This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens that was released in December of 2009, along with the TC-20E III teleconverter. When it comes to telephoto lenses, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 line of lenses has always been a metric of sharpness, contrast and acuity. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is no exception – it sports top of the line optical design and technology that are capable of resolving tons of details, delivering outstanding results for any kind of long-range photography. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II was released as a minor update to the existing Nikon 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED – the optical design stayed the same, with the exception of Vibration Reduction II (VR II) technology and a new A/M focus mode. In this review, I will not only provide general information about the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II and its performance, but also how it works with all current Nikon teleconverters (TC-14E II, TC-17E II and TC-20E III) and how it compares to other telephoto lenses of similar and lower classes.
Although the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is primarily marketed for sports, action and wildlife photographers, it is also an ideal lens for portraiture. Its magical optical design beautifully renders the background elements known as “bokeh“, while retaining maximum sharpness on the subject. The large maximum aperture of f/2.8 is very useful for low-light environments and coupled with the VR II technology, allows photographers to capture tack-sharp images hand-held without introducing blur to the images due to camera shake.
The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II works equally well on both FX and DX sensors, with a 1.5x narrower field of view on DX sensor, which is equivalent to 450mm. All current Nikon teleconverters are known to work exceptionally well on this lens, even the 2x teleconverter, which is known to significantly degrade image quality on most other Nikon lenses. The Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II teleconverter increases the focal length of the lens to 420mm while increasing the maximum aperture to f/4.0, the Nikon 1.7x TC-14E II teleconverter increases the focal length to 510mm and maxumum aperture to f/4.8, and the Nikon 2.x TC-20E III doubles the focal length of the lens to 600mm and stops down the lens by two stops at maximum aperture of f/5.6. What this essentially means, is that while you get more total focal length with the teleconverters, you end up losing some light at the same time.
The two letters “ED” in the lens name stand for “extra-low dispersion”, as explained in my Nikon lens naming convention article, which means that the lens delivers superior sharpness and reduced “chromatic aberration” or color fringing in photographs when compared to non-ED lenses. In addition to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM/AF-S) that provides fast and quiet auto focus, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II also features the Nano Crystal Coating technology, which reduces ghosting and flare. When it comes to weather sealing, the Nikon 300mm easily withstands dust, moisture and tough weather conditions – usual environments for nature and wildlife photographers.
1) Lens Specifications
- Fast-aperture of f/2.8, professional telephoto performance, optimized for edge-to-edge sharpness for both FX and DX-format Nikon D-SLRs – perfect for action and sports photojournalism, wildlife photography and more.
- Exclusive Nano Crystal Coat further reduces ghosting and internal flare for even greater image clarity.
- Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) delivers fast, accurate and quiet autofocusing.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Features enhanced dust and moisture-resistance, magnesium die-cast barrel construction and a protective meniscus front lens.
- Fully compatible with Nikon TC-14E II, TC-17E II and TC-20E II (III) Teleconverters.
- 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.
- Three Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements offer superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration, even at wide apertures.
- A/M mode joins the familiar M/A and M modes, enhancing AF control versatility with fast, secure switching between auto and manual focus to accommodate personal shooting techniques.
- AF Memory Recall allows instant return to a predetermined point of focus.
- Close focusing to 7.2 feet in manual focus or 7.5 feet in autofocus, enabling striking image perspectives.
- Rounded 9-blade diaphragm renders more natural appearance of out-of-focus image areas.
2) Technical Specifications
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 300mm
- Maximum Aperture: 2.8
- Minimum Aperture: 22
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 5°20′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 8°10′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.16x
- Lens (Elements): 11
- Lens (Groups): 8
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- VR (Vibration Reduction)/Image Stabilization: Yes
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- ED Glass (Elements): 3
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 7.5 ft. (2.3m) AF / 7.2 ft. (2.2m) MF
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto, Auto/Manual
- Filter Size: 52mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Slip-in
- Dimensions (Approx.): 4.9×10.5 in. (Diameter x Length), 124×267.5mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 102.3 oz. (2900g)
- Lens Case: CL-L1
- Lens Hood: HK-30
- Supplied Accessories: 52mm filter holder, 52mm Nikon NC Filter, LN-1 strap, HK-30 Slip-on lens hood, CL-L1 semi-soft case, Slip-on Front lens cover, Rear lens cap
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
3) Lens Handling
The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is a rugged professional lens made of tough magnesium material, designed to withstand physical abuse in various weather conditions and tough environments. I took it with me in very hot, dry weather and also used it in humid, rainy environments without any protection – the lens functioned flawlessly and I did not see any water accumulation inside the lens. Weighing 2.9 kilograms, it is certainly a heavy lens that feels very solid and durable. Although it will easily take occasional bumps during professional use, if you are worried about scratches and other potential damage, I would recommend to get a LensCoat Lens Cover for it. I use LensCoat on the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR and it certainly does a very good job at not only protecting the lens, but also in keeping my hands warm when shooting in colder environments.
When used on a tripod with a ball head, the lens balances very well on the Nikon D3s body. If you have a lighter camera body like Nikon D700, I suggest attaching the MB-D10 camera grip for better balance. When it comes to hand-holding though, I do have two complaints. First of all, due to the lens body being relatively short (compared to 200-400 and 400mm+ lenses), the area that you hold with your left hand (between the focus ring and the rear end of the lens) is also short. Because of this, if you are not careful with your thumb and index fingers, you will most likely end up touching the focus ring and potentially messing up your focus while shooting. Keeping the hand on the focus ring is not a good idea, especially when tracking birds in flight – your hand movements will most likely alter the focus at the same time. The second complaint also has to do with the short area of the lens that is used for hand-holding. When I shoot telephoto lenses hand-held, I always rotate the tripod collar upwards so that it is not on my way. Doing the same with this lens leaves the large circular rotator on the bottom right side of the lens, which makes holding the lens uncomfortable. I found a workaround to the problem though – rotating the tripod collar to around 120-135 degrees clockwise, where the tripod mount points at around 10-10:30 o’clock when viewed from the rear, leaves some clear area for the left hand. Nikon could address this problem by making the focus ring shorter in size and keeping it closer to the barrel of the lens.
When it comes to manual focus operation, the focus ring is smooth and very easy to operate when mounted on a tripod. When shooting hand-held, using the thumb and index fingers works well, but still not very convenient, due to the above-mentioned problems. When you move the focus ring and reach the focus limit, the ring continues rotation with no resistance in either direction. In addition to the normal AF and other switches on the side of the lens, there is a separate VR ring to turn VR on and off. To be honest, I have never been a fan of these types of rings, since they have a “plastic” feel to them and seem to easily break. On top of that, I did manage to accidentally turn VR off while hand-holding the lens, so I certainly prefer a switch for VR instead, like on the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 lenses.
The HK-30 carbon fiber hood that is also used on the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR II lens works great against flare and protects the front element of the lens, so I suggest leaving it on the lens at all times when shooting in the field. The hood can also be mounted in the reverse position, shortening the length of the lens, which is very useful for transporting the lens in a camera bag. The included CL-L1 lens case works fine for storing the lens and will accommodate a DSLR body as well.
4) Focus acquisition speed and accuracy
Like all long-range Nikon telephoto lenses, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is equipped with Internal Focus (IF), which drives the AF performance to its limits. The lens snaps into focus instantly and silently, thanks to the Silent Wave Motor. Focusing works very well, even in low-light environments. I primarily used the lens on the Nikon D3s professional camera body and it produced exceptional results at all apertures. Even with the Nikon TCs attached, the lens did not have any problems acquiring focus (more on the subject below) for both stationary and moving subjects.
5) Lens Sharpness and Contrast
When it comes to sharpness and contrast, the Nikon 300mm is often regarded as one of the sharpest Nikon lenses ever produced and is considered to be a sharpness “reference” lens. It took Nikon 40 years to make it what it is today – a highly regarded work of art and engineering that delivers outstanding images to sports, action and wildlife photographers that need maximum sharpness for print. As shown further down below, both center and corner frames are razor sharp at all apertures, which is simply incredible. Contrast is top of the class and colors are stunningly beautiful, definitely Nikon’s best, thanks to the clever optical design of the lens.
6) Bokeh and Vignetting / Light Falloff
One of the strengths of long telephoto lenses is the beautiful, creamy bokeh they are able to produce, due to the shallow depth of field, at even longer distances. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is a bokeh champion – it produces exceptionally good-looking background blur, especially wide open at maximum aperture of f/2.8. I primarily used the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II for birding and wildlife photography and I was stunned by the results. The bokeh looks creamy and beautiful and the lens does a superb job at isolating subjects at large apertures. Here is an example of subject isolation and bokeh for a portrait that was shot at f/2.8:
The amount of vignetting is very moderate at maximum aperture and is barely noticeable, especially when compared to Nikon 200-400mm @ 300mm f/4.0. The corners look much brighter by f/4.0 and vignetting is almost completely gone by f/5.6. Don’t get too concerned about vignetting though, since it can be very easily fixed in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. In Lightroom 3.0, there is an option to “Enable Profile Corrections” under “Lens Corrections”, which can be used to get rid of vignetting issues. Although there is no camera profile for the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 yet, you can type a custom value or move the slider to fix vignetting problems. I used +20 under “Amount” in “Lens Vignetting” and that removed all traces of vignetting on images shot at f/2.8.
7) Ghosting and Flare
Notice how big the hood on this lens is? Well, it is there for a reason – most long-range telephoto lenses do not perform well against the sun, when compared to wide angle lenses. So, if you shoot against the sun, you might get some large, nasty flares and plenty of ghosting, which is quite normal. The integrated “Nano Crystal Coat” certainly helps to reduce ghosting and flare, but does not eliminate it. Here is an image with the sun in the center frame:
And here is another one with the sun on top right side of the frame:
As you can see, the images contain lens flares and ghosts in both images, but the one with the sun in the center does not look bad at all.
Forget about distortion on this lens – it is almost non-existent. If you put up straight lines on the wall and shoot some samples wide open, you might see a very minimal amount of pincushion distortion when shooting at close distances, but as soon as the focus point gets towards infinity or the lens is stopped down a little, distortion is completely eliminated. As I have pointed out in many of my other reviews and articles, distortion is generally not a problem, because it can be easily fixed in Photoshop or Lightroom 3 using Lens Correction.
9) Vibration Reduction
One of the biggest advantages of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II lens is its Vibration Reduction II system. When you shoot with long telephoto lenses, even the slightest camera shake can result in blurry images. Considering the size, weight and focal length of this lens, it is impossible for a human to hand-hold the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II without normal vibrations. Even following the focal length rule, which states that the shutter speed of the camera should at a minimum be at the focal length of the lens (for example, at 300mm focal length, the shutter speed needs to be at least 1/300th of a second), does not always guarantee consistently sharp photos, again, due to vibrations caused by our hands. That’s where the VR system comes into play – it works its way against the motion, allowing to get sharp photos at slow shutter speeds. With the Vibration Reduction II system, Nikon claims a 4 stop improvement, which means that you should be able to obtain sharp images while shooting at around 1/30th of a second, hand-held at 300mm. It is certainly tough to get sharp images at 1/30th of a second, but doable if you use a proper hand-holding technique. I would say 1/60th of a second (around 3 stops) is a pretty reliable shutter speed with VR turned on and anything slower than that might introduce blurry images due to camera shake.
10) Performance with the Nikon TC-14E II teleconverter
As I have pointed out above, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II works great with all Nikon teleconverters. The Nikon TC-14E II teleconverter increases the focal length of the lens to 420mm total (300 x 1.4) and slows down the lens to f/4.0. Aside from the decreased maximum aperture, you will barely notice that the TC-14E II is attached to your camera – it has a very small effect on image quality, sharpness or color. The results with the TC-14E II are fantastic and I would not hesitate to shoot the lens wide open at f/4.0, although stopping down to f/5.6 certainly improves the sharpness. A detailed sharpness comparison with the TC-14E II can be found below.
11) Performance with the Nikon TC-17E II Teleconverter
The day I received the lens, I already knew that it would perform exceptionally well with the TC-14E II. So I attached my Nikon TC-17E II 1.7x teleconverter to the lens and went out shooting, while waiting for the TC-20E III to arrive. I was quite surprised to see how well the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II performed with the TC-17E II in terms of sharpness and contrast. Compared to the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR (which does not work well with anything longer than the TC-14E II) the results were outstanding. Take a look at the following sample images shot with the Nikon TC-17E II:
12) Performance with the Nikon TC-20E III Teleconverter
It is no coincidence that Nikon released the new Nikon TC-20E III together with the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II. The Nikon TC-20E III was specifically engineered to work well with the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G lens – one of the few Nikon lenses that historically performed well with the 2x teleconverter. I have heard a lot of good things about the TC-20E III and after one of our readers sent some sample images from the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II + TC-20E III combo, I knew that I had to get the TC-20E III. The images looked unrealistically good, because the older version of the Nikon 70-200mm performed quite poorly with teleconverters, even with the TC-17E II.
It was darn hard to obtain the Nikon TC-20E III because of such a high demand on it and after waiting for a few weeks, I decided to just rent it for a week. My objective was to try the Nikon TC-20E III specifically with the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II and with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II to see how it truly performs in an outdoor environment when photographing nature. It is one thing to shoot test charts with a lens sitting on a tripod, and another to get out and do some real shooting. Some lenses look great on paper and on test charts, but cannot perform equally well when used in an outdoor environment, especially with fast-moving subjects like birds. The primary reason is autofocus, which primarily depends on the speed of the AF motor inside the lens and camera’s AF system. Teleconverters generally negatively impact autofocus performance, due to a considerable loss of light and contrast and the 2x TC is the worst in this regard.
But what about the TC-20E III? Take a look at the following 100% crop:
The image was shot at maximum aperture of f/5.6, which is very impressive! Move the mouse over to see how it looks with some sharpening applied to the image using my “how to sharpen images in Lightroom” tutorial. To be honest, I did not expect the TC-20E III to work this well wit the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II. After having some bad experience with the TC-17E II and TC-20E II TCs in the past, I subconsciously started stopping down the lens to f/8.0-f/10 in the beginning, thinking that I would not be able to obtain sharp images otherwise. Well, as you can see from the above example, shooting wide open is perfectly acceptable with the TC-20E III, although stopping down to f/8.0 does produce even sharper images:
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests and Comparisons.
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D3s FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Subject distance is about 8 meters (approx. 26 feet)
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect.
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted for some images
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
13) Sharpness Test – Nikon 300mm Center Frame
Either hover your mouse or click on each image to see the aperture settings. Top left: f/2.8, Top right: f/4.0, Bottom left: f/5.6, Bottom right: f/8.0.
Do you see a difference between any of the above images? Because I don’t – the center sharpness of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II is looking very good at all apertures.
14) Sharpness Test – Nikon 300mm Corner Frame
How about the extreme corners? Let’s take a look:
Again, the corners look as good as the center frame, which is simply incredible! No wonder why images from this lens look so crisp and sharp.
Compared to Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0G VR
Many photographers who are interested in buying a telephoto lens wonder how the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II compares to the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0G VR lens. Lucky, I have the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 lens and I was able to perform some tests with it.
15) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0G VR
I have been shooting with the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR lens for several years now and I have been quite happy with it – it takes very sharp images wide open and performs exceptionally well throughout the zoom range. While the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR has recently been updated to the VR II version with no change in optics, VR is not the problem with the 200-400mm. The biggest issue for me is its weight and size. When you grab the 200-400mm on one hand and the 300mm lens on another, you immediately notice the difference in weight which is around 1 pound or ~400 grams. Those 400 grams do make a difference when hand-holding the lens. I typically hand-hold my 200-400mm and after a short while, my left hand starts to get sore. Because of this, I typically shoot in “bursts” of 5-10 seconds and then I have to rest. With the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II, I was able to hand-hold the lens for longer periods of time and it was very apparent when I did some birding in local parks.
Now in terms of size, the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0G is about 25% longer than the 300mm f/2.8G, which does present a few problems. First of all, not many camera bags can fit the 200-400mm with its hood in reverse position, while the 300mm fits in many types of bags. When I travel, I have to take the CL-L2 case with the lens and it is painful to get it in and out of the bag. Gladly, the bottom material can be removed from the CL-L2 and even the D3s fits together with the lens, however, it is still another bag to lurk around with. There are some bags that fit both the 200-400mm and a camera, but they are rather large and expensive. For hand-holding, as I have stated earlier, I do prefer the larger hand-holding area of the 200-400mm – if only the Nikon 300mm had a shorter focus ring that is closer to the end of the barrel!
Compared to the Nikon 300mm f/2.8, The Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 is a versatile lens, offering the ability to zoom from 200mm to 400mm, which is very useful for sports and wildlife photographers. Being able to zoom in and out is useful for large mammals and I know that many photographers that do safari trips to Africa and travel to Alaska to photograph bears love the 200-400 for this particular feature. But what about sharpness, and how does the 300mm with teleconverters compare to the 200-400mm? Let’s take a look.
16) Sharpness Test – Nikon 300mm f/2.8 vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0
Let’s see how both lenses perform at 300mm @ f/4.0 (Left: 300mm, Right: 200-400mm):
I did not want to move around or change zoom on the 200-400mm, so there is a slight difference in the field of view due to differences in lengths of both lenses. As you can see, both lenses perform exceptionally well in the center and there are no major differences in sharpness. The same goes for f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures.
What about the corners? Let’s see extreme corners at the same aperture of f/4.0:
The Nikon 300mm certainly performs better than the 200-400mm in the extreme corners – it is noticeably sharper.
But shooting both lenses at 300mm is not very useful – photographers are mostly interested in finding out how images from the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G with various teleconverters perform against the Nikon 200-400mm. Let’s take a look at some examples with teleconverters.
17) Nikon 300mm f/2.8 + TC-14E II vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0
Let’s see how the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 + TC-14E II (1.4x – 420mm total) compares against the Nikon 200-400m at 400mm:
The Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 wins at f/4.0, which is expected, since we are comparing a lens with a teleconverter to another without one. The TC-14E II is superb, but it is another piece of glass in front of the camera, which certainly does impact the overall sharpness and acuity of the combo.
Here is a comparison at f/5.6:
Stopped down to f/5.6, the sharpness on the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 improves and gets very comparable to the 200-400mm.
18) Nikon 300mm f/2.8 + TC-17E II vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 + TC-14E II
Now here is an interesting comparison – if we take the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 and add the TC-17E II, we end up at 510mm. If we take the 200-400mm and add the TC-14E II, we get to 560mm. This time, I tried to match the field of view, because 50mm was too big of a difference. Let’s see how both compare at 510mm (Left: 300mm, Right: 200-400mm):
The Nikon 300mm f/2.8 with TC-17E II at 510mm performs almost equally well as the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 with TC-14E II. The 300mm image is a tad softer, but perfectly acceptable. Don’t forget that the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 with the TC-17E II is at maximum aperture of f/4.8, while the Nikon 200-400mm is at f/5.6, so the 300mm is slightly stopped down. Here is how f/4.8 compares against f/5.6 on the 300mm + TC-17E II:
As you can see, there is almost no difference between f/4.8 and f/5.6 on the 300mm, so I can conclude that there is a half stop advantage on the 300mm when shooting with the TC-17E II.
19) Nikon 300mm f/2.8 + TC-20E III vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 + TC-17E II
Now here is another interesting comparison – how does the 300mm with the TC-20E III compare with the Nikon 200-400mm with the TC-17E II? Again, I had to match the field of view on both to get comparable results (Left: 300mm f/5.6, Right: 200-400 f/6.7):
When shooting test charts, both look very similar, with a slight edge on the Nikon 200-400mm. However, results in the field are quite different – the Nikon 200-400mm with TC-17E II does not autofocus as well as the 300mm with TC-20E III and as a result, the number of keepers on the 300mm is much higher. Furthermore, stopping down the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 + TC-20E III to f/8.0 and higher yields sharper results than the 200-400mm + TC-17E II at the same apertures. Take a look at these two image samples at f/11:
As you can see, the image from the 300mm at 600mm is sharper.
20) Nikon 300mm f/2.8 + TC-20E III vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 + TC-20E III
What about Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 with the TC-20E III? Forget about it – autofocus on the 200-400mm does not work, period. I couldn’t even get D3s to acquire focus through liveview contrast detect with the TC-20E III and it took me several tries to get good focus:
As can be seen from the above images, the Nikon 200-400mm performs poorly with the TC-20E III, in addition to not being able to autofocus with it.
21) Summary of the comparison
So, which is a better lens to buy – the Nikon 300mm with 1.4x, 1.7x and 2.0x teleconverters, or the Nikon 200-400mm with 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverters? If you need the reach, go for the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II. Why? Because with the TC-20E III, you will reliably get to 600mm, while the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 VR will give you 560mm with the TC-14E II. Autofocus with the TC-17E II on the Nikon 200-400mm is very unreliable and unless you are OK with manual focus, I would not count on the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 + TC-17E II combo. Forget about using the TC-20E II on the Nikon 200-400mm – it will not autofocus.
Compared to Nikon 300mm f/4.0D AF-S
What about my favorite Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S lens? How does it compare to the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II with and without teleconverters? Let’s take a look.
22) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II vs Nikon 300mm f/4.0D AF-S
Let’s compare both at 300mm f/4.0 (Left: Nikon 300mm f/2.8, Right: Nikon 300mm f/4.0):
I love the Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S for a reason – it is almost as good as the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 at f/4.0! How about the corners?
The corners are looking equally good, which is very impressive for Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S. So, the only difference here is the one stop advantage on the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II.
23) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G + TC-14E II vs Nikon 300mm f/4.0 + TC-14E
How does the Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S + TC-14E compare against the 300mm f/2.8G + TC-14E?
The results, again, are almost identical. The Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S performs exceptionally well with the TC-14E II and the only advantage of the 300mm f/2.8G VR II is one stop, i.e. maximum aperture of f/4.0 vs f/5.6. No need to show the corner performance with the TC-14E II, because it looks the same.
What about TC-17E II and TC-20E III on the Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S? The situation is very similar as with the Nikon 200-400mm f/4.0 lens – the TC-17E II yields unreliable results, while with the TC-20E III, the lens does not autofocus.
24) Summary of the comparison
As can be seen from the above image samples, the Nikon 300m f/4.0 AF-S is a superb lens and is almost on par with the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II performance when it comes to sharpness. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G still yields better colors and bokeh though, because it has superior optics and shallower depth of field. When it comes to teleconverters, the Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S marries the TC-14E II pretty well, but that’s about it. TC-17E II yields poor and soft results due to slow and unreliable autofocus and with the TC-20E III, the lens does not focus at all. The biggest advantage of the 300mm f/2.8 lens is obviously VR – it is extremely tough to make sharp images with the 300mm f/4.0 AF-S when the shutter speed is slower than 1/250th of a second, due to lack of VR system.
Compared to Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
The next test is comparing the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II with the excellent Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II with TC-17E II and TC-20E III.
25) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G vs Nikon 70-200mm + TC-17E II
Left: Nikon 300mm f/2.8 @ f/5.6, Right: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 + TC-17E II @ f/5.6.
As expected, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G rips the 70-200mm f/2.8G + TC-17E II apart at 300mm f/5.6. In addition, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G is also showing signs of purple fringing.
26) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G + TC-14E II vs Nikon 70-200mm + TC-20E III
What if we compare 70-200mm + TC-20E III with the Nikon 300mm + TC-14E II? Let’s take a look (Left: 300mm, Right: 70-200mm):
Obviously, the field of view is different due to 400mm vs 420mm math, but again, as expected, the Nikon 300mm with TC-14E II beats the Nikon 70-200mm with TC-20E III. I must confess, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G + TC-20E III looks really good though. When the 70-200mm is stopped down to f/8.0+, the purple fringing goes away and the image gets sharper. But more on that later – I will post my findings in my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II Review later.
27) Summary of the comparison
Many of our readers ask if it is better to get the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II with the TC-20E III teleconverter, or get Nikon 300mm f/2.8G / f/4.0 AF-S lens. As can be seen from the above image samples, sharpness-wise, both Nikon 300mm lenses are better than the 70-200mm with a teleconverter. Just like I keep saying, if you need the reach, go for the 300mm lenses – they are always sharper with or without the teleconverters.
Compared to Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3
I borrowed the Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 lens from a good friend of mine and performed some additional tests, comparing it to the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II at various focal lengths.
28) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II vs Sigma 150-500mm f/3.5-6.3
Let’s see how the Sigma 150-500mm stands up against the Nikon 300mm at 300mm (Left: Nikon 300mm, Right: Sigma 150-500mm):
And here is the extreme corner with the same settings @ 300mm:
Although the Sigma looks surprisingly good at 300mm (especially in the corners), as you can see, it is nowhere close to the 300mm in terms of sharpness. The 300mm focal length seems to be a “sweet spot”, at least when compared to the horrid 500mm performance:
The corners at 500mm look even softer, with plenty of color fringing all over the place.
29) Summary of the comparison
To be honest, I am not a big fan of telephoto Sigma lenses. They are definitely of good value, but their QA problems, inconsistent autofocus and often poor performance sets them apart from Nikon telephoto lenses. Just take a look at the horrible image of the 150-500mm at 500mm. I don’t know if I have a bad lens sample, but I certainly find this kind of performance unacceptable. I’m pretty sure Nikon would rather cut the lens to a shorter focal length, then release a lens that yields soft images.
Compared to Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
The last test is to see how the Nikon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6G VR performs against the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II at 300mm.
30) Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II vs Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
Let’s take a look at the center frame at f/5.6 (Left: 300mm, Right: 70-300mm):
The Nikon 70-300mm yields very comparable results to the Sigma 150-500mm, but is no match to the 300mm f/2.8G in terms of sharpness in the center. What about the corners?
Similar story here, except the 70-300mm is showing some nasty yellow/blue color fringing. These problems are reduced when the lens is stopped down to f/8.0, but sharpness-wise, the Nikon 70-300mm barely catches up with the Nikon 300mm at f/2.8 (Left: Nikon 300mm @ f/2.8, Right: Nikon 70-300mm @ f/8.0):
So, if you were to shoot the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II wide open at f/2.8, it would yield sharper results than the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR at f/8.0!
31) Summary of the comparison
The Nikon 70-300mm is overall a good lens, but no match to the superb performance of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G, even when stopped down. In addition, as I have pointed out in my Nikon 70-300mm Review, the 70-300mm has problems focusing in low-light situations and does not work as well as the Nikon 300mm for shooting moving subjects such as birds. It is unfair to compare the 70-300mm with the 300mm f/2.8 due to such a large difference in price, but I still wanted to compare both anyway, for those who are interested.
Before I got my hands on the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II lens, I already had high expectations. Having seen the legendary performance of the earlier 300mm f/2.8 models, I knew that the new 300mm would not disappoint. My primary interest in obtaining this lens, was to find out how it performed with the new TC-20E III and other teleconverters, and how it performed against comparable and cheaper telephoto lenses. As you can see, the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II not only meets, but exceeds all expectations. Its first-class contrast and colors yield beautiful images with exceptional bokeh, thanks to the magical design of the lens. Sharpness-wise, it is without a doubt the sharpest telephoto lens I have held in my hands and its performance with all Nikon teleconverters is beyond this world. The VR II system is very effective and certainly does a great job at preventing camera shake. That’s why top photographers use and love this lens – they know what to expect of it.
Is it a perfect lens? I would almost say “yes”, except there is one little thing I did not like about the 300mm barrel design. Since I shoot hand-held a lot, I found it a little inconvenient that the lens focus ring is so large and too close to the tripod collar, which leaves very little space to hold the lens with the left hand. I don’t know if I’m just very used to the Nikon 200-400mm, but I kept on accidentally touching the focus ring with my thumb and index filters a lot, which messed up my focus several times in the field. The focus ring is not very useful for wildlife photography, because most photographers rely on the autofocus system and only get to use manual focus in rare situations. Aside from this particular issue, I have nothing else to complain about – the lens is truly a work of art and deserves a spot in the hall of fame of best lenses.
Overall, I am very impressed with the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II, most notably with its performance with the Nikon 1.4x, 1.7x and 2.0x teleconverters. During the time of testing, I shot primarily with teleconverters and I really liked the fact that the lens focused fast and accurately on my subjects, even with challenging light conditions. Whether you shoot sports, wildlife, portraits or other type of photography where you need to use a telephoto lens, you should seriously consider the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II for your work – it is well worth the money.
33) Where to buy and availability
You can order your copy of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II lens at B&H for $5,799 (as of 07/15/2013).
34) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating