Nikon AFS 300mm F/4E PF ED VR

Leave the tripod behind—this telephoto lens is lighter, nimbler and steadier than before.

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You may have a collection of top-quality glass, but if you never take a lens on a job because it’s too big and heavy, then even the one on your smartphone’s camera is better. Nikon’s new 300mm f/4 lens introduces a new design and a dramatic reduction in size and weight. In fact, it is now the world’s lightest 300mm lens for full-frame cameras, at about half the weight of its predecessor, and significantly shorter. It can almost fit on my palm. The smaller size is due to the lens’s new Phase Fresnel (PF) element, the first in the Nikon range to include it. This allows chromatic aberration to be controlled using fewer lens elements.

Another important update is the inclusion of an optical image stabiliser. The 300mm f/4E PF has the latest vibration reduction (VR) element, which is rated to 4.5 stops—making it possible to shoot sharp images at a shutter speed 20 times slower than a lens without any optical stabilisation. Similar to some of the newer Nikon telephoto lenses, there is a SPORT VR mode designed for shooting subjects that are moving rapidly and unpredictably. This makes it possible to shoot at a lower shutter speed when hand-holding the camera, resulting in more agility when shooting indoor events—and the ability to leave the tripod at home. Due to this feature, the tripod collar ring is now an optional part, which I believe most photographers won’t require, as the VR is highly effective.

This lens has long been a popular choice for wildlife and sports photography, and as a result is frequently exposed to water and dust. To mitigate this, the front element is coated with fluorine which helps to repel dirt and moisture and keep the lens clean.

Ease of use aside, the 300mm f/4E PF doesn’t disappoint in terms of picture quality. Sharpness is very good, including the edges, even at f/4. Out-of-focus areas are rendered beautifully. Both the foreground and background bokeh are pleasant, even when shooting more challenging scenes. The minimum focus distance is 1.4 metres, while the lens’s long focal length allows close-up photographs with a clean background and a shallow depth-of-field.

Barrel distortion is unnoticeable and chromatic aberration is virtually non-existent in my sample photos, including some high-contrast scenes.

There was no purple or green fringing around the edges, a testament to the new PF element’s control over chromatic aberration.

The autofocus operates quietly and smoothly. While the lens does have a focus limiter switch, I rarely turned it on, as the autofocus speed is very fast.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the new lens. Its picture quality, accurate autofocus, ability to shoot at four-stop slower shutter speed (and hence a four-stop lower ISO), and better portability mean I would use it much more than its predecessor—and it won’t weigh down my camera bag.

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