Review: A controversial lens: the Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G


Image from Nikon USA.

This lens is the full-frame equivalent of the very popular 18-200/3.5-5.6 DX VR; and like the DX equivalent, it’s an optic that seems to breed two kinds of people: blind fanboys who think it’s the one and only lens you need to own, and others who think it’s a horrible compromise that does nothing well, and is best avoided.

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Dayabumi. The first marble-facaded skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

I picked up this lens together with the new (at the time) AFS 85/1.4 G at the latter end of 2010; I never intended to use it as a one-size fits all, but rather as as more flexible replacement for the AFS 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR – itself which was great up to about 200mm, but required much smaller apertures to be useable at 300mm, and it never got as sharp as it was at shorter focal lengths – despite stopping down.

Bottom line: the 28-300VR does the job. My sample, at least, matches the 70-300VR optically in the 70-200mm range; neither one is really great at 300mm, but I’d give a slight edge to the 28-300VR. Never mind the fact that it isn’t 300mm all the time – I’ll talk more about this later.

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Honda HSV-010 detail. Super Japan GT, Sepang International Circuit. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Let’s start with the physical stuff. It isn’t a small lens – in fact, it’s similar in size and heft to the 24-70/2.8 without the hood – but it’s made entirely of textured polycarbonate. It also extends considerably when zoomed out, which shifts the weight in the hand quite noticeably. Fortunately, the extensions are quite robust. The lens is gasketed, and I’ve shot with it in light rain; I probably wouldn’t do this under more adverse weather conditions, because the water will naturally go inside the lens as you zoom in and out – you can see evidence of this as water streaks are left behind. There’s a narrow, very short-throw focus ring with rudimentary distance scale, no DOF markings, and very little feel. Clearly, this lens wasn’t mean to be manually focused – good luck doing it precisely. In front of that is a wide rubberized zoom ring. Zoom spacing is nice and linear, though a little stiff – you can feel the plastic-on-plastic action inside the lens. The remaining controls are switches for AF/MF, VR ON/OFF, and VR ACTIVE/ NORMAL mode. There’s also a lock switch to prevent the lens extending past 28mm – clearly Nikon learned something from the self-tromboning 18-200VR, though the zoom action is actually stiff enough not to require it.

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GT500 at Sepang International Circuit. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

It’s a proper AF-S lens, which means that you have full time manual override. Focusing is midrange-fast, even at the long end of the zoom. It isn’t as fast as the pro lenses, obviously. Fast enough.

The stabilizer uses Nikon’s second generation technology – denoted by the gold VR plaque, rather than red as on the first versions. It’s quite effective – with good technique, critically sharp shots at 1/15s 300mm on FX or 1/50s 450mm equivalent on DX are possible. It has automatic panning detection, and an ACTIVE mode that cancels out all subject motion – i.e. panning off. However, you should be turning the stabilizer off if your shutter speed is above the safe speed required – the time required for the stabilizer to move into position can actually create a weird double-image effect if left on at very high shutter speeds. VR is much more effective if you give it a couple of seconds to ‘lock in’ before shooting. Curiously, it also works much better if the camera is held horizontal – extreme up or down shooting tends to render it mostly ineffective.

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Polo. Cue panning mode. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Let’s talk about optics: I strongly suspect with a lens this complex, there’s some sample variation going on. And this might well be the source of the strong polarization between user camps. Mine isn’t so hot at 28mm – in fact, it’s downright crappy (flare, aberrations, lack of sharpness and contrast) at 28mm until f5.6; curiously, you can manual focus it to a sharper image – however, using that AF-fine tune calibration throws out every other focal length. From 35mm to 200mm or so, this lens is right up there with the rest of them – it’s sharp, contrasty, and has plenty of bite. It’s lacking micro contrast though, which I suspect is a consequence of having a huge number of elements and air-glass interfaces: a little bit of contrast is lost at each one, no matter how good your coating is. Above 200mm, things soften to the point that 300mm isn’t that good wide open, and requires f8 to be useable.

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A swimmer’s portrait. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

That was for FX. Curiously, the lens seems a little sharper on DX (16MP D5100); this might be because it’s using only the central portion of the image, though that doesn’t explain the much improved results at the extreme ends of the range. Curiously, it works much better on the D800 than it did on the D700 – it could be my sample – in fact, it’s much the same as on the D5100 which has similar pixel density. On the 12MP FX cameras, I’d use it from 28-100 at f5.6, and 100-200 at f8 or lower. On the 36Mp D800, 28-300 at maximum aperture is useable but a little soft; improves greatly one stop down, and is actually pretty good by two stops down from maximum. There’s always vignetting, at pretty much every aperture; however it’s an easy fix in Photoshop. Weakest performance is actually at 28mm on all formats and sensors – on the high density sensors, it’s sharp but hazy; on the D700, it’s just hazy.

It seems that slightly better results may be obtained at 28mm on the D700 if live view is used, which points to an AF calibration error – however, if one calibrates for 28mm, every other point in the focal range becomes soft. I think this is very much a design or batch QC issue as all of the samples of the lens I’ve tested have exhibited the same issue.

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Rear fuselage. Every rivet is sharp in the full size version, despite being shot at 28mm. Nikon D5100, 28-300VR

Sharpness is about the only optical thing that the lens has going for it. It flares in a dramatic, cinematic way; distortion is horrible and complex; (as you’d expect from an optical design that has to correct for wide-angle and telephoto aberrations) and high contrast edges exhibit lateral chromatic aberration, though not as bad as you’d expect from a lens of this complexity. Bokeh is actually neutral to good.

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Aeroplanescape. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

By far the worst thing about this lens is the focal length shortening. You didn’t think you were really going to get 300mm at the near limit of 0.45m, did you? If so, that would be one hell of a macro lens. The reality is that up close, it’s probably giving you no more than 135mm, no matter what the position of the zoom ring. This is an optical trick that allows for less movement of the focusing group to deliver the same minimum focus distance. Out to infinity, the lens delivers around 290mm.

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Fountain. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Curiously, Canon also makes a 28-300mm lens – but it’s a heavy duty, L-series weather sealed push-pull zoom monster, costing at least four times as much as the Nikon. I used one briefly with a 1D Mark III, which has similar pixel density to the D700 – the Nikon is much, much better. There’s a general softness and slight edge flare to the Canon that makes images feel ill-defined. I hear a replacement is in the works, however. There’s also a Tamron version, which I can’t comment on as I haven’t used it – other than it’s f6.3 on the long end. I think though then physical aperture of the Nikon or Tamron may be f5.6 or f6.3, the T stop is much, much lower – possibly as bad as f8 or higher.

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Morning mountains. Would have been better with a little more micro contrast; the original file was very, very felt indeed. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

Practically, what is this lens good for? What do I use it for? Basically, two things: it’s a Swiss army knife, for times when I know there’ll be plenty of light out, and I’m not aperture-limited; when I don’t know what I’m shooting or know that I’ll require a lot of perspectives; and finally, when I need telephoto reach. I shoot most of my work below 85mm, so this is a kind of emergency tool for when I need to go longer. It works, and having said all of the above, it is capable of delivering pretty good images – if you use it within its limitations. Just don’t try and shoot architecture in the dark hand-held with it. MT

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Sky hole. Nikon D700, 28-300VR

The Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G is available here from B&H and Amazon.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the detailed review Ming. I got my 23-300 today. Have you ever noticed a focusing noise with 23-300? Some people have described it as a static/electric sound. It’s the first time I hear a strange noise from an AF-S lens.

  2. Wayne Freedman says:

    I like the lens. Have used it on a D800 for the past year. Aside from not providing a wider, constant aperture, my copy of the lens is quite sharp and adaptable to all kinds of photography, from golf course landscapes, to portraits, even to sports. It’s the one to pack if you don’t know what you’ll need. The word would be versatile. That’s why I’m holding onto it, despite owning several of the more professional lenses and primes. Nice blog. Thorough review. Well done.

  3. andream@northwestel.net says:

    Re issues with website – I left a message a long time ago and you indicated you answered it, but I never received an answer via website nor email?

    Thanks

  4. Andrea MAGEE says:

    Hello,

    I am an amateur photographer and I am still learning. I have a Nikon D5000 with various lenses (fisheye, 18-200mm, 70-300 mm and a few others) and now have purchased a D600. As you can probably guess, I have tried my other lenses on the D600 but my inexperience kicked in here, not realizing there was a difference… I now need to purchase a multipurpose lense for the new FX camera to start. I do mostly wildlife shots (with the abundance of wildlife where I live – which is why I went for a camera in which had zoom capabilities) and of course take plenty of landscapes something that works as a wide angle.

    Would you be able to suggest in what direction I should go here.

    • Sounds like you need a 28-300 – it will match the reach/ width of your 18-200 – but it won’t get you as much reach as the 70-300 on the D5000 though.

  5. Willie Waung says:

    Thank you for your review of this lens. You take wonderful photos.

    I just got this lens and have started using it with the D600. Most of the photos have turned out well, however I’ve noticed a weird “double image” effect on some shots taken at 300mm F5.6 and 1/1000s. I’ve searched for articles on this lens’ sharpness at 300mm and yours is the only one so far to mention this odd behaviour. Can you explain a bit more about this condition so that I can get a better understanding on what I did wrong and how I can avoid it in the future?

    Thanks in advance.

  6. J coutinho says:

    I’m thinking about buying a D600….moving up from the D90. Have you already tried this lens on a D600?

  7. Hi Ming, Bought one last week. Firstly it appears to be pretty sharp on my D3X with a good depth of field. The ‘silent wave’ motor is very silent and the zoom is smooth. My initial lens tests ALWAYS consists of shooting a brick wall at an oblique angle with a reasonably wide aperture. It shows up all manner of errors on every lens tested this way… The results on this occasion were ‘interesting’. At 28mm the image density is approximately 1 f: stop darker than at 300mm and half a stop at 116mm. I know the D3X is more ‘sensitive’ to changes in focal length than the D3 so i propose to conduct the same test with my D3. We shall see… Have you come across this before?

  8. Michael Law says:

    Hi Ming. Have spent some hour last night reading through your thoroughly enjoyable reviews, and thanks to you have now settled on the Nikon D600 as opposed to the D800E I had set me heart on beforecoming across your reviews.
    Your photos really also hammered home the point that its not so much the paint brush as much as the artist that creates truly inspiring works of art.

    I know that you are not a zoom lens proponent, but I am really torn between the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens and the (surprisingly more expensive) Nikon 24-120mm f/4G ED VR AF-S NIKKOR Lens. I am a casual enthusiast who likes to travel light and my passion is to take travel photos and some portrait shots. I know prime lenses will be much better quality wise but currently do not have the luxury of carrying and changing multiple lenses as I mostly travel with my family in tow.. maybe someday..

    Thank you and kudos again on those inspiring photos in your blog!

    • Thanks Michael. Can’t comment on 24-120 vs 28-300 as I haven’t used the former, but it does have a good reputation. Only suggestion I can give is try them out and see…the 24-120 does have very visible distortion in the finder, which is what initially put me off. But perhaps that’s not so much of an issue if software correction is used.

  9. Hi. I discovered your site a while back and it’s one of the best photo blog sites out there. Certain others (which shall remain nameless) suffer from bad pictures and others are just hyperbole. Seems like you don’t allow anything but well-taken professional-looking shots into your articles. That’s how it should be.

    Anyway, like others I’m very curious about the 28-300. I have used and liked the 70-300, and this seems like a similar lens with more reach. I would be using it on a D3S, and as I shoot a lot of different stuff it looks like a pretty nice lens. I don’t earn money from photography (yet….he says hopefully!), so unless the issues you mention are incredibly notable then they’re not going to be the end of the world. I like narrow DOF and creative bokeh, but I have the 105 F2 DC for that and for portraits. For general use (encompassing sports in decent light, city shooting, landscapes, etc) then a 28-300 would seem to be a godsend. I’d probably pick up a fast 50 for really really low light, but the D3S is so good in such conditions that I figure I might be able to get away with even the long end of the 28-300 if there’s still some light left.

    Anyway. If you have any particular thoughts as to why I should or shouldn’t go for this lens, they would be very much appreciated.

    • Thank you. They are professional-looking because I’m a commercial photographer first, and a blogger second. I wouldn’t want mediocre work to be associated with my name.

      On the 12MP bodies, the 28-300 does perform like a 70-300 with more reach – both are not great at 300mm, but pretty good through the midrange. I actually replaced my 70-300 with this lens for that reason. The wide end is rather weak, actually, with 28mm suffering from flare and frequent focusing errors. You’re not going to get narrow DOF or lots of bokeh with the 28-300, it’s a slow lens. For general purpose…go ahead.

  10. I’m using this one and only lens with my D700.
    No complaints about it, you can get excellent IQ pics after post process. Yes, excellent IQ.
    And it gets 99% of the job done.

  11. Eswar Kumar says:

    Ming, I have Nikon D7000 with a Nikon AF 18-200 VR 1 lens. I wish to buy a Nikon D600 and I wonder how the 18-200 lens performs on the D600 which is an FX camera. I also have a Nikon AF 80-200mm f 2.8 ED lens, a Sigma AF 150-500mm lens which I use for Bird Photography, a Sigma AF 150mm Macro lens and a Sigma AF 10-20mm DX lens. Can you please advise me on the IQ I can expect using these lenses on the D600? I don’t think I can afford a new lens with the D600. I would love to have the Nikon 24-70mm f 2.8 lens but don’t have the resources for it. Moreover, it doesn’t have the range of the Nikon 18-200. Can you please help me decide? I have till now had the advantage of extra reach with the Sigma 150-500mm lens due the 1.5x crop factor. How will this lens perform on the D600? Bird photography is my priority. I also travel a lot. Important: I am an amateur and have great passion for Photography.

    • Any of the DX lenses: crappy, they weren’t designed for it. You’ll throw away the edges and have to use DX crop which will be a downgrade to the current image quality you’re getting.

      The 80-200 will be good at f4 and smaller at longer distances; f4 and smaller below 135mm at closer distances.

      Can’t comment on the Sigmas because I haven’t used them. You’ll probably be better off with a 300/4 AFS and 1.7x or 2x TC for the D600. Even then it won’t give you the same reach you have now; if birding is your priority, you’re better off with DX.

      • Eswar Kumar says:

        Thank you very much. You have saved me from the temptation to buy a Nikon D600. Yes. Birding is my priority. I will stick to my D7000 for now.

        However, I wonder if cropping a full frame image will be better in IQ than a DX image.

        All my Sigma lenses can be used on FX models too.

  12. HI Ming,
    I don’t know if this is the right place for this question. I purchased the 85mm f/1.8G lens based on your recommendation and it is fantastic with my D800E. Would the Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar be as good, better or worse for overall image quality using the D800E?

    Thank you for your good work!

    NIck

    • I think you need to read my review here :)

      • Ming, I apologize…I asked about the wrong lens so I’ll ask again: I purchased the 85mm f/1.8G lens based on your recommendation and it is fantastic with my D800E. Would the Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar be as good, better or worse for overall image quality using the D800E? Thank you for your [...]

        • Ah – as good or better is the short answer. I have one, and it’s a frequent staple for some of the commercial work I do, but I don’t do much creative stuff with it because 50 just doesn’t fit my personal preferences for FOV (though I use it professional for the perspective, mainly.)

  13. akismet-e013593b2f068e52eb925d2b3af8ce65 says:

    Some great reviews and wonderful photography Ming. I use the 24-120 F4 VR lens as my go anywhere choice, usually with a small prime in my pocket. I find that it suffers a little with veil flare, otherwise it’s not far from the 24-70 F2.8 (which has been sitting on my shelf for months). I’d rather have the VR than the extra stop. I’m looking at upgrading cameras. I use the D3 (90,000 clicks) and have a D700 as backup. I was hoping that Nikon would release the D800 with the D4 sensor, but it seems that they aren’t going to do this. I think the D800 would be too big (filesizes) for wedding work but wonder if the D600 will be sturdy enough. Thanks again, great reviews and lovely pictures.
    Si http://www.gloucesterphotographer.com

    • Thanks Simon. What isn’t the D3/D700 doing for you? If you can’t make decent 20×30″ prints then you’ve probably got to look at technique or processing first. The D600 will give more image quality, but that’s it. The D700/D3 are better in every other way.

      • Hi Ming, Better AWB would be my first choice in an upgrade. After a wedding, I have to correct for the AWB. I have set daylight wb and presets in the past but I still find profile mismatching in Lightroom necessitates some fine tuning. I had a D7000 for a little while and the AWB on that was excellent. I can make A2 prints from the D3 with no worries (assuming good technique). I used to have the Fuji S5 as backup as it could do different jobs better than the Nikon. I feel the same about the D800/D600. It could be a backup but also could be a better primary camera for certain jobs.

        • I haven’t had huge issues with the AWB on any of my Nikons since the D3, but then again I also shoot everything RAW and process individually – WB correction is just one of the steps along the way.

      • Thanks Ming, I decided to stay with the D700 and I’m intending to spend more time on calibrating for different spectra. We have a lot of weddings in churches lit with sodium lamps. Gappy spectra can be a pain. I use a CC24 card for these usually. All best, you really have some wonderful shots in your blog. Si

  14. Ming, thank you for your good work. I was considering the 28-300VR for my D800E, but you do not recommend it. I was wondering if you could recommend the best 50mm auto focus lens for the D800E (Nikon or other). Also, what would you use on the d800E for street photography with automatic focus? Thank you.

    • Thanks Nick. It doesn’t seem to work well on the D800E. I’d look at a couple of primes instead. As for 50mm AF – the best of the current bunch is the 50/1.8 G. I use the 28/1.8 G and 85/1.8 G mainly for street work, but I seldom do it with the D800E unless I don’t have another camera with me. It just isn’t suited for that sort of thing because of the demands the sensor makes in terms of camera shake, minimum shutter etc.

      • Thank you again, Ming. I’ve purchased the 85mm f/1.8G that you recommended. I do landscape, street photography, and can afford just one camera (D800E). On a tripod I’ll have no issues. Hand-holding for street photography will improve my techniques. I realize it’s not ideal, but I’ll find a way to make it work well. My other lenses will be 70-200 VRII (my favorite as of now) and I’m looking into the Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 50mm f/2 ZF.2 per your recommendation. That will round out my system…and at my age…my last (I think). I hope I am making the right choices.

        Your feedback has helped countless photographers like me. And your camera work, especially your watch photography, is off the radar screen!

        Nick

        • Use twice the shutter speed you think you’ll need, and stop down a little, and you should be fine for street. The 70-200VRII I tried looked fairly good on the D800E, but it isn’t a range I use much so I didn’t purchase one in the end. If you can wait (and spare the probably enormous coin) and don’t need the macro range, then the upcoming 55/1.4 Distagon might be worth a look, too.

          Thanks for your compliments!

  15. “The stabilizer uses Nikon’s second generation technology – denoted by the gold VR plaque, rather than red as on the first versions.” is a common Nikon myth – but it is wrong.
    The first 18-200 VR had a red VR plaque, but VR II (it was the first Nikkor to have VR II).
    See yourself at http://www.nikonusa.com/pdf/manuals/lenses/DX/AFSDXVR18-200.pdf close to half down in the English section it says “Vibration reduction mode (VRⅡ)
    Basic concept of vibration reduction”.

    Apart from that: Great site!!

  16. Probably going to purchase this lens as an all-rounder for travel Landscape Photography along side my Nikon 14-24mm 2.8. Thanks for the unbiased review of this lens speaking of its strengths and its floors. I’m not after a perfect lens, because for this price and the HUGE focal range it would be impossible to expect such a performance. Nikon has a high standard when it comes to glass though and its hard not to look past this beast of a lens.

    I have a hitech filter set with UWA 77mm adaptor so looking forward to using the hitech PRO stop and some of the neutral density (ND) filters with it. Will be interested to see how it performs @ 28mm with this setup on my Nikon D800 for seascapes and river shots.

    Thanks Again Luke

    • If you’re using 28mm a lot for landscape work, start at f5.6 and go down to about f11. Anything more and diffraction hits, anything less and you’ll have both corner and veiling flare issues. There’s also a healthy amount of distortion.

  17. Peter Williamson says:

    Hi Ming. I have around £500 to spend. I use a nikon D3100 with an 18 – 55mm standard lense and an old 1970’s nikon 70 – 200mm which is heavy and hard to use hand held. However its been in the family for years so it was free :). I bought it in Jan this year to take travelling and it was the best purchase I’ve ever made apart from my turntables (its a hard one to judge!) I am thinking of buying a Nikon AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED Lens and new tripod. The 200mm focal length is good but I’ve had situations where I wished I had more. After buying a new telephoto I’m planning on getting the Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.4G. I have to say I have thought about waiting a month or two and getting an 18 – 300mm instead. After reading this post I’m a little nervous to make a decision and choose. Which lense would you think would be better for a D3100? Any info would be greatfully received. Great photos.

    • Thanks for the compliments. You’re better off with two lenses as the optics are definitely better, and you don’t have to carry all of the weight if you don’t need it.

      • Peter Williamson says:

        Thats the answer I was hoping for to be honest. thanks for such a quick response also. Sadly for me for my camera has had to go to Nikon for fixding as my 18 – 55 is stuck on! At least I know what lense to get buy as soon as it returns! Thanks

  18. This is a very good review of the 28-300. I have a Nion 24-70 and 70-200 that I’ve been using with the D300. I also have an 18-200 VRI that I use for “walk around”. I just bought a D800 as my first FX. I like the D8oo for my “best” shots but still use the D300/18-200 for my walk around. Now I’m thinking of selling the D300/18-200 to buy a 28-300 VRII to use for “walk around” on the D800. I don’t really need a back-up camera. After reading your review I’m wondering if I should use the 24-70 on the D800 as my walk around and get the higher image quality, enven though I loose the versatility. I’m sure that I will carry all three lenses around even when I travel because I hate to loose the image quality of the two pro lenses. What do you think, is it extravagant to have the 3-lens as a serious amateur photographer? Thanks

    • How often do you use the long end? You could crop down to a quarter of the frame on the D800 for 140mm equivalent on the 24-70 and still have higher image quality than with the D300.

  19. I had a good chance to lay my hands on both the 24-120 f/4 & this 28-300mm f3.5-5.6.
    I let go of the 24-120 f4 less than a week shortly, and keep the other.
    I love it, and now I love this article as well :)

  20. David Keyes says:

    You have a great blog with well-described and supported opinions and topics. I am trying to select some replacement equipment for my 3-year old Nikon D300 and my 2-week old DX 18-300mm lens which I stupidly left (with new Tamrac case and memory cards, filters, etc.) on an airplane under the seat in front of me–with no ID–on July 14 on an Alaska Airlines flight landing in Seattle. I filed an airline lost-item description, but the chances of recovery are more remote all the time. I am a fairly knowledgable amateur but by no means a pro. I take a variety of types of photo shots, but have a particular love for handheld telephoto shots; e.g. on the first day with my 18-300mm lens I was driving a speedboat very fast over wakes and nevertheless with one hand getting in-focus close-up shots of water skiers behind distant boats. And even in late afternoon light on a grey day, I managed to get in-focus distant shots of whales bubble-net feeding–about eight of them all jumping out of the water at the same time. So . . . I am thinking of a D800 with the 28-300mm lens, but might stick with a DX camera just for the extra reach of (another new) 18-300mm. In theory, I should be able to use the FX 28-300mm at maximum zoom and in an editing program crop and magnify a sharp image to get the same results as with a DX 300mm at maximum zoom (recognizing your comments that the pictures are not as sharp at maximum zoom). I will also buy a prime lens (maybe just the 50mm f1.8 to start). I already have a Nikkor 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 IF AF lens with a macro setting, from a previous Nikon full-frame film camera that I owned. I have some other DX lenses (18-200mm, and 35mm prime) that will go by the wayside if I switch to FX (even though I could use them on a D800 using a DX setting, but that seems a waste of the D800’s capabilities. Do you have any recommendations of equipment I might consider in lieu of the track that I am on. Thanks.

    • Not really, it sounds as though you know what you need…I’d probably go with a D7000 instead of another D300 though. Or consider a 16-85VR and 70-300VR pair instead for better optics (and less weight if you don’t feel you need the telephoto option).

      • David Keyes says:

        Thanks, Ming. I bought a Nikon D800 and two lenses for a start–to go with my existing Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-D consumer-grade lens with a macro switch: (1) the Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G that you review here, and (2) a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-S G prime lens.

        I appreciate your suggestion that the 70-300mm (and also another shorter zoom lens) might be a better purchase. After re-reading your review and some other postings, I selected the 28-300 over the 70-300 because these lenses didn’t look too far apart in size and weight to me, the 28-300 has more flexibility, and the two lenses appear to be comparable in image quality up to 200mm, and neither is very good after that (in addition to the 28-300’s problems at 28mm). Also, the 28-300 seemed to you to do better on the D800. Admittedly, the 70-300 might not have the focal length limitations for subjects closer than infinity that that the 28-300 does, and perhaps the 70-300 achieves the full 300mm at full zoom, as compared to 290mm apparently offered by the 28-300mm lens.

        I selected the 85mm F/1.4G as my other new lens because I wanted to have at least one good prime lens to go with the D800’s sensor quality, and I loved my previously owned 85mm 1.4D. I might also get the 50mm F/1. 8 this year because it’s cheap, small, and seems to have good quality. But in the past for some reason I found myself using a 35 or 85, much more than a 50.

        I don’t do justice to having too many lenses, because I am not a pro and don’t carry around a backpack (except on hikes for mostly non-photografic stuff) or other carrier of lots of equipment. My usual practice is to guess which lens I will need most for the day or a trip and leave with only one or two lenses. I would probably take the 28-300mm lens when I anticipate a variety of types of photos, with mostly adequate light, and some telephoto shots.

        On my wish list for a future time are the 24mm F/1.4 prime lens and possibly, if I ever take another wildlife trip, the prime 300mm lens (although large, heavy and way above my budget). Or, for stepping up to a better telephoto lens than the 28-300, maybe I’ll try to sell it at some point and buy the pro-quality 70-200mm F/2.8 or an even better successor to it. If the that lens had existed with the smaller size and weight of the (already big and heavy) 28-300mm, I would have bought it now notwithstanding then having to carry around a second lens for wider-angle shots.

        Anyway, thanks for your reviews and comments–they were a big help in making decisions. I’ll try to take a few photos that do justice to the D800–but more likely that will remain only a goal.

        • I had the 70-300VR previously, but switched to the 28-300 for convenience. Ultimately I just wasn’t happy with the image quality on the D800E and sold it.

          Sorry to bust your bubble, but the 85/1.8 G performs much better on the D800 – why? I have no idea. I’d also look at the new 28/1.8; the 35/1.4 is another one of those lenses that doesn’t work so well. The 24/1.4 is okay if you get a good copy, but most I’ve tried seem to suffer from astigmatism. The D800 is also notorious for not being able to focus that lens properly.

      • David Keyes says:

        I might have time to cancel the 85/1.4G. As for the 28-300 (and the poor micro contrast you refer to), did you experience the same IQ problems on the D800 as you did on the D800E?

        • The 28-300 worked better on the D800 than D800E; I have no idea why. It’s acceptable but not stellar. I’d switch the 85/1.4 G for an 85/1.8 G and 28/1.8 G (and that’s what I did.)

  21. I shoot mainly stage productions and currently I have a D800, D300 and D7000. On those bodies I have a 105mm f/2.8, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 and a 50mm f/1.4G respectively. This set up works fairly well for stage as I cover the required range.

    However, I’d like a more versatile lens for the D800 so I won’t have to lug 3 bodies around (it’s a challenge duck waddling across some stages with one camera around my neck, another holstered to my chest and a third on the hip). I’m therefore considering the 28-300mm. I like the 105mm for its sharpness and VR and the 50mm is pretty good, but for stage, I’m shooting at about f/3.2, 1/250. From what you’re saying, this lens doesn’t perform well wide open, so I’m starting to rule it out, but out of interest, how does it compare in terms of sharpness to the 105mm f/2.8 given sufficient light?

    Also, which “all-rounder” lens would you recommend to help me reduce my kit to 2 bodies (that’s around the same price as the 28-300mm)?

    • Not even close in terms of quality. You’re also going to suffer from a much slower T stop than the 105. You could try the 28/1.8 on the D800 and 135/2 DC on the DX body, and use your feet a little…

  22. great post

  23. Excellent review,
    Can you by chance make a review of the new nikon lens 18-300mm. I am about to buy it… but I am still thinking weather I should by the new lens (18-300) or this FX lens (28-300) to mount on my Nikon D90.

  24. Guess you’d have to put me in the “horrible compromise” school.. Maybe it would be useful for air shows, if the 300mm end were sharper.

    Plus, I really hate that “plastic-on-plastic” feel. I would think they could add in a Delrin/Teflon ring for about 25 cents, and improve the feel about a hundred dollars worth.

    • Totally agree. More than anything, the uneven feel of the zoom ring’s resistance past about 70mm is bothersome because it makes it very difficult to frame accurately.

  25. Hui Wang says:

    Thanks for the reply! For landscape, you think 28mm is better than the others? Or which focal length/non PCE lens is better for landscape+arquitecture combo? I mean I can wait to save money for lenses like Zeiss but don’t want to choose wrong and waist it. PS I’m not professional but photography is really a great passion.

  26. Hui Wang says:

    Dear Ming, it’s always a pleature to read your post.
    I just ordered my D800, a huge jump from D40+35/1.8G+18-135, which I bought first time it was released. it served me well all these years but I’m enough with it’s 3 point focus, and don’t want to waist money on DX system.
    I thank you if you could kindly recommend the lenses for D800 in my case. To be honestly, the D800 has left me no much cash for a group of lenses at the moment, but only 1 or 2 to start, perhaps 1 or 2 lense/year in the future. The 85/1.8G seems a good choice as your tested with D800/D800E, and because 1) I shoot portrait for my son 2) 85mm is nice to me for street snap 3) it’s fairly cheap. But I also love the landscape. Looking forward to hear from you. Regards.

    • Thank you Hui Wang – yes, it’s a huge jump! Get the 85/1.8 G and wait for the new 28/1.8 G when it comes out; I tried the latter briefly (a prototype) at NPS here. It’s sharp and works well on the D800, plus I understand it will be fairly affordable, too. It isn’t one of the great ‘character lenses’ like the 200/2 or Zeiss 2/28 but it should do just fine for the moment. The other crazy alternative is the 28-300VR, which works surprisingly well once AF fine-tuned and stopped down a little.

  27. Thanks a lot for the review Ming, greatly appreciate to read a down to earth review of a lens I had been considering as my base lens for my DX to FX transition.

    I had been waiting for a d700 replacement to make the jump from my d300. It made no sense for me to change from a 300 to 700 as I would have been at the same mp count. So the day preorders opened, I just placed the order for the d800. It is overkill for me, as i would have preferred something around 24 mp FF, but so is life and I wasn’t going to let the oportunity pass, and I had collected too much gear to change brands… My grandfather and my father have had nikons, so a Canon didn’t look that exciting to me..

    Anyhow.. Thanks for the review. I had the 18-200 dx and it was a mixed feeling basket. A superbly practical do it all lens, but not very good for anything serious, so I was left pondering if the 28-300 would do justice to the potential of the d800 sensor. I decided against it and went for the 24-120 f4. I’ve heard that this shorter lens holds itself up better in the sharpness and distortion dept. let’s hope it does!

    All the best with your shooting and keep up the good stuff with your amazing blog!

    • No problem, Gustavo. Although the 300 and 700 have the same MP count, they don’t have the same pixel quality, dynamic range or high ISO abilities…there are huge differences between the two. I was very skeptical about the 28-300 initially too (having also used the 18-200 on a D90) but was pleasantly surprised with the lens on a D700, and even more so with the D800. I’m sure the 24-120 must be better, I haven’t heard any bad things about it (other than some edge CA at 24mm).

      • Gustavo says:

        Just to report back, I’ve had the 24-120 f4 for about a week and it works very well. IQ is much better than both the 24-120 f3.5-5.6 in FX and the 18-200 in DX. Corners are nice and crisp, just a tad of distortion (totally manageable).

        Now if hopefully Nikon updates it’s 20mm D lens to a G then I’ll be a happy camper!

  28. Hey Ming,

    Great lens review/experience article on the 28-300vr lens. I love the real world approach about the good and bad regarding the equipment you use. I find these types of article much more valuable than the standard reviews featuring the photography of wine bottles and dolls. I do wish someone would put a 24-120mm f/4 in your hands for a few weeks.

    Thanks again, for the excellent photography and writing,

    Jay

  29. philip o says:

    I have the 70-300 vr version. No regrets buying that lens.For its price its quite a bargain. f8 to f11 seems to yield the sharpest results for me.

  30. Ron Sprunger says:

    In your hands, it’s pretty damned good. I’ve had mine for a year, shooting it mostly on the D7000, where I like it despite the bad-mouthing I’ve read. On the D700, not so much. Looking forward to shooting it on the D800E if I every get it…

    The thing is, I shoot it because it’s what I have, but when I process the images they always come out better than I expect. It seems to be something of an over-achiever.

    Any chance you’ll take a look at the Tamron 24-70 OS when it is available? I’ve pre-ordered one, based on the MTF charts and my love of the Tamron 90 macro. Hoping it will be a good match for the 800E.

    Sincere thanks for the review and shots. Well done on both, as always.

    Ron

    • It’s odd – I can’t think why it’d perform better on a more demanding sensor. The D800 results are very similar to the D7000/ D5100 results; D700 not so great – as you mentioned. I’ll post a quick lens update on the D800E when mine arrives – hopefully next week.

      I generally avoid third party AF glass; had bad experiences in the past, so I’ll probably not be reviewing the Tamron, sorry. Glad you enjoyed the review though!

  31. Normally I shoot with just primes, but when I’m shooting from a bicycle, I don’t really have much flexibility in terms of moving myself to change perspectives.

    So is this lens the “best compromise” available? I’m glad to hear its performance seems to be better on the D800E than others, but should I give up “quality” for convenience or try to look for better alternatives? Like a combo of the new 24-85mm with a telephoto prime? Maybe insisting myself to carry 3 separate primes? How much “quality” am I giving up anyway since these would mostly be “street photography” type journalistic photos?! A bit of vignetting may lend well to the subject matter? A bit of softness can be controlled by clever framing? Can’t decide!

  32. I have a Nikon D90. I previously owned the 18-200mm and was not happy with the quality of photos I was getting. I am thinking about buying the 28-300mm, but am afraid I’m getting myself into the same situation I was in with the 18-200mm. I am trying out the 70-300mm right now and am just not satisfied with the close-up view. Could you please advise on the best versatile lens to buy in your opinion. Thanks!

  33. Yes and no – it works reasonably well on the D800, but not the D800E. You do give up a lot of quality and lens speed with this zoom – maybe try 28/85 1.8s, then add another tele if you feel you absolutely need it. Weight is about the same, image quality and light gathering ability is not. The biggest issue is the lack of microcontrast though. And that you cannot put back in afterwards.

  34. The 28-300 is better, but not by much on a DX body; the edges are sharper because the lens was designed to cover FX. I would stick with your current solution if I were you – assuming it’s a 70-300VR.

  35. Ming, thanks for the information. I had heard so many mixed things about the 28-300 that it’s good to see a more practical review. I’m thinking about buying a D600….moving up from the D90. Have you tried this lens on a D600? Would I get similar performance that you’re seeing on the D800?

  36. Sorry, can’t say I have tried it. I have no idea, to be honest – a 24-120/4 VR would probably be a safer bet.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 24-120/4 VR (currently my general-purpose lens) – $300 off AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR (reviewed here) – $150 off AFS 70-200/2.8 VR II – $300 off AFD 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR – $350 [...]

  2. [...] Nikon AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR II** (May 2012) – The FX equivalent of the 18-200VR, and the replacement for the original 28-200 Swiss Army Knife. Delivers acceptable quality between 35 and 200mm on the 12MP FX bodies; 300mm is soft even at f8, and 28mm is both haloed and soft until f5.6 – it almost seems that there’s a slight focusing issue only at 28mm. Strangely, delivers sharp results everywhere in the range on the 16MP DX bodies; it’s actually very, very good on the D800, and excellent by f8. Who would have guessed? If you travel, and want to go light but maintain resolution, buy this and a D800. Note that it has a very slow T stop thanks to the 20+ elements inside it, so don’t expect it to be a low light lens. VR is quite effective but you’ve got to give it a second or two to ‘lock down’ before shooting, and turn it off above about 1/500s or it will just cause a double image. It’s not on Nikon’s recommended list of lenses for the D800, but they bundle them as a kit in Japan – I can see why. Notice I haven’t talked about D800E: that’s because on this camera, somehow the same lens performs like it did on the D700 – hazy wide open, and not pretty at all at 28mm. However, stopping down by one stop improves things dramatically, and we’re nearly back to the same level of resolution it produces on the D800. Odd. [...]

  3. [...] lot of light, so they don’t have to be fast millimeters. I’d probably use the D800E and 28-300VR in a chest pouch, with a 45/2.8 P pancake in the front pocket for when the light gets low and I [...]

  4. [...] Nikon superzoom VR action now as Ming Thein opines on the Nikon 28-300mm VR lens. [...]

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