Nikon has just announced a couple of new products during the Consumer Electronics Show 2015, among which is a lens that many of us have been waiting for a long time. I will start the coverage with this lens, because after seeing the details of the announcement earlier today, I knew that it was something to be truly excited about. As many of our readers know, the Nikkor 300mm f/4D AF-S lens has been my favorite budget telephoto lens for many years now. It is optically superb, has amazingly fast and accurate autofocus, works really well with 1.4x and now even with 1.7x teleconverters (with the new generation Nikon DSLRs like D750), it is compact, lightweight and priced just right. In short, it is a lens with amazing value for many wildlife and sports photographers. Despite all these strengths, the lens has not been updated for 15 years and it lacks image stabilization. Although rumors about an update have been circulating on the Internet for a few years now, it has not seen the light of the day, until today. The all-new Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is not just an update though, it is a completely different lens.
With a much more complex optical design sporting 16 lens elements in 10 groups (versus 10 elements in 6 groups), the Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR not only adds image stabilization, but also cuts weight by half and size by a whopping 30%! At first, I could not believe that Nikon could have developed such a compact and lightweight lens without huge compromises. But after I saw its MTF charts, I was just blown away – this little gem right here is truly revolutionary. At 755 grams and 147.5mm (5.8 inch) in length, the Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is physically just like the Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, earning it “world’s lightest 300mm full-frame lens” title. And it does not stop there: along with other modern optical technologies like Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass, Aspherical element and Nano Crystal Coat to yield maximum sharpness, control chromatic aberrations, decrease ghosting and flare, and enhance colors, it is the first Nikon lens to utilize a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, which allows for better control of chromatic aberrations and ghosting, while keeping the optical design of the lens much more compact and simpler. The lens comes with the new Fluorine Coat technology for repelling dust, water and dirt, and has an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism, which allows for precise control of aperture for consistent exposures when shooting fast action in high-speed bursts. Lastly, it is compatible with all three Nikon teleconverters, allowing for a very flexible combination setup of 300mm, 420mm and 510mm and 600mm focal lengths. And the lens collar? You won’t ever need one! Considering how much this lens offers for its $2K price tag, it is truly revolutionary.
Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR vs Nikkor 300mm f/4D AF-S Design and Performance
To truly appreciate the sharpness difference between the new 300mm f/4E VR and the older 300mm f/4D AF-S, let’s take a look at the MTF charts of the two (Left: Nikkor 300mm f/4E VR, Right: Nikkor 300mm f/4D AF-S):
You don’t have to be an expert in reading MTF charts to see that the Nikkor 300mm f/4E VR is optically stellar. Look at how much higher that second blue line is in comparison, indicating much better resolution. In testing my 300mm f/4D, I found its sharpness to be already amazing, so it is hard to imagine that this new 300mm f/4E VR is going to be so much better. Given these resolution levels, I expect both 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverters to perform extremely well. Hard to say how good the 2.0x TC will be given that the combo will result in an f/8 setup, but it could also be workable in good light.
Let’s now take a look at the optical design of the two and compare:
Again, looking at the design, it is clear that the new 300mm f/4E VR has been completely redesigned with a much more complex optical design and layout. The biggest win though, as discussed above is the fact that Nikon was able to make the lens 30% shorter and so much lighter. Don’t pay much attention to the size differences above, as they are not of the same proportion – instead, look at how the two would compare side by side:
This is by no means an over-exaggeration – this is how small the new 300mm f/4E VR really is when compared to its predecessor. Like I have said above, the lens has similar dimensions to the 70-300mm VR!
If you are serious about wildlife photography and you want a lightweight lens that is easy to hike with and does not come with a $5,700 price tag, the Nikkor 300mm f/4E VR will be a no-brainer. Judging by how many beautiful images I got out of the 300mm f/4D AF-S, I am pre-ordering my copy of this new gem and I cannot wait to start shooting with it later this year. Given how popular this lens will quickly get (and it sure will), I suggest you do the same if you do not want to be in a waiting queue for months. I hope Nikon is making enough of these!
The only potentially negative design aspect about the lens is the “Phase Fresnel” (PF) lens element. Since it behaves similar to Canon’s “Diffractive Optics” (DO), one might see ring-shaped colored flare when a strong light source is within or outside the frame, as demonstrated in this article. I am personally not worried about this though, since I know that telephoto lenses are not meant to handle flare well anyway – there is a reason why they have such monstrous lens hoods. When looking at my wildlife images, I cannot find instances where a bright light source worked well in the shot…
To find out more about the lens, head over to the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR page in our lens database. You can compare lens specifications with its predecessor, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED there as well.
And although it has been a while since I touched it, the in-depth review of the Nikkor 300mm f/4D AF-S has a lot more information about the older lens, along with plenty of image samples from my portfolio.