Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G IF-ED VR - Review / Lab Test Report - Analysis
Lens Reviews - Nikon / Nikkor (APS-C)
Article Index
Introduction
Analysis

Distortion

Despite its fairly ambitious 4.3x zoom ratio the lens exhibits only slight barrel distortion at 70mm and slight pincushion distortion towards the long end of the zoom range.

Move the mouse cursor over the focal length text marks below to observe the respective distortion
70mm 200mm 300mm

The chart above has a real-world size of about 120x80cm.

Vignetting

The AF 70-300mm is a full frame lens so on an APS-C DSLR it can take advantage of a sweet spot effect and consequently the lens is capable to produce image that are almost free of vignetting at all focal lengths and aperture settings.

MTF (resolution)

The tested sample produced very decent resolution figures under lab conditions. At 70mm the performance is excellent scratching the resolution limits of the D200 sensor. The drop in quality is only marginal towards the borders of the image frame. Typical for most tele zoom lenses there's a decrease in performance towards the long end of the zoom range. At 200mm the results remain on a very high level whereas at 300mm there´s a significant drop of the border performance. Stopping down helps to lift the quality of a very good figures by f/11. At wide-open aperture the contrast level seems to suffer a bit as well. The field curvature as well as residual spherical aberrations (focus shift when stopping down) are well controlled.

Below is a simplified summary of the formal findings. The chart shows line widths per picture height (LW/PH) which can be taken as a measure for sharpness. If you want to know more about the MTF50 figures you may check out the corresponding Imatest Explanations

Chromatic Aberrations (CAs)

Lateral chromatic aberrations (color shadows at harsh contrast transitions) are something of a mixed bag. The lens does not produce the rather hostile red color CAs but the yellow/blue variant. At 70mm these CAs are well controlled but at 200mm and more so at 300mm the problem is quite significant with an average CA pixel width around 2px at the image borders.

Here´s a sample border portion at 300mm f/11 out-of-the-box. Strong CAs may sound bad and it really shouldn´t happen but the good news is that the lateral CAs can be quite easily corrected to a negligible degree. I did it via Photoshop Camera Raw (blue/yellow fringe = -45) but Nikon Capture NX as well as many other CA correction tools should work just fine. However, it remains an additional processing step if needed.

Move the mouse cursor over the text marks to switch between the raw and corrected variant
raw CAs corrected CAs

Verdict

The Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR may not be the Über-lens everybody was hoping for (nor was that realistic) but it is still a very good lens. At 70mm the results are nothing short of stellar and still easily on a very good level at 200mm. At 300mm there´s a performance penalty specifically at the image borders @ f/5.6. Stopping down to f/8 helps to overcome most of the problems but unfortunately there´s also a quite pronounced but still correctable degree of yellow/blue (lateral) CA. Distortions and vignetting are basically non-issues throughout the range. The build quality is pretty decent and about in line this Nikon's recent medium grade zoom lenses. The AF is quite fast and almost silent and unlike most lenses in this league the front-element does not rotate during focusing nor zooming. The pricing of the lens may be relatively steep in absolute terms but price/performance-wise it remains a harmonious package.

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