This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens that was released in August of 2010 along with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR DX lenses. It is no secret that Nikon released the 28-300mm largely due to the popular demand of the 18-200mm lens. The large zoom range of the Nikon 18-200mm and its generally good performance made it a lens of choice for those, who wanted to have a good lightweight travel lens or only wanted to use one lens on their DSLR cameras. Despite the fact that the lens suffered from some serious issues such as lens creep, heavy distortion and sharpness issues beyond 105mm, some photographers and reviewers praised the 18-200mm so much, that the demand increased significantly, resulting in heavy lens shortages around the world. During this time, Nikon had a hard time keeping the lens on the shelves and the only way to obtain it was to either pay a premium and buy it from Ebay, or order and wait for months until Nikon sent another batch to retailers. I remember this period of time very well, since I had to wait for 3 months to get my copy of the lens. Ever since Nikon released the FX full-frame sensor, more and more photographers have been switching from DX to FX. Since Nikon 18-200mm is a DX lens, an FX camera would fall back to DX mode, giving less than half the resolution – a problematic situation for most photographers that use the current 12 megapixel cameras. Therefore, photographers that made the switch from cropped sensor cameras to full-frame, ended up selling or trading their DX lenses for the above reason, including the much loved Nikon 18-200mm.
In response to the popular demand, this year Nikon released an FX version of the Nikon 18-200mm lens, the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. Nikon retained most of the lens design, but did make some modifications, to reach good performance levels on FX cameras. In this review, I will do my best to provide a detailed analysis of the lens’ performance, including sharpness tests in various conditions and provide comparison tests against the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR II lens and other pro-level FX lenses such as Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II.
The Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR is a variable aperture lens with 10.7x zoom range for enthusiasts and professional photographers that need a single, “all-in-one” lens for everyday and travel photography. The variable aperture of f/3.5-5.6, which changes from f/3.5 on the widest end at 28mm to f/5.6 when zoomed in, along with the lack of the gold ring on the front of the lens indicate that the lens is not on the same level as professional-grade constant aperture lenses in terms of optics, which is quite understandable, considering what it can offer in terms of zoom range.
Despite being a consumer-grade lens, the Nikon 28-300mm is beefed up with plenty of optical technologies from Nikon. The lens sports the latest generation of VR II (vibration reduction) technology, offering camera shake compensation equivalent to a shutter speed increase of approximately four stops, allowing to shoot at slower shutter speeds without introducing camera shake. In addition, the two “Normal” and “Active” VR modes let photographers choose how the Vibration Reduction system responds to various shooting situations. Equipped with an AF-S silent-wave focus motor, the Nikon 28-300mm lens focuses quietly and accurately in various lighting conditions. Unlike the Nikon 18-200mm lens, the new Nikon 28-300mm has a 77mm filter thread, which is a standard filter size on pro-level lenses, making it easy for photographers to use specialized filters (polarizing, neutral density, etc) on the lens without having to mess with adapter rings. Just like its DX counterpart, the Nikon 28-300mm is equipped with two ED and three aspherical lens elements, delivering overall good performance throughout the zoom range. To prevent issues with lens creep, Nikon provided a zoom lock on the lens exterior, similar to the one on the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G lens.
1) Lens Specifications
- Versatile 10.7x zoom lens with ED glass and VR II image stabilization offers a broad focal length range that’s perfect for travel, landscapes, portraits and distant subjects.
- Nikon VR II (Vibration Reduction), engineered specifically for each VR NIKKOR lens, enables handheld shooting at up to 4 shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible, assuring dramatically sharper still images and video capture.
- 3 Aspherical Lens Elements virtually eliminate coma and other aberrations, even at wide apertures.
- M/A Focus Mode Switch Enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) Enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Ability to focus to 18 inches at any focal length extends versatility.
- Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX-format D-SLRs (DX-format D-SLR angle of view is equivalent to a focal length of 42-450mm in FX/35mm format).
- 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Elements offer superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture settings.
- Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet autofocus without changing the length of the lens, retaining working distance throughout the focus range.
- Zoom Lock Switch secures the lens barrel at its minimum focal length preventing the lens from extending during transport.
- Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm renders more natural appearance of out-of-focus image areas.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length Range: 28-300mm
- Zoom Ratio: 10.7x
- Maximum Aperture: f/3.5
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 53°
- Minimum Angle of View (DX-format): 5°20′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 74°
- Minimum Angle of View (FX-format): 8°10′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.32x
- Lens Elements: 19
- Lens Groups: 14
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- VR (Vibration Reduction)/Image Stabilization: Yes
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- ED Glass Elements: 2
- Aspherical Elements: 3
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.6 ft. (0.5m) throughout entire zoom range
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual
- G-type: Yes
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.26×4.5 in. (Diameter x Length) 83×114.5mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 28.2 oz. (800g)
- Supplied Accessories: HB-50 Bayonet Lens Hood, LC-77 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, LF-1 Rear Lens Cap, CL-L1120 Soft Case
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Construction and Handling
When I first took the lens out of the box, I immediately noticed how big it was compared to the Nikon 18-200mm. Side by side, the Nikon 28-300mm is a much heavier, bulkier and taller piece of glass. Weighing 800 grams, it is a whopping 240 grams heavier than the 18-200mm and only 100 grams lighter than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G! For a lens of this class, it is certainly quite big and heavy. The majority of the weight comes from more and bigger optics inside the lens – the Nikon 28-300mm has 19 elements and a 77mm filter thread versus 16 elements and 72mm of the 18-200mm. The thickness of the lens barrel stays the same from the front almost all the way to the lens mount. In comparison, the lens barrel of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is thinner in the middle and feels more natural when holding the lens on a camera.
The lens is built well, with a plastic exterior and focus ring. The zoom ring is also made of plastic and is covered with rubber. Most of the recently-announced lenses by Nikon have a plastic exterior, which does not necessarily mean that the lenses are not solid – the interior of the Nikon 28-300mm contains plenty of metal (which obviously contributes to the weight) and the lens mount is also made of solid metal. I am impressed by how well this lens is made. It is certainly a very high quality build, similar to pro-level lenses. The lens should be able to withstand cold and hot temperatures, but I would not leave it under rain, extreme moisture and dusty environments. The lens is most vulnerable when zoomed in – the barrel extends out quite a bit and any dust that settles on the lens barrel can be quickly sucked into the lens, resulting in dust inside the lens and potentially on the camera sensor. While dust specs generally do not affect the sharpness of a lens, too much dust decreases lens contrast, resulting in images that look a little cloudier than normal. Note that most zoom lenses are prone to the same issue as above, including some of the professional lenses like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G.
The lens feels very solid in hands and the zoom ring is easy to rotate from 28 to 300mm and vice versa. It takes a little more than a half turn to go from 28 to 300mm. As you zoom in from 28mm towards 300mm, the lens aperture changes to f/5.6 at around 105mm mark and stays at f/5.6 all the way to 300mm, which is not something I was expecting (the Nikon 18-200mm is also at f/5.6 on the 105mm mark, but it is 200mm on the long end). After using the lens for 3-4 weeks, the zoom ring still feels tough enough and I cannot get it to creep. I sat for about 5 minutes going from 28 to 300mm and back continuously to try to soften the zoom ring, but the lens still does not creep, which is certainly better than the 18-200mm behavior. I even added my heavy 77mm B+W Kaesemann Circular Polarizing filter and the lens did not creep at any focal length. Maybe this will start happening overtime with heavy use, but it does not seem to be a problem for now.
Another important thing to note – the front of the Nikon 18-200mm lens wobbles when fully extended out. The Nikon 28-300mm does not have this problem and feels a lot more solid. The focus ring is made of plastic and is located on the back of the lens, which I find backwards. I am used to the zoom ring being close to the camera and the focus ring to be in the front, so I did occasionally mess up my focus while shooting. But if you have shot with the 18-200mm or other DX lenses like Nikon 18-105mm or Nikon 18-135mm, you should have no problems with this. The Nikon 28-300mm VR lens comes with the “HB-50” lens hood, which is a little taller than the “HB-35” hood that comes with the 18-200mm VR lens.
3) Focus acquisition speed and accuracy
The autofocus motor of the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR is quiet and accurate, thanks to the AF-S Silent Wave Motor, even in low-light conditions. Compared to other DX lenses, autofocus speed is relatively quick, but certainly not as fast as in pro-level lenses. Focus tracking in continuous mode works quite well with the lens quickly getting accurate focus almost every time, but when the lens cannot autofocus and starts to hunt, the autofocus performance gets to a crawling speed. As a comparison, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G goes from infinity to near focus and back slower than the AF-D version as shown in my Nikon 85mm f/1.4G review – the Nikon 28-300mm focuses even slower than that. This is obviously not a good lens for very fast-moving subjects such as birds. I tried to capture some birds in flight and I had a hard time acquiring focus. I finally got some good images of a hawk that flew directly above me, but only 2 images out of 11 were in focus. Here is a 100% crop of the hawk shot at 300mm, ISO 200, 1/500th @ f/5.6 (I applied a sharpening value of 50 before exporting the image out of Lightroom):
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
The lens suffers from similar problems as its DX counterpart – sharpness and contrast vary by focal length and aperture, with the weakest numbers at largest apertures. The performance of the lens at short focal lengths is pretty good, getting a little weaker towards the longer end, but still better than the 18-200mm. Contrast is quite poor wide open, but gets better at f/5.6 and beyond. During field tests, I shot over 1000 images at various apertures and shutter speeds and overall, the lens is not bad, but certainly nowhere close to the sharpness and contrast of pro-level lenses like Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. You can see lens sharpness examples further down in the review. Color rendition is very good, similar to pro-level lenses.
5) Vibration Reduction – VR II
I am a big fan of Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses – I wish every lens had VR in it, because it is one of the most useful lens features for low-light photography. VR certainly does work very well on zoom lenses and the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR comes with the latest version of Vibration Reduction called “VR II”, which is supposed to deliver sharp images up to four stops the shutter speed. What this means, is that you might be able to get sharp images at 1/13th of a second when shooting at 200mm (general rule of thumb is to keep your shutter speed at your focal length and 4 stops from 1/200th is 1/13th). Sounds a little extreme, but I was able to get sharp images hand-held at 1/13th of a second, so VR II certainly does work as advertised.
One of the advantages of the Nikon 28-300mm lens is supposed to be its 9 diaphragm blades over 7 on the Nikon 18-200mm lens, which should result in better-looking round bokeh. Take a look at the following comparison of bokeh between 28-300mm and 18-200mm lenses shot at f/5.0 (wide open) @ 70mm:
It is interesting to note that the Nikon 28-300mm is actually showing a pronounced nonagon, while the bokeh from the 18-200mm looks more round. I think I like the 7 blades on the 18-200mm better in this case. Overall, the bokeh on the 28-300mm is horrible though. Compare its bokeh with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G @ f/4.0 to see the difference:
Now that’s the difference between bad and good-looking bokeh! The Nikon 28-300mm just looks dirty in comparison. Note that the bokeh on the 85mm also shows pronounced nonagons, which is happening because the lens is stopped down to f/4.0. At large apertures lower than f/2.8, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G produces outstanding results with circular bokeh that is not even comparable to the 28-300mm.
Besides sharpness issues, the Nikon 28-300mm also suffers from heavy vignetting, similar to 18-200mm. While vignetting is easy to remove in Lightroom or Photoshop, it is still another process to run during post-processing. Take a look at the following worst-case scenario vignetting example:
The bad news, is that I had vignetting control set to “Normal” on my camera. Take a look at how bad it looks below with Vignette Control turned off. I had to shoot most of my images with vignette control set to “High” to get acceptable images. The effect is most apparent when shooting wide open at 28mm, which gets better by 70mm, but never quite disappears. Then, it comes back at 105mm and gets even worse by 300mm. The above example image was shot at 300mm f/5.6 and as you can see, the vignetting effect is heavily noticeable.
8) Ghosting and Flare
Ghosting and flare can be a problem if you choose a wrong spot to put the sun in. Here is an extreme example with the sun in the top left frame:
And here is another example with the sun just a little lower in the frame in a vertical shot:
Not bad, but you have to be careful when shooting against the sun.
This lens, just like the 18-200mm has lots of distortion throughout its range, which is expected for a 10.7x zoom lens. At 28mm, it suffers the most, producing images with very noticeable distortion. Take a look at how the top line curves from left to right in this image shot at 28mm:
The situation gets better by 35mm with much less distortion:
From that point on all the way to 300mm, the lens suffers from pincushion distortion, as seen in this example at 50mm:
Pincushion distortion gets a little more under control over 105mm, but still evident even at 300mm. Distortion is also something that is easy to fix in post-processing. Hopefully Adobe will soon release a profile for 28-300mm, so that both distortion and vignetting issues could be eliminated with a single click using Lightroom 3 Lens Correction.
10) Chromatic Aberration
One of the big downsides of this lens, is the amount of chromatic aberration or color/purple fringing that is present in the images. While the center area does not seem to have as much, anything off the center towards the edges does often yield strong chromatic aberration. Take a look at this example:
These issues can be corrected in Photoshop or Lightroom, but it is still another problem to worry about.
11) Focus Breathing
Similar to the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, the lens does suffer from a “focus breathing” problem. Basically, in order to keep the minimum focus distance shorter, Nikon made a few adjustments to the lens design, which resulted in shorter effective focal lengths when shooting close objects. If your subject is very close at minimum distance, the 300mm on the Nikon 28-300mm will be equivalent to around 135mm, which is more than twice less. As the distance between you and the subject grows, the field of view narrows. When I was doing my lab tests between 2-2.5 meters, the field of view at 300mm was equivalent to around 150mm. In order to get the full 300mm out of this lens, your subject would have to be very far away, with your focus set to infinity. Even at a 50 meter distance, you would still get around 275mm. As I have stated above, this lens is not a good candidate for photographing birds or other small wildlife. If you want to get close, the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR or Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G DX VR are much better candidates, since they can get to true 300mm.
As you can see, there is a big difference in field of view between the Nikon 28-300mm and the Nikon 300mm lens, which is a true 300mm lens.
12) Sharpness Tests
Here is the MTF chart for the lens, measured by Imatest (tested on Nikon D800E, FX mode):
One of our readers, Nicholas, was kind enough to send his copy of the Nikon 28-300mm VR that he believed was sharp – at least compared to the first one that he was not happy with. I ran a few more tests comparing my lens to his and I did not find major differences, as his copy performed very similarly.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G at f/2.8 is much sharper than the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR at f/3.5 (both wide open). The sharpness difference is minimal at f/8, but the 24-70mm is still sharper.
Compared to Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II
As can be seen from the below crops, the Nikon 28-300 performs better than the Nikon 18-200 on DX sensors, especially at focal lengths above 105mm. There is a slight issue with softness when shooting wide open, but the 18-200mm also has the same problem. Bear in mind that at 28mm, the Nikon 18-200mm is at f/4.0 compared to 28-300mm’s f/3.5 – hence the slight difference at short focal lengths when shooting wide open.
13) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 18-200mm @ 28mm Center
The 18-200mm is clearly superior at 28mm f/4.0 than 28-300mm at f/3.5 in the center. Stopping down 28-300mm to f/4.0 improves sharpness and by f/5.6 both lenses perform equally well, with a slightly better performance by the 28-300:
14) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 18-200mm @ 28mm Corner
I can’t see much difference in sharpness when both are stopped down to f/5.6, although the 28-300mm looks a little better at f/8.
There is slightly more pronounced color fringing on the 28-300mm, but not by a huge margin.
15) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 18-200mm @ 50mm Center
At f/5.6, the Nikon 28-300mm takes the lead:
16) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 18-200mm @ 50mm Corner
17) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 18-200mm @ 105mm Center
18) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 18-200mm @ 105mm Corner
The performance of the Nikon 18-200mm at 200mm is very similar to that of 105mm, with 28-300mm taking the lead at all apertures.
Compared to Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
I know that it is unfair to compare the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G to the legendary Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, but I think the 24-70 is a good benchmark lens to test against. The sharpness tests in this review are kind of useless without such a comparison. Since the Nikon 28-300mm is designed to be an FX lens, I had to run two comparisons – one on FX and one on DX.
As expected and as you can see from the below 100% crops, the Nikon 28-300mm is nowhere close to Nikon 24-70mm in sharpness. Wide open at f/2.8, the Nikon 24-70mm is sharper than the Nikon 28-300mm stopped down…
19) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 28mm Center (DX)
20) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 28mm Corner (DX)
The Nikon 24-70mm performs incredibly well on DX. The corners at f/2.8 are as sharp as at f/4.0 and as you can see, the Nikon 24-70mm easily outperforms the Nikon 28-300mm.
21) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 50mm (DX)
At 50mm, the Nikon 24-70mm is one of the sharpest lenses out there and can be used as a benchmark for other lenses. Its performance at f/2.8 is much sharper than f/4.5 (largest aperture) performance by Nikon 28-300mm. By f/4.0, the difference is even bigger:
By f/5.6, the Nikon 28-300mm starts to shine a little, showing much improved sharpness, which is comparable to that of 24-70mm:
The corner performance on the Nikon 24-70mm at 50mm is also sharper at f/2.8 than 28-300mm at f/4.5.
22) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 70mm Center (DX)
As you can see, the Nikon 24-70mm beats Nikon 28-300mm at f/2.8 when the other is at f/5.0! The Nikon 24-70mm at f/2.8 is on par with the Nikon 28-300mm at f/5.6.
23) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 70mm Corner (DX)
In summary, the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR does not stand a chance against the Nikon 24-70mm at focal lengths between 28mm and 70mm on a DX sensor.
What about FX?
24) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 28mm Center (FX)
Again, the Nikon 28-300mm is not even close to the Nikon 24-70mm – the difference in sharpness is huge.
25) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 28mm Corner (FX)
While wide open there is not a big difference between the two, at f/5.6 and beyond, the Nikon 24-70mm is a much sharper lens in the corners.
One thing about the Nikon 24-70mm lens, is that it is a little soft in the corners at short focal lengths under 35mm, as can be seen from my Nikon 24-70 Review. At 35mm and beyond though, it performs extremely well both in the center and in the corners. At these focal lengths, the Nikon 24-70mm is similar to the 70mm performance below.
26) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 70mm Center (FX)
27) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-70mm @ 70mm Corner (FX)
The situation on FX does not look good for 28-300mm when compared against the 24-70mm either – the Nikon 24-70mm beats the Nikon 28-300mm at f/2.8 both in the center and in the corners.
Compared to Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
Here is another unfair comparison, against the professional Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. I’m only providing this comparison to show how well the Nikon 28-300mm performs at long focal lengths.
28) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 70-200mm @ 105mm Center (FX)
At 105mm, the Nikon 28-300mm is good enough, but still suffers from softer images wide open. Here is how the 28-300mm at f/5.6 compares against the Nikon 70-200mm at f/2.8 (Left: Nikon 28-300mm @ f/5.6, Right: Nikon 70-200mm @ f/2.8):
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is so good wide open, that there is no visible difference between f/2.8 and f/5.6!
29) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 70-200mm @ 105mm Corner (FX)
The Nikon 70-200mm is sharper and that’s with a difference of two full stops! Now take a look at the corners at f/5.6:
The difference is night and day…
30) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 70-200mm @ 200mm Center (FX)
The corners are the same story as with 105mm – Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G is sharper at f/2.8 than the 28-300mm at f/5.6.
Overall though, the Nikon 28-300mm delivers pretty good sharpness in the center at longer focal lengths, but still needs to be stopped down to f/8 to get sharper images. Corners look rather soft though and only marginally improve by f/8. Don’t get too excited about its performance though – as you will see further down, the results are not the same when shooting distant objects at infinity.
Compared to Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR
I don’t have the Nikon 24-120mm f/4.0G VR on my hands yet, but I was able to test the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR against the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. In terms of lens performance, I was never a fan of the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens – it performs quite poorly when compared against lenses of similar class. Let’s take a look at how well the Nikon 28-300mm does against the Nikon 24-120mm.
31) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-120mm @ 28mm Center
At largest aperture, the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR performs better than the 28-300mm. By f/5.6, the performance of both is about the same.
32) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-120mm @ 28mm Corner
The Nikon 24-120mm suffers from contrast issues in the corners, as can be seen from the above crops. Sharpness-wise however, the Nikon 24-120mm is superior and has much less noticeable color fringing.
33) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-120mm @ 70mm Center
I won’t bother uploading images from 35mm and 50mm, since the performance is comparable to that of 70mm. Here is how lenses compare at 70mm in the center, wide open and at f/8.0 (Left: Nikon 28-300mm, Right: Nikon 24-120mm):
It looks like both lenses perform about the same at 70mm in the center.
34) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-120mm @ 70mm Corner
Once again, the Nikon 24-120mm is sharper in the corners, with a little more CA than on the 28-300mm.
35) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-120mm @ 105mm Center
Similar to the Nikon 18-200mm, the Nikon 24-120mm also suffers from sharpness and contrast issues beyond 105mm. As you can see, the Nikon 28-300mm here beats the Nikon 24-120mm at both f/5.6 and f/8.0.
36) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 24-1200mm @ 105mm Corner
The corners, however, look about the same, with the 24-120mm having more purple fringing.
In summary, the Nikon 24-120mm beats the Nikon 28-300mm at shorter focal lengths, with the 28-300mm taking a small lead at 105mm and beyond.
Compared to Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
The biggest problem with this kind of a test is to match the field of view for both lenses, since their effective focal lengths differ significantly depending on the subject distance. To get an equivalent field of view as the 28-300mm at 105mm, I had to zoom the 70-300mm to approximately 92mm. For the 300mm test, I was at approximately 180mm on the 70-300mm.
So, how does the Nikon 28-300mm compare against the Nikon 70-300mm lens?
37) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 70-300mm @ 105mm Center
This is true for f/8.0 as well:
38) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 70-300mm @ 105mm Corner
The corners on the 28-300mm look a little better than on the 70-300mm, especially at larger apertures.
39) Nikon 28-300mm vs Nikon 70-300mm @ 300mm Center
The corners are about the same as with 105mm.
When I tested the 28-300mm lens at infinity against the 70-300mm at 300mm, the second lens sample did not have the same focusing issue as the first one – distant objects snapped into focus correctly wide open or stopped down:
The Nikon 28-300mm performs very well against the Nikon 70-300mm. Does it mean that it replaces the 70-300mm though? Absolutely not! First of all, the Nikon 70-300mm gives you true 300mm to play with, while the 28-300mm does not when shooting close subjects. At approximately 2.3 meter subject distance, I had to shoot the 70-300mm at 180mm (the 28-300mm was at 300mm) just to get the same field of view. On top of that, the AF speed of the 28-300mm is slower than the 70-300mm and I found the AF accuracy on the 70-300mm to be better as well, especially when shooting distant subjects.
Ever since it was released, the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR has been referred to as a lens that is “Jack of all trades, master of none”, due to its large zoom range from wide-angle to telephoto and the problems that come with such a lens. The Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR is very similar to the 18-200mm in that regard, with plenty of optical problems such as distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration and sharpness/contrast issues when shooting at large apertures.
The Nikon 28-300mm is a mixed bag of feelings for me. Maybe because I was never a fan of the Nikon 18-200mm in first place. There are only a few things that I like about it, such as its build and the 77mm filter thread (which proved to be very convenient to use my polarizing and ND filters without having to mess with adapter rings) but other than that, I was not impressed with its performance when compared to other Nikon lenses.
As can be seen from the sharpness comparisons, its sharpness is average to below average when measured against pro-level lenses like Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G on both DX and FX sensors. When compared to other DX lenses like Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR or Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II, the Nikon 28-300mm performs well when shooting close subjects. However, when I shot distant objects at infinity, the lens performed quite poorly above 200mm, especially at 300mm. Its optical performance at short focal lengths is comparable to the Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (which is not great to start with), with the 24-120mm having slightly better results. Stopped down to f/8.0, it does produce pretty good results, better than the older 18-200mm for sure.
The Nikon 28-300mm VR also suffers from heavy vignetting and strong chromatic aberrations. Vignetting is very noticeable at both short focal lengths and telephoto, having the worst effect at 28mm and 300mm. Chromatic aberrations seem to be present at all focal lengths, showing strongly at large apertures and in the corners. Even stopping down the lens to f/8.0 did not get rid of purple and blue fringing. On top of that, the lens is heavy, weighing almost as much as the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G – it certainly felt off-balance when I mounted it on the Nikon D90. The size of the lens barrel is also so thick that it is not as convenient and compact to handle when compared to the Nikon 18-200mm. Last, but not least, the autofocus speed is not impressive, especially when it starts to hunt.
If the lens suffers from so many problems, why would one want to have this lens? The answer is the same as with the Nikon 18-200mm – those who want an “all-in-one” lens and do not mind the inferior optical performance. As for me, I do travel quite a bit and I do not mind taking multiple lenses with me. If I run into a situation where I can only take one lens, I would rather take one good lens with me, such as my trusty Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G or a smaller lens such as Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX, which is much faster and much sharper than the 28-300mm.
In many ways, the Nikon 28-300mm is very similar to the older Nikon 18-200mm. If you have previously owned or used the Nikon 18-200mm and liked it, you will probably like and enjoy the Nikon 28-300mm as well. If you shoot on a DX sensor, I would not recommend buying the 28-300mm, because its field of view would be equivalent to a 42-450mm lens – not a very useful range to work with (especially on the wide side). On FX sensor, it is certainly a different story.
P.S. Some people criticized my original review of the lens by saying that I had a bad copy. As you can see from this review, the lens I had tested performed very similarly to another lens that was believed to be a good copy (sent by our reader). I know that some photographers tried to swap the lens 3-4 times to see if they can obtain a good copy. In terms of optical performance, don’t expect too much from this lens – it is already good enough for its zoom range and you just won’t be able to find a “golden” copy that produces sharp results at all focal lengths and apertures.
41) Where to buy and availability
B&H is selling the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens for $1,046 as of 07/15/2013 (check current price).
42) More Image Samples
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All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 28-300mm VR
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating