Review: Nikon 300mm f4E PF ED VR (Nikon F)

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When Nikon announced the update to their 300mm f4 earlier this year, the updates seemed very intriguing considering the way that they designed the lens. It features a special fresnel design that can keep the size down quite a bit, and in doing that they developed a lens that can easily fit into a camera bag while attached to your camera. That’s important for bird photographers, landscape photographers wildlife shooters, sports shooters, and those that like photographing random things and have lots of money to burn.

The 300mm f4E PR EF VR lens from Nikon has 9 aperture blades, 16 elements in 10 groups, and can focus as close as 4.6 feet. With the price tag coming in at just under $2,000, you’re still getting a pretty good deal, but that’s still quite expensive overall.

One thing’s for sure though: they sure didn’t skimp on the quality.

Pros and Cons

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 300mm f4 review photos image samples (26 of 44)ISO 4001-500 sec at f - 4.5

Pros

– Very, very lightweight

– Extremely fast focusing abilities with the D810 when shooting sports. Of course, you should stop the lens down for the best results.

– Sharp image quality without a single complaint.

– Beautiful bokeh from the nine aperture blades

– Fairly small and pretty low profile

– More useful than we initially thought it would be

Cons

– High price tag, even though for what it is that’s still a pretty good price.

– Color is a bit muted compared to the company’s other prime lenses. This is easily fixed in post-production.

Gear Used

We tested the Nikon 300mm f4 with the Nikon D810.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the lens

Performance
Focal Length 300mm
Comparable 35mm Equivalent on DX Format Focal Length: 450 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/4
Minimum: f/32
Camera Mount Type Nikon F
Format Compatibility Nikon FX/35mm Film
Nikon DX
Angle of View 8° 10′
DX Picture Angle: 5° 20′
Minimum Focus Distance 4.6′ (1.40 m)
Magnification 0.24x
Elements/Groups 16/10
Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Filter Thread Front:77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.50 x 5.81″ (89 x 147.5 mm)
Weight 26.63 oz (755 g)
Packaging Info
Package Weight 2.95 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 9.7 x 5.9 x 5.7″

Ergonomics

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The Nikon 300mm f4E PF ED VR is quite a long name, but the lens is overall pretty short. With the lens hood reversed, it’s not going to take up much room in your camera bag either. You can clearly see this in the image above featuring the Artisan and Artist tote.

But when you put the lens hood on in the proper way, it changes the story a bit.

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The top of this lens features pretty much all of the controls that you’d expect with a newer Nikkor prime–autofocus/manual focus control. Indeed, that’s all there is besides the distance scale and the fairly plastic exterior that feels right on par with the company’s 50mm f1.8 G lens.

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Turn to the side and you’ll find the controls. Here you’ve got the VR control, focusing type and focusing distance control. We generally left the latter on full and didn’t look back.

Build Quality

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The Nikon 300mm f4 doesn’t feel anywhere as beefy as many of the company’s other lenses, and I guess that’s a good thing in this case. The company’s 24-70mm f2.8, 70-20mm f2.8 and other lenses feel much sturdier and heavier than this lens and the fact that they could make it this lightweight is quite incredible.

That’s not to say that this lens feels flimsy, but I wouldn’t rate it amongst the company’s most high end made products in terms of build quality.

Though Nikon doesn’t exactly state it in their marketing, the Nikon staff on the company’s website states that it has some protection from the elements. However, they still also say to be cautious.

Then you also need to consider that this lens is 1.5lbs lighter and 30% shorter than the previous version.

Autofocus

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 300mm f4 review photos image samples (35 of 44)ISO 64001-250 sec at f - 4.0When using this lens with the Nikon D810, we found continuous autofocus while shooting sports to be pretty spot on most of the time. Of course, focusing performance becomes better as you stop the lens down due to more of the scene being in focus. The 300mm f4 proved to be frustrating only when the lens focused using the 3D tracking method; but even then it was pretty accurate.

If you’re a photographer looking to shoot sports with this lens, then you’ll have very little in the way of problems. Autofocus performance with this lens only really becomes a bit of a bummer when shooting sports and needing to only shoot wide open. You can surely try to but you won’t be guaranteed the best results.

Ease of Use

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Like many of the company’s newest G lenses, all that you’ll need to remember is to activate the VR when shooting handheld. Additionally, the user needs to activate sports mode when panning and remember to take off VR when you’re on a tripod. Though for what it’s worth, the lens will know when it’s on a tripod.

Otherwise, it’s as simple as it can possibly be: point, focus and shoot.

Image Quality

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If you’re paying nearly $2,000 for a lens, then it’d better have image quality performance akin to that of a star athlete that lots of people with too much money will bet on. Indeed, the Nikon 300mm E PF ED VR hits a home run, a slam dunk, and a touchdown in terms of image quality. A lens like this is bound to be used with lots of natural light or at least stadium lighting and in a variety of shooting situations this lens performed like a star.

The 300mm f4E PF ED VR has sharp image quality, great bokeh that simply melts into the background, controls color fringing very well and has decent color rendition. For what it’s worth, the latter could be stronger–and some of the colors seem nowhere as great as some of its closest competitors. But the reality is that this is 2015 and Adobe Lightroom can pretty much fix any problem that a photographer has.

Sharpness

Wide open, this lens is very sharp, and you’ll have very little to complain about. When you stop it down just a tad, you’ll reach the lens’s best image quality. We recommend not going past f8 or f11. For what it’s worth though, Nikon has sharper lenses, especially in their primes, and at 300mm the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Contemporary seems sharper although only slightly.

This is something that you should consider if you’re going for the more lightweight option. Of course, you’ll still get sharp images, but they won’t be as sharp as the higher end options.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 300mm f4 review photos image samples (18 of 44)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 4.0

The strongest quality of this lens is the bokeh–and that’s obvious given that it’s such a long telephoto lens. At no point did we find it hazy. Rather, it was very creamy throughout the entire focusing range. Nikon has always had great bokeh and this is also where this lens seems to edge out its competition.

Color Rendition

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 300mm f4 review photos image samples (44 of 44)ISO 2001-400 sec at f - 4.0

Where the Nikon 300mm f4 seem to suffer a bit is with color rendition. We’re used to seeing much more saturated colors with Nikon’s primes but in this case it wasn’t as strong here. It’s still pretty good, but for what we’re paying we expected a bit of extra pop in the color.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 300mm f4 review photos image samples (32 of 44)ISO 12501-100 sec at f - 4.0

In our tests, we found no color fringing. Pixel peepers rejoice–and then get over it really quickly.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Likes

– Small form factor

– Sharp enough and colorful enough for me because I bring all my images into Lightroom anyway, but it may be a bit of a pain for others

– Fast focusing

Dislikes

– $2,000 price tag

The Nikon 300mm f4E PF ED VR lens is one that makes sacrifices for a small size, but that still in many ways delivers. If you’re expecting anything near f2.8 quality here, you’re kidding yourself. This lens was designed as a more affordable solution for those that want the extra reach but don’t want the higher price tag. And indeed the lens does its job and does it well. But if you’re familiar with how good some of Nikon’s prime lenses are, then you’ll know that the image quality took a bit of a back seat despite it still being very good overall.

You only have to expect that, and if you can do that then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this lens.

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Nikon 300mm f4 E PF ED VR receives four out of five stars. Want one? Check out the B&H Photo listing for the latest price.

Recommended Cameras

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon D810 first impressions product images (7 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 3.2

Nikon D810: The top of the sub-professional grade DSLRs is a great camera to pair this with for its focusing abilities.

Nikon D750: As one of the fastest focusing cameras in the company’s lineup, there is very little to complain about here.