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Nikon 70-300mm VR
© 2011-2013 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   RecommendationsPlease help KenRockwell..com

Nikon 70-300mm VR

Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR (FX, DX and 35mm coverage, 67mm filters, 26.2 oz./745g, 5'/1.5 m close focus, about $587 or less). enlarge. I'd get it at Adorama, Amazon or B&H. Sometimes you can find them reconditoned for less at Adorama. My biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. Thanks for your support! Ken.

 

May 2013   Nikon Reviews   Nikon Lenses    All Reviews

Sample Images from California's Central Coast June 2010

NEW: The 28-300mm VR does the same thing with about the same size and weight, and also covers the rest of the range down to 28mm. It costs more, but if you get a 28-300mm, it renders this 70-300mm completely unnecessary.

 

Ideal for: Nikon's 70-300mm VR is the best compromise for size, weight, range and image quality among all Nikon's tele zooms. It's perfect for FX, DX and 35mm film. This is the one tele I usually take if I'm heading to the field, if I don't take the 85mm f/1.8 instead.

Not for: It's great for everything. If you're shooting sports in the dark, the professional 70-200mm f/2.8 VR or 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II are better choices, and if you're on a budget and shooting a DX camera, the 55-200mm VR works just as well for a fraction of the size, weight and price.

 

Introduction        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

The Nikon 70-300mm VR is the latest of many 70-300mm range zooms from Nikon. It adds Vibration Reduction (VR) to eliminate the need for a tripod, AFS focusing to allow instant manual focus override, and several hundred dollars in added expense. It's the only 70-300mm range lens that will autofocus on the D40, D3000, D60 and D5000.

For FX and film, this is my favorite tele zoom because it weighs less than the f/2.8 lenses and less than the 80-400mm VR.

This 70-300mm VR is the very best modern tele zoom lens to get if you prefer a dedicated tele zoom over a do-it-all zoom and want light weight and moderate price.

It's a nice semi-plasticy amateur lens with a metal mount. If you need tougher, spend twice as much on the fully professional 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D for $1,100. If you can do without VR (I can't), get the non-VR 70-300mm G for $150.

For DX, if you already have the Nikon 18-200mm VR, I won't bother getting this lens, too, since most of the range is already covered by the 18-200mm.

 

Compatibility

This 70-300mm VR G AFS lens works perfectly on all digital cameras, and most autofocus film cameras made since about 1990.

It's a G-type lens with no aperture ring. It won't work on any manual focus camera.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for more. Look in the G and the AF-S columns; you get the least of the features mentioned.

Nikon 70-300mm VR

Nikon 70-300mm VR.

Good News:

1.) Very sharp from 70-200mm.

2.) VR, which means you leave your tripod at home.

3.) Low distortion.

4.) Big, fat zoom ring.

5.) Evenly spaced zooming - no bunching up at either end.

6.) Easy manual focus.

7.) Fast autofocus.

8.) AF is very accurate.

 

Bad News:

1.) Plasticy barrel, but that's how we get the low weight I love.

2.) Plasticy, sticky zoom feel.

3.) VR makes a weird water-running sound. I can feel it through the camera body as it runs. (Other VR lenses merely hiss.)

 

Nikon 70-300mm VR

Switches: Nikon 70-300mm VR.

 

Specifications        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

Name

Nikon calls this the Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5 - 5.6G IF-ED

   AFS: Quiet AF and instant manual focus override. Just grab the focus ring.

   VR II: Vibration Reduction, new version. This means you can get sharp pictures without a tripod. Nikon claims four stops sharper.

    G: No aperture ring. Only works on cameras newer than about 1992.

    IF: Internal Focusing. Nothing moves on the outside of the lens when it focuses.

    ED: Magic glass for sharper images

   SWM: Silent Wave Motor for fast, quiet focusing.

All this and more explained in greater depth on my Nikon Lens Technology page.

 

Focal Length

70-300mm.

If used on a DX camera, it gives a field of view similar to the field of view of a 105 - 450 mm lens used on FX or 35mm film. (see Crop Factor.)

 

Maximum Aperture

f/4.5 - 5.6.

 

Optics

17 elements, 12 groups, including two ED glass elements.

Nikon 70 - 300mm

The yellow elements are ED. The red box shows the VR group. (courtesy Nikon from here.)

 

Diaphragm

Lovely 9 blade rounded.

Stops down to f/32 - 40.

Don't ever stop down this far because diffraction will give you very soft images.

 

Filter Thread

67mm.

Plastic.

Doesn't rotate.

 

Close Focus

4.5' (1.37m), actually measured, from image plane (back of camera).

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:4.

 

Size

3.1 x 5.6" (80 x 143.5 mm).

 

Weight

26.260 oz (744.4g), as measured by me, naked (the lens, not me).

 

Hood

HB-36 plastic bayonette, included.

 

Case

Soft case included.

 

Nikon Product Number

2161.

 

Announced

09 August, 2006.

 

Shipping Since

10 December 2006.

 

Price, USA

$587, May 2013.

$520, October-November 2010.

$540, August, 2010.

 

RATED MTF

Nikon 70-300mm Nikon 70-300mm

 

Performance        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Autofocus    Bokeh    Color Fringes    Construction    Distortion

Falloff    Film    Filters    Flare    Flash    Macro    Serial Number

Sharpness         Sound         VR         Warranty         Zooming

Nikon 70-300mm VR

Nikon 70-300mm VR.

OVERALL

It performs better than any of the previous 70-300mm lenses.

This is the lens to get if your subjects hold still. If you need to shoot moving things in lower light, get the faster 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D instead. If size, weight and cost are no object (they are for me), get the 70-200mm VR or 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II.

 

FOCUSING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Autofocus is as fast as my super-fast 80-200 AFS.

If you start off completely out of focus (subject at 6 feet and lens at infinity for instance) you may need to move it manually to get it started, and if it's way out of focus it may first focus in the wrong direction, bounce off the stop and head back the other way to acquire your target. So long as you're in the right zone, focus is fast!

 

Speed

It's as fast, or maybe a little slower, as the 18-200mm VR.

It's much faster than the pokey 80-400mm VR and the other 70-300mm class lenses.

It's as fast as my super-fast 80-200 AFS.

It's still not instantaneous as the Canons are, but it's much more accurate and consistent.

 

Sound and Noise

Focus is almost silent.

Manual Focus: Plastic on plastic.

Autofocus: About the same.

 

Ease of Manual Focusing

Excellent. One firm fingertip can move the always-on manual focus ring.

 

Autofocus Accuracy

AF is dead-on at all focal lengths.

It's slower than Canon and it may be pokey at times, and the good news is that every shot comes out perfect.

 

Focus Breathing

Breathing is a motion picture term which refers to what happens as you pull (change) focus from near to far.

This Nikon 70-300mm VR changes magnification a little as focused.

 

BOKEH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Bokeh is neutral and much better than my 18-200mm VR. Here are complete images at the longer focal lengths shot on DX. The subject was 10 feet (3m) away.

At 100mm I cropped and show only the middle 50% of each dimension, resulting in twice the magnification of the other images. At 70mm I took the middle third of each dimension, or triple the magnification.

300mm Bokeh
300mm Bokeh
Full image, 300mm at f/5.6
Full image, 300mm at f/8

 

200mm Bokeh
200mm Bokeh
Full image, 200mm at f/5.3
Full image, 200mm at f/8

 

135mm Bokeh
135mm Bokeh
Full image, 135mm at f/5.0
Full image, 135mm at f/8

 

100mm Bokeh
200mm Bokeh
2x image, 100mm at f/4.8
2x image, 100mm at f/8

 

70mm Bokeh
70mm Bokeh
3x image, 70mm at f/4.5
3x image, 70mm at f/8

 

COLOR FRINGES
(Lateral Chromatic Aberration or LCA)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It has none on any modern Nikon introduced since about 2006.

On older generation cameras, it has just a little at the longest focal lengths. This lens is approved by the PPLFPA, Professional Patio and Lawn Furniture Photographers' Association, with a grade of "B." On Gen 2 cameras, it has none.

Here are the full DX guide images from which the crops are taken:

Canon 17-40mm LCA Canon 17-40mm LCA
Full DX Image, 70mm
Full DX Image, 300mm

 

LCA 70mm

LCA 100mm
100% crop from D200 at 70mm
100% crop from D200 at 100mm

 

LCA 135mm

LCA 200mm
100% crop from D200 at 135mm
100% crop from D200 at 200mm

 

LCA 300mm

Ryan Rockwell
100% crop from D200 at 300mm
Ryan Rockwell helping me do this.

These crops are unsharpened and taken from Large Basic JPG originals.

Since I shot at five focal lengths, not 4, I had an extra spot open in this layout so I added a snap of me and the baby working on this. That's what you get for reading a noncommercial website!

 

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It has a rubber gasket on the lens mount to keep crud out of your camera.

Exterior: Plastic.

Barrels: Plastic.

Filter Threads: Plastic.

Focus Ring: Ribbed hard plastic, only very slightly rubbery.

Markings: Paint. Gold metal nomenclature plate.

Switches: Plastic.

Mount: Metal.

Internals: Mostly metal with some plastic.

Noises when shaken: Lots of klunking. This is normal.

Made in: Thailand.

 

DISTORTION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Distortion on DX is quite good, much better than the 18-200mm VR.

On FX, it has moderate distortion.

Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion for critical use.

 
Distortion
FX at ∞
DX at 50' (15m)
70mm
barrel
+3.0
+1.0
100mm
pincushion
-1.2
-0.5
135mm
pincushion
-3.2
-1.2
200mm
pincushion
-3.5
-2.0
300mm
pincushion
-3.0
-0.5

© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

Here's the proverbial Bad Photographers' Wall of Shame as seen on DX:

70mm distortion
100mm distortion
At 70mm, D200
At 100mm, D200

 

70mm distortion
100mm distortion
At 135mm, D200
At 200mm, D200

 

70mm distortion

(I bet you thought I'd put
my kid here again.)

At 300mm, D200
 

Here's a larger version of it at 70mm. Move your mouse over it to see it after correction with Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter per the table below.

Distortion on DX at 70mm, before and after correction (moue-over).

 

FALLOFF (Darkened Corners)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

This 70-300mm VR lens has very little, if any, falloff towards the corners of a DX frame. It is far superior to the 18-200mm VR, which has dark corners at 200mm and f/5.6 on DX.

This is the falloff as seen on a digital camera. It will be worse on film and FX. From what little I tried it, it still seems pretty good on my F100.

These are shots of an Expodisc. This is a tough test which shows even the slightest falloff. You'll never see this in normal photography. Ignore the minor exposure variations between frames.

Even better, I see excellent exposure uniformity between frames.

Falloff on DX. FX will be worse.

 
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
70mm
100mm
135mm
200mm
300mm

 

 

USE ON FILM CAMERAS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It works great on my F100. VR and AF work fine.

It works great on the F6 and F5.

If you go as far back as the F4, you lose VR, aperture-priority and manual exposure, while autofocus, matrix metering, Program and shutter-priority modes all work great.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for more. Look in the G and the AF-S columns; you get the least of the features mentioned.

 

USE WITh FILTERS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Since it's designed for film cameras, you'll never have a vignetting problem, even with several stacked filters, on a digital camera. (See Crop Factor.)

On a film camera there's no problem either, even with two stacked filters. if you're going to have a problem, it will be at 100mm. Check there first if you're planning on using three or more stacked filters on a film camera.

There's no need for expensive thin-mount filters.

 

FLARE AND GHOSTS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

No problem.

Here are shots looking directly into the blinding California sun. This isn't a nice sunset, it's looking directly at the sun. These photos don't convey how violently bright the sun was, except for the CCD blooming which is the camera's way of saying "Stop this idiocy before you go blind, you moron!"

ghosts at 70mm
ghosts at 300mm
70mm
300mm

 

USE with FLASH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Built-in flashes are often close enough to the camera that ultrawide lenses can see far enough down to see their shadow cast by a built-in flash.

This lens has no problem: it can't focus close enough or go wide enough, so even at it's closest focus distance there is no shadow from the built-in flash.

 

MACRO   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

70-300mm Macro

at closest focus (4.5') at 300mm on DX, full image.

Cropped Macro

100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.

No news here, this is typical for these kinds of lenses.

 

SERIAL NUMBER  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The serial number laser engraved (burnt black on black) into the plastic on the bottom rear of the lens barrel, just under "Nikon, SWM VR ED IF ø67, Made in Thailand."

Lenses for the USA have serial numbers prefixed by "US." If all you have is a number without "US" and you bought it in the USA, you most likely got stuck with a gray market lens and aren't covered by any warranty from Nikon. In the USA, Nikon warrants the their lenses for five years.

 

SHARPNESS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

This 70-300mm VR works great on FX. It's sharp at all settings, except may just a tad softer in the far corners at 70mm and f/4.5.

On an old (gen 1) DX camera, sharpness is very good, except at 300mm. Your technique will be your biggest barrier to sharp photos. I have a page on How to Get Sharp Photos.

Here are my observations on a D200 at 100%. Letters correspond to center - side - corner. Possible ratings are E - VG - G - F - P. These are subjective. Don't fret over differences between adjacent grades.

Diffraction is usually the sharpness-limiting factor for all lenses, especially digital SLRs, at about f/11 and above. See also How Sharpness Varies with Aperture.

 
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
70mm
VG* - E - G
E - E - VG
E - E - VG
E - VG - VG
100mm
E - E - VG
E - E - VG
E - E - E
VG - E - E
135mm
VG - VG - VG
E - VG - VG
E - E - E
VG - VG - VG
200mm
VG - G - F
VG - G - F
VG - VG - G
G - VG - G
300mm
G - G - F
VG - G - F
F - F - F
F - F - F

* Be sure you've got perfect focus.

It's normal for tele zooms to be worst at the long end, and that's the case here. It's much better at 200mm and below. Weirdly, it was worst at f/11, and got better at f/16! This is something weird. I have no explanation for it, but since I saw performance dip at f/11 I wanted to mention it. Use f/8 if you can, or f/16 if you need depth of field.

Of course sharpness is awful at f/22 and f/32 due to diffraction, like all lenses. This is due to the laws of physics, around which no lens yet has maneuvered.

 

SOUND and NOISE   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It's noisy. You won't hear it in a camera store, but in a silent room I can hear the VR running at arm's length. This is normal.

Focus is quiet, but the VR system hisses and sounds like running water. It's noisier than the 18-200mm VR. The 18-200mm only hisses, but the 70-300mm hisses and hums.

I can feel the vibration of the lens' vibration reduction system when holding my camera!

You'll also hear a klunk when the VR starts, and another klunk when it shuts off a few seconds after you release the shutter.

Focusing and zooming sounds like plastic sliding on plastic.

 

VR (Vibration Reduction)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

This lists the percentage of sharp shots that I get with and without VR. The first figure is without VR, and the second is with VR.

Read Why VR is Important to understand more about what these ratings mean.

 
1
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
70mm
0/0
0/30
5/50
30/80
50/100
70/100
70/100
100/100
100mm
0/0
0/15
0/0
0/50
0/100
30/100
40/100
100/100
135mm
0/0
0/5
0/15
0/30
5/60
15/100
30/100
70/100
200mm
0/0
0/0
0/20
0/50
0/75
10/80
20/80
40/100
300mm
0/0
0/0
0/0
0/10
0/30
0/70
10/80
35/100

Now let's chart the slowest speed to get 50% sharp shots at each focal length, and with that, we can calculate how many stops we gain with VR.

"Real Stops Improvement" are how many extra stops I got, VR ON compared to VR OFF.

"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from VR OFF to VR ON, but instead comparing the speed one can use with VR ON to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length. That's called Lying with Statistics, and that's par for the course for marketing departments.

 
No VR
VR

Real
Stops Improvement

Marketing
Stops Improvement
70mm
1/15
1/4
2
4
100mm
1/80
1/8
3-1/3
3-2/3
135mm
1/100
1/13
3
3-1/2
200mm
1/160
1/8
4-1/3
4-2/3
300mm
1/160
1/20
3
4

TIP: In dim light, fire several shots and pick the sharpest. Blur is a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even at slow speeds!

 

WARRANTY  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

I live in the USA. My site gets read worldwide, so this won't apply to you if you're outside the USA. Any questions? Call Nikon in your country. In the USA, they are at (800) NIKON-US.

Lenses for the USA have serial numbers prefixed by "US." If all you have is a number without "US" and you bought it in the USA, you most likely got stuck with a gray market lens and aren't covered by any warranty from Nikon.

In the USA, Nikon warrants their lenses for five years.

 

ZOOMING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

I love the big fat zoom ring and the evenly-spaced focal lengths.

Many zooms crunch the focal lengths together at one end of the scale. Not the 70-300mm VR; everything is very well spaced.

Sadly it feels plasticy and there is stiction. Stiction, or static fraction, means you have to turn a little harder to get the ring to start moving than you do to keep it moving. This makes it difficult to set an exact focal length, since it's almost impossible to move the zoom ring just a little bit at a time.

Airblow

Air blows out my camera eyepiece as I zoom.

Zoom Creep

The zoom will not creep, pointed up or down. This is a side benefit of stiction.

Focus Shift while Zooming

Focus shifts little, but it's still better to focus after you zoom.

Actual Focal Lengths

The focal lengths appear accurate at infinity. Here's a comparison of the 18-200mm VR and this 70-300mm VR at their 200mm settings at infinity:

70-300mm VR
18-200mm VR
70-300mm VR at 200mm
18-200mm VR at 200mm

IF (internal focus) lenses shorten their effective focal lengths as they focus more closely. The 18-200mm VR focuses much more closely than the 70-300mm VR, 1.5' instead of 4.5.' At ten feet at the 200mm setting it's obvious that the 70-300mm VR is holding 200mm better than the 18-200mm VR:

70-300mm VR
18-200mm VR
70-300mm VR at 200mm
18-200mm VR at 200mm

How different is 300mm compared to 200mm?

Getting to 300mm vs. 200mm is a main reason people get the 70-300mm VR over the 18-200mm for DX, so lets see how much difference there is.

This compares these settings on the 70-300. This isn't comparing the 70-300 directly to the 18-200. That's another day's work.

70-300mm VR
70-300mm VR
70-300mm VR at 200mm
70-300mm VR at 300mm

 

Maximum Aperture

70mm: f/4.5

100mm: f/4.5

135mm: f/4.8

200mm: f/5.3

300mm: f/5.6

 

Focal Length Encoding Accuracy

The EXIF data agrees with the settings marked on the lens at 70, 100, 135, 200 and 300mm. it is fairly precise, so if you're just a little off the EXIF data will also be just a few millimeters off.

I have not correlated the accuracy of the markings to the actual focal lengths.

 

Recommendations        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

The Nikon 70-300mm VR offers the best compromise of size, weight, price and image quality among all Nikon's tele zooms. It covers FX, 35mm film and DX.

For DX I prefer the 18-200mm VR for its greater flexibility. I'll trade the 200 - 300 mm range in exchange for the all-encompassing zoom range of the 18-200mm, as well as the closer and more reliable focusing of the 18-200mm.

For FX and film, this is the first tele zoom I grab when I run out the door as of September 2009 because this 70-300mm VR offers me my favorite combination of performance, size and weight. I'm not going to take an f/2.8 zoom or the 80-400mm VR since they weigh too much to want to carry around all day.

 

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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December 2006