Monday, August 25, 2014

Nikon AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR with D610 Review

Let's face it, some people just don't want to change lenses. Even those who do might want a break from it from time to time. Hence, the existence of super-zooms. Jack of all trades, master of none. The Nikon AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR  falls into that category. Given that Nikon's post-D600 full frame focus, it seems natural that they filled in this particular checkbox in the product lineup, but is it relevant in today' world?

Build and Design

Ring and switch placement is standard fair for Nikon consumer lenses; the width and prominence of the focus ring is an indication of how often this lens will see manual focusing duties. For a lens of this weight and that extends to this length, the 28-300mm thankfully doesn't exhibit any zoom creep.

Like the 18-200mm DX  on bodies like the D300 or the D7100, the 28-300 is (relatively) compact when mounted on its natural mate, the D610. The balance is a tad bit on the front heavy side.

There is no possibility of attaching a tripod collar, which is a shame given the weight of this lens on a FX body. If you are saving weight on the camera side of the equation, you are just as likely to want to reduce your tripod weight as well. For tripod mounting, even though it's not the same bulk as something like 70-200mm f/2.8, you will still require something with a sturdy head.

One are where this lens isn't small is in the front element, which is 77mm in diameter. Be aware that the cost of items like polarizing and neutral density filters can be quite expensive as the size of the lens increases.

Optics and Image Quality

Here is how the maximum aperture varies  by focal length. There aren't any surprises, as the maximum aperture decreases in progressive manner until the

  • 18mm - f/3.5
  • 35mm - f/4.2
  • 70mm - f/5
  • 105mm - f/5.6
  • 200mm - f/6.3

The following are from uncorrected out-of-camera JPEG's, but they are instructive. There is a usefully wide range in terms of focal length, but it comes with some compromises. The amount of barrel distortion at 28mm is considerable, and it quickly changes to pin cushion distortion by 50mm. Thankfully, geometric distortion is
linear and is easily correctable in post-processing.

Uncorrected vignetting is, as you would expect, high with the aperture held wide-open or with the zoom fully extended. Vignetting is handled by the in-camera JPEG processing than distortion is, so it likely won't be an issue with the intended audience for this lens. By any standard, lateral chromatic aberration is very high throughout the focal length and aperture range.

With static flat test targets, resolution understandable suffers in the corners. However, the central portion of the lens maintains reasonably good contrast and detail retention. As with most consumer-oriented lenses, the 28-300mm is generally sharper and more contrasty at the wide end of the lens than it is at the long end. Optically, the 28-300mm pretty much shares the weaknesses/characteristics as Nikon's DX convenience zooms (18-200mm, 18-300mm).

Of course, you could use this lens on a DX body as a better version of the 18-300mm. The big compromise when you do so is that 28mm isn't wide at all, limiting its usefulness in tight quarters. Otherwise, because of the larger image circle of the 28-300mm, the image quality will generally be better than the DX alternatives.

Bokeh with this lens is nothing to write home about, but there is a modicum of foreground/background separation by virtue of this being a full-frame lens.

f/5.3 at 100mm
f/8 at 100mm
f/11 at 100mm
f/11 at 300mm

Concluding Thoughts

The 28-300 weighs in at 800g. In comparison , the 70-300VR weighs 745g while the D610's kit lens is 465g. In practical terms, carrying only one lens instead of two is a considerable weight savings for a casual FX setup... but it likely won't be a space savings as the owners of these types of cameras typically have gadget bags that hold 2-3 lenses with the body.

Of course, the bigger question is: if you are shooting FX, why are you trying to save space? It's not a justifiable setup given all of the compromises that it entails, but the audience for this lens falls into two categories. Those who legitimately want a convenience full-frame setup and those with FX gear who want a convenience lens for when they go on vacation. Given the limitations that come with making a lens of this design, the rating the Nikon 28-300mm requires a Roger Ebert-like philosophy: It gets a thumbs up not because it is a good lens, but because it is good for its intended purpose and the expectations that come with it. If anything, the Nikon wins by virtue of how much less it costs compared to the "equivalent" lens in the Canon camp.

With thanks to Broadway Camera

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