Nikon 300mm f/4E VR vs Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S
Let’s take a look at how the new 300mm f/4E VR compares to its predecessor, the 300mm f/4D AF-S:
It is pretty clear that the new 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens is noticeably sharper wide open when compared to its predecessor. Take a look at the center performance, where the lens shows a noticeable boost in sharpness at f/4. Stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller, the newer lens performs slightly better, but the difference is barely noticeable. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the mid-frame and the corner performance of the 300mm f/4E VR – those areas showed visibly weaker performance when compared to the predecessor. Although lens decentering certainly could have negatively impacted the corner numbers, the mid-frame performance still suffers in comparison. I performed tests on three different lens samples and I regret to say that neither of the three was able to surpass the 300mm f/4D in mid-frame or corner performance. While this should not impact most photographers out there (since wildlife or sports subjects are never flat like a test target), if you are looking for even center to corner performance, the 300mm f/4D is a better lens in comparison.
Let’s take a look at how the two lenses compare when using teleconverters. Here are both with 1.4x teleconverters:
Once again, the newer 300mm f/4E VR shows better center performance when compared to its predecessor, but at the cost of mid-frame and corner performance.
And lastly, let’s see how the two lenses compare with the TC-17E II (1.7x) teleconverter:
With the TC-17E II teleconverter, the new 300mm f/4E VR showed pretty impressive performance, especially when stopped down to f/8. As you can see from the above graphs, the lens does significantly better with this teleconverter combo in the center compared to the 300mm f/4D AF-S.
Since the 300mm f/4D AF-S performs very poorly with the TC-20E III, I did not bother with doing the comparisons. I would personally avoid using the 2.0x TC with f/4 lenses, but if you don’t mind doing a bit of post-processing work (down-sampling, adding sharpening and removing chromatic aberrations), then the teleconverter can provide decent results with the 300mm f/4E VR, but only for stationary subjects.
Nikon 300mm f/4E VR vs Nikon 80-400mm VR
Now let’s take a look at how the lens compares to the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR. We will be looking at both lenses at 300mm and 400-420mm focal lengths to see which one does better in terms of sharpness. Let’s start with 300mm:
As expected when looking at a prime vs zoom lens, the new Nikkor 300mm f/4E VR significantly outperforms the 80-400mm VR wide open – and we are comparing f/4 vs f/5.6 here. As you can see, it is sharper all across the frame, particularly in the corners.
And what if we compare the 300mm f/4E VR with the 1.4x teleconverter vs the 80-400mm at 400mm? Although it would be a 420mm v 400mm comparison, the difference in focal length is not that huge:
While the performance of the 300mm f/4E VR is diminished due to the 1.4x teleconverter, it still outperforms the 80-400mm VR at its native focal length of 400mm. The difference is not huge, but it is definitely there, whether you are shooting wide open, or stopping down to f/8. The corners on the 80-400mm VR are also noticeably worse in comparison.
Nikon 300mm f/4E VR vs Nikon 200-500mm VR
Finally, let’s take a look at how the lens compares to the new Nikon 200-500mm VR optically when coupling it with the 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverters. First, we will compare both lenses at 300mm:
Once again, it is expected to see a prime lens like the 300mm f/4E VR to outperform a zoom lens like the 200-500mm VR at the same focal length. As you can see from the above charts, the 300mm f/4E VR is significantly sharper all across the frame. Now let’s take a look at what happens when the TC-14E III (1.4x) teleconverter is added to the mix and both lenses are compared at around the 400mm mark:
Here, the situation is a bit different – the 200-500mm VR slightly outperforms the 300mm f/4E VR at f/5.6. Stopped down to f/8, however, the 300mm f/4E VR catches up, but only in the center – the 200-500mm VR shows better mid-frame and corner performance.
The real test is to see which lens comes out on top at 500mm:
And here, we can see that both lenses perform very similarly in the center. The 300mm f/4E VR + 1.7x TC combo is a bit better in the corners. Considering that both lenses are very similar at the long end, which lens would I recommend for the reach? To be honest, I think the 200-500mm VR would be a better candidate, primarily because of autofocus reliability – the 300mm f/4E VR with the 1.7x TC works quite well, but not as well as the 200-500mm zoom for fast action (like birds in flight). In addition, its maximum aperture is letting a bit more light through at f/5.6 vs f/6.7 on the 300mm f/4E VR + 1.7x TC combo.
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