I’m always on the lookout for new Nikon lenses. They just keep getting better, sharper and lighter, so updating our lenses happens on a regular basis. One lens that has been a hit with many Nikon shooters was the 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G, a low cost zoom with excellent performance. This lens was sharp, and costing around $600 made it a reasonable buy for many photographers. But it did struggle with autofocus in low light conditions, and corner sharpness lacked on some high res cameras. In July 2017 Nikon announced a new 70-300mm version with lots of upgrades using the latest technology. But was it really that much better?
What is different on the new AF-P 70-300mm F4.5-5.6? Lots, starting with the new AF-P in the title. AF-P refers to a new pulse stepping motor that increases autofocus speed and makes it silent. Most Nikon bodies with work just fine with this technology, especially if you have the latest firmware. But bodies such as the D3 and earlier models may have compatibility issues. Next, this new lenses uses VR allowing 4.5 stops of stabilization. The lens optical design is completely updated as well, resulting in sharper images (see below). At $750, the new AF-P 70-300mm is a great value.
I just returned from Bhutan, and shot over 1500 images with the new lens using both my D850 and D500. This lens did great work, and I couldn’t get over how light and small the lens felt. I’d normally take my 70-200mm F4 or F2.8, both much heavier and larger than the 70-300mm. The new autofocus system worked as advertised; silent and very fast. I didn’t encounter low light auto focus issues which I had seen using the older ‘G’ version. And pairing this with my D500 and smaller sensor gave me a 1.5x crop advantage. 300mm has an angle of view of 450mm, a nice long telephoto for wildlife and distant subjects.
But what about sharpness? Yes, this lens is sharp. I paired it with my D850, and center sharpness was excellent. Scrutinizing the corners of some of my images I could see a little softness, what you would expect for a non-pro lens that costs a fraction of the cost. If you are shooting wildlife or portraits, corner sharpness will be less of a concern. Put this lens on a 1.5x body like the D500, and corner sharpness is much improved. I am very happy with the sharpness of my images using this lens in Bhutan, both on the D850 and D500.
When will I take this lens on a shoot? I see this much improved 70-300mm going with me on many travel shoots. We did a lot of hiking in Bhutan, but I barely noticed this lens was in my pack. Any being able to zoom out to 300mm without changing to a longer telephoto was a huge help. At $750, this AF-P 70-300mm F4.5-5.6E is an excellent value and will be a smart choice for many photographers.