The compact Nikkor 300mm f/4 VR is ideal for sports and wildlife. Let’s take a look at the pro lens that breaks all the rules. Pro spec primes are large, heavy and expensive – aren’t they? In many cases they are all of the above, and then some. But when it comes to the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised in more ways than one.
Taking up position at the top of Nikon’s f/4 FX lens line-up, the 300mm perfectly fills a gap in the range. This focal length is tailor-made for sports and wildlife. But at just 755g and 148mm long this lens could appeal to a much wider demographic, including landscape and travel photographers. And while the £1639 price-tag isn’t cheap, it’s certainly much more affordable than the f/2.8 version that weighs in at a whopping £3999 and 2.9kg! Of course, the f/2.8 has the clear advantage of a larger maximum aperture, but f/4 is more than adequate for both sports and wildlife photography.
So what allows this lens to be so compact and lightweight? The 300mm f/4 is the first F-Mount lens to feature a phase Fresnel element, which is used with the intention ofreducing size while maintaining image quality. In fact, it’s the lightest lens of its type available. The lens uses 16 elements in ten groups, and the front element features a fluorine coating to help repel water, dust and dirt. Vibration Reduction is included, and provides image stabilisation up to 4.5 stops across two shooting modes – Normal and Sport. And for more consistent exposures when shooting at high frame rates, there’s the electromagnetic aperture diaphragm, which is considered more reliable. All this is housed in a well-built body, that unfortunately isn’t weather-sealed to the extent of more expensive Nikkor lenses.
Generally speaking, prime lenses produce superior image quality compared to zooms. The true test of any lens is how well it produces images, and the 300mm f/4 is an impressive performer. Images are sharpest in the centre and at the edges at f/4 and f/5.6. From f/8 there’s a gradual drop off in sharpness across the image, but you could still comfortably shoot at these narrower apertures if necessary. A small amount of pincushion distortion is visible, along with a tiny amount of chromatic aberration at the edges of images. There’s also a small amount of vignetting at the two widest apertures that drops off almost completely at f/8. All three issues are negligible and can be easily corrected in post-processing.
The Nikon 300mm f/4 is an impressive lens that breaks the mould of prime telephoto lenses. The main let down is the lack of full weather-sealing. However, image quality is very good, but what really makes it so special is the incredible reduction in size and weight. The best part, however, is the £1639 price-tag – a bargain for a high-end 300mm.
- Street price: £1470 (As of June 2016)
- Full frame or APS-C: Full frame
- Lens mount: Nikon F
- Max aperture: f/4
- Min aperture: f/32
- Minimum focus distance: 1.4m
- Filter size: 77mm
- Weight: 755g
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the August 2015 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.