The Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is the latest iteration of this classic prime lens by Nikon. Engineered for those who require the highest level of image quality, this new 300mm lens boasts a fast aperture, telephoto reach and impressive build quality, making it perfect for multiple situations.
While primarily aimed at sports and wildlife photographers, the 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is also a wonderful lens for portraiture and press photography. This latest version by Nikon is an update on an already tried and tested design, but has been brought up to date with the additions of the latest VR II technology along with a few other small modifications.
Extra-Low Dispersion glass reduces chromatic aberration in a lens by helping to bring different wavelengths of light to focus at the same point.
Nano Crystal Coating
This anti-reflective coating is said to virtually eliminate internal lens element reflections, thus reducing ghosting or flare.
Nikon’s latest version of Vibration Reduction technology is claimed to deliver a maximum four-stop benefit over unstabilised optics, the aim being to produce sharp images in low-light conditions and at longer focal lengths.
SWM (Silent Wave Motor)
Nikon’s SWM technology converts ultrasonic waves into rotational movement, which are said to help the lens focus effectively, quickly and quietly.
IF (Internal Focus)
The lens’s internal focusing system means there is no change in its external length at any point while travelling through its focusing range.
The quality of the lens’s workmanship is apparent from the first moment you hold it. For those not used to working with long lenses the weight may seem excessive, however once you are accustomed it feels reassuring rather than heavy.
The lens is crafted in a way that seems to feel perfect when held. The weight is distributed so that it’s perfectly balanced when attached to a camera body. One point to note is that for optimum balance a professional or semi-professional body with an attached grip is best.
Despite the fact that it’s fairly weighty - not surprising for a lens of its kind - it’s comparatively light next to previous 300mm f/2.8 designs. With its external casing constructed largely from magnesium alloy, the 300mm f/2.8 VR II can easily withstand consistent hard use out in the field, with internal weather sealing around switches and moving parts reduces the chance of dust or moisture entering the lens.
The quality construction also extends to the lens accessories, with the included hood is constructed of high grade carbon fibre. The hood reduces flare whilst also serving to protect the front element from bumps and scratches. I have knocked and banged mine on a number of occasions, used it in freezing mountain conditions and driving rain and never once has the construction let me down.
The Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR II is built to last; up to the minute materials, combined with solid engineering and Nikon’s vast experience in lens design has produced a truly hardy photographic tool.
The lens features a large number of buttons and switches for controlling the numerous features. Most of the lens controls are found on a small panel on the left hand side; here you have access to the A/M, M/A and M switch for autofocus settings, the focus limiter (full or infinity-6m) and memory recall settings. The buttons and switches all feel solidly constructed and when positioned, they lock into place firmly. This results in fewer accidental changes to settings, corresponding to reduced frustration whilst out in the field.
This panel also offers controls for the Vibration Reduction system (Normal or Active), although Vibration Reduction itself is switched on by the locking ring found just in front of the tripod collar. In practice this works brilliantly as it can easily be changed without removing your eye from the viewfinder — perfect for fast paced shooting.
The focusing ability of the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is, in all honesty, phenomenal. The speed at which the lens seems to acquire focus is almost instant in any lighting conditions. In fact, this lens is probably one of the fastest focusing lenses in the Nikkor line up, if not THE fastest focusing of all. If you're upgrading from consumer or older pro-grade lenses, you will instantly be blown away by the speed of which this lens locks on to your intended subject.
With modern DSLR cameras the focusing speed is often defined by the quality of your camera body rather than the lens, and such is true with the 300mm. Professional bodies such as the D4 and D800 seem to allow this lens to focus far more rapidly than lower spec models, something to consider when trading up.
The optics of the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II are largely unchanged from those of the previous version, with eleven elements arranged over eight groups. Three of these elements are made from ED glass and all feature Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat. The reason they remain unchanged is because quite simply, they were perfect - and why fix what isn’t broken!
The lens has stunning optical quality. Images appear clear and vivid, with beautiful contrast - even when used wide-open at f/2.8, a true example of optical excellence. Being able to use the lens wide open with no loss of quality means you can produce stunning bokeh as well as gaining faster shutter speeds in low-light situations. These combined, make a perfect combination for wildlife, sports and portrait photography.
One of the major upgrades over the previous version of this lens is the inclusion of VR II technology. Nikon claims that this technology allows users to shoot with shutter speeds up to four EV stops slower, yet still produce equally sharp results. This provides two major benefits: being able to shoot in low-lighting conditions and being able to use slow shutter speeds for creative imagery.
When I first started using the lens about eighteen months ago I wasn’t sure how useful the VR II system would be. For the type of photography I produce, fast shutter speeds are the norm, so camera shake was not often an issue. After a year, however, I now truly value the addition of this technology. It has often come to my rescue in challenging situations where I would have previously missed the shot. The VR system in the lens works brilliantly, steadying the image noticeably in the viewfinder. When the light starts to fade I can drop the shutter speed down to 1/125 or even 1/60 sec and still get sharp results - highly impressive!
Most people who are thinking about investing in this lens will also be interested in using it alongside the range of Nikon teleconverters. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8 the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II works with all current Nikon Teleconverters, but the lens pairs very favorably with the Nikon 1.4 II TC, producing a 420mm f/4 lens that is usable wide open with no visible loss in optical quality or autofocus performance. I have used this set up extensively and never once have I been disappointed in the results produced. The focus seems to have no reduction speed and locks on equally as quickly as the bare lens, in all by the worst lighting conditions.
Using the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II in conjunction with the Nikon TC-17E II 1.7x teleconverterproduces an excellent 510mm f/4.7 lens, and when stopped down to f/5.6 it produces images which are very similar to the standard quality at 300mm. The focusing speed and aperture drop marginally, but in decent conditions the combination still focuses efficiently. Pairing the lens with the latest TC-20E III teleconverter produces a compact and usable 600mm solution. The focus ability and sharpness do degrade however if stopped down to around f/8 and combined with good lighting conditions, usable results can still be achieved.
The Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II is a perfect example of optical excellence. The combination of advanced technology, paired with a tested optical design in a robust and solid construction, make it the ideal tool for a number of applications. The impressive focus speed and razor-sharp optics produce consistently impressive results, while the ability to combine the lens with teleconverters creates an attractive prospect for those needing super telephoto reach, while also wanting to maintain a relatively compact set up.
The only two downfalls of this lens are the weight and price. The weight of the lens at 2,900 grams - although reasonable for the amount complex engineering - is a burden when carrying it on long and extensive outings, and with a price tag of just over £4000 it will be out of reach for many. If you do decide to take the plunge you will be rewarded with consistent optical and focusing perfection - I know I won't be needing an update any time soon!
About the Author
Tom Mason is an up and coming wildlife and nature photographer based in Hertfordshire where he frequently visits a number of local nature reserves including Rye Meads and Amwell. You can see more of his work on his blog.