A lightweight, 5.5x telephoto zoom lens with built-in VR stabilisation for Nikon’s DX camera bodies. Photographers looking for a telephoto zoom lens to complement the 18-55mm kit lens supplied with Nikon DSLRs will doubtless be drawn to the new AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR lens. Designed specifically for Nikon’s DX-format cameras, where it covers a focal length range equivalent to 85-450mm, it offers some attractive features plus a decent price/performance ratio. . . [more]
Photographers looking for a telephoto zoom lens to complement the 18-55mm kit lens supplied with Nikon DSLRs will doubtless be drawn to the new AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR lens. Designed specifically for Nikon’s DX-format cameras, where it covers a focal length range equivalent to 85-450mm, it offers some attractive features plus a decent price/performance ratio.
It’s not as solid – or as heavy – as the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens we reviewed recently (which was only available with a Nikon mount when we reviewed it and, consequently, tested on the same D3100 body as this lens). Nonetheless, it is well built for its price tag and a better partner for the D3100 body than the heavier lens.
The AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR lens shown without its lens hood. (Source: Nikon.)
The optical design consists of 17 elements in 11 groups. Two ED elements are used to reduce chromatic aberration. The new lens is also the first Nikkor lens to include a high refractive index (HRI) lens element.
The above diagram shows the structure of the AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR lens. (Source: Nikon.)
Replacing multiple elements made of standard optical glass, the HRI element has enabled the new lens to be made smaller and lighter, while maintaining the ability to focus down to 1.4 metres throughout the entire zoom range. With a refractive index of 2.0 or higher, the single HRI element also compensates for focal plane curvature and spherical aberration. It also promises attractive bokeh at wide apertures. Unfortunately, with maximum apertures ranging from f/4.5 at 55mm to f/5.6 at 300mm, this lens isn’t particularly fast – and that’s noticeable on the D3100, which is a bit of a laggard in low light levels.
Nikon’s second-generation VR II vibration reduction mechanism has been included to compensate for camera shake at longer focal lengths. Nikon claims it can allow users to shoot with shutter speeds approximately four f-stops slower than an unstabilised lens, a claim we verified in our testing.
The other notable inclusion is Nikon’s Silent Wave motor technology, which provides quiet – and relatively fast – autofocusing. The new lens also features a weather-sealed mounting plate made from stainless steel, which resist the entry of moisture and dust.
This lens is supplied with a cylindrical lens hood (HB-57), which has two latches that must be pushed in when you remove it. You can simply push the hood on to attach it and the latches will slip into place. On the lens, the hood will rotate freely and it’s difficult to fit filters when it’s in place.
Also supplied with the lens are front and rear caps and a CL-1020 Flexible Lens Pouch.
HandlingThe review lens was a comfortable match for the Nikon D3100 body we used for our tests. Attaching the lens to the camera body was straightforward and the solid metal mounting plate fitted very snugly.
Without the hood, the lens protrudes 140 mm from the camera body in the 55mm position. Zooming in to 300mm extends the inner barrel by a further 50 mm, while fitting the lens hood takes the front of the lens out to 222 mm at full tele zoom.
The focusing ring is a 10 mm wide band at the end of the outer barrel. It carries a ridged, rubber grip and rotates a little during autofocusing. For manual focusing you must slide the switch on the side of the lens barrel to the M position. Once this is done, the focusing ring can be turned through about 30 degrees – which isn’t much for precise focusing adjustments.
The zoom ring is located just aft of the focusing ring. It’s 48 mm wide and carries a 35 mm wide, thickly-ridged rubber coating. Six focal length markings (55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm) are stamped in white on its trailing edge. No distance scale is provided. Between the zoom ring and the mounting plate are two slider switches. The upper one switches between auto and manual focusing, while the lower switches the VR stabilisation on and off. No zoom lock is provided – and none appears necessary as we found no slippage when the lens was carried pointing downwards.
PerformanceThe review lens was something of a ‘curate’s egg’ (excellent in part). On the plus side were the effective VR stabilisation system and the quiet and effective autofocusing system. On the minus side, most test shots appeared slightly soft.
Like the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens, the AF performance of the AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR lens was limited by the camera body. In bright conditions it was reasonably fast and accurate. In low light levels, we noticed a tendency to hunt and the not-very-bright viewfinder in the D3100 made manual focusing tricky.
Because we lack sufficient space in our test set-up to cover the entire focal length range of this lens, we were only able to run Imatest testing on the 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm settings. These tests showed the review lens to be incapable of matching the potential of the D3100’s sensor – and a fair way below the Tamron lens in resolution.
Edge and corner softening were measured – and noticeable – in shots taken at wide lens apertures and only addressed to any degree when the lens was stopped down to about f/8. Diffraction reduced resolution from about f/14 on. The graph below shows the results of our tests on JPEG test shots taken with the lens on the Nikon D3100 body.
Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between negligible and low throughout the focal length range, as shown in the graph below. (The red line marks the border between negligible and low CA, while the green line separates low from moderate CA.) No coloured fringing was detected in test shots.
Rectilinear distortion varies with focal length, with very little distortion at 55mm and increasing pincushion distortion from about 70mm on. Although pincushioning was quite noticeable at 300mm, we doubt it would be a problem for most photographers who would consider purchasing this lens.
Vignetting was apparent at all focal length settings and became more obvious as focal length was increased. However, again, we doubt it would be a problem for most potential users.
Although backlit subjects were mostly handled well, some veiling flare was seen in test shots taken with the 300mm focal length when the sun was low in the sky. However, at the 55mm focal length setting flare was negligible, even when the sun was just out of the frame.
Bokeh was generally attractive – and the review lens proved better at handling backlit subjects at 300mm than the Tamron lens. Outlining was negligible and backgrounds were acceptably smooth. Buy this lens if: – You want a general-purpose, medium-zoom lens for an entry-level Nikon DSLR. – You’d like effective built-in image stabilisation. – You want quiet autofocusing.- Slight vignetting is acceptable.
Don’t buy this lens if: – High resolution is important. – Edge and corner softening or are unacceptable.- You need true macro capabilities.
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Vignetting at 55mm; ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/4.5.
Vignetting at 100mm; ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/5.
Vignetting at 200mm; ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/5.3.
Vignetting at 300mm; ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/5.6.
55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/9.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/9.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.6.
Crops from 100% enlargements of the above image showing edge and corner softening.
Strong contre-jour lighting at 55mm; ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/8.
The same subject photographed with the 300mm focal length showing slight veiling flare; ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/6.3.
More evidence of reduced contrast with weaker backlighting; 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
Stabilisation test; both shots taken at ISO 100 with 200mm focal length, aperture of f/18 and 1/10 second shutter speed. The shot on the right has the VC stabiliser switched on.
Close-up at 200mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/5.6.
Close-up showing attractive bokeh; 300mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
The 1.4 metre working distance makes this lens suitable for shooting close-ups of fast-moving animals; 300mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/500 second at f/5.6.
Picture angle: 28 degrees 50 minutes to 5 degrees 20 minutes Minimum aperture: f/22 to f/29 Lens construction: 17 elements in 11 groups (includes two ED and one HRI elements) Lens mounts: Nikon AF (DX camera bodies only) Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture) Focus drive: Silent Wave Motor Stabilisation: Lens shift using voice coil motors Minimum focus: 1.4 metres Maximum magnification: 0.28x Filter size: 58 mm Dimensions (Diameter x L): Approx. 76.5 x 123 mmWeight: Approx. 530 grams
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Rating (out of 10):
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- Image quality: 7.5
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- OVERALL: 8.5