Now and then, it's a disappointment to have to return our reviewed lenses. That's how it was after reviewing the NIKKOR VR 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6, a handy and wearable super-telephoto lens that was introduced for Nikon 1 in March 2014. Whether you have a 500 mm lens on an APS-C SLR camera or an 800 mm lens on an FX camera, they're strong, heavy combinations, with which photographing by hand is impossible or at least very difficult. You become incredibly obvious with an SLR plus an impressively big telephoto lens, and it's a heavy combination to wear or to use for a long time. An imposing 189-810 mm zoom range (converted to 35 mm equivalent/FX) is ideal for distant subjects or getting a good view of details, but auto focus with extreme telephoto lenses in usually slow on an SLR camera. None of that when you choose a Nikon 1 with a 70-300 mm lens. I had never taken so many sharp telephoto pictures before.
Nikon 1 VR 70–300 mm f/4.5–5.6 + Nikon V3
Construction and auto focus
Nikon 1 gives nothing up to a professional SLR with a telephoto lens, when it comes to AF speed.
The Nikon 1 VR 70–300 mm f/4.5–5.6 is available in black and has a stylish, robust metallic construction. Auto focus works lightning fast for an extreme telephoto lens. The Nikon 1 70-300 mm has an M/A focus setting (auto focus that can be manually overruled at any time). Optionally, you can buy a removable tripod connection for the 1 NIKKOR VR 70–300 mm f/4.5–5.6 lens, but I could head out just as well without it. There's a switch on the lens with which you can limit the focal range, the same as you find on the professional telephoto lenses for SLR cameras. A maximum magnification of 0.15 (at 70 mm on 1 meter) may seem low, but with the 2.7 crop factor, that corresponds with 0.4 converted to 35 mm equivalent. With that, you cannot make real macro-pictures (magnification of 1:1), but you can take beautiful close-up shots.
Nikon 1 VR 70–300 mm Image stabilization/VR
In contrast with our normal image stabilization testing, which is carried out at relatively short focal distances, we carried out the test this time at a focal distance of 800 mm FX equivalent. You're then standing dozens of meters away from the subject, and without image stabilization, it's quite challenging to frame accurately. Without image stabilization or tripod at such a long focal distance, it's practically impossible to make an accurate image excerpt. Image stabilization makes a world of difference for your composition.
We made the sharpest pictures, regardless of shutter time, from a tripod. But if you photograph by hand, thanks to Vibration Reduction you still get sharp pictures at the longest focal distance with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second. A picture taken at 300 mm (800 mm FX equivalent) without image stabilization and a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second is just as sharp as a shot made at the same focal distance with image stabilization and a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second.
When it comes to vignetting, this lens puts on a very good performance: you see none of it, regardless of focal distance and aperture. Thanks to in-camera correction for vignetting, the jpg files are the best that we've come across for all the telephoto lenses that we have reviewed so far. Even the RAW files show very little vignetting.
With an extreme telephoto lens, it appears as though subjects are closer together, so that in this case (Nikon 1 70-300 mm @300 mm) a lovely layering is created.
Both the RAW and the in-camera jpg files show very little distortion, regardless of the focal distance. If only all lenses were that good.
The Nikon 1 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 is delivered with a sun cap, that you most probably can leave at home without paying a price for it. In practice — thanks to Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat — we encountered remarkably little flare and ghosts. Only if you photograph directly against the sun is there a flared area around the sun, but you have that with any lens. We did not see any ghosts in our practice shots, although we have to note there that we had really beautiful weather during the practice test.
The Nikon 1 system has a lightning-fast, hybrid AF, and it is also able to take dozens of shots per second. The Nikon V3 with 70-300 mm VR is a terrifically light combination with which you can effortlessly photograph by hand for a long time.
In the price class of under 1000 euros, the Nikon 1 70-300 mm aims extremely high, when it comes to sharpness.
Super-ED glass reduces chromatic aberration and thus ensures sharp, contrast-rich images across the whole aperture range. Nano Crystal Coat reduces shadows and light spots significantly. At full aperture, the sharpness in the center is already nearly as high as after stopping down 1 or 2 stops.
The sharpness in the corners increases a bit with stopping down. Quite an achievement by Nikon that the center sharpness does not notably decrease when you compare 70 mm with 300 mm. Practically all telephoto zooms decrease in sharpness when you use longer focal distances. Don't expect the sharpness of a Nikon 70-300 mm or Nikon 80-400 mm on a Nikon D7100 or D810, but let yourself be surprised by what the Nikon 1 70-300 mm is nonetheless able to achieve when it comes to sharpness.
Chromatic aberration Nikon 1 VR 70–300 mm f/4.5–5.6
Extreme telephoto lenses are, as a rule, sensitive to chromatic aberration: blue and red edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners of the image. Nikon has done very good work there with this lens. In the jpg files, you have no trouble at all with lateral or longitudinal chromatic aberration in jpg files. And in the RAW files, opened in Lightroom, the chromatic aberration is low, thanks to the Super ED glass that is applied.
With SLR cameras with a full-frame sensor, the sharpness depth at a focal distance of 800 mm is so limited that at full aperture you completely isolate a subject from the background. If you take a picture with the Nikon 1 70-300 mm at 300 mm f/5.6, then the background is not nearly as hazy. A subject will be isolated less well from the background, but sometimes it's also nice to recognize a bit of the environment in a shot.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Ultra-compact, light and wearable super-telephoto lens with 200-800 mm full-frame equivalent
Built-in image stabilization
If you leave the tripod at home, then this Nikon 1 800 mm super-telephoto lens is unsurpassed. A 550-gram diamond.
If you take pictures from a tripod and you look at resolution or bokeh, then the Nikon 1 70-300 mm loses out to an SLR camera with a good (and thus also big and heavy) extreme telephoto lens. But for all other image quality properties—distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration and sensitivity to backlighting—this compact super-telephoto lens for Nikon 1 beats out the much more expensive and heavier lenses for SLR cameras. Without a tripod, the Nikon 1 70-300 mm takes first place for weight and size: I experienced no trouble at all photographing with this lens all day long. The nice ergonomics, lightning-fast AF and the built-in image stabilization make it quite possible to take beautiful pictures at 800 mm (FX equivalent) by hand, all day long, without getting tired from the weight of the Nikon 1 camera or lens. And you go totally unnoticed when you walk through the city with this lens. A thousand euros seems like a lot of money, and the limited brightness sometimes forces you to choose higher ISO values, but I had never come home with so many successful super-telephoto lens shots before. That's quite different with a heavier and more expensive SLR with a 200-800 mm (full-frame equivalent).
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.