The Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6G Zoom Lens Quality Results and a Bargain Price
Oct 6, 2002 (Updated Oct 7, 2002)
Review by Howard Creech
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Great Resolution, Cheap, and Lightweight
Cons:For $120, none except the lack of an aperture ring
The Bottom Line: The Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6G Zoom Lens is lightweight, cheap, and will provide budget conscious photographers with exceptional resolution at a bargain price
The Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6G Zoom Lens is a compact and lightweight telephoto zoom featuring excellent resolution, dependable performance, a nine blade iris diaphragm (for enhanced Bokeh and improved contrast), and "D" type precision distance measurement for auto focus accuracy and improved flash performance. This zoom is an excellent example of just how good an inexpensive lens can be.
Recommend this product?
Nikon is leading the way in producing inexpensive zoom lenses that perform as well as (and often outperform) lenses that just twenty years ago were regarded as pro quality benchmark optics costing five to ten times as much. Utilizing the most advanced computer design and manufacturing technology and the extensive use of inexpensive space age materials and the lower labor costs in third world manufacturing plants, Nikon has managed to fine tune efficiency to the point where the company's new "G" series lenses can be sold at prices that undercut even famous low cost optics sellers like Sigma and Tamron.
The primary material used in "consumer" camera bodies, lens barrels, and bayonet mounting flanges is polycarbonate, a tough resin polyamide closely related to epoxy. This space age material is often referred to as plastic, but Polycarbonate is to plastic, what caviar is to fish eggs. Polycarbonate is light in weight, super strong, wears very well, is inexpensive to produce and mold, and is as durable as steel in most cases. The cutting edge F117 "Stealth" Fighter Jet is constructed of this "plastic" material. Nikon has also been a leader in molding precision optical plastic lens elements that rival Nikons famous glass elements in terms of resolving ability and image quality.
In the Field/Handling & Operation
I have an old friend who sells new and used (digital and film) cameras, he knows I love to play with new techno toys so when he stopped by and told me he had one of Nikons new AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lenses and asked if I wanted to go along on a photographic outing to test the lens, my answer was a foregone conclusion. Ive used the old 75-300 Nikkor (the 70-300 series is an update of this venerable Nikkor optic) and Id gotten to test the newer "D" version a while back. I had been curious about how good the "G" version of this Nikon favorite was going to be. I tested my first "G" series lens, the Nikon f3.3-5.6/28-80mm G AF Nikkor Zoom a few months back and I was amazed at how good the lens was, especially in view of the fact that it only costs eighty bucks.
The first weekend in October in Louisville, Kentucky is always reserved for the St. James Court Art Fair. The SJCAF is one of the top twenty art shows in the country and usually draws about 300,000 spectators, art fans, and of course patrons of the arts with bulging billfolds. My friend and I both enjoy it because it is one of the best "people" shows in Louisville. The crowd is an eclectic mixture of young and old and hip and square; and everything in between. Many unknown photographers sell their wares on the art show circuit so it always possible that well discover a budding Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jay Maisel, Eve Arnold, or Eliot Porter.
Friday night we caught the tail end of Hurricane Lilli with heavy rains and high winds and at least one confirmed tornado, but Saturday afternoon was absolutely beautiful, with bright blue skies and wispy white clouds. We loaded up a Nikon N55 and a Nikon N65 and the Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lens and an f3.3-5.6/28-80mm G AF Nikkor Zoom and half a dozen rolls of Elitechrome 100 slide film and headed for Old Louisville.
The worst part of the St. James Court Art Fair is that there is very little parking except along the streets, and that gets grabbed by the early birds. We spent over thirty minutes looking for a place to park and finally ended up parking just off Burnett Street on the wrong side of the I-65 overpass and walking back to the Art Fair. I grew up in old Louisville and spent my early teen years living around the intersection of First and Burnett, so I always enjoy a return visit to my old neighborhood.
We stopped on the way to shoot some interesting environmental portraits at the "Un-Fair" a protest counter art show staged each year by young local artists who feel they have been frozen out of participation in the upscale St. James Court Art Fair. The Un-Fair is staged at the Old Louisville landmark Magnolia Bar & Grill. The Mag Bar is a neighborhood bar in a neighborhood that is filled with edgy young artists and musicians, so the Mag Bar has always been different from most local watering holes. I remember the Magnolia Bar & Grill from my early teen years because my friends and I hung around the old (and long gone) Burger Boy Diner right across the street. We spent about half an hour shooting the hipsters, musicians, and Gen Y kids with green, pink, and blue hair seeing and being seen while looking at the work of young neighborhood artists.
We spent a couple of hours walking around at St. James Court, shooting some of the more interesting patrons, a handful of the lovely old Victorian houses, and a few of the colorful fall blooming floral displays. Overall the Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lens did a great job, especially in being able to reach out into the crowds and grab a face or an interesting pose without alerting the subject. The slow f4.0 maximum aperture did cause some problems in the heavy shade under the old trees along the court, but in good light it did a superb job, especially wide open in the 100-150mm range. The late afternoon golden light worked really well for compositions around the center court fountain and the falling backlit water gave us a chance to check out whether a cheap zoom lens could actually produce good Bokeh (the ability of a lens to render bright out of focus background highlights as soft and muted). Bokeh is seldom a consideration when testing cheap zooms, since all zoom lenses, especially cheap ones, feature poor Bokeh. When the light started to fail we headed home.
The following afternoon we spent several hours checking over the slides we had shot the day before (thanks to two hour E6 processing) and both my friend and I were impressed. The Elitechrome 100 slides were almost perfect when viewed on a color corrected light table with a Schneider 6X loupe. Color, resolution, and contrast were all in the very good to excellent range. We compared slides shot with the Nikkor f3.3-5.6/28-80mm G Zoom lens and the Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lens and both lenses did an exceptional job, which is absolutely amazing considering the fact that you can buy both of these G series zooms for about $200 bucks (if you shop carefully). Clearly the "G" series lenses wont perform as well as Nikons Pro zooms, but with skillful use they can produce slides and prints that are virtually indistinguishable from prints produced by pro optics. Resolution is as sharp as a tack, especially when the lens is stopped down to f8.0. There is a bit of softness at the edges of the frame, but if youre shooting outdoors in natural settings it will just fade into the background. Color accuracy (we always test color by shooting a collection of brightly colored kiddie plastic beach toys against a white background) was spot on, absolutely incredible for a cheap zoom.
Nikon designed the nine-blade iris diaphragm (the blades are rounded) in the Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lens to enhance portrait backgrounds by softening and muting out of focus highlights. This effect is known as Bokeh, and generally cheap zooms actually accentuate and harden out of focus highlights, which makes them poor choices for environmental portraits. We wanted to see if Nippon Kogakus engineers and optical experts could actually design a cheap zoom with decent Bokeh. While the 70-300s Bokeh is nowhere near the quality of Bokeh champs like the AF ED-IF 180/f2.8 Nikkor or the 85/f1.4D AF IF Nikkor, it does a better job of controlling and softening background highlights than many zooms costing two to three times as much.
Focal length Range: 70-300mm
Maximum Aperture: F4.0
Minimum Aperture: F22
Minimum Focusing Distance: 4.9 feet
Lens Formula: 13 elements in 9 groups
Diaphragm: 9 blades (rounded for improved Bokehvery rare in a low priced lens)
Filter size: 62mm
Weight: 17 ounces
Included HB-26 Lens Hood, rear (F mount) and front (lens) caps
Optional soft case
Street Price Range $100-$160
The lens is manufactured at Nikons factory in China. Extensive use of Polycarbonate (to include the bayonet mount), highly efficient precision manufacturing of lens elements, and robotic assembly has allowed Nikon to cut per unit cost dramatically and those savings are passed along to consumers.
The Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lens has an attractive satin black finish (the lens is also available in silver, at a higher price). The lens is lightweight and noticeably smaller than most similar zoom lenses. The zoom ring is an "easy grip" textured rubber like material. The manual focus ring is poorly damped but it functions very well. I observed no zoom creep and auto focusing was fairly quick and quite accurate, but a little noisy. The front element turns during focusing so using a circular polarizer (or graduated ND filter) will prove difficult. The lens exhibits very minor barrel distortion at 70mm and noticeable pincushion distortion at settings above 200mm. Center and corner sharpness is very good to excellent at all apertures except f4.0. Optimum aperture appears to be f5.6-f8.0. Flare and interior reflections are very well controlled throughout the zoom range.
A Few Concerns
The lack of an aperture ring is a bit difficult for long time photographers to get used to. If youve been shooting for a long time you will need a while to get over the surprise you'll experience every time you reach for the aperture ring (and find nothing there). Most photographers will quickly get used to changing the lens aperture using the controls on the camera, or by manipulating the exposure compensation settings, or using the auto bracketing feature. A real drawback is that "G" series lenses cant be used on classic Nikon Manual cameras like the FM2n or the FM3A. The rotating front element makes the use of circular polarizers and other filters like Grad or Split ND very difficult.
This lens is Best Suited For
Backpackers and other weight conscious travelers, beginning and student photographers, and advanced amateur photographers on a budget.
Nikons production engineers and optical experts have designed a radically new series of compact and light weight AF zoom Nikkors that feature very good optical performance, lower prices, and simplified operation. The Nikon AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G Zoom Lens is one of the flagship offerings of this new series (the AF Nikkor f3.3-5.6/28-80mm G Zoom is the other). The 70-300 zoom is lightweight and cheap, however its performance is exceptional even for an optic costing twice as much, making this Nikon zoom a very real bargain. Nikon has tried in the past to offer consumers cheaper prices, while still providing some of the best optics on the planet. The "E" series lenses offered with the Nikon EM (1979) were much less expensive than comparable Nikkors, but the lenses were exceptional performers. Competition basically equates to lower prices and better deals for consumers, so hopefully Nikons new less expensive zooms will force other major manufacturers to offer high quality zooms with modest price tags.
If you enjoyed reading this lens review, you may find my other lens reviews informative.
Nikon Zoom Lenses
Nikon f3.3-5.6/28-80mm AF-G Nikkor Zoom lens
Nikon AF IF 24-85/f2.8-4.0D Zoom Nikkor
Nikon AF IF 28-200/f3.5-5.6D Zoom Nikkor
Nikon AF 75-240/f4.5-5.6D Zoom Nikkor
Nikon AF 80-200/f2.8D IF-ED AF-S Zoom Nikkor
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