Review Nikon 300 mm f/2.8 @ FX
The Nikon 300 mm f/2,8 AF-S ED VR II is a bright telephoto lens, suitable for nature, sports and landscape photography. It is equipped with a super-fast auto focus and effective image stabilization, according to Nikon good for 3 stops. It is not an inexpensive lens, but it is intended for the demanding (semi-)professional who sets the highest requirements for optical and mechanical quality. We tested it on a D810 Full Frame body. Read more to see whether this lens lives up to its reputation and price...
Nikon 300 mm AF-S f/2.8 ED VR II
Build and auto focus
The lens is certainly not a little guy, with a diameter of 124 mm and a length of 268 mm—not counting the carbon fiber sun cap. Equally impressive is the weight: 2900 grams. Put it on a professional body, and you have 4 kilos of equipment hanging around your neck. Even so, it's not an unmanageable lens: working by hand (without tripod) goes surprisingly well, and that is certainly also an advantage in comparison with the 400 mm and longer Nikon, which requires at least a one-legged tripod. The lens is sturdily built with a lot of metal and little plastic, and good sealing against moisture and dust. You can turn the sun cap around during transport, and the tripod collar is convenient for picking up the lens.
The lens has 11 lens elements in 8 groups, including three elements with ED glass to prevent chromatic aberration. There is use made of nano coating. The shortest distance setting is 2.3 meters.
The auto focus is super-fast. You do not hear or see it, and it is seldom wrong.
The front lens is rather large, and not really suited for mounting filters; a filter holder is therefore mounted on the back, where 52 mm filters can be inserted. There is even a polarization filter available with a turning knob with which you can turn the filter without having to remove it from the lens. If you do not use a filter, then a neutral NC filter fits into the holder. When you remove that, the focal point shifts forward; you can make the shortest distance setting a bit shorter, but then it's a question of whether you can still focus to infinity. In the picture below, you can see how the focal point moves without (above) and with (below) the neutral filter.
When to use a 300 mm?
A 300 mm telephoto lens is suitable for landscape, nature and sports photography. For photographing birds in nature, a 300 mm is really on the short side, although you can do a lot from a bird watching hide. For larger mammals, it's quite suitable. A big advantage of the 300 mm in comparison with longer telephoto lenses is the manageability; you can shoot well by hand without a tripod. Don't be blinded by the advantages of extremely long telephoto lenses! The price increases almost exponentially with the focal distance: long telephotos (500 mm and higher) are too heavy to life, and you quickly develop trouble with atmospheric disturbances (haziness, trembling air) and you really have to learn to work with them.
Zoom lenses with a range of 300 mm are always less bright than fixed focal lengths. They can, in terms of image quality, not compare with the fixed focal lengths, but they are also many times less expensive, lighter and shorter.
This 300 mm is equipped with the newest VR II vibration reduction technology. According to Nikon, this is good for 3 stops. Working by hand, you can still do well at 1/100 of a second. That primarily pays off for landscape shots. For action photos, you have to take into account the movement of your subject.
The VR has a normal and an "active" setting; you use the latter when you deliberately move the camera, for example when "tracking" a subject.
Fighting ibex in Artis. 1/2000 at f/5. The short shutter time was not needed to avoid motion blur, but because the animals themselves move quite a lot!
We can be very brief about distortion: there is none! A nearly perfect score.
Vignetting, flare, chromatic aberration
Vignetting is barely present, and only noticeable at the largest aperture.
We did not notice any flare either. We did have the sun cap mounted, not only to prevent reflections, but also for the protection of the front lens.
Chromatic aberration (red/green edges) is also as good as absent.
We express sharpness in resolution or resolving power via Imatest. The picture shown here tells the whole story: even at full aperture, it's very good; at f/8 and f/11, outstanding. The quality in the corners is barely less than that of the center.
An Amsterdam heron at 1/5000 of a second. The shot is made at full aperture.
This is a rare, native bird, the black-crowned night heron, known as the Kwak in the Netherlands. By working with full aperture, you separate the bird from the very restless background. Here, too, the focus was placed on the animal's eye. It stayed nice and still, posing for us.
Conclusion Nikon 300 mm AF-S f/2.8 ED VR II review with Nikon D810
Test camera: Nikon D800 & D810
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the file in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all the available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".