This is an in-depth review of the Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED, which was launched in August of 2016 together with its sibling that features vibration reduction (VR) image stabilization technology. Since both lenses have identical specifications, most of this review is going to be the same as the VR version. So if you are wondering which one you should be choosing for your needs, unless budget is a serious concern, we would recommend going with the more expensive stabilized version.
This all-plastic lens designed for entry-level DSLR shooters did not have much excitement when it was announced. However, one could argue that it could be an excellent telephoto zoom for getting close to action without breaking the bank. The Nikkor 70-300mm DX AF-P lens is sold as part of many popular Nikon F-mount kits including D5600, D3400 and D7200. In the past, kit lenses were notorious for their low build quality and rather mediocre optical performance. Nikon, however, managed to produce a few decent DX zoom lenses, such as the 55-300mm DX VR and 18-55 DX VR. While many enthusiast photographers call for dedicated DX primes, Nikon decided to invest its resources into even more lightweight and compact DX zooms such as the one I am reviewing today. Let’s take a look at how well this lens performs, and see if it is a worthwhile investment for a beginner or even intermediate-level photographer.
Please note that all the photos in this review were taken with the VR version of the same lens.
Important notice: the AF-P line of lenses is only compatible with some of the Nikon DSLR bodies. Nikon USA groups compatible cameras into three subsets:
- Fully compatible models: D7500, D5600, D5500, D5300, D3400, D3300, D500 and later models. A firmware update may be required.
- Compatible models with limited functions: D5, D810 series, Df, D750, D7200, D7100, D5200, Nikon 1 series with the FT1.
- Incompatible models: D4 series, D3 series, D2 series, D1 series, D800 series, D700, D610, D600, D300 series, D200, D100, D7000, D5100, D5000, D90, D80, D70 series, D3200, D3100, D3000, D60, D50, D40 series, film cameras.
I have tested this lens on an old Nikon D7000 (featured by Nikon as an incompatible model) and it indeed does not work. Since the focusing is fully electronic, you cannot even use manual focusing. The picture in the viewfinder stays blurred all the time, no matter how you turn the focus ring. Stay away from this lens if you have an older camera body.
Lens Handling and Features
The Nikon 70-300mm AF-P is a lightweight, small, and ultra-portable telephoto zoom lens, which feels great in your hands and balances well with all crop sensor DX format DSLRs. This version of the lens weighs just 405 grams, making it one of the lightest telephoto lenses in Nikon’s arsenal. Such low weight is due to its all-plastic design, including a plastic mount. I personally have no issue with plastic mounts as Nikon started using them even in some higher-priced lenses.
The 4.3x zoom of this 70-300mm lens is a nice range, offering excellent reach on DX bodies (roughly equivalent to 450mm FoV on a full-frame camera). The direct DX predecessor of this lens offered even a wider range by having 55mm on the short end, which I personally prefer, but I understand that such a construction calls for more optical compromises that negatively affect image quality.
The zoom ring is very large, occupying most of the lens barrel, which makes it easy to zoom in and out with your left hand, while holding the camera with your right hand. The ring is perfectly dampened with just the right amount of resistance and zoom creep is not an issue.
A relatively thin focus ring is located at the front of the lens, and yet due to its very compact size, this ring placement still keeps it easy to reach.
Nikon’s “P” series of NIKKOR lenses use stepping motors to “focus smoother and quieter than previous drive systems. This quiet drive system makes the lenses ideal for use when shooting video.” (quotation from Nikon Press-release). See section 4 where I write how the lens fares in real-life shooting.
Strikingly, the AF-P line of lenses, including this 70-300mm telephoto, has no mechanical switches. The absence of the AF/MF switch is not a big deal, since the lens features a constant manual override option, which comes as a new feature. On older DX kit lenses, you had to first switch to “M mode on the lens to be able to rotate the front of the lens barrel, where the focus ring is located. This lens allows you to override autofocus by simply rotating the focus ring – any time. I find this very handy and practical.
This lens can be paired with a B-77 bayonet lens hood, but it is not included in the price (unlike with the previous version of 55-300mm). You must purchase it separately for $30 USD.
Since it is a variable-aperture lens, the aperture changes as you zoom in from 70mm to 300mm:
- 70mm – f/4.5
- 72mm – f/4.8
- 150mm – f/5
- 180mm – f/5.3
- 240mm – f/6
- 270mm – f/6.3
- 300mm – f/6.3
Compared to the previous Nikon 55-300mm DX VR, and the even the older 70-300mm VR, this new DX AF-P version offers a slower aperture at 300mm – f/6.3 instead of the more usual f/5.6. While at first it may seem like a big change, it is actually only 1/3 EV slower, which to me is acceptable if focusing and optical performance are OK.