This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lens that was released in August of 2010 together with three other lenses – Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and Nikon 24-120mm f/4.0 VR. The Nikon 55-300mm VR lens is a major update to the existing Nikon 55-200mm f/4.0-5.6G ED VR lens that was released in 2007. Just like the 55-200mm VR, it is designed to be used with the Nikon 18-55mm DX VR kit lens to provide expanded focal range for telephoto shots. Nikon 55-300mm is currently the cheapest way to get to true 300mm focal length in Nikon’s current line of lenses, with a little more shorter range to work with than the Nikon 70-300mm VR lens.
It is an ideal lens to be used for family events and vacations to capture distant subjects, and the use of Vibration Reduction (VR) technology makes it easier to get sharp photographs at slower shutter speeds, especially when shooting at 300mm. Similar to the Nikon 28-300mm VR lens, the Nikon 55-300mm VR comes with two Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Elements, which due to less air bubbles and glass deformities within the glass elements help minimize chromatic aberration and deliver sharper images at large apertures. The Nikon 55-300mm VR lens is only designed to work on Nikon DX (cropped) sensors and has an equivalent field of view of approximately 82.5mm-450mm (in 35mm equivalent), which makes the lens particularly good for reaching distant subjects. Autofocus is practically silent, thanks to the Silent Wave Motor (AF-S) within the lens.
In this review, I will do my best to provide a thorough analysis of this lens, along with some image samples and comparisons against other Nikon professional telephoto lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- Compact DX-format zoom lens with High Refractive Index lens element, ED glass and VR II image stabilization allows expanded photo and video opportunities that are designed to bring the action closer to the photographer.
- Nikon VR II Image Stabilization/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.
- HRI (High Refractive Index) Lens Element is essential to keeping the lens compact while offering high contrast even at maximum aperture.
- Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- The minimum focus distance is at 4.6 feet at all focal lengths.
- 5.5X Telephoto Zoom lens is ideal for capturing distant subjects at athletic events, family pictures, dramatic sunsets, travel and more. Angle of view is equivalent to a focal length of 82.5 to 450mm in FX/35mm format D-SLR.
- Tripod Detection Mode reduces vibration that may occur due to shutter release when mounted on a tripod.
- 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) Elements effectively minimize chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture settings.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduces flare.
- Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm renders more natural appearance of out-of-focus image areas.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length Range: 55-300mm
- Zoom Ratio: 5.5x
- Maximum Aperture: f/4.5
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Format: DX
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 28°50′
- Minimum Angle of View (DX-format): 5°20′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.28x
- Lens Elements: 17
- Lens Groups: 11
- High Refractive Index Elements: 1
- Compatible Format(s): DX, FX in DX Crop Mode
- VR (Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization): Yes
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- ED Glass Elements: 2
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 4.6 ft. (1.4m) throughout entire zoom range
- Focus Mode: Auto/Manual
- Filter Size: 58mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.0×4.8 in. (Diameter x Length) 76.5x123mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 18.7 oz. (580g)
- Supplied Accessories: HB-57 Snap-on Type Lens Hood, LC-58 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-1020 Soft Lens Case
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Handling and Features
The Nikon 55-300mm VR is a plastic lens with a metal mount, which is easy to carry and handle due to its low weight. Although the lens has a total of 17 optical elements in 11 groups, it weighs only 580 grams. In comparison, the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens weighs 800 grams, while the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lens weights 745 grams. Nikon was able to do this by using a high refractive index (HR) lens element (which allows using a single lens element instead of multiple elements made of standard glass), without compromising sharpness and image quality. The zoom ring is gigantic, occupying almost half of the lens barrel, which makes it easy to zoom in and out with your left hand, while holding the camera with your right hand. Compared to such lenses as 70-300mm VR, the 55-300mm does not have a manual focus override, which means that you have to first switch to “M” mode on the lens in order to be able to rotate the front of the lens barrel, where the focus ring is located. This is certainly a drawback, especially if you need to quickly switch from Autofocus to Manual focus (most current Nikon lenses have an “A/M” mode on the lens, which allows to override autofocus by simply rotating the focus ring). The focus ring is tiny compared to the zoom ring and is located in front of the lens, which is a smart move by Nikon – after-all, this lens is created for automatic focusing and the focus ring does not get nearly as much use as the zoom ring.
I really like the versatility of this lens – being able to shoot at 55mm all the way to 300mm is very nice, especially for wildlife photography. Unlike the new Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR or the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, this lens is not plagued with a “lens breathing” issue and 300mm on the long side is truly like 300mm, not shorter. Another important thing to note, is that the lens does extend pretty far when zoomed all the way in to 300mm. This is quite normal for this type of a lens and most other consumer zoom lenses also extend out when zoomed in. Zooming in/out was a little jerky and not very smooth on my lens sample, but it probably does get better overtime. The lens does not creep at all and I don’t think it will, even with heavy use in the future. The HB-57 lens hood is specifically engineered for this lens and it snaps on easily – I would leave it mounted on the lens to keep the front element protected against damage and flare/ghosting.
Since it is a variable aperture lens, the focal length on it changes as you zoom in from f/4.5 to f/5.6 on the long end:
- 55mm – f/4.5
- 105mm – f/4.8
- 135mm – f/4.8
- 200mm – f/5.0
- 300mm – f/5.6