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Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens hands-on

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This is my hands-on of the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens.

Dimensions

The Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens is sold with a hood and a soft lens case. At 18.7oz / 580g this lens weights as much as the 18-200 VRII lens - pretty light considering the zoom range. Size comparison: the 55-300 lens is thinner and a little bit longer than the full frame 28-300mm lens:

Except the product shots above, all photos were taken with a Nikon D300s (without a tripod) and without any post-processing. I wanted to show the images the way they came out of the camera. I used Lightroom 3 to convert and resize the original NEF to JPG files (no cropping). Most of the pictures were taken at 300mm - I can imagine that people will buy this lens because of its tele focal length, which currently provides the longest DX zoom available today. Expect better picture quality in the shorter focal lengths. For the record, this is a consumer lens, so set your expectations right.

Sports

The Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens is not fast - at 300mm, the maximum aperture is only f/5.6. Even when shooting on the beach, with the sun behind me, I still had to push the ISO to 400 in order to freeze the action with shutter speed above 1/1000:



Wild life

Similar to sports, do not expect to shoot wild life at base ISO with the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, unless you are using tripod. The reach of this lens on a DX camera is 450mm (1.5 crop factor) which is very powerful. Unless you have very steady hands, you must raise the ISO/shutter speed in order to avoid blurry images. Almost all of those pictures were taken at ISO 400:



Low light

What low light? Not with this lens. Even at 55mm, the maximum aperture is f/4.5. Nikon describes this lens as "ideal for capturing distant subjects, at athletic events, family pictures, dramatic sunsets, travel", but the two image samples on their website are from stage performances. And since they mentioned sunsets, here are some photos - this is the closest I could get to low light shooting with this lens:

Ergonomics

The zoom ring is not as smooth as the 18-200mm DX lens for example. For that reason the lens doesn't have a zoom lock button - it doesn't need one. I carried the lens attached to a camera facing down for hours and the zoom did not extend at all. The tightened zoom ring in this case is a feature and not a disadvantage. The focus ring is located closer to the hood, similar to the 70-200 VRII lens.

The Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens has only Manual (M) and AF (A) selections. You cannot manually adjust the focus when in AF mode (the focus ring is locked while in AF). Sometimes you have to switch to manual focus in order to completely retract the lens.

The hood has a new "snap-on" design and I actually like it - you just have to get used to the fact that the hood is freely rotating at all times (which on other lenses with the previous design means that the hood is loose).

The 55-300mm lens has a metal mount:

Sharpness

This is a 100% crop of a test chart comparison I did between the new FX 28-300mm lens @ 300mm f/5.6 and the DX 55-300mm @ 300mm f/5.6 (both taken with Nikon D300s, ISO 400). Please note that I am comparing a $1000 full frame lens with a $400 DX lens:

Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 FX @300mm f/5.6

Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 FX @300mm f/5.6

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DX @300mm f/5.6

Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DX @300mm f/5.6

Just FYI: if you want a proof why prime lenses are better, here is the new AF-S 85mm f/1.4 lens @ f/5.6 (taken with Nikon D700, ISO 200):

Nikon 85mm @ f/5.6

Nikon 85mm @ f/5.6

There is definitely a margin of error in my test charts comparison. In this case, I was using different cameras at different ISO settings. The test chart was always filling up the frame and the 100% crop is from the portion above the center.

Light fall off (vignetting)

With minimum aperture of f/4.5 at 55mm and 5.6 at 300mm, I did not notice any visible light fall or vignetting.

Focusing

Focusing is very quiet. On few occasions I had difficulties focusing at 300mm, but this would also be the case with any other high-power zoom lens. It is inconvenient that you have to turn the A/M switch in order to manually focus the lens.

Close up

The minimum focusing distance of the Nikon 55-300mm lens is 4.6 feet/1.4 m at all focal lengths - it is not close enough for real macro work, but at 300mm you can get some "close-up" shots:

Bokeh

Some examples on the bokeh of the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens:

Who is it for?

I am guessing that the two main areas where the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 will be used are wild life and sports. This lens is for people on a budget, who like to travel light and do not have any plans to upgrade to a full frame camera in the future. If you do have such plans, I suggest you buy the full frame 70-300mm lens which is $200 more, or the new full frame 28-300mm lens which is almost $700 more. The 55-300mm Nikkor will be a good addition for a two lens kit setup if you already have the 18-55 lens. In most circumstances, you will have to raise the ISO when shooting with the Nikkor 55-300mm. The Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is a replacement for the old 55-200 f/4-5.6 VR lens that costs nearly half the price - this makes me think that the 55-300mm lens is on the expensive site. Expect prices to drop significantly few months after the release date (already dropped $30 from the MSRP a month after it was released).

Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 specs

  • High Refractive Index (HRI) lens element (keeps the lens compact while offering high contrast even at maximum aperture)
  • Two Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements (minimizes chromatic aberration)
  • Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) - enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduces flare
  • Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
  • VR II image stabilization (up to 4 shutter speeds improvements over regular lens)
  • 5.5x zoom lens
  • FX equivalent: 82.5 to 450mm
  • Tripod detection mode
  • Minimum focus distance: 4.6 feet/1.4 m (all focal lengths)
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • Lens design: 17 elements in 11 groups
  • Minimum aperture: f/22 (at 55mm), f/29 (at 300mm)
  • Maximum aperture: f/4.5 (at 55mm), f/5.6 (at 300mm)
  • Picture angle: 28°50’-5°20’
  • Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.28x
  • Filter size: 58mm
  • Dimensions: 3.0 x 4.8 in. / 76.5×123 mm
  • Weight: 18.7 oz / 580g
  • Supplied accessories:
    • LF-1 rear lens cap
    • front cap
    • HB-57 snap-on lens hood
    • CL-1020 soft lens case
  • Nikon Product Number: 2197
  • Price: $369
  • MTF charts (wide|tele):

  • Lens construction:

Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 related links from around the web:

Next [NR] hands-on will be a comparison between the new Nikon 28-300mm and 24-120mm lenses.

Disclosure: I got this lens from B&H who is an affiliate sponsor of NikonRumors.com.
This entry was posted in Nikon Lenses, [NR] Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • MinnieChasper

    THank you!!

  • john

    About the Focusing Part. AF-S(lens with lens motor ), just press and hold on the AE-L/AF-L button on the camera and you can cut of the AF control from the camera and you can turn the focus ring freely

    “On few occasions I had difficulties focusing at 300mm, but this would also be the case with any other high-power zoom lens. ”
    This also happen on my Nikon 70-300 VR, for people don’t know how to deal with this problem, just zoom out to let the camera to do a focus first before zoom in and do the finally auto focus

  • alex

    I like the bokeh from those samples.

    • Discontinued

      Yes, and to quote the B-Boys:

      “The wine does go well with the chicken. Delicious again, Peter.”

      Seriously, what do you mean by “bokeh”?
      The out of focus areas or the over all softness of this lens in general?

      6MP would be too much for this lens already. Ridiculous but entertaining.

      • PHB

        Two possibilities

        1) You can actually afford to buy $1,699 professional lenses
        2) You can’t but you like to make it appear as if you do.

        Either way, your sneering comments make you look like someone trying to boast about their expensive fast lenses. Which is rather stupid when photographic equipment is hardly expensive by the standards of automobiles or home furnishing.

        The bokeh looked pretty good to me. At $360 or so it looks like it should be most beginner’s second lens after the 18-55 kit lens. The MTF charts compare pretty favorably with much more expensive lenses from the pre-CAD era.

        It certainly looks as if Nikon are continue to deliver for DX owners which is good.

        • Discontinued

          I don’t get your point
          (or most of your points as there are plenty).

          Mine is that this lens is soft. Period.

      • st r

        Are you really judging the quality of a lens from these scaled-down samples? You can’t even see the original pixels, only their web-friendly approximation, and you don’t even know *how* these were resized.

        Both these samples and comments based on them are irrelevant toward assessing image sharpness.

        • Discontinued

          “Are you really judging the quality of a lens from these scaled-down samples?”

          I would never go on about the (excellent) quality of a lens from scaled down-samples, but if the lack of it shows even scaled down, …

          … well this is different story, isn’t it?

          And then there are the downloads from Nikon itself (post-sharpened fakes BTW) plus admins shots of the test chart.

          How much proof does someone need?

          And BTW, this is my last comment on this subject. The results from that lens are somewhat entertaining and this is what NR is all about (to me): funny infotainment while taking short breaks from work.

          I am neither interested in arguing or convincing anybody.

          • B

            @Disontinued

            Actually Nikon doesn’t post-process their lenses typically. I’ve done work with them on a camera (pre-release), and this was one of their strict requirements.

            Also, you really seem like a bit of troll for the record :) Particularly given your last sentence above.

  • camaman

    I presume that chart is also suitable for other cameras or lenses.. no?

    -How do you go about shooting it? Fixed distance from camera or do you change the distance so the photo of the chart fills the frame at certain focal length?? (-better IMO)

    -Have you taken pictures at 85mm with 55-300 and 28-300mm?
    It would be interesting how it compares at that focal length to 85mm prime! :-)

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      I do change the distance in order to fill the frame with the test chart – it is not optimal, but I think we can still clearly see the difference. As far as I now the test chart is good for other cameras and lenses. I don’t have any pics taken at 85mm, I guess I can take some tomorrow.

  • J-Alex

    Liked the review, when is the Nikon 28-300mm and 24-120mm comparison test going to be posted?

    I am probably going to preorder a D7000 and I am considering the 24-120mm F4 to go with it, I haven’t seen much about it yet, other than the sample shots on Nikon’s website.

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      I should be getting the 24-120 next week, I have the 28-300 in my hands already. I will try to post the comparison next weekend.

  • http://joelc.com.au Joel C

    Great review Peter, keep up the good work

  • ShutterMonkey

    Thanks for the review. I think it sounds like the 70-300 VRII, for a light tele zoom, is a better bet. Any chance for a head-to-head against the 70-300? (I’ve also heard good things about the Tamron 70-300 VC)

    “set your expectations right” for a lens of this price

    I think that can’t be emphasized enough. I’m not the only one looking for a light telezoom for a walkaround & travel lens, but from what I’ve tried/seen of these lenses, after shooting with a beauty (well, *I* like it) the 80-200 AF-d, it’s pretty hard to go back. Not that I typically print bigger than 16×20, but I do like being able to crop substantially before losing the crisp image (among all the other benefits of pro lenses).

    .oO(hmm.. maybe if I renew my petition towards Nikon’s application for exemption from the laws governing optics)

    • ShutterMonkey

      whoops, missed closing the bold tag, sorry.

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      I do not have the 70-300mm (I used to, but sold it when I got the 70-200 VRII).

  • Ralph Emerson

    Nice review. Curious about your impressions of VR on this lens. Hand-held to…?

  • Alex

    It would be nice if you compared it apples to apples.

    Shooting two zoom lenses wide open and then comparing it to a 4 stopped down prime is semi retarded.

    Shoot them all at the same focal length, then compare them, each wide open, then stopped down, for a real comparison.

    Otherwise its nice, but seriously, no more amateur testing shit on here please ;).

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      I agree with you Alex – I just added the 85/1.4 shot to show how clear the chart can be, in addition the 85/1.4 was shot on a D700 at a lower ISO, as I already mentioned in the post. Will do better next time.

    • Mock Kenwell

      Yow. Take it easy Alex. This is Peter’s second lens review. He’ll get there. Great job, Peter. I like this addition to the site on days when rumors are slow.

      • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

        No, actually Alex had a valid point and this was constructive criticism – I have always welcome that. I even wouldn’t call this a review, I call it hands-on. Maybe after I do few of those and know what to look for, I may start calling them reviews. I will be doing this only for new equipment from now, so it will not get boring (ok, I will do also the 24 f/1.4, which was released few months ago).

        • CamaJan

          Great! That would be a great addition to the blog and forum.
          Will you be posting the 85mm samples taken with each lens here or in forum or as a sepparate nlog entry?:-)
          Thanks for taking your time to show us the differences!
          :-)

        • marco

          actually I liked the casual tone of this review. There are already lots of review sites that will give the condescending techy type of reviews.

          • marco

            i forgot to add: please keep the comparisons with other lenses – although try to keep the conditions similar. many people will have one of the 18-55 kit lenses , or an 18-200 or the 35dx and brief comparisons to these lenses will help people making decisions – other sites don’t tend to do this!

    • Char

      What is “semi retarded” about comparing the 55-300 @ f/5.6 with the 85/1.4 @ f/5.6? One of the benefits of the prime lenses is that at a given f-stop, they are further stopped down and thus usually give the better results.

      If I am in a situation where I need f/5.6, I will use f/5.6, regardless of whether my lens is able to do f/1.4, f/2.8 or f/5.6. So comparing “apples with apples” means comparing at the same f-stop. The image from the prime is to show how good a good lens can be under the same circumstances, which I guess is a good guide.

      Or would the 50/1.4 AF-D, which is rather soft wide open, become a better lens if it was limited to f/2.8 electronically? Because it would then be better wide open? Certainly not – you would just lose some f-stop options.

  • Greg

    Why do you have “DOF” in parenthesis next to the Bokeh title?

    Perhaps you meant “OOF” (out of focus).

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      no, this is not suppose to be there, fixed now

  • http://www.truphotos.com gnohz

    Great job Admin! Looking forward to the next review :)

  • GloryGuide

    Great review! I would love to see the same tests run on the new Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens. I bought one and so far I have been blown away by the performance in shooting sports. The USD focuses very fast and the XLD glass seems to make for incredible sharp images. I would guess at this point that it outperforms the Nikon 70-300mm from what I have seen of others images. It would be nice to see how it compares to the 55-300mm being that the price is about the same.

  • James

    I hope this isn’t the replacement for the 55-200mm. That lens has IF, and I prefer it for that reason.

  • NikonJoe

    The test chart looks out of focus. How did you adjust focus when shooting the chart? Did you do MF iterations to find best focus?

  • DSLRMania

    Am I missing something? It is a DX lens, yet under the wild life testing you mentioned that its reach on a DX lens is 450mm because of 1.5 crop. Maybe you were thingking of the FX lens at the moment.

    • KOK Yoon Lee

      DSLRMania: I think [NR]admin is correct. A DX lens has a smaller image circle that is smaller than that of a FX lens. Putting a DX lens on a FX cam will result in severe vignetting.

      The focal length of a lens remains the same regardless of the size of the sensor. However the angle of view for the same lens on a DX cam results in a 1.5x crop factor. Hence, putting this lens or the [FX] 70-300 on a DX cam at 300mm should result in the same angle of view, one that is equivalent to that of a 450mm lens on a FX cam.

      On another note, I think 55mm on a DX cam is just short enough for this lens to be used for walkabout as opposed to 70mm, which I find a bit too long for this purpose.

      • C

        Isn’t the whole point of a 1.5x crop factor that everything is smaller by a 1.5x factor?

        You’re not just dealing with a smaller image circle. The sensor also has to be closer to the focal point.

        That means that this particular lens, fully extended at 300mm is really 200mm long, or about 8 inches. (Insert joke here.)

        If you tried to mount a Canon EF-S lens (1.6x crop factor meaning that the sensor is even closer to the focal point) on an EF body, you’ll smash the sensor.

        Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • DSLRMania

    I see what he meant. 300mm DX lens on a DX body is the same as the 450mm FX lens on FX body. Got it.

    • Dominique

      Actually, a 300mm DX lens on a DX body is the same as a 300mm FX lens on an FX body. A 300mm FX lens on a DX body is equivalent to a 450mm FX lens on an FX body.

      • George

        Actually, the focal length is always constant, regardless of the DX or FX label. So a 300mm dx lens on a dx body is NOT the same as a 300mm fx lens on an fx body – it is the same as a 450mm fx lens on an fx body (which you correctly stated). A dx lens simply has a smaller image circle at the same focal length, so will only cover a dx sensor. The dx only specifies the smaller image circle and nothing else. So if you tried a 300mm DX Lens on an FX body, you’d actually get a small circular image in the middle of the frame with black all around it, as the dx lens does not cover the larger image circle of the fx sensor.

  • 55-300mm

    can I know how fast can this lens focus? same as 18-200mm & af-s 70-300mm or slower than the both lens? I would like to know to help myself to decide which lens are suitable for me to shoot something like catwalk~ thanks ~ love to have your answer~

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      I would say that the 18-200 will focus probably faster because it has a shorter focal length (200 vs 300).

  • http://www.bernardovaghi.com.br Bernardo Vaghi

    This lens sounds like piece of crap! lol

    Poor image quality, my 70-201 AF-D it´s extremely better than this samples.If Admin let me post my image gallery here, i show you great examples of this glass.

    Regards!

    ps.: Great review Admin, and thanks a lot for your website, it contributes with photography around the world!

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      sure you can post a link to your pictures here

  • http://www.bernardovaghi.com.br Bernardo Vaghi

    This is the images from the “oldie” AF-D 70-210D:

    http://www.bernardovaghi.com.br/vaghi_setembro2010/

  • B

    Thanks for the review, keep it up!

  • http://panteras.up.edu.mx/ Oscar

    I can say, I was looking for a zoom lens, but I wanted it to be cheap. And when this lens was released, I realized was the lens for my D5000.
    I prove it in a theatre and works great. Maybe not very good in low light beacuse is a f5.6, but I liked it a lot.
    Thanks for the review!!

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