I’m an amateur photographer, which I’m sure is obvious. I’m a guy in my mid-twenties that ‘discovered the joy of photography’ only about a year ago. A few months back I bought my first DSLR, the Nikon D40, and I’m very happy with it. I’ve had very good luck with the kit lens but found myself looking for a longer zoom. I’m not one to get a shot from where I’m standing in lieu of walking closer to the subject but there are times when that isn’t possible; A body or water may come in the way, or 60 rows of people in an auditorium, sometimes grabbing the zoom lens is the only way to get what I’m looking for. With that in mind I went on the hunt for a decent zoom for my camera. What I found was the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor.
I’ve had the lens for about a week now and have had a chance to shoot about 1200 shots with it. I shot for two nights in a small auditorium that seats about 600 people. I shot at a softball game that happened on a cloudy night on a lit field and I shot on a clear eveing around 8pm. I’ve not had any good bright light to shoot in. All the situations were low light, but as luck would have it, never too low. I was immediately impressed by how well the lens did in low light. For most the shots so far with this lens I have been shooting at ISO 800, which for my camera is still very clean with almost no grain at all.
While I was in the auditorium I was shooting an awards night and then a band concert, no fast motion but enough motion where shutter speed was a concern. On my first night out I will admit that the first 20-40 shots were rubbish, too much motion blur and not usable. I was immediately concerned that the lens was not going to be fast enough to suit my needs but I pressed on, what did I have to loose? After a bit of tweaking (as well as bumping the ISO up to 800) I was in business. I was able to freeze people walking across the stage as well as the speakers and I got some pretty good shots from the first balcony about 60 feet back.
When I was shooting the softball game I was using almost the exact same settings as I was in the auditorium. I had to slow up the shutter speed around 8:30pm though as they shots were getting a little too dark but I was still able to lock people sliding into bases and falling over each other. The ball it self was a bit of a blur but nothing too serious.
I should also talk about the VR feature it seems. VR stands for Vibration Reduction and it’s Nikons counterpart to Canon’s IS or Image Stabilization feature. Since I’ve been shooting in such low light I have been using it and when I switch it off my shots are unusable. It’s a huge help at 70mm in low light but it’s indispensable once you get out about 200mm. I’ve read about people being concerned about the noise the VR function makes but to be honest my is basically silent. When enabled and the shutter release is half pressed (which is where the function turns on) I can hear a noise not unlike the noise a CRT television or monitor makes but much quieter –I hear it only if I put my ear up to the lens. One down side though is that the battery drains much faster when using the feature. Without it I was able to get 2000+ shots without flash on my camera but with it that number drops in half I’d say. I’ve not done any real testing but that is my best guess from my limited use. [Topslakr Edit: I can’t say I’ve noticed any extra drain in battery life with the VR lens. I shot 1600 images over 4 days recently and my battery meter never dropped below full. I think the problem before was that I hadn’t charged my battery in a while and it just happened to drop below full while I was shooting.] VR does work wonders though and I’m able to shoot much slower handheld then with my kit lens. It’s actually pretty cool to see it working when looking through the viewfinder. One moment the shot is all over the place and then once you press the button it’s like the camera is taken from and held in mid-air.
Once we start getting some sun up here in the northeast I’ll get a chance to see how it does under good lighting conditions and for that I’m pretty excited. It came with a lens hood that I’ve not yet needed. I’ve heard some talk that using it will increase color and contrast in the image and am interested in finding out how true that is and how noticeable it will be.
I’ve been very impressed with the lens so far. It’s a great zoom and has much better then expected low light performance. Nikon does sell other cheaper 70-300mm zoom lenses lacking the VR feature but I have to say this lens would be all but useless without it in low light. It’s definitely worth the $470 I paid for it.