Nikon Nikkor AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR full frame lens review (from the perspective of a hummingbird photographer)


Here is a quick review of the Nikon Nikkor AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR full frame lens by a reader:

My motivation for trying this new lens is that each summer (April through September) I spend a bunch of time in the garden photographing hummingbirds. My best photos are usually made with the Af-S 300mm F/4 prime, but it is a heavy lens for extended use. Most times I use a monopod to help support that heavy lens for anything other than a quick session. LIkewise, using the Nikkor 200-500mm, F/5.6 doesn’t work for me either because of its weight, the lack of maneuverability and a slightly sluggish auto-focus, compared to the AF-S 300mm, F/4 prime. However, it has produced some really nice images:

window into the garden 8-13-17_025

Little bird drama 8-13-17_140

cardinal flower 8-8-17_065

My other “go to” lens for chasing hummingbirds is the venerable Af-S 70-300m f/5.6 that I have been using for about the past 10 years. It has been to the Nikon hospital at least once, while still under warranty to replace the focus motor (AF-S). Some say it’s “soft” on the long end (300mm) and maybe it is. However, I can usually hand-hold it and follow the “little birds” for hours, if need be (it is rarely ever hours…). Nikon has a newer 300mm F/4 E “PF” lens (Phase Fresnel) which is much lighter, but it’s $2,000. Besides, the AF-S 300mm F/4 prime is an excellent lens which I already own.

Thus, my hopes for a light, worthy replacement for the 70-300mm AF-S rest upon this new rendition of that classic lens. However, I’m also concerned about compatibility with the D7200, my “go to” DX camera for this type of photography. What does it mean I will "lose focus when it times out?" I need to try it to see if it meets my needs utilizing “back button focus” and “pre-focusing” on flowers and awaiting a bird to alight.

What do you want to read first, the good news or the bad news?

Good news is that the lens seems to focus very quickly using the D7200, about like the 300mm F/4 AF-S prime, even in poor light approaching dusk. Also, the focus appears spot-on, nearly silent. I thought it “was” totally silent at first, but listening closely I can hear a slight hum. Well, not exactly a hum, more like a soft clunk; very quiet. The further the “throw” distance (going from near to way out or vice versa) the more pronounced the clunk. “Clunk” isn’t exactly the right word either, but it’s very quiet. An aside, playing with the AF on my other camera body, the D750, the focus is absolutely quiet. Don’t know why the difference.

Can you handle more good news? Well, the image quality even wide-open (f/5.6 @ 300mm) and especially stopped down to f/6.3, f/7.1 approximates the 300mm AF-S prime IQ. It’s obviously better IQ than my old 70-300mm AF-S zoom at 300mm, which is what I was hoping for. In that regard, I’m quite impressed and pleased with the IQ. NOTE: it became dark and will await morning to check out IQ, AF, etc. with the other body, the D750.

OK, the not so good news… That “time out, loss of focus” is going to bother me when using the D7200. I use back-button AF, and keep the shutter depressed as I follow “those little birds” around. No problem in that mode of attack. However, I didn’t realize how much I focus on a flower, for example, then let up on the shutter and wait a bird to alight or hover by a flower. Then, I would fully depress the shutter and get the shot, most of the time (things happen quickly!). However, with this new lens, the 70-300mm f/5.6 AF-P zoom, if the camera has “timed out” (e.g. info [LEDs] along bottom of viewfinder goes blank) when I press down on the shutter, it loses focus, though it still appears in focus in the viewfinder until I push down on the shutter release. Then, I have to stab the back-button to re-establish focus and that’s a problem because of how quickly things are happening in photographing hummingbirds. FYI, after applying the latest firmware update on the D750 in anticipation of getting this lens, this “time out, and lose focus” does not happen with that camera body with my preliminary testing indoors, overnight.

An aside, the lens fits very snugly on both bodies. I had some difficulty removing it from either body and had to use both hands and deliberately hold the body & move the lens. I felt like maybe something was “stuck,” but I didn’t see anything unusual. I don’t think I have to be so deliberate with most all other lenses, except the very long telephoto lenses.

So, I’m trying to figure out what to do… Nikon could make it so easy by updating the D7200 camera’s firmware like it has done with the D750 so that focus problem would be solved. Meanwhile, I will be trying to figure out how to lengthen the amount of time, before D7200 “turns off.” I’m not interested in upgrading to another DX body, despite how nice, capable they are (e.g. D500, D7500). For one thing, the software I presently own and am quite content with using doesn’t support those new cameras, but I’m getting off -track here.

I suspect I am not alone in this quandary of what to do with a lens if I own a camera body with “limited” compatibility. Overall, I really like the initial results (IQ, AF) and will continue to test (VR, video… - but I don’t use these that much). OK, just wanted to share my initial impressions.

This review was first published here.

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