Nikon 300F4E PF Review

Nikon 300mm F4E

My review is a brief summary of what works and what does not work for me related to VR. Nasim Mansurov from Photography Life has an extensive review, with excellent comparisons to other lenses completed in 2015 at the link below:

https://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-300mm-f4e-pf-ed-vr/

Unfortunately the VR issues reported two years ago in different reviews have not improved, no new firmware or design changes.  Nikon officially acknowledged the problem with only the D800 series bodies, and indicated that lenses with serial numbers below 205101 were affected (Nikon did issued a firmware fix for those lenses, but it was only slightly effective in reducing the problem).

It seems like Nikon really doesn’t want to face the reality that many other bodies are also impacted in that same shutter speed range. Hello – Nikon, it’s now 2017 and my recently purchased lens has a serial number that starts with 226XXX. I don’t own a D800 series body, so why would my D7200 and to a lesser extent on my older D700 body have the exact same VR issues with my new lens?

My bodies are only affected in a limited shutter speed range of 1/100 sec to about 1/160 of a sec. However down at 1/80 of a sec, VR works well, yielding sharp images. Also, images taken over 1/200 of a sec with VR on are very good. Note: Images with VR off at 1/160 sec are better than with VR turned on.

I happen to be shooting some test shots of a rabbit in my back yard one morning and my shutter speed fell to 1/160 of a second.  So a pretty normal use case in my opinion, not trying to find or doing anything unusual. Viewing shots in the camera at 100%, I could easily see the VR blur. Once I pushed the ISO to 3200, to get the shutter speed high enough (1/320 sec) to overcome the VR limitation, the images look nice (see the bunny below).

1.4TC, f5.6 @ 1/320 sec, ISO 3200

As an update I did a little more testing the next morning (after the bunny shots) and found a couple of interesting things at lower shutter speeds. Specifically with my system of the D7200 and 300 f4E, it seems that with VR on 1/160 of a second is the worst possible shutter speed for IQ. Going up slightly to 1/200 sec or faster solves the issue. Also, reducing shutter speed below 1/100 sec helps a good deal.

Again, a 300mm lens advertised with 4 stops of VR should do fine at 1/160 sec. In fact, VR actually works well at 1/60 – 1/80 sec, indicating the lens can provide 3 stops of stabilization from one over the 300mm focal length. In my case, I just need to avoid 1/100 sec to 1/160 of a second at all cost if VR is turned on. In the bad range it’s better to simply leaving VR turned off and the hand held images improve. So counter intuitively, if I cannot go to a higher ISO,  I should lower the shutter speed to obtain better images with good IQ at around 1/80 sec with VR on.

Outside of the VR limitation, it’s a nice lens, close in sharpness to the 300 f2.8G. It focuses fast with 1.4TC, and is generally fun to shoot with. On the D7200 with a 1.4TC, you get a very good effective crop focal length of a 600mm lens at f5.6 that you can easily carry with one hand. Just learn the VR specific limitations with your bodies.