The 300mm f/4E PF VR lens - a few questions

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by mbrennan, Jul 6, 2016.

  1. My beloved AF-S 300mmf/4 ED has developed the SWM squealing that these first gen. AF-S motors tend to do. It still functions as it always has, my copy has excellent IQ, however a high pitch squeal every time I go to focus is hardly the calling card of the stealthy backyard bird photographer!
    I have a quote from a local (Melbourne, Australia) accredited Nikon repairer for an AF-S replacement repair with ball park firgure that after after shipping my lens away to the big smoke will leave me with only a little change from AU $700.
    I think I could sell my AF-S 300mmf/4 for at least AU$500 and invest that into the new 300mm f/4E PF VR. I can actually afford to do this now and spring is just around the corner...........
    The massive weight saving over the older AF-S f/4 would make longer days in the sunshine hand holding with a D810 a genuine viable option as would travelling with it. So I'm interested!
    I recently swapped my 70-200mm f/2.8 for the f/4 version and have been truly delighted to discover that the VR on the f/4 model is so much more user friendly and do-able for me - a significant improvement over any other VR lens I have used previously.
    Do the current 70-200mm f/4 and the 300mm f/4E PF VR share the same generation VR technology? I understand there was a defect issue with VR in the earliest released copies which is now said to be sorted by Nikon for subsequent copies.
    Reviews here and there say the new 300/4 is as sharp as the older 300/4 and also has a pleasant bokeh like the old 300/4 and similar auto focus speeds, however there is not much to read in the way of TC use. Has anyone used the new 300/4 with TC's yet....and the results?
     
  2. I understand there was a defect issue with VR in the earliest released copies which is now said to be sorted by Nikon for subsequent copies.​
    I am currently re-evaluating a copy with a Serial number high enough to have had the firmware update applied at the factory already. I had evaluated this lens some three months ago already - and returned it because of the VR issues that manifested themselves mostly in the range 1/100s - 1/200s (on a D810). Subsequently, I was told the lens had been sent to Nikon, so I am evaluating it now again - and can confirm my earlier findings: VR interferes at shutter speeds around 1/160s and leads to something that I would call "outlining"; at those shutter speeds I can usually obtain a sharper images with VR off than with VR on. I tested the same lens on a D700 - no such issue, VR works beautifully even at those speeds that cause trouble on the D810. The issue is most pronounced at longer focus distances too and not as apparent when shooting closer. At shutter speed of 1/400s and above, even with VR on, the lens is a pleasure to use (did plenty of candid street portraits yesterday that had focus spot on and were sharp as tack). I will continue my testing today on a D7100 and possibly a D7200 - and then will have to decide whether to keep the lens or not. Previously, I also checked the lens briefly on a D750 - with the same issue as on the D810.
    In short, the firmware fix of the lens does not completely remove the VR issue when the lens is used on a D810 (and at least from my evaluation, the D750 and D7100 as well). This is an issue for me - other may never encounter it if they don't use the lens at those "unsuitable" shutter speeds with VR activated.
    I owned (and recently sold) the non-PF AF-S version - the main reason I am interested in the PF one is the small size and low weight - this advantage may even trump the VR issue the lens shows in that narrow range of shutter speeds (though it IS annoying and it is a lot of money to be spend on a lens that one cannot reliably use in a certain shutter speed range). To put it plainly - I rather carry the AF-S 80-400 for its versatility that the old AF-S 300 lens, but the PF version would find a lot of use where the 80-400 would be too bothersome to carry or deploy.
    I have not used the lens with a TC yet - I only have the TC-14E and would imagine that the lens works better with the TC-14EIII.
     
  3. I think the 300/4E AF-S VR PF is one of the nicest new Nikkors, and one that has made a real difference in keeping the bag weight down and yet providing an excellent long lens. I used to use the 300/4 AF in the 90s and after that, the 300/4D AF-S. The autofocus of the PF version is much better than its predecessor, it is fast and reliable. Optically the lens has advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional lenses that consist of refractive elements only. I find it to be a question of finding the right subjects and lighting for the PF and using the lens in such conditions rather than assume that it works for everything in the same way as a conventional lens would. I find the 300 PF to excel for fabrics with texture and colour, for example, so it's great for fashion or whenever there is a lot of colour (festivities etc.). I like to use it to photograph backlit people as well, though you must take care that the sun is at a sufficient angle above and behind the subject so that it doesn't cause flare. This is true of other lenses as well. I find the rendering of skin somewhat low contrast and "milky" in apperance and the backlight adds contrast to the images and compensates for this characteristic. In dim, low contrast light I would recommend using a different lens, such as the 300/2.8, if available.

    The 300/4 PF works well with the TC-14E III. I've also tried it a few times with the TC-20E III and found that by using a tripod, tripod collar reversed on the lens, EFCS on the D810 and focusing using live view, quite decent results can be obtained at f/9-f/10. However, when I've tried to use this combination (300 PF + 2X) hand held, I have not been happy with the results. With the TC-14E III the autofocus works fine and image quality is very good. I don't hesitate to use the 1.4X with this lens, and it's a very portable and practical kit, although most of the time I use the 300 PF without TC.
    I don't have any VR issue with my 300 PF, however, others have reported issues in a certain shutter speed range. Personally I tend to use the lens at relatively fast shutter speeds so as to avoid blur due to subject movement. I might use 1/800s to 1/1250s for action, 1/500s for a walking subject, and occasionally 1/320s to 1/200s for a subject that is almost still, but I've found that faster shutter speeds yield (slightly) sharper results, in general, so I try to keep the shutter speed up. The VR SPORT mode is excellent for providing some support without interfering with following a moving subject that may change trajectory at any time.
     
  4. I bought the PF the day it became avaialbe, and mine had the VR issue in the 1/60-1/180 shutter speed range. I sent it back to Nikon, they did a firmware update. It has since been fine, running on a Df and D800. I also have the 70-200/4 VR lens, and IMHO, the VR functions and sharpness are about the same. Buy with confidence, it's a great little 300mm.
     
  5. The 300 PF VR is an excellent lens but is sometimes prone to VR-related shuttershock for which various fixes (including Nikon's) are sometimes effective. This is unlike the 70-200 f4 VR. If you are absolutely depending on being able to shoot in the ~1/50-1/250th range, you may be disappointed (or you may be fine).
     
  6. I think the 300/4E AF-S VR PF is one of the nicest new Nikkors, and one that has made a real difference in keeping the bag weight down and yet providing an excellent long lens.​
    And I agree completely. However, on the copy I am currently testing, the VR issue is pronounced (despite it being a 215xxx Serial number and hence way outside the range of lenses that needed to be returned for the firmware fix) not only on the D810 but the D7100 and D7200 as well while the D700 seems unaffected. I do not understand how a firmware issue can provide a fix for one D810 body but not another. Neither do I understand that - for whatever reason - one copy of a lens works fine on a D810 and another doesn't. If indeed the mirror slap and shutter-induced vibrations are responsible, then how would a firmware fix mitigate that anyway? And why would it affect only the D800, D800E, and D810? In particular, since the D810 has a different mirror box and mirror mechanism (don't know if they use the same shutter).
    I guess my solution - which only occurred to me during yesterday's comparison shooting - is to stick a D7100 (about the same weight as the 300 PF and quite a bit cheaper) in the bag with the D810 and the 70-200/4 - and then use it if I want the longer reach. From what I saw in yesterday's results, there is very little acuity differences in images taken with the 300/4 PF on a D810 and a 70-200/4 at 200mm on a D7100.
    Will return the lens today; really is a pity as I do like the 300 PF - but I need to find a copy that works without issues on my D810 (and I would still have qualms whether the VR issue might resurface on another D810 or a future camera).
     
  7. I'm sorry to hear about your experience, Dieter. I guess the firmware upgrade includes something like a circuit swap and
    not just software upload to the lens, at least for some lens samples. I would try to find a lens that works correctly with your
    bodies. A double image is something that should not happen in a correctly functioning lens, at least not on a regular
    basis. However, with any telephoto lens I think it is normal that the 1/100s to 1/160s shots may be affected by shutter
    vibrations and slight softness may be apparent at the level of detail of individual pixels on a high resolution camera.

    I don't know why some lens samples combined with particular body samples seem to show this double image effect. I do
    believe it is a result of transfer of shutter vibrations to the VR group and the VR system somehow is unable to correct it (in
    some cases) and may in fact make it worse. I think the user who wants to benefit from this lens probably should mostly
    use it at fast shutter speeds (with or without VR; I typically have the lens on VR SPORT) or use a tripod and turn VR OFF.
    If top results at 1/125s or 1/160s hand held are desired then a heavier lens may give a better result (i.e. 300/2.8). For me
    this is not an issue since I use a tripod if I'm using a long lens on a stationary subject and mostly hand hold such lenses
    when photographing moving subjects, and there I would not use a slow shutter speed. VR SPORT does help keep the
    lens focused on the subject and achieve a controlled composition with less random variation from shot to shot. This is
    sufficient for my purposes. I'm particularly happy about the autofocus, I get a much higher rate of in focus shots when
    tracking a moving subject with the new lens than its predecessor. Also its weight is hardly noticeable in the bag.

    I did use the lens to capture some shots at a confirmation ceremony (photography was allowed as long as I stayed in my
    seat). I got some good results but in some cases shutter speed was too low even at ISO 6400 and I would have no doubt
    done better with a 300/2.8. However I do not have one of those and it would no doubt have seemed like an elephant to
    the people sitting around me. So there is a trade-off. I happen to think the 300 PF is a wonderful tradeoff among long
    lenses that I've tested. But it's not the best 300mm for every situation.

    I do hope that 300mm PF users who experience anomalous shake can eventually get a solution from Nikon.
     
  8. However, with any telephoto lens I think it is normal that the 1/100s to 1/160s shots may be affected by shutter vibrations and slight softness may be apparent at the level of detail of individual pixels on a high resolution camera.​
    Fully agree here Ilkka - the issue is that I can repeatedly produce sharper images hand held at 1/100 and 1/160 with VR off compared to VR ON (in either Normal or Sport mode) - and that just ain't right. The rub is that very occasionally, I get a tack sharp shot with VR ON - and I have no clue as to how that can be or what I've done to "deserve" it. At those shutter speeds, I certainly don't expect "top" results - but at least something usable. I don't want to get into the whole tripod issue - I know that I should use it more but quite general, it doesn't fit the way I shoot - though I do sometimes pay the price for shunning it.

    From a dpreview article, I gather that both mirror-induced and shutter-induced vibrations are to be blamed for the malaise, with the mirror being the bigger player. Indeed, when I use Qc mode (or Q but the long blackout bothers me), there seems to be some improvement. I don't have the grip but my D810 is always equipped with an L-plate (a bit ironic given how rarely I use a tripod). I didn't bother to check the effect of EFCS (since it only works in combination with live view - not my usual modus operandi either). Dpreview also found the effect in the 70-200/4 VR - where I don't seem to have any issue at all.
    To me, the 300 PF would have been a special occasion lens (the 200-500 and 80-400 cover my long-lens needs when weight considerations aren't paramount) and very handy when traveling - but as already mentioned, the combination D7100/70-200 f/4 does accomplish "essentially" the same thing.
    Below are two 1:1 crops, both from hand held images with 1/100s on a D810, one with VR off, one with VR in Normal mode. While I can't reproduce the VR OFF result with every shot, the one with VR ON is quite repeatable (until there is the one-in-a-hundred) that's tack sharp).
    00e2OS-564144884.jpg
     
  9. EFCS in the D810 does not require live view. It does require M-UP.
     
  10. EFCS in the D810 does not require live view. It does require M-UP.​
    Which tells you how often I have been using that feature ;-) Requiring mirror-up makes it even less of a solution for the VR issue. Or it does, since you are using a tripod then anyway and don't need VR at all.
     
  11. Many thanks for all responses.
    I have conducted a review of shots in which I have used my old 300mm f/4 - nearly all are 1/800th sec and most are significantly faster speeds. This is no doubt due to the fact that I really only use the 300/4 when the sun is properly out and I feel like being outdoors for hours at at a time.

    I have taken note of the issues some experience using the D810 (this is what I will be using) and VR around 1/100th sec give or take. I feel I'd probaby be using the 70-200 /4 for suck slow shutter speeds more than the 300 prime which I really want to take advantage of as a lighter weight hand held panning lens.
    I won't buy the 300/4 E PF from a store that will not agree to allow me to return copies if I'm not satisfied with VR on my D810.
     
  12. I want this lens too.
    But i think I will postpone purchasing it. Photography Life's review stated that they found out decentering issue on 3 copies they tried.
    It was bad.
     
  13. I have not seen other reports of decentering with this lens. Perhaps it is not an issue if you are not specifically shooting subjects requiring corner-to-corner sharpness at infinity. Most subjects for this type of a lens neither require sharp corners nor are made at extremely long distances. That said, my 300/4 PF retained better sharpness across the frame than the 200-500 at 300mm when tested on an architectural subject at a distance of 100m or so. The sharpness started to drop from center to corners faster in the images made with the zoom. Neither lens produced noticeably asymmetric sharpness but I didn't perform any actual measurements.
     
  14. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I have had my 300mm/f4 PF AF-S VR since August last year (2015). Therefore I have had it for about 11 months. Since I also have the 80-400mm AF-S VR and 200-500mm AF-S VR, I use the zooms a lot more often because I find zooms more versatile and those two lenses can also reach longer than 300mm.
    To me, the main drawback is still that VR on the 300mm/f4 PF may not be at its best around 1/125 sec and 1/160 sec on 36MP bodies. Personally I have very littler concern about that since I typically need a faster speed to stop subject motion anyway, and I mostly use 20MP and 24MP bodies, but it can be an issue to some people. I never notice any de-centering issues and frankly, a lot of lenses can have a bit of decentering and it is not an issue in real-life photography. The key is that this is a small, light-weight 300mm lens that can deliver very high quality, and f4 does have its advantages over those f5.6 zooms at dawn and dusk.
     
  15. I intend to use my new (just ordered) 300/4E PF in pretty much the same way I used the older 300/4 D lens - usually in bright light, with the sun over my shoulder and illuminating on the subject, photographing mostly birdlife and employing faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. Slow shutter speed VR assisted exposures may or may not become a part of what I use this lens for.
    Essentially I just like the idea of a more compact lens with much less weight than the older 300/4 and at least equal IQ for it's portability and ability to use hand held for hours on end.
    I can't wait for my lens to arrive!
     

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