Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR: A Sizeable Advantage

 
AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

The AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens comes after more than a decade of the previous version being launched. Shridhar Kunte puts this new smaller, lighter avatar on test.

This is the first time Nikon has adopted the Phase Fresnel (PF) technology in their lens line up. It allows the lens to be composed of lighter and less complex glass elements, reducing the overall weight. In fact, the new Nikkor 300mm weighs a significant 50% less compared to the 14-year-old AF-S 300 f/4D, which it replaces. It is also 75mm shorter. These improvements are done without compromising on optical design or quality.

Features

The new 300mm has two special elements out of 16, and these are arranged 10 groups (as opposed to 10 elements in 6 groups in its predecessor). These elements are coated with Nano Crystal Coat, which improves light transmission and offers superior colour consistency and reduced flare. To achieve fast, accurate and noiseless focus, this lens is equipped with a Silent Wave Motor (SWM). The focusing action takes place with internal lens elements, which keeps the overall length of the lens constant through its entire focusing range. Because of this, the front element does not rotate while focusing. This is useful if you are using a circular polariser.

This lens also features the proprietary Nikon VR Image Stabilization, which give photographers the ability to shoot at shutter speeds four and half stops lower than would otherwise be possible. VR can be used while capturing videos too.

At its minimum focusing distance, the lens gives a magnification of approximately 0.24 times. Unlike many other Nikon lenses, this lens boasts an electromagnetic mechanism to control the aperture. The main advantage of this is to get consistent exposure while shooting in continuous shooting mode, at all shutter speeds. In terms of features, the new upgrades are significant.

Handling

I used this lens on the Nikon D750 as well as D5500, and it balances well on both cameras, because it weighs a surprisingly low 775 grams. This also makes it easy to carry around, with the lens permanently attached to the body. This was not the case with the heavier, older version of this lens, that came with a tripod caller too. It is possible to handhold the lens for lengthy shooting periods because the smaller overall length does not necessitate a tripod collar. I was able to use the tripod or monopod on the camera body, for support. The SWM design also allows for instant manual override, even when the focus mode switch is in the A/M position. The rubberized focusing ring is wide enough to grab while focusing manually. For manual focusing, a light touch is good enough to change focus. The manual focusing action is smooth and well-damped, allowing fine adjustments.

The image captured at wide open aperture exhibits excellent sharpness at the centre. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/4 (ISO 1600) Photograph/ Shridhar Kunte

The image captured at wide open aperture exhibits excellent sharpness at the centre. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/4 (ISO 1600) Photograph/ Shridhar Kunte

Performance

The focusing speed is fairly fast and the AF operation is very, very quiet. The lens exhibits good sharpness when used wide open but this improves and gives optimum sharpness between f/5.6 and f/8. When shot using the widest aperture, if you have accurately focused on any particular part of the subject, the sharpness of that area is of a very high degree. There is hardly any amount of distortion that is noticeable. Corner light fall off is visible at f/4 but it disappears at f/8. This was more apparent on the FX body, but when used with DX bodies this is not a problem.

In the field, I have used the supplied hood at all times. I pushed this lens to its limit by shooting the images with sun in it as well as against light with lights coming from different angles. I was surprised to notice more flare than I would have wanted in a lens of this nature. The amount of flare remains the same, irrespective of the f stop. While shooting handheld, I managed to get two out of three sharp images at shutter speeds of 1/20 seconds. This is approximately four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb.

Conclusion

The AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR performs very well. The question is if Rs. 1,39,950/- is worth the upgrade if you already own the older lens. The lens offer very good sharpness across the frame from maximum aperture, the VR system is effective and it has good focusing speed. Most importantly, it is more compact, portable, lightweight and can be used handheld far more effectively. Despite a 70% higher cost than its predecessor, the technology which comes with this lens makes it worth the heartburn. For new users, it is well worth the investment.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Nano crystal coating, silent wave motor, internal focusing
18/20
Performance
Silent operation, snappy AF performance
33/35
Build Quality
Light weight, weathersealed
21/25
Ergonomics
Manual focus override, small overall length
13/15
Warranty & Support
Wide area network, two year warranty  
4/5
MRP Rs. 139950
OVERALL 88%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4.5/5
Who should buy it? Sports, wildlife, bird photographers and action photographers who are looking for a compact lens with a focal length of 300mm.
Why? The overall length of the lens is much smaller than the older version. Price to performance ratio it offers is excellent! Need we say more?
Tags: nikon, Nikon D750, AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR, AF-S 300 f/4D, Nikon D5500