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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the MTF chart measured by Imatest software in our lab:
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.
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