Details, details. Both the Nikon 300mm and Provia 400F
take them all in. For the perfectionists, any grain will
show up in the out of focus areas behind our Indian. Check
it out. I think you'll be surprised.
Photos © 2001, Stan Trzoniec, All Rights Reserved
Picking up a Nikon 300mm
f/2.8 for the first time was certainly a humbling experience. This lens
was not only large in physical size, it was heavy! Specifications show
that it checked in at around 51/2 lbs and measured almost a foot in
length. As a photographer who specializes in both outdoor photography
and American railroads, it's no wonder the smaller f/4 version was my
300mm of choice over the formable 300mm f/2.8, especially when it came
to mobility and hand holding convenience. But all that has changed.
Radically. In its quest for smaller, lighter super telephotos, Nikon
has now introduced its much improved Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II AF-S.
Don't worry if you need a translation for all of this high-tech lingo,
the important thing to remember is the "II." This is what seems to be
the up and coming second generation of AF-S lenses with important new
features to benefit all.
Look & Feel
First of all is the weight. Placing both older and newer 300s in each
hand showed a substantial difference in weight. This new "II" lens is
over a pound lighter thanks to a new, lightweight magnesium die-cast
construction that hopefully we'll be seeing on more of the big guns
in the future. It's still hefty--around 5.6 lbs--but keep in mind, it
still has a blazing aperture of f/2.8! The outside finish on this new
entry is what I'd call smooth-crinkle, not the sexier, more rugged-looking
texture folks are moaning the discontinuance of on previous models.
Not only does this new finish match the high-end cameras like the F5
and F100 but it is also available in gray on special order.
Out of the box, one just
can't help but get excited over this new Nikon addition. Nikon quality
follows this lens from that substantial front element right back to
the controls and CPUs that allow the lens and camera to "talk" to each
other with reference to focus, distance, and exposure information that
is vital today with the advent of 3D Matrix metering and balanced outdoor
closer at f/4 the lens can really pull in the details.
Comparing this new "II" lens
to my first generation AF-S 300mm, physical size and lens makeup remain
pretty much the same. With measurements of roughly 5x101/2", this lens
has always been really hard to fit into your average camera bag. So along
with this new lens, Nikon has thoughtfully included a ballistic nylon
semi-soft case that even along with interior padding will hold the lens
with a camera attached. With the wide, camera-type strap supplied and
slung on your shoulder, it's almost fun to carry this lens to your next
Nikon compresses 11 elements
into eight groups, which includes three ED elements to help quell chromatic
aberrations in this modern 300mm. Considering the larger 500mm and 600mm
super telephotos have only one more lens element in roughly half again
the overall length surely indicates this 300mm f/2.8 is one optically
packed powerhouse. In addition, Internal Focusing (IF) allows for faster
focusing and combined with Nikon's Super Integrated Coating offers color
reproduction envied by most of its peers.
Other exterior differences
include redesigned rubber grips to aid in manual focusing when needed,
larger numerals in the distance scales and a hollowed out rotating tripod
knob for weight reduction. The lens identification label has been moved
forward and reversed (black letters on a brass plate) and, finally, the
limit switch letters are stamped in silver instead of white. A focus mode
selector to set "M" (Manual), "A" (Autofocus), and "M/A" (Autofocus with
Manual priority) allow instant switching of the lens between autofocus
and manual as the situation warrants.
Both your focus mode switch and focusing limit are grouped
on the left side of the lens. Filter drawer is on top, new
label has been moved slightly forward.
Silent Wave Motor
Naturally, a lens of this pedigree includes the Nikon Silent Wave motor
that focuses on the intended object with the speed and accuracy we all
wished we had in years past. For assistance and to speed up the sequence,
there is a focus limit switch to narrow down both the distance and time
the lens needs to zero in on a subject. For close-up capabilities the
new "II" will focus to 71/2 ft; about 25 percent closer than its predecessor.
There are nine diaphragm blades for a more pleasing background effect.
An NC filter is provided with the 52mm slip-in filter holder and a deep
(6") carbon-fiber lens hood is supplied to keep your image clear during
difficult cross or backlit situations.
Hand Holding A Long Tele
The idea of combining a telephoto--read easy to hand hold--lens with a
fast film always seemed like the best solution for the photographer on
the go. When Fuji Provia 400F became available in larger quantities it
appeared to be a win-win situation when using this lens. Then the question
beckons; can you hand hold this new 300mm when shooting? Yes, but with
some reservations. First, the rule of one over the focal length (1/300)
equals the minimum shutter speed still prevails. Nothing less than a 1/500
sec and definitely faster is the benchmark here, so film plays a very
important role. Fuji's 400F seems to be a great choice, especially when
you don't want to be tethered to a tripod. Naturally, light is everything,
and if it is not there, go back to the tripod, specially when you're looking
for more depth of field or when using an extender.
Diamonds in the rough? Hardly. Just add a bit of backlight
and shoot nearly wide-open.
In The Field
My test subjects ranged from across-the-board outdoor subjects, candids,
and fun with items that would compress or isolate easily with a long lens.
This lens is a natural for these optical add-ons, such as Nikon tele-extenders.
With the 1.4x, it turns into a 420mm f/4; with the 2x the 300 f/2.8 is
now a 600mm f/5.6, which is just about the bare minimum in which the autofocus
sensor will operate. And on top of all that, you don't need the assistance
of ole Charlie Atlas to help keep vibrations at bay. Finally, a sunset
with the 2x extender completed the field evaluation. I was never disappointed
in any part of the total operation. Pricing at straight retail shows this
new "II" lens roughly $700 less than the prevailing AF-S 300mm. That should
equate to about $300-$400 less at the typical street price level. Final
consensus: a very sharp upgrade that's quick on the uptake, priced for
most, finished in the finest Nikon tradition, and all without excess weight.
Would I trade in my first generation AF-S 300mm for this one? Nope. Would
I recommend this new "II" for someone looking for a 300mm f/2.8 high-performance
lens? Absolutely, and without reservations.
For more information, contact
Nikon at (631) 547-8500; fax: (631) 547-8518; www.nikonusa.com.
Nikon 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II AF-S Lens
Focal Length: 300mm
Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
Lens Construction: 11 elements in eight groups (three
Picture Angle: 8, 10 minutes
Focal Length Scale: 300mm only
Distance Information: Output to camera body
Shooting Distance Scale: Graduated in both meters and
Focusing: Silent Wave motor with manual override
Aperture Scale: f/2.8 to f/22
Minimum Aperture Lock: Provided
Diaphragm: Nine blades, fully automatic
Filter Attachment Size: 52mm drop in
Supplied Accessories: Slip on front lens cap, rear lens
cap, strap, CL-L1 soft case, HK-26 lens hood, 52mm screw-in filter
Size: Approximately 5x101/2"
Weight: 5.6 lbs
Street Price: Approximately $4500