Talk about alphabet soup! Nikon has announced a completely redesigned 300mm f/4 lens to replace its aging 300mm f/4 AFS model. The new lens is called the 300mm f/4E PF ED VR, and is available for pre-order here. The lens should start shipping by early February. It is an FX lens, meaning it will work on both FX and DX Nikon DSLR bodies. On DX bodies, the angle of view would be equivalent to 450mm.
I had the previous version, Nikon’s 300mm f/4 AFS IF-ED lens, and I can honestly say it was an under-appreciated component of the Nikkor lineup. It was sharp, handled teleconverters well, and was very easy to hand-hold. My only complaint with it was its lack of vibration reduction (VR), which would have made it perfect for many situations where I didn’t want to use a tripod.
The new lens takes slimming down a step further by utilizing a phase fresnel lens element. You’ve probably heard of fresnel lenses before; these are the scalloped glass lenses you’ll find in old lighthouses. The advantage of a fresnel lens is that it is thinner (and lighter) than a simple convex or concave lens. The downside of this design is that there are situations where ring-shaped flare may occur when there are extremely bright objects in the frame. Nikon says that there is a new “PF Flare Control” option in Capture NX-D that will help to reduce this phenomenon. I will wait for real-world examples to see whether or not this is a big deal (most of us don’t point our telephoto lenses right at the sun, but you never know).
By incorporating the phase fresnel element, the Nikon 300mm f/4E lens weighs in at 755g (1.7lb). The previous model weighs 1440g. So that’s nearly a 50% weight reduction for the new lens, and judging from the MTF charts, it should be at least as sharp. This lens also incorporates Nikon’s Nano-crystal Coat and Super-Integrated Coatings for better contrast and flare control. The front lens element has a Fluorine coating that is supposed to help repel dirt, water, and grease, making the lens easier to clean.
The Nikon 300mm f/4E also includes VR rated to 4.5 stops, making it useful for situations where you want to hand-hold the lens. For a lens designed to be used hand-held, this is a huge feature. Keep in mind, however, that VR will not freeze a moving subject, but the VR system is incredibly useful when panning or when you are shooting non-moving subjects in lower light conditions.
Nikon has also added in a feature previously found only on it’s most expensive lenses: electromagnetic diaphragm control. Instead of a mechanical coupling, which may be prone to error, an electromagnet controls the aperture diaphragm. In theory, this feature allows consistent exposure values during high-speed continuous shooting.
The 300mm f/4E takes 77mm front filters and a tripod collar is optional. Note that the tripod collar is the same one Nikon uses for the 70-200mm f/4 VR lens, meaning that the Really Right Stuff or Kirk collars should work, too. The lens includes a detachable bayonet-style hood and a soft case.
With this lens, Nikon continues to add quality, pro-level glass with f/4 apertures. For me, that’s great news for enthusiasts and others who don’t necessarily need the speed of a f/2.8 lens and want a smaller, lighter (and less expensive) alternative. Moreover, with high-ISO performance of Nikon cameras being so good, the only time you really need an f/2.8 lens is if you are consistently working in low-light/ indoor conditions and need that extra stop of shutter speed to freeze motion.
For most outdoor sports, the Nikon 300mm f/4E lens will deliver all the speed you need; just bump your ISO up a little. Enthusiasts will also appreciate having a telephoto lens that is very lightweight. Even if you aren’t planning to hand-hold this lens, the weight savings are still noticeable when you’re packing for a trip or carrying your camera around all day.
The Nikon 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens has a retail price of $1996.95 at site sponsor B&H Photo and an expected ship date of February 5, 2015.