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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