Sunday, March 10, 2013

Nikkor AF-S 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR

This is a lens I wanted to try as soon as I heard it's out. After postponing it for quite a while - since I don't use teles often - I decided I needed to get my act together and get one. I was extremely curious to see how it compares both to the 55-200 and to the (FX) 70-300. The results are extremely interesting!

+ superb image quality until 200mm, adequate after that
+ great tele range. This is essentially the 80-400mm lens for the DX world
+ small and light (for a lens like that), exactly like DX lenses should be

- cheap build quality, doesn't inspire great confidence (then again, if it breaks, no big deal)
- slow aperture, as expected
- 300mm is, unsurprisingly, the weakest point of the lens.

A boring subject, but it shows what this lens can do at 200mm. Clearly better than the 55-200 at the same focal length.

Intended Users
Great for:

  • general tele work. Excellent range, image quality, and VR make this lens a hit
  • landscapes. Believe it or not, the image quality until 200mm is that good
  • daylight shots of your kids running around in the garden. As long as there is light, the autofocus can cope well...

Not for:
  • ...although it struggles in low light.
  • wildlife or birds in flight. It's only adequate after 200mm, and somewhat weak at 300mm.
  • people on a tight budget. It's a cheap lens for what it offers, but if you're on a budget, the 55-200 offers equally great image quality (until about 120mm) for much less money.

And this is the 300mm sample. Weak, with obvious softness all around, but still usable.

Final Verdict
I was very happily surprised with this lens. I expected basically a 55-200 (excellent until 100mm, good until 150mm, weak after that) with a 300mm extension in the focal length range. I was wrong! The 55-300 is excellent all the way until 200mm. And although things get weak after that, it's still definitely a better option than the 55-200, if you have the money. But how does it compare to the 70-300 VR? For many users, this could be a valid question: "Which to choose, 55-300 or 70-300?". But in the 55-300 vs 70-300 question, there is only one sense-making answer: If you're a DX user, go for the 55-300. If you're an FX user, go for the 70-300. The latter offers somewhat better build quality, but loses a bit of range. It's also bigger, longer, heavier. Optically, they're equal: superb until 200mm, losing after that. Although, hard-pressed, I think I'd still go for the 70-300 if we compared 300mm performance.

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