Monday, March 11, 2013

Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR

After writing my thoughts on the AF-S 55-300mm, I felt I had to refer to the 70-300 VR as well. There are many prospective buyers of a tele lens that feel these two are their best options in the consumer tele zoom category. They are generally right (although I think both Sigma and Tamron have some options worth considering), but there is one very important difference: The 55-300mm is a DX lens; the 70-300mm is an FX lens. What does that mean? Read on!

+ superb image quality until 200mm, very good until 270mm, good after that
+ plenty of functionality. Instant MF override, VR (with its own normal/active switch), nothing missing really.
+ For an FX tele zoom, this isn't too long in physical dimensions. Easily fits in smaller bags, too.

- built quality is better than the cheaper DX zooms, but still, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
- slow aperture, as expected
- 300mm is, unsurprisingly, the weakest point of the lens.

Up until 200mm, image quality is superb, especially in plenty of light (where you can afford to stop down a bit)

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 great until 250mm, but somewhat weak at 300mm.Obviously, forget about teleconverters, too.
  • DX users. The 55-300mm is a more sense-making option.

Final Verdict
Many of the things I had to say about the 55-300mm also apply on the 70-300mm as well. In fact, my advice is the same. In the question "how does it compare to the 55-300?", there is only one sense-making answer, really: If you're a DX user, go for the 55-300. If you're an FX user, go for the 70-300.Although, I have to add that an FX user with a consumer/cheap tele zoom is a bit of an oxymoron. Ultimately, although there is not much wrong optically with the 70-300 (at least until 200mm), an AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 (perhaps adding a teleconverter to reach the 300mm) would be a far more balanced (on FX) option. Much more expensive, to be sure, but also greatly superior - especially in terms of built quality, functionality, and low-light performance.

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