Nikon AF-S VR 300mm f2.8 G for Bird Photography (Pt II)
I have to admit that I tasked myself last week with using my new D300s with the lens but did not do a good job of following through with that. While I did use the combo some, the vast majority of time was spent using the new body with a Tamron 200-500mm lens. I simply started playing with the Tammy and wound up using it most of the time trying creative and different things. In my shortened time with the 300/300s combo I can say that it is pretty much what one would expect, better, faster focus, much better low light performance, and the much improved display makes it a lot easier to review images. That last thing is more important than it may seem because when you get quality instant feedback it is much easier to dial in settings and eventually make fewer exposures eliminating many of the “safe” shots. If there are any significant issues good or bad about the body/lens combination I will report it in a future post.
Back to the lens its self, lets talk about the VR. Vibration reduction is one of the most sought after features of any lens these days, and it does make a remarkable difference in coping with camera shake. Nikon is making the VR scene confusing though with its “VR” and VR II technology. Someone please correct me if I am wrong because I do find it confusing but as I understand it the original VR technology had only one mode while the VR II has both a regular mode and an active mode. But alas you say “my 300, my 18-200, or my 200-400 with VR has an active mode!” Yup and the VR II version of those lenses (and others) only have a minor upgrade that claims better performance. I have actually spent many hours trying to sort the whole thing out and never really felt that I was well-informed by anyone so confused I remain. In any case, the lens I am writing about is the VR version but it does have an active mode.
Vibration Reduction works well on the lens and I can hand hold down to about 1/160sec and still get sharp images 1/80 if I am lucky. With an effective focal length of 450mm that is really impressive. Having said that though I really don’t utilize the function much. First of all, a significant amount of my shooting is at shutter speeds of 1/1000sec and above and that is a point where the VR is not helpful, also the 300 is the only lens I now own that has VR so I usually live by the old shutter/focal length rule and find myself shooting at safe shutter speeds anyhow. In a nutshell VR is not a big important thing in my life, I like it but I don’t have to have it most of the time. Flipping it on and off becomes distracting so often I don’t even bother to have it on in the first place. I realize there are many of you out there that say it is the greatest thing since sliced bread but that is how it shakes out for me.
Chromatic aberration? I don’t think there is any.
Sharpness? What’s the line-“So sharp I have to wear gloves so I don’t cut my hands!” Enough said there.
There are a few of down sides to the 300 too. First is the weight and size. Weighing in close to seven pounds, add a pro body and maybe a flash and this thing is just plain heavy. It does not matter if you are using a tripod or hand-held because if you are hiking with a tripod or monopod you are going to feel it on your shoulders, hand-held it is tough on the arms as you get into the day. I always carry a tripod with me even if I plan on shooting handheld most of the time because it is a perfect place to rest the camera to give your arms a break from time to time. The tripod mount is rather small also and that makes it a little more difficult to hold the lens using the mount as a grab handle. The barrel is so big that you may want to consider using that mount to hold the lens and camera all the time. The manual says and I agree with it, never pick up or hold from the camera body as it will damage the (camera to lens) mount.
The second down side is the focal length. In bird photography 300mm does not get you much. If it were not for the fact that I shoot with 1.5x crop sensor cameras I probably would not even consider a 300mm. Truth is I would rather have bought a D700 or D3 but with the 300 lens the D300s was the only real choice because of the sensor. That with using a 1.4x teleconverter put the effective focal length about 630mm. If money, or weight were not a consideration I think the 400 f2.8 would be a much better choice for bird photography while keeping a 2.8 aperture. Still the 300’s great performance and usefulness in other forms of photography make it a worthwhile investment. Personally, I think the feather detail I get with the 300 even cropped a little is un-parelleled and I don’t regret buying it for a moment.
Then there is that last big down side, the price. The original VR version is no longer available new and the VRII is selling for between $5800 and $6400. Include $550+ for a polarizer filter and you are talking some serious cheddar. Sure it is cheap compared to the 400 2.8 or the 600 f4 but with those two lenses you do get that little (a lot??) more length and that is really useful in bird photography. There are much cheaper options to the 300 that are very good but not legendary. I think for many people the price will push them down into the very good category. The 300 2.8 is for serious folks who feel they need to spend serious money to make the images they want to make. That last sentence may sound a little weird but isn’t that the way it is? It is that last little bit that makes the difference for some of us.
After more than a year of regular use and abuse I can still make crappy images with the 300, in fact I make as many as I do with any other lens. There is no lens in the world that will overcome bad lighting, bad technique, or inexperience, but what it will do is deliver very sharp images, consistent and true colors, detail and contrast that will make great images amazing and it will do it everyday of the week. No fuss no muss, put it on your camera, do everything else right and you are in the big leagues baby!
Thanks for reading as always. If you want to see more of my work visit my website at www.ronboyddesign.com.