41 comments on “Lens Review–Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED

    • Thanks Eric, glad to hear many people are finding these readable. πŸ™‚ You’ll never see an MTF chart in my reviews. Count on that.

  1. I have one of these big ol’ lenses that I’m thinking of parting with to a good home… if Mr. Eths is still interested. It’s old and looks it, but is in good shape where it counts. It only lacks a lens cap/cover – however it lives happily in a small, dedicated Pelican foam filled case.

    I’ve been using it on a hi-def Sony DV camera with a Letus DOF adapter. Very pretty images, but with that arrangement it feels like filming with an outboard motor or a ground-to-air missile… I wish I could keep using it, the images are really pretty!

    If he’s not interested I can doubtless find someone on ebay – that’s where it found me.

  2. Excellent post! I have had this particular lens for 11+ years and used it with a Nikon F3 and D1x. Now I am in the market for a new camera body and want to know what model of Nikon would work best with this BadBoy Lens? Any suggestions? I have looked at the Nikon D800 and D7000. Thanks Hotrod

    • Thanks Hotrod. πŸ™‚

      According to Nikon’s compatibility listings, this lens will work in manual and aperture priority on both the D800 and D7000–after inputting the focal length and maximum aperture, of course. However, finding focus won’t exactly be easy or fast–even with both cameras having the more-precise 3-dot confirmation. If you’re dedicated to Nikon (I don’t blame you, haha!), I would personally go for the d800 to get the full use out of this lens. Granted, it will no longer act as the 450mm super telephoto it does on APS-C, but by f/4, you should be just fine with this lens on a FF sensor.

      However, if you weren’t a die-hard Nikon guy, it works wonders on my NEX-7, as you’ve seen from my recent sports posts. Since I’m sure Sony will release a FF NEX-9 by the end of 2013, this lens will truly shine in time. πŸ™‚

      • Matt,
        Thanks for the quick reply and information. I will look into the NEX-7. I have several other Nikkor lens, this is why I leaning toward the NIKON.

        Hotrod

      • Understood. If you use autofocus Nikkors more than manual-focus ones, I would go with an autofocus Nikon DSLR hands-down. But manual focus, definitely one of the NEX-series cameras.

  3. Thanks for the review. f2.8 looks a little disappointing to me. I suspect the current Nikkor AF-S 300/4 to be better than the old AIS 2.8 at the same apertures which makes it look like a much better deal im ho… A real advantage of 2.8 vs 4 in a 300m lens I dont see with current sensor technology and high ISO that was impossible to think of in the days of film.

    Anyway, a nice toy to nontheless.

    • Welcome, Icke. Keep in mind that the camera I’m testing this lens on has a sensor that is far more demanding than any other camera currently on the market (extremely high pixel density). On a high-end Nikon DSLR, you’ll be getting aberrations fixed automatically anyway regardless of lens (I found it very effective when using this lens on a d300). High ISO on today’s cameras is very good though, I’ll give you that. But as any sports shooter will tell you, the lower you can go, the better. πŸ™‚

      The only three reasons you might pick the AI-s version over the newer AF-S version is 1) You like manual focus 2) You don’t need the speed 3) You don’t need the shallower depth-of-field.

      Other than that, the AF-S lens, though almost three times as expensive, is still a better buy.

  4. Great review! Several comments (I now use a 300mm f/2.8 AF-I on a D600):
    -The lens can be used comfortably without a monopod/tripod if you use the strap attached to the lens.
    -Handling/balance might be improved with the larger grip and heavier weight of DSLR bodies (vs. the mirrorless cameras). That said, I’ve handled a 300/2.8 VR on a D3000, and thought it was perfectly usable.
    -If you want fast AF without paying three times as much, you can get the AF-I version in decent condition for around $2000. AF won’t be as quiet, and MF override in M/A requires keeping the AF-ON button depressed, but I think it offers great value. There’s also a screw drive AF version that you might be able to get for a little less.
    -I would never point my 300/2.8 at the sun if I can avoid it. I’m afraid that focusing such intense light onto the sensor could heat it up and damage it. And just looking at the sun tends to leave an imprint of the sun etched over my vision for the next few minutes, which could interfere with my ability to frame and focus quickly.

    • Thanks!
      I have to agree with you, when you can use all the strength to only hold the lens up (rather than focusing), even the longer lenses become easier to use. I’ll have to keep that AF-I version in mind if/when I get another Nikon body!
      Also, for my flare tests I make sure to have it pointing at the sun as little as possible. I’ve seen the disaster photos of how a 600mm lens can literally melt the inside of a camera. Also, since the NEX-7 uses an electronic viewfinder, there’s no worries about hurting the eyes when pointing the camera at the sun. I’d NEVER do that with a DSLR, at least not with the optical finder.

  5. Hello Matthew/ All – Nice article !! I am a beginner in bird photography, I right now use D3000 + 1.4 TC + 300mm F4 and things are fine with it.

    I have an option to buy Nikkor 300mm f 2.8 Manual focus Non-VR which is in good condition though not tested with my camera body D3000.

    My Questions are –

    1. Is it worth to buy considering I already have 300mm f/4 ? [ don’t mind manual focus/non-vr if it gives me crisp images than my 300mm f/4 ]

    2. How is the focus ? is it fast enough to take birds in flight ?

    3. Will my 1.4 TC work on it ? does anyone has sample bird photos especially flight shots ?

    Kindly reply.

    Thanks
    Rahul Deshpande

    • Thank you Rahul, glad you liked the review. You’ve got a pretty good setup right now with your 420mm (630mm equiv.) lens, especially if it is autofocusing on your d3000.

      It’s great to hear you are interested in the lens that I use. However, I have some reservations in recommending it based on your camera. The lens will not meter with your d3000 in any way, so you’ll be stuck in full-manual mode. Combined with the tiny viewfinder and only a focus confirmation dot, manually focusing would be a pain even on stationary objects, let alone flitting, flying birds. So, with that in mind,

      1. The 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED at f/4 would probably be just about equal to your AF 300mm f/4.

      2. It focuses well, but on the NEX-7, I have many focus-assist aids that make manually focusing on quick moving subjects (athletes, mostly) easy. I tried using the lens again on a d300 (which has a bigger viewfinder than your d3000) when my NEX-7 was in the shop, and I struggled for a good while.

      3. The TC should work on it, but again, you aren’t getting any metering.

      Hope that all helps. If anything, I would put the money towards an upgraded body like a d3200/d5100/d7100.

  6. Thanks Matthew ! yes I am going to upgrade the body mostly D7100. Just a question – how the lens (300mm 2.8) would behave with D7100 ?

    Best Regards
    Rahul Deshpande

    • Well the d7100’s viewfinder is .61x magnification with 100% coverage, while the NEX-7’s viewfinder has 1.09x magnification with the same 100% frame coverage. The NEX-7’s viewfinder is substantially bigger, and as mentioned, the focus assist options on the NEX-7 make focusing a breeze. The d7100, I believe, does have the dot/two-arrow focus confirmation, but even that’s a pain to use on moving subjects.

  7. I have had one of these behemoths for many years and this lens, along with my 180mm f/2,8 ED AIS are my go-to lenses for outside portraiture. I have no problem hand holding this lens down to 1/250 sec, with my arms braced into my body. In my opinion, this lens was made when Nikon was in its hay day of optical and mechanical excellence

    • That extra weight really does help in keeping everything steady. Handheld, the 300mm is much too unwieldy on the NEX-7. I’ve used it on a d300 with vertical grip on multiple occasions, and the combo is very useful even handheld.

      Couldn’t agree more about Nikon’s past in excellence. I came across a 200mm f/2 AI-s ED I’ll write about soon that seems to blow even the 180mm f/2.8 (which I have and love) way out of the water. Stay tuned. πŸ™‚

  8. A year or two ago, I got to try one on my NEX 5N. One of my clients’ dad was a retired professional photographer, and as he got old and started losing it a little bit, his kids got his lenses. My client showed the lens to me, telling me he couldn’t get it to work on his Nikon D5100, so I used it with my 5N. I was very impressed. At the time, I didn’t have much interest in telephoto lenses, but I still wanted to borrow it from my client, but his brother didn’t want it to leave the house because it belonged to their dad. Now, I want one really badly. I think I’ll save for it. Man, photography is expensive!

    • These super telephotos can be difficult to find uses for in general photography, but when the need arises for them, nothing comes close! Good luck finding a cheap copy, keep an eye out for lenses that are cosmetically bad but good optically. They sell for significantly less.

      • Hi Matt… thoroughly enjoy your analysis! I bought mine together with the TC301 and use this on my D600 body. Crisp sharp and no complaint whatsoever. Even with the TC301, it still produces very sharp images. Recently I bought another old legend, the 50-300 ED AIS zoom. It is also a remarkable lens. Wonder if you have had any experience with this lens to share. Many thanks in advance.

        Andrew N.

      • Hello Andrew! Sorry I did not respond to this sooner, the comment got caught up among all the spam comments I have to wade through. Surprised to see the lens doing well with the TC301 for you. When I tried it with that teleconverter in the store the sharpness just wasn’t there for me. Could easily have been a bad teleconverter someone was trying to get a commission off of, but I’ll never know. I have seen that odd 50-300mm AI-s before, but never ventured into a curiosity purchase due to the relatively slow speed. However, if that ED glass does its job right, f/4.5 is plenty fast for most things, especially with a zoom rang like that.

        There are times when photographing events that that focal range could be useful, as on APS-C that’s roughly equivalent to the 80-400mm’s some regularly use. I hope you are enjoying it! If you wanted me to write a review on it, though, I would have to borrow yours for a bit. πŸ™‚ It isn’t exactly a cheap lens that I can gamble on being worth keeping/reselling when snooping around eBay.

  9. Hi,
    Some AI-S version is comming to my doors πŸ™‚ Also for D7100.
    Its bang for the money, even if It looks like toilet tool πŸ™‚
    Thanks, nice review, its quite hard to find such a info nowdays…

    Do you have any idea what are the differences of all AI-s MF versions?
    I have found that there were more variants…
    Thanks again

    • To my knowledge, there are two main variants of the AI-s 300mm 2.8 ED. The first one has a 122mm filter thread, while the second has a built-in and permanent 122mm protective filter (no thread). Supposedly the optical design is the same, but if you can find the later version with the front protective filter in good shape, go for that one.

  10. Hi Matthew,

    I’m one of those people that still shoot film with my trusty F4 and mostly ais lenses.

    I have recently acquired this beautiful lens, and as I will go the digital route pretty soon, it made me wonder whether I should go for a Sony A7ii which wil have EVF manual focusing with all the bells & whistles + image stabilization with all my ais lenses, or go for a d810 which can provide better image quality, have auto metering and be more balanced with most of my lenses.

    • Hey there Nat! Good on you for shooting film, I never have been able to give it a shot yet. πŸ™‚

      Regarding your digital upgrade question, you cannot go wrong with either camera, I have been reading great things about both. However, I cannot vouch enough for EVF manual focusing (peaking/magnification) + the image stabilization you’ll get with all your other AI-s lenses with the A7ii. The d810 may get you better resolution if you lock the mirror up on a tripod, but for all intents and purposes, you will have a much higher success rate in GETTING the shot with the A7ii after you acclimate to the controls (I came from a d300). Also, no split-prism viewfinder option on the d810 to my knowledge, so kiss precise focus at wide apertures goodbye.

      Some big rumors in the pipeline, however, for a possible A7rii or even an A9 that may use a revamped version of that 50mp sensor in the new 5Ds from Canon. If you can wait until the summer to buy a new camera, sit tight (check out sonyalpharumors.com often too). Otherwise, spring for the first deal you can get on an A7ii and let me know how it works for you!

  11. Hi Matthew,

    As weird as it may sound, in the end I bought a barely used Nikon DF at a ridiculously competitive price.

    What pushed me with this purchase was the level of manual focus accuracy I achieved with its optical viewfinder when I tested Nikon DF combined with a DK-17m magnifier. I have tested D800 and D610 viewfinders before as well as a D700 and D3s and they are much worse than DF. If only we had a split prism it would be perfect but even with the default screen it’s working somehow.

    Afterall, I was looking for a very good platform to use my manual Nikkors. Also checking some reviews, I noticed that A7II’s IS was very different from Olympus cameras (less efficient) and was hard to achieve great sharpness with even with native lenses (probably due to full frame sensor size, and the size of the mount limiting how much in body IS can move.).

    In addition to this, I decided that the sensor’s behaviour at higher iso settings was something I desired especially when shooting at night.

    If I need a flash I will mount one. The retro controls are ok coming from an F4 but they will slow you down sometimes. It’s been 2 days since my purchase but I tested the camera for more than 3 hours before I bought it.

    I will share my experience with 300 f2.8 when I have some time to use it πŸ™‚

    • That’s great to hear that the magnifier is working well for you, because all my past experience manually focusing these digital camera optical viewfinders is a mess. The split-prism on the old Nikon FA, why’d they get rid of it? Haha!

      The Df and A7ii are two completely different but competent cameras at what they do, but for your needs it does seem like the Df etches ahead.

      I look forward to your impressions on the 300mm f/2.8 when used on a Df, feel free to email me.

      • Hi Matthew,

        I have used the DF extensively, and first of all, the 300mm f2.8 is sold. It performed brilliantly but it fell too short for birding, and too heavy in most use cases I have. If I had bought an A7 II I’m sure I would still have this lens due to image stabilization. The new 300mm f4 VR PF lens from Nikon is quite interesting (as its very light weight, small and has VR). It costs 1000$ more than what I want to pay however.

        Other ais or series E Nikons perform brilliantly on the 16 megapixel DF sensor. These include 28mm f2 ais, 75-150 series E and 180mm f2.8 ED ais. With some stopping down, corner to corner sharpness and very low optical aberrations are available in all of them. 180mm ED still steals the show.

        The benchmark lens that I use is a Sigma 35mm f1.4 art which is in a different class of its own. Even though old Nikons don’t perform on the same level, they do not disappoint either and are more than usable for any work.

        As for manual focus, it’s fine with lenses f2 and slower. F1.4 lenses are very hard to focus accurately without third party screens.

      • Good to hear from you again Nat. Even on cropped-sensor cameras I have found the 300mm f/2.8 to fall short for birds and the like. I use a 400mm f/2.8 now on a NEX-7 when I need the reach and speed, but it is a heck of a lot heavier than the 300mm. Your only option for super telephoto without getting too heavy is to go with slower zoom lenses (or perhaps the 400mm f/4.5 AI-s?). The high-iso ability of the Df can offset the need for shallow apertures, but then you do lose some depth of field control.

        It’s always a balance. πŸ™‚

    • Hey there Casey, I do not, but a good friend of mine in NZ has used that teleconverter and says it does a decent job. Stay away from the 2x teleconverter, too much quality loss. You’ll need to stop down to f/4 (equiv. f/5.6) to get decent sharpness with the tc-14b.

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