Here's my hands-on review of the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G, a compact, affordable, and highly versatile zoom lens.
Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR has a broad zoom range, from 28mm to 300mm, and built-in vibration reduction. It’s also compact and easily portable. And it’s priced quite reasonably with a MSRP of $950. So it’s a very good option to have as an all-purpose, take-anywhere lens for travel photography or general-use photography.
That convenience and price point come with compromises. With a maximum aperture of f/3.5 to f/5.6, depending on how much you have it zoomed in or out, it’s not an especially fast lens. And while the optical quality is good and perfectly suitable for a great many uses, it’s not up there with higher-end (and more expensive) pro lenses.
The 28-300mm is designed for FX-sensor (full-frame) cameras, and I’ve been using it on the Nikon D810 and D800. It is also compatible with DX-format cameras, and if using it on of those you’d multiply the focal lengths by 1.5.
Over the past several months I’ve been shooting with a couple of copies of this lens, and I’ve posted some of the shots I’ve taken with it. So here’s my hands-on review of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR.
Broad Zoom Range. Zoomed out, this lens goes to 28mm. That provides a safe all-purpose wide-angle perspective without going into the very wide range (which I’d personally consider 24mm and below). Zoomed in, it goes to 300mm, which is a long telephoto but not so long that it becomes challenging to shoot with. So it’s a very broad zoom range that falls within a comfortable range for working with.
Here are some examples of what that looks like in practice:
I have more examples on the sample images page.
Vibration Reduction. The 28-300mm has the latest generation of Nikon’s vibration reduction technology, VR II.
There are two types of vibration reduction built in: Normal and Active. There’s a switch on the side of the lens to toggle between them (and a switch right above that to turn VR on or off).
As you’d expect, Normal is the best choice for general shooting. It compensates for the kind of random shake you’d get from handheld shooting. It can also detect when you’re panning. Active compensates for a different kind of shaking, the kind you might get when shooting from a moving vehicle.
I’ve used Nikon’s VR a lot over the years and have found the one on this lens to work much the same as on other Nikon lenses. That is, it works well and predictably and it adds a couple of stops or so to the comfortable shutter speed.
In raw terms, it’s a relatively large and solid lens, weighing in at a little over 1.75 pounds (or 800 grams). And while it doesn’t have the heavy-duty feel of Nikon’s pro ranges that use more metal than plastic, it does still feel sturdy and well made when you’re holding it.
But the way to really judge the size and weight of this lens is the performance you’re getting packed into it. And that’s where it shines. With a single lens you’re getting a wide-angle 28mm and a 300mm telephoto and everything in between. So instead of packing several lenses that are cumulatively heavier and larger, you might be able to leave this lens on your camera and cover many bases at once. That, obviously, has a lot of appeal when traveling or doing any kind of shooting that involves carrying a camera for any period of time. It’s also something I’ve found useful in situations like kayaking where it’s not practical to change lenses on the go.
The zoom ring isn’t as smooth as it is on zooms that don’t use a bayonet system because it’s physically pushing out the lens bayonet to zoom. But it works, and I haven’t run into any issues of it slipping under its own weight. There’s also a lock, with a switch on the side, that prevents the bayonet extension to make it easier for carrying in a bag.
The focus ring is narrow and close to the mount end. It isn’t especially precise, but this is a lens that most users are probably going to be used in autofocus mode the vast majority of the time.
With a maximum aperture of f/3.5 zoomed out and f/5.6 zoomed in, it’s not the fastest lens available. It terms of getting light onto the sensor, that’s something that the vibration reduction helps compensate for. On the wider end of the zoom, you don’t get as much blurring of the background as you’d get in faster lenses, but zoomed in you can get plenty.
Sharpness. Zoomed out, I’ve found it to be reliably sharp through the frame. Zoomed right in there’s some softness around the edges, but overall it’s quite usably sharp. Here’s a sample. Click on the image to open a full-size version.
Vignetting. The lens vignetting is within range of what I’d expect as normal for a lens like this. At wide apertures, there’s some, but not a lot, when it’s zoomed out, and it becomes more prominent zoomed in.
Here’s a vignette panel I shot at 300mm against a clear blue sky.
Lens Distortion. There is some lens distortion that’s most noticeable at the very widest end of the zoom range. You can see an example here, with a clear bow in the roof line.
Chromatic Aberration. I was surprised at how little chromatic aberration (or purple fringing) this lens exhibits. And what there is is easily fixed in Lightroom and other photography processing apps.
Here are a few sample images. I have a lot more photos shot with the Nikon 28-300mm posted separately.
The Nikon 28-300mm takes 77mm filters.
It comes with a lens hood. If you need to get a replacement, the model is HB-50. You can get the Nikon-branded original, which, in my opinion, is vastly overpriced, or an after-market version from Vello for less than half the price that works just as well.
It comes with a light weight soft pouch (model CL-1120).
There are faster lenses and there are sharper lenses. But it seems to me that this one hits the mark it’s aiming for: a compact, affordable lens that offers remarkable versatility in a single piece of glass.
So if you’re looking for an all-purpose and highly portable lens for everyday shooting or while traveling, this strikes me as a very good choice. I also know professional architectural photographers who use it. It’s not ideal for portrait photography–there are better choices for that–but for everyday shooting, from taking photos of the kids’ sports games to going on safari to wandering around an exotic locale, this lens has a lot of versatility to give. I’m not at all surprised that it has proved such a popular lens.
If you like the concept but are looking for something at a lower price point, the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD zoom lens, which is another lens I’ve reviewed recently, is also worth a look.
Another option, if you’d like to try it before buying it, is to rent it.
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