Testing the Nikon D4: Performance with the 70-300mm VR Nikkor

Otter, comin' atcha! Nikon D4 with 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AFS G VR Nikkor lens

The 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AFS G VR zoom Nikkor is one of those lenses that is often overlooked by professionals as a viable telephoto option.  Why? For starters, it’s relatively slow maximum aperture (f/5.6) means that you really need to shoot it at f/8 to get maximum sharpness. For sports and wildlife shooters, who require fast shutter speeds, that meant using the lens either in bright conditions or with very high ISO settings. That equation changed with the release of the Nikon D3, which allowed very high ISO shooting with clean results. In fact, I recall Dave Black saying how he could use the 70-300mm with the D3 as a viable option.

Priced at under $600 USD, the 70-300mm VR Nikkor seems like a great travel lens. It is. I have also been tempted to use it on a second body when I’m shooting FX format and I need a shorter option for things like flight shots of birds. The combination of small size and VR makes this lens quite tempting for hand-held flight shots. However, one thing I’ve noticed was that even on my D3/D3s bodies, the autofocus performance of the 70-300mm VR just wasn’t quite the same as some of my faster Nikkor lenses. Specifically, initial focus lock seemed to take a little too long, leading to missed shot sequences.

I figured I’d try the 70-300 VR on my new Nikon D4 and see how it did with the newer AF system. Once again my dog, Otter, proved his value as a tricky test subject. He was more than willing to do the “run straight at me” test. The gallery below shows a continuous 14-frame sequence, shot with the D4 in Manual Exposure mode: 1/1600s @f/8 and auto ISO at 8 fps. This would be similar to how I’d use this lens in the field; stopped down slightly from max aperture and with a fast shutter speed to freeze action. I was extremely happy with the results! The 70-300VR locked on quickly and pretty much nailed the focus… even with a low-contrast subject like Otter.

While many don’t see much difference between the D4 and D3s, to quote Han Solo: “She might not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.”

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6 thoughts on “Testing the Nikon D4: Performance with the 70-300mm VR Nikkor”

  1. Thanks. I was wondering how the 70-300mm lens would work with the new AF system.

  2. Jason:

    I check your blog everyday to see what real world experiences are like (not brick walls) and thank you for your posts.

    Question; what have been your experiences with the 16-35 on the D4? I have the D800 and D3s and it performs well on the D3s but seems that it is really soft on the edges on the D800. I am not surprised at this, but wanted to get your take on the D4.



  3. Joe-
    Thanks for the feedback. I haven’t used the 16-35 on the D4 much, but the corners are a little bit soft at 16mm and f/8. I’d suspect the D800 would make it seem worse, as it has more pixels to show lens aberrations. I’ll see if I can’t do a quick test today, but so far nothing I’ve seen is disappointing.

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