from it. This also looks weird because of the sudden change from evenly lit disk to falloff region
f/8: sharp. Even illumination in central 35mm, falls off away from it. This again can look odd because of the obvious regions of even illumination or falloff. This is significant if you have large, evenly lit regions as your subject or background

When used with the TC-200 it's just as sharp as the 300mm f/4 ED-IF AF is with the TC.

Used with the TC-200 it is not quite as sharp as the 600mm f/5.6 ED-IF AI-s, which is to be expected. It is however, at a fraction of the price, pretty darn good considering what you're up against.

If you want to see the results of this lens shown off in print, read John Shaw's "The Nature Photographer's Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques," Amphoto 1984. He shows how to use this lens for great macro and other work.

Oddly, I've had two of these lenses and never been that overjoyed with the results. They are competent, but not spectacular, and oddly, not that much better than the other older models optically. It's the fast, close focussing and small size that makes this lens a winner.

Recommendations

Hand held on my FA I get sharp images 30% of the time at 1/30, and sharp all the time at 1/60, 1/125 and higher. Don't expect this same result with a high-vibration camera like the F100.

Ignoring the f/2.8 versions, this is Nikon's best manual focus 300mm ever. It's very compact, gives great results quite easily, and is now cheap second hand. Just make sure you get the tripod collar with it; since they are removable some idiots have lost them and try to sell the lens without it.

The 300/4.5 ED-IF AI-s goes for around $300-$400 US used. I have seen them still listed new at just over $1,000 US, but that's silly, since you can buy the sharper, slightly bigger and faster 300mm f/4 AF ED-IF for less money brand new, and have a lens that is also compatible with AF cameras at the same time.

Since this superior 300mm lens sell for about the same price as al the other 300mm manual focus lenses used, this is the one worth waiting for.

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