The quality of bokeh this lens produces is pretty good. It is not as good as what the Nikon 70-300mm VR and other exotic lenses such as the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G can do, but still quite pleasing for a lens like this. Here is a bokeh comparison between the Nikon 55-300 and 28-300:
Although the bokeh looks a little “edgy”, it is not as bad as the bokeh on the 28-300mm. The Nikon 28-300mm bokeh looks very dirty in comparison.
Here is another image sample showing soft and pleasing background rendering:
Vignetting is typically not a problem on telephoto lenses, however, the Nikon 55-300mm does have a significant amount of vignetting present past 135mm when shooting at the largest aperture. Stopping down the lens to f/8.0 completely gets rid of vignetting though, which is great. Here is an example of vignetting at f/5.0 @ 200mm (left) and at f/8.0 @ 200mm (right):
As you can see, the vignetting is clearly gone by f/8.0. The same thing happens when shooting at the longest focal length of 300mm.
Ghosting and Flare
Telephoto lenses are typically not designed to shoot against bright sources of light. While the Nikon 55-300mm seems to be able to handle ghosting and flare fairly well, I would be careful with putting the Sun into the frame – you might get some nasty ghosting and flare depending on the angle, position, etc. The images might appear “cloudy” if the sun reaches the front element of the lens, so I would just keep the supplied hood on at all times. Not only will the hood protect the lens, but it will also do what it is supposed to – which is block sun rays from reaching the front element. When shooting against other light sources in dim environments, I did not notice any considerable amount of ghosting/flare. If you are seeing too much flare and you are using a filter (clear, UV, etc.), try removing the filter to see if the effect goes away. If it does, then you have a low quality filter.
The Nikon 55-300mm VR has a very controlled amount of chromatic aberration (CA), due to the excellent ED glass elements used in this lens. I did not notice much CA at the short focal lengths (just a tad in the corners), but did get some at the long end between 200mm and 300mm across the frame. But this slight amount of CA is very easy to fix in Lightroom and Photoshop, so it is not even worth mentioning it- certainly very good for a consumer lens of this class. Stopping down the lens to f/8.0 almost completely eliminates visible aberration.
Distortion is controlled well at the short focal lengths, with a very slight amount of barrel distortion at 55mm. As you get to 70mm, distortion completely disappears, reappearing as pincushion distortion at 105mm all the way to 300mm. Pincushion is moderate at the long ranges – here is an extreme example at 105mm with noticeable distortion:
If distortion is an issue for you, you can easily fix it via Filter->Distort->Lens Correction filter in Adobe Photoshop or use the new “Lens Corrections” screen inside Lightroom’s Develop Module.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 55mm Center Frame
Let’s take a look at the center at 55mm:
As you can see, the lens performs very well at all apertures when shooting at 55mm. The image wide open @ f/4.5 is just a tad softer than others, but almost unnoticeable, which is very good.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 55mm Corner Frame
What about the corners at 55mm? Let’s see how they compare at various apertures:
As expected, the extreme corners at the largest apertures do show some softness at 55mm. Stopping down the lens to f/8.0 does improve the situation considerably though.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 70mm Center Frame
Here is how the center looks at 70mm:
Again, the center of the frame is sharp from f/5.6 to f/11.0 with a very slightly softer image at f/4.5.
The corners at 70mm look very similar to the 55mm crops posted above, with softer corners wide open getting pretty good by f/8.0.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 105mm Center Frame
Let’s see what happens at 105mm:
Again, the sharpness is pretty good overall, but we are already seeing some loss of sharpness at the largest aperture and f/5.6. Stopping down the lens to f/8.0 and f/11.0 produces the best results.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 105mm Corner Frame
I’m surprised to see how well the lens does at 105mm – all corners look pretty sharp with no difference between the crops.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 200mm Center Frame
Longer range at 200mm in the center:
At 200mm, the best performance is between f/8.0 and f/11.0, with the wide open and f/5.6 performance getting a little weaker, but still pretty good.
The corners are very similar to 105mm – consistently good images from f/5.6 to f/11.0.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 300mm Center Frame
Since at 300mm the lens is at f/5.6, there are only three crops:
Again, the center looks very similar to 200mm, with slightly softer image at f/5.6 that gets sharper at f/8.0 and f/11.0.
Sharpness Test – Nikon 55-300mm @ 300mm Corner Frame
Corners look all the same to me in terms of sharpness, with a slight amount of visible purple fringing in the corners.
Overall, the lens sharpness performance is pretty good, with a slightly worse performance at larger apertures when shooting at long ranges above 105mm. The remedy is to stop down to f/8.0, which increases image sharpness.
On the next page, let’s see how the 55-300mm VR compares to other lenses on the market: