Since it’s release Nikon’s newest 300mm F4 AF-S VR lens has caused quite a stir. The original lens was fantastic in terms of size and portability, but it was also too slow for most anything in my experience. Granted, it was not as slow as my Nikon 85F1.4D lens, nor was it as slow as my Nikon 50mm F1.4 was before I moved to the Sigma 50mm F1.4; it was pretty darn slow though. That said, a lot of shooters were really attracted to the price of the Nikon 300F4 originally. January 2015 though, things changed. Nikon announced their brand new Nikon 300mm F4 lens with an AF-S motor, VR, PF elements, and on top of that the thing was the size of a Nikon 24-70F2.8. Wait. Yes you read that right, the thing is TINY.
Once it came out people started asking if it was fast enough for sports. Roberts Camera and I originally wanted to do this blog when the lens was released but it was so stinkin popular that neither they, nor I could get a demo copy from Nikon to do it. That is until two weeks ago when I had yet another person ask if I thought it was fast enough, and low to behold I was scheduled to shoot the Iowa Hawkeyes vs the Indiana Hoosiers basketball game later that week. What is a trial unless it’s a trial by fire right? SO off I went with a borrowed Nikon 300mm F4 from Roberts to answer to the many questioners, how does it do shooting sports?
Yea, that’s it next to my Nikon 200-400F4. Here is a shot of it next to a bunch of things for a better size comparison if you want:
(From left to right: Nikon D4s Body, Nikon 24-70F2.8N, Nikon 300mmF4VR PF, Nikon 70-300F4.5-5.6VR, Nikon 200-400F4VR, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR)
Little bit of background here. I normally shoot basketball using three bodies. I use a Nikon D800 with a 14-24F2.8 (or a 24-70 sometimes) for the wide stuff. I use a Nikon D4 with the 70-200F2.8VR2 for most of the things right under the basket in front of me, and then I use a Nikon D4s with a 200-400F4 for the far end of the court, coach shots, crowd shots, and most everything else. MOST photographers sitting with me on the paint will use a 300F2.8 as their longer lens and just crop in as necessary, which is really a good strategy truth be told. As my friends Trevor and Mike can verify, I’m that idiot sitting on the paint with not only a 200-400F4 occasionally a 1.4x extender for when I really want to get in tight. (Because you know… 400mm where everyone else is using 300mm isnt enough already…) I prefer to not crop my sports shots, but to be totally honest shooting loose in order to crop in is a much safer bet. Anyway, I was sure that there would be enough light at Assembly hall for the Nikon 300mmF4VR since I usually use my 200-400F4 there. Doesn’t mean I didn’t take my 200-400F4 just in case this lens was not what I was expecting, because I surely did, and not only did I take it; I intended to use it because how could a lens this small, light and cheap be everything I needed it to be at a paying sports gig?.
To be honest while I know Nikon makes great gear, this thing was going to need to be something special for me to decide it was good enough for a full time sports lens. To my surprise, not only did I use it the entire game, but at one point I put my 1.4x extender on it to get the reach I am used to. If I didn’t have a D5 to buy in the next 30 days I’d have added this to my bag probably over the phone at the game. Not even kidding, I’d have called Phil at R0berts and told him he wasn’t getting his lens back in exchange for my credit card number .
Not only is it sharp; it’s fast. I felt like it had no trouble keeping up with the game action, and even with the 1.4x extender the lens performed incredibly admirably while mounted to my Nikon D4s body. The images were all as sharp as I would have expected out of my 200-400 or even a 300F2.8! What’s even more too good to be true about this thing is that it only weighs 1.66lbs. Not a big deal until you realize the for the old and outgoing 300F4 weighed 3.17lbs!!! Even more? My Nikon 24-70F2.8 weighs 1.988lbs and my Nikon 200-400F4 weighs an epic 7.2lbs! This new 300F4 weighs LESS THAN MY 24-70! Even better than that? The NEW Nikon D5 weighs a heavy 3.1 Pounds compared to this new 300mmF4! AND IT’S SHARP?! What planet is this?!
As you can see in the above photo and crop of the lens straight up, as well as THIS IMAGE AND CROP of the lens using my 1.4x extender; Nikon’s 300mm F4 VR PF has definitely got what it takes to shoot sports. Of course, you still want to use a F2.8 lens or even a F2 lens in the darkest of venues, but really for such a light weight package paired with today’s golden era of photography technology this thing is incredible. Think about this in terms of moving around a venue, or better yet, what about remotes? This lens is a lot lighter than a 70-200F2.8VR so you could use it for remotes without putting a bunch of extra stress on your camera mount. You can also get a tripod collar for it too, but iut’s lighter than a 24-70 so I can totally understand why it’s not included with the purchase.
In the end, this lens is fantastic; especially for sports. I only had it for about 36 hours, and during that time I unfortunately neglected to try it with my 2x extender which as I’ve mentioned before is the magical unicorn extender when on my 400F2.8. Either way, the Nikon AF-S 300mmF4VR PF most definitely IS fast enough and sharp enough for sports. In fact, later this year instead of getting a 300F2.8 to add to my kit, I’ll most likely end up with the 300mmF4 because of how light, compact, sharp and to be totally honest cheap that it is. Will it replace my 200-400 for basketball? Too early to tell. One thing can say though for sure is that it will definitely end up in my bag. This thing is Sahweet! If you want to add it to your bag, do yourself a favor and get it from the guys over at Roberts Camera. They are IN STOCK now! More Soon.