Friday, December 2, 2016

Reviewing the Nikkor AIS 300mm f/4.5 Lens

Based on my discussions online (but also in... real life), I think most DSLR beginners coming from a compact or, more probably nowadays, their cell phone camera are after reach. Whether because their compact camera had a ridiculous 20x zoom or, conversely, because their cell phone didn't, everyone seems enamored with very long teles. Soon enough, they realize that a lens that is both good and long costs serious money. As a result, many resort to older lenses, such as the Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 AIS I'm reviewing today

Optically it's great; getting that is a wholly other matter

+ A 300mm prime at this price is really worth considering
+ Superb precision in focusing
+ Optically it's more than decent...

- ... though as an f/4.5 lens without autofocus and VR, getting that quality out of the lens is a different story
- Although it's not exactly big and heavy (for a full-frame tele at least), it's not very small & light either
- Badly designed tripod collar (Nikon was never great at balancing them right)

Intended Users
Great for:
  • If (more on that in a while) you need a 300mm prime and you're on a budget, I really don't think you'll find a better lens at this price range
  • Landscape shots, where you can afford to take your time focusing and all that
  • Portraiture outdoors

Notice how noisy the image is - using the lens hand-held can send your ISO values pretty high

Not for:
  • Anything moving too fast. You'll get very frustrated
  • Entry-level cameras. No metering, small viewfinders
  • Use in low light and/or without tripod. Forget it

Final Verdict
Like with so many other lenses of this kind (older, manual focus AI-S tele lenses), it's not about the lens itself but rather about the scope. On paper, it's fine: optically great, mechanically excellent, with superb ergonomics. But in real-life photography you begin to notice the problems: no autofocus means you can't really use it with moving subjects; no VR means you must use a tripod/monopod (or prepare to up your ISO a lot); no metering with entry-level cameras means you must guess the exposure on top of everything else. For some cases - subjects that can truly wait for you, e.g. landscapes - it will be worth it. Ultimately, however, it just feels that the 55-300 is a better deal for the average beginner or even intermediate photographer. Optically it might not be as great, but autofocus, metering, and VR will allow you far more "keepers"

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