Nikons New 300mm f2.8D ED IF II AF S Lens

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 fill flash.

Even 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 location.

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;

Nikon 300mm f/2.8D ED-IF II AF-S Lens

Technical Specifications
Focal Length: 300mm
Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
Lens Construction: 11 elements in eight groups (three ED elements)
Picture Angle: 8, 10 minutes
Focal Length Scale: 300mm only
Distance Information: Output to camera body
Shooting Distance Scale: Graduated in both meters and feet
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