N1 70-300mm CX experience report (with samples)

Started Aug 4, 2014 | Discussions thread
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OleThorsen Veteran Member • Posts: 3,088
N1 70-300mm CX experience report (with samples)


Since getting my first DSLR D70 in 2004, I have owned a very good sample of the Nikon VR AF 80-400mm lens, which has been one of my most used DSLR lenses, and I have used it a lot for perching bird photography with both D70, D200 and D300. It is very sharp wide open at 400mm f5.6, but with the D300 I often preferred to stop down to f7.1-f8 to increase sharpness and DOF. The feature I enjoy the most is the VR, which makes it handholdable for long periods down to shutter speeds of 1/120s at 400mm (600mm FXe FOV) with a combined weight of 2260g/5.0 lb.

In 2008 I decided to buy the Nikon VR AF-S 500mm f4 lens (750mm FXe FOV). Even though it has VR it is definitely not handholdable for me with a combined weight of 4780g/10.5 lb and requires sturdy support like my Gitzo Systematic series 3 tripod with a Wimberley Sidekick, a solid monopod or a beanbag. It is a fantastic lens but it also comes at a very high price and weight and it requires some minutes to setup each time.

I purchased my V1 at full price at the introduction to have a lightweight alternative to my DSLR gear, and I’m very pleased with it despite the well known quirks like the forced preview of taken pictures, loose mode dial and very limited Auto ISO functionality. I have the most of the N1 lenses except the 10-100mm and 11-27.5mm lenses and I’m really pleased with the quality.

My Nikon 1 VR 70-300mm CX experience

At the original N1 introduction Nikon showed a number of mockup lenses, where one of them was a super telephoto zoom for sports and wildlife, and already then I knew it would be a very interesting lens for me. After following the first 70-300mm CX owners’ threads here in this forum and seen their samples, I decided to get this lens from a Danish shop at a price of 6995DKK ($1259/€938) and got it a couple of days later. I have now owned the 70-300 CX lens one week and feel comfortable telling you my experience with this lens. The combined weight of my V1 and the 70-300mm CX lens is only 933g/2.1 lb. As a curiosity this lens is the first N1 lens which is stamped with the “Made in Japan” label in my kit.

Optical Quality: My sample is tack sharp at all focal lengths wide open. I evaluate the sharpness/resolution to be somewhere between my VR80-400mm and VR500mm, but closer to the VR500mm than my VR80-400mm. This is not evaluated shooting a resolution chart but real life objects, but I haven’t done any direct systematic comparisons yet. The bokeh is extremely pleasing for a 300mm f5.6 lens, without any sharp edges or spots in- or outside the OOF highlights. In my experience with the 70-300 CX lens until now, CA is very well controlled, and the same can be said about flare even with the sun just outside the frame, thanks to the super ED element and the Nano-Crystal coating. The included lens hood is of the standard Nikon quality with a nice matted inside surface.

Build Quality: The lens feels very solid and has similar build to the 6.7-13mm, 10-100mm (non-PD) and 32mm lenses. The lens’ outer barrel including the mount, zoom and focus rings are made of solid lightweight metal. The two inner barrels are made of solid high quality plastic, and there is no wobble or free play at all when the lens is fully extended at 300mm.

The zoom ring action is not too loose or tight but just right, and requires a 90° turn going from 70mm to 300mm. The manual focus ring is of the M/A type and can anytime override the autofocus while the shutter button is half pressed, and brings the digitally zoomed manual focus window up. The manual focus ring is in my opinion very precise in fit and function, but the dampening is a little on the loose side to my taste.

The lens is unfortunately designed, so the very wide zoom ring and more narrow manual focus ring at the very end of the outer barrel is covering the whole outer barrel, with no place to hold your hand without touching either the zoom ring or focus ring. I have unintended activated the manual focus override many times, and unintended moved the lens zoom from the 300mm position which is a little annoying.

I haven’t been able to get the optional TR-N100 tripod mount foot yet, so I can’t say anything about it, but I’m not sure I will get it.

Autofocus: The AF is controlled by a very silent Voice Coil Motor. The 70-300mm CX lens AF is very precise with my V1. In a certain way the lens’ AF performance with the V1 reminds me of my VR80-400mm lens and D300. If your focus shift is within a few meters and you can see the outline of the object you want to AF on, the AF is very fast. But if the focus shift is changing from i.e. 3m to 12m (10-40ft) or in the opposite direction, where you can only vaguely see the outline of the objects, the AF can be slow and the AF starts to hunt or even refuses to move at all. It also seems like in the most of these cases the AF search begins in the wrong direction despite the hybrid autofocus. This could possibly be a V1 AF algorithm related problem in the firmware, not optimized for super telephoto photography. Pre-focusing the lens is therefore in most cases necessary for AF on fast moving objects with the V1. When you have focus lock on a moving object, the lens is very good at following the object with AF-C.

I would be very interested to know if anybody has experience with this lens AF performance on a V3 compared to a V1.

Other features: This lens’ VR Voice Coil Motors are pretty silent, at least to me. I have to lean my ear against the lens to hear it. The VR is very effective and gives at least 4 stops advantage at 300mm and 4.5 stops at 70mm. I can easily handhold the lens at 1/50s at 300mm (810mm FXe FOV) and get tack-sharp pictures, which matches to 4 stops in relation to the 1/focal length rule. The naysayers “teaching” others after the 70-300mm CX lens announcement, that prospective users should get real and learn about proper long lens techniques before ordering the lens, and never even hope to be able to handhold the lens at 810mm FXe FOV and get consistent tack-sharp pictures, was simply wrong (again).

The Focus Limit switch has unfortunately only two positions Full and Limit, where Limit covers the focus distance from 7m (23ft) to infinity. Photographing perching birds with a length of 10-12cm (3.9-4.7in), I have a goal of at least filling half of the frame with the bird. With a 810mm FXe FOV lens I have a horizontal FOV of 27cm (10.6in) at 6m (19.7ft) focus distance. So even with this lens I prefer a distance between 4-8m (13.1-26.2ft) if possible, and the Limit covers from 7m to infinity. I believe this limit is set in the firmware and ideally this limit should be user configurable. But the limit is probably useful for the most sport activities, BIF photography and larger animals. Not for perching birds and macro photography.

Conclusion: I’m very satisfied with my sample of the 70-300mm CX lens and rate it as a very high quality lens. If you’re interested in a high quality handholdable lightweight 810mm FXe FOV lens for your N1 kit, I can easily recommend it, even though the price is high, there is also some fairness in the asking price just like the 32mm f1.2 lens.

Here are some samples of typical perching birds from my backyard in the south of Denmark. The birds are pretty shy where I live, and being within their comfort zone you really have to react very fast to photograph them. At the end I have added a couple of cat pictures because they are so patient models. All pictures are NEFs with conversion and my usual PP steps in Nikon Capture NX2 resized for web 1400x933 pixels. EXIF data is included in the pictures.

Great Tit (Parus major) foraging in my Pear tree (crop to 84% of original width)


Marsh tit (Parus palustris) foraging in my Pear tree (crop to 88% of original width)


Marsh tit (Parus palustris) foraging in my Pear tree (crop to 88% of original width)


Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) foraging in my Pear tree (crop to 73% of original width)


Marsh tit (Parus palustris) foraging in my Pear tree (crop to 85% of original width)


Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) foraging in my Pear tree (crop to 77% of original width)


One of our two Maine Coon cats Lurine loves to "steal" my sun lounger as soon as I'm not using it


Tiki the neighbour's sweet cat likes to be in our garden and mostly Lurine and Lakiesha likes her too


Ole Thorsen
Knowing what
thou knowest not
is in a sense
(Grook by Piet Hein)

 OleThorsen's gear list:OleThorsen's gear list
Nikon D70 Nikon D200 Nikon D300 Nikon 1 V1 Nikon 1 V3 +28 more
Nikon 1 Nikkor VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Nikon 1 V1 Nikon 1 V3 Nikon D200 Nikon D300 Nikon D70
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