If you have ever done a big wildlife trip, you know the challenge that occurs. You bring your long lens, maybe a 500mm or 600mm, so you’re ready for the long shot. But the lion pride or bear cubs didn’t get the memo, and instead they come right up to you. This could be the image of the trip, and you are fumbling for your 70-200mm or similar trying to capture this close encounter. This happens to me all the time. What lens to put on my second body? A 300mm might be a little long, and 70-200mm is nice but what about between 500mm and 200mm…that is a huge gap. And if you shoot sports, you always take a 300mm or 400mm and a 70-200mm. Well, now you can get the best of both worlds. Enter the Nikon 120-300mm F2.8 FL ED SR VR…yep, that is a lot of acronyms..
To see just how great this lens was, and if it was something we wanted to buy, I called my friends at Lensrentals. Lensrentals offers a great option…why not rent the lens for that exotic wildlife trip? Not only that, these folks rent gimbals and other accessories as well. We have partnered with Lensrentals to offer anyone who is on our workshops a discount on a lens rental. Since we have multiple bear trips, jungle bird shoots and Africa safari workshops next year, we think this is a great option for our participants.
With the 120-300mm attached to a D6, we headed to our local duck pond to try it out. Before leaving I did a lens fine tune and found +5 was the sweet spot, and +8 using a 1.4x III converter. Probably the first thing I noticed, and something very important to me, was the weight of the lens and that I could hand hold it for extended periods of time. The lens comes in around 7 pounds, about two pounds heavier than the popular 200-500mm. Cree and I both found this lens very hand holdable, critical in our decision to purchase one down the road. We often carry a 500mm 5.6 PF, a great walk around telephoto. But it would be nice to have a lens to cover wider angles. And what really appealed to us about this lens was F2.8. That is two stops more light than the 500mm 5.6, and softer bokeh with subjects pinned on close backgrounds.
This lens is blazingly fast on autofocus, and razor sharp. I honestly need to come up with more adjectives for sharp…tack, pin, paper-cutting…whatever you want to call it, this lens at virtually the entire range is just amazing. Other reviewers have said this zoom lens is even sharper than the fixed 300mm F2.8, a benchmark standard in sharpness for Nikon. I believe it. The zoom range is perfect…instead of carrying a 70-200mm and a 300mm F4, I can carry one lens and not worrying about switching glass. The lens has all the normal pro features you would expect; VR, focus limit switch, memory recall buttons and an incredible durable design and element proof seals. This lens is one of Nikon’s most recent, and they included all their prime glass elements including a shortwave refractive element and ARNEO/Nano Crystal Coats. What this means is don’t expect much chromatic aberration or fringing using this lens. Nikon has applied all they know into the dreamy lens.
Shooting with the D6 this lens was as responsive and accurate as I have ever seen. But what happens when you add a 1.4x III converter. This lens now becomes a 160-420 F4 lens. F4 is still a fast, bright aperture. The 120-300mm with converter attached performed beautifully. I didn’t see any lag in autofocus, and image quality was tack sharp. When you are starting with one of the sharpest lens Nikon makes, you can expect great results using a 1.4x. I would have no hesitation using a 1.4x with this lens.
Where are you going to use this lens? At 300mm this is not a long telephoto for wildlife. Sports shooters will dream about this lens, it fits a perfect range for them. For wildlife shooters, this is how I would use this lens. Bears in Alaska…seems like I always need wider when the bears come close. Texas bird blinds…great for capturing groups of birds/raptors, and birds in flight. Africa…this will be in the seat beside me along with my long telephoto, a great combination. Galapagos…you will use this focal length all the time since you can get close to wildlife, and being able to shoot a F2.8 is going to create some creamy, beautiful backgrounds. This lens is not a headshot lens except for close wildlife, but great for environmental shots.
The tough part is the price…$9500. If you don’t want to buy one, then give Lensrentals a call before your trip. And if you do buy one? You’re getting one of the sharpest zoom lenses on the market built to take years of rugged field use.