Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm 1:4 E PF ED VR N Lens (f/4)

Review of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm 1:4 E PF ED VR N Lens (f/4).

Overall Rating:

Nikon

This made-in-China lens is 8 years old and it debuted at $2000 USD. It has a gold ring on it signaling that it is a pro caliber lens. Or perhaps the gold ring is there because the lens has nine aperture blades or Nikon's nano coating...? What stands out is that it is a very, very compact lightweight design for a 300mm lens. And, it has VR technology built-in which makes it easier to use handheld.

This lens was introduced before the 45MP Nikon D850 and about a year after the introduction of the Nikon D810, which is a 36MP camera.

This is an "E" lens meaning that it replaced the mechanical coupling for controlling the diaphragm/aperture of the lens with an electronic one. Even though this breaks compatibility with some older camera bodies, it is more reliable than the mechanical coupling.

It features one large ED element and one PF element, but no aspherical elements which are not common in telephoto primes. This makes for a very modern lens design. This lens also features internal focus.

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black vulture in flight — TC-17E II teleconverter — cropped in post
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moon — TC-20E III teleconverter — uncropped — DX mode (detail)
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crescent moon — TC-20E III teleconverter — uncropped — DX mode (detail)
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agave
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rock formation — TC-17E II teleconverter

This lens is not really a replacement for another design because of the PF element, but Nikon have a long history of making f=300mm/4 lenses. The last before the lens in this review was the AF-S 300mm f/4D IF ED which is now 9 years old and a good performing lens but much larger (by three inches), heavier (by twice), and lacking of VR. This lens is compared to the Nikon Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/5.6 E PF ED VR N and then it is compared to the Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6 E ED VR.

Compactness Compared

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AF-S 70-200mm/4 lens compared (captured with Nikon 1 V3 camera)
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AF-S 28-300mm/3.5-5.6 lens at f=300mm compared (captured with Nikon 1 V3 camera)

Size Compared

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AF-S 200-500mm/5.6 lens at f=300mm compared (captured with Nikon 1 V3 camera)

Breathing

This lens exhibits very little to no focus breathing. This means a depth of field calculator simply works.

Performance

There is no color fringing in the center and only very little in the corners, and slight vignetting can be found. Concerning vignetting, the lens has some wide open but stopping down cleans it up. Distortion is almost nonexistent.

It is quite sharp wide open until diffraction sets in around f/8.

The autofocus is fast and relatively silent... a good sports/action lens.

Color fringing detail at 3-to-1:

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center at f/6.3
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corner at f/6.3

Notice the reflective pattern in the speed limit sign above. This is a sharp lens even in the corners which are very sharp. The center is sharper than the corners, of course.

Vibration Reduction

Nikon Z mirrorless cameras with IBIS increase the effectiveness of the VR in this lens.

There is a rumor that this lens has a flawed VR system because at around 1/100th-1/160th of a second it supposedly creates blurrier images than without VR turned on. As of serial number 239540 it appears to be fixed. Nikon probably fixed this problem some time ago assuming that it ever was a problem. This was tested on a Nikon Z mirrorless camera using the silent shutter and it should be noted that this problem was rumored to be with the D800 and D810 lines of cameras.

UPDATE: After testing the VR of this lens on a Nikon D800E, it does appear a bit too soft especially when compared to the results out of the Nikon Z7. Why this is, is a mystery to be sure.

Using the TC-20E III Teleconverter
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This lens is so sharp in the center and not too slow at f/4 that using a 2× teleconverter for an effective f=600mm/8 is feasible. While not as detailed as a f=600mm lens would be, some details are recovered using the TC-20E III. Many Nikon DSLR autofocus systems support f/8 lenses, but Nikon mirrorless cameras do better with focusing this lens at f/8 since the autofocus system is not behind a mirror. Still, the autofocus takes a noticeable hit with this teleconverter attached.

It should be noted that this combination does lose some contrast, but it is negligible.

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sharpness without teleconverter; distant object (detail)
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sharpness when using the TC-20E III teleconverter (notice the legibility of the text on the warning label); same distance (detail)
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black vulture in flight using TC-20E III teleconverter (notice the moderate color fringing) (detail)
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turkey vulture in flight using TC-20E III teleconverter (detail)
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carolina wren using TC-20E III teleconverter — DX mode (detail)

There is great detail revealed by using the TC-20E III teleconverter! Color fringing is not too bad given that this is a 2× teleconverter, and again, some contrast is lost.

Using the TC-17E II Teleconverter
Nikon

This teleconverter increases this lens to a f=510mm/6.7 which is still pretty decent. The TC-14E III teleconverter can also be used (see below) making it a f=420mm/5.6.

This teleconverter is a bit long in the tooth. Nikon need to come out with an improved TC-17E III (which would probably be for the Z-mount anyway).

The point of focus is the warning label on the transformer.

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sharpness without teleconverter; distant object (detail)
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sharpness when using the TC-17E II teleconverter (notice the legibility of the text on the warning label); same distance (detail)
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black-crested titmouse (using TC-17E II, not cropped) (detail)
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black vulture (using TC-17E II, not cropped) (detail)

From the above images, it appears that the bokeh is negatively impacted with a teleconverter attached. Also, teleconverters introduce a lot of color fringing on the edges of the image. This can be removed in post (next image).

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black-crested titmouse — color fringing removed in post (detail)
Using the TC-14E III Teleconverter
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This teleconverter increases this lens to a f=420mm/5.6 which is very useable as far as telephoto lenses go. Sharpness remains high and color fringing is well controlled.

For wildlife, though, this 420mm is the bare minimum. Because the images produced by this PF lens hold up well against teleconverters, go for the TC-17E II or TC-20E III teleconverters for more reach.

There is not much more color fringing along the edges of the frame than what the lens has without a teleconverter.

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with TC-14E III teleconverter (detail)
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acorn after a summertime shower (detail)

The color fringing is much better controlled than what was seen using the TC-17E II teleconverter.

TC-14E III, TC-17E II and TC-20E III Compared

The below tree trunk images are focused to approx. 15ft/4.5m.

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tree trunk: sharpness without teleconverter — 1-to-1 — cropped
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tree trunk: sharpness when using the TC-14E III teleconverter — 1-to-1 — cropped
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tree trunk: sharpness when using the TC-17E II teleconverter — 1-to-1 — cropped
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tree trunk: sharpness when using the TC-20E III teleconverter — 1-to-1 — cropped

While slightly more magnified, the TC-20E III teleconverter seems almost as sharp as the TC-17E II teleconverter which seems almost as sharp as the TC-14E III teleconverter when used on this lens. This was not the case for the Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR N lens using these teleconverters.

There is no problem recommending the TC-20E III teleconverter for this lens. Just be warned that it is not easy to use a f=600mm/8 lens. A mirrorless camera is almost required for the autofocus to function. Also, it is not easy to find the subject with such a narrow field of view. Keep a function button set to switch between crop modes since it is easier to find the subject in FX mode than DX mode.

If the absolute greatest sharpness is required then the TC-14E III teleconverter is recommended as it does not degrade sharpness very much at all.

The bottom-line is that this lens, like the AF-S 500mm f/5.6 E PF ED VR, works great with teleconverters.

Infrared

For infrared photography, it does not do too well. There is a heavy hotspot at f/32.

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infrared f/32

Ghosting & Flaring

Yes, flaring can be a problem thanks to this design using a PF element. Ghosting and flaring are both catastrophic. It is best to avoid bright lights unless you like what they do to images when using this lens. Luckily, in wildlife photography, this does not often present a problem. Unluckily, sunsets might present a problem.

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ghosting f/4
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flaring f/32

Bokeh

The bokeh is pleasing, not too busy. It's rather "creamy" — a positive word used to describe bokeh.

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bokeh f/4
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bokeh f/5.6
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bokeh f/8

Compatibility

Because this is an "E" (1:4 E) lens, it is compatible with all Nikon DSLR's except the D3000, D40/D40X, D60, D70/D70S, D80, D90, D100, D200, D1 series and D2 series. It is fully compatible with Nikon Z cameras using the FTZ adapter.

Construction

This lens is light and compact for what it is — a 300mm prime lens.

This is an all plastic lens, however, it is very solid feeling. The manual focusing feels good and there is no slop in the focus collar. The lens is weather-sealed and does focus beyond infinity probably due to manufacture tolerances.

This lens has a focus scale but, curiously, no depth of field scale.

The 77mm filter threads do not rotate.

Specifications

Focal length 300mm
Maximum aperture f/4
Minimum aperture f/32
Lens construction 16 elements in 10 groups (including one ED glass element and one PF lens element)
Angle of view 8°10' (5°20' with Nikon DX format)
Minimum focus distance 1.4m/4.6ft. (from focal plane)
Maximum reproduction ratio 1:4.2 (0.24×)
No. of diaphragm blades 9 (rounded)
Filter-attachment size ø77mm
Diameter × length Approximately 89 × 147.5 mm/3.5 × 5.8 in.
Weight Approximately 755 g/27.2 oz.
Supplied accessories 77 mm snap-on Front Lens Cap LC-77, Rear Lens Cap LF-4, Bayonet Hood HB-73, Lens Case CL-M3
Available accessories RT-1 Collar
Price $2000 USD (2015)

Images

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Nikon lens construction legend
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Nikon lens construction legend
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Nikon lens construction legend
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Nikon lens construction legend

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