Nikon AF-S VR 300mm f2.8 G for Bird Photography
It has been overa year since I purchased my legendary 300 2.8 lens and I have been using it week in and week out since then. It has become my go to lens in many more situations than I had ever anticipated. Because I am still lacking the long prime that I have been needing for a couple of years the 300 has truly become my most used lens. i often use a 1.4x teleconverter on a crop sensor body which gives an effective focal length of 640mm. For me it is not an adequate substitute for a 500 or 600mm f4 but it does work well enough. Where the 300 really shines is for photographing birds in flight and the larger subjects.
Durability-I have not had a single issue of performance in the many hours of use. Simply said, it works every time I put it on any body and every function works every time I access them. I don’t think you can ask for more than that. There are a few scratches and wear marks here and there but overall the lens appears to be pristine and that is in large part due to the really great soft case Nikon provides. The one thing I love about the case is that it is expandable and will not only hold the lens but also a full body DSLR attached. It has traveled many, many miles both over the road and over the shoulder without damage or incident. I do believe when I have a few bucks to shell out a Lens Coat will be added to the lens and that will make it even more durable. The carbon fiber HK-30 lens hood has also worked without damage or any failure. It attaches straight and secure just as the day it arrived. One thing about the shade that I like is that I can turn the knob to the top so that I can use it as a sight when looking at the subject above the camera, then when I move to the view finder the subject is usually in the frame.
Performance-There is good reason for calling this hunk of glass and metal legendary. It is very sharp indeed and even more impressive is that it is sharpest wide open at f2.8. I generally won’t shoot at 2.8 unless it is low light scene and I am trying to maintain a higher shutter speed because the depth of field is so very shallow as you approach minimum focus distance. Often I can’t get both eyes and feet in focus so I tend to bump the aperture up to about 3.4-4 just to get that extra little bit of depth. My work flow really doesn’t involve sharpening in post anymore, it is that good. Just a little on import of the RAW image and a bit of tonal contrast in NIK Color Effects to bring out feather detail is all that I usually need.
What I find really as impressive as the sharpness is the quality of color and contrast this lens delivers. I have a bunch of lenses many of them are 3rd party and most of the time I feel the need to color correct and adjust saturation levels but with the 300 most of the time it is very, very close to where it needs to be right out of the camera or with a simple white point click. And then there is the Bokeh and what a sweet bokeh it is! One would think that having such a creamy blur would make background less relevent but for me it has just the opposite. I find myself concerned about consistent and complimentary colors more than I have ever been. That’s the pursuit to become a better photographer I suppose.
The 300 2.8 has been paired with my Nikon D2x for most of its life and it has been a great combination. The D2x has a 1.5x crop sensor so that helps with the effective focal length but it is a little dated in iso performance and auto focusing. This camera is perfectly suited for slower subjects and places like zoos. Last week I picked up a new D300s and it is intended to be dedicated to the 300 lens. Still having a 1.5 crop sensor but with much better low light performance and focus tracking. That all translates to higher shutter speeds and quicker focusing which makes the D300s well suited for action and in flight shots. I never noticed any front or back focus issues shooting with the D2x but if there are any it can be easily adjusted with the D300s also.
Next week in part II of the review I will write about how well the 300 works with the new body, VR performance and mention some of the things that just might not make the Nikon 300mm f2.8 the perfect lens for every one.
You can see more of my 300 f 2.8 images here.