Nikon 28-300mm VR Lens Review

Ken Rockwell is a well-known photographer who’s been reviewing Nikon equipment since the era of film. He’s a bit… opinionated but provides a wealth of information on his site and believes that the photographer, not the equipment, makes the image. His reviews were part of the reason that I switched to Nikon and purchased my D750 in 2016. They’re part of the reason that I own three old AF-D primes. They’re also the reason I decided to buy Nikon’s 28-300mm VR last year.

I’ve invested heavily in my lens collection in the past five years, spending good money on good glass: fixed aperture primes and zooms that have fancy coatings, weather seals, and hardened enclosures for long-term use. They often cost over $500 each, sometimes over $1,000. Lenses with a variable apertures are less expensive but make it more difficult to take photos in low light and to isolate the subject on a blurred background. They have fewer coatings and often provide less contrast and color vibrance than more expensive alternatives. Years ago they were not very sharp at their maximum focal lengths either. I already own a one variable-aperture lens, my Sigma 150 – 600mm, and it certainly has its compromises. Sharpness, contrast, and color could certainly be better but it has huge reach for a fraction of the price of something higher quality.

Detail is very crisp at f/5.6

So why buy another variable aperture lens if they have so many drawbacks? Utility. A 28 – 300mm lens offers more reach than my 70 – 200mm lens and nearly as much width as my 24 – 120mm. The aperture varies from f/3.5 at 28mm to f/5.6 at 300mm, which is a tiny bit faster at its widest, but slower starting at about 50mm. It doesn’t have water resistant coatings, weather sealing, and is less rugged, but it’s extremely sharp at all focal lengths. It has an extremely close focus of 1.6′, which doesn’t make it a true macro but allows up to 1:3 reproduction. If I can get over variable aperture and be gentle with it, I could have a really great lens here.

Bokeh isn’t bad either

Ken Rockwell agrees and said as much in his review. He also included numerous gorgeous images to go with it. This lens costs about $850 new, which isn’t anything to sneeze at, but it can be had for around $500 used in good condition. I got mine on eBay for $450 shipped, without lens hood. That’s a reasonable amount to pay for a well-reviewed lens that I can use for walkabout shooting. The vibration reduction capability helps make up for the slower f/5.6 aperture and the extra 100mm of zoom helps blur the background to be more like my fixed f/4 lenses. It has an equivalent max focal length of 450mm on my crop-sensor cameras, which makes it almost as close as my 150 – 600mm at ⅓ the weight.

Physically, it’s a tad longer than my 24-120mm f/4 at 28mm and a tad shorter than my 70-200mm f/4 when extended. It isn’t weather sealed and doesn’t have nano coatings to wick off moisture, but it’s otherwise similar to my higher end lenses, even if it has a bit more of a plastic feel. The outer element does not rotate during focus, which is great for circular polarizers. It has the standard vibration reduction with normal and active modes and provides the ability to manually override focus without moving any switches. It also includes a switch that locks it at 28mm as it has a tendency to extend a bit as it bounces around on the camera.

Overall the lens is impressive. I’ve owned “superzooms” before and I have not been impressed. The Sigma 18 – 200mm lens I had for my Canon 50D was absolutely terrible – soft at any focal length and aperture, dull contrast and color reproduction, and ugly bokeh. It wasn’t fast or accurate at focusing either. The Nikon 28 – 300mm is light years ahead. It is truly very sharp at all zoom levels and has pretty good contrast and color reproduction; better than my Sigma 150 – 600mm. Vibration reduction works as expected. The only quibble I have is that it is slower to focus than my f/4 lenses, sometimes with a slight delay before focusing begins. I’ve lost a few shots due to this behavior but it isn’t a deal-breaker for me.

I’ve owned this lens for over a year and I’ve taken about 30% of my “best photos” on it. That’s not bad for a super zoom! It truly is a good all-day lens and I’ve been very impressed with its close-focus capabilities. Again, nothing near my actual macro lens but much closer than any of the other lenses I have, and very sharp as well. This is the perfect lens to throw in my small camera bag and take out with me. It provides that extra reach with enough quality to justify its price.

I recommend this lens to anyone, especially at $500 used. If you already own lenses that cover this focal length and your primary goal is to reduce the equipment you need to bring around, I suggest buying it used. If it breaks, you already have a backup so the lack of warranty isn’t an issue. If you don’t already have lenses that cover this focal length, get a new one so you have a warranty on it.

I’m very satisfied with this lens and will continue to use it. Below are some of my favorite images.

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