Saturday, 12 July 2014

Nikkor 1 VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Review

For years, I have used and written about Micro Four Thirds. However, when I first saw the Nikon 1 VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, I knew it had the potential for being the perfect compact, lightweight birders lens. Prior to this lens, I honestly didn't see the point of the Nikon 1 system, beyond the mildly interesting fast frame rates.

Since I already have Panasonic's answer to this lens, the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6 (my review), I found it natural to compare the two.

I have also written about real life use of the lens for photographing birds in flight (BIF).


Here are both the lenses, collapsed, with hoods and cameras connected:

LensNikon 1 70-300mmLumix G 100-300mm
Max aperturef/4.5-5.6f/4-5.6
Equiv focal range190-820mm200-600mm
Crop factor2.7x2x
Lens elements/groups16/1017/12
Minimum focus distance1m1.5m
Optical image stabilizationYesYes
Filter thread62mm67mm
Hood includedYesYes
Tripod connectionOptional, Nikon TR-N100No

From the top, without the hoods, we see that the Nikon lens is more compact when in the "storage" configuration. It must be extended before it can be used.

From the rear end, the Nikon exit pupil is more recessed, and smaller than that of the Lumix lens:

When fully extended, to 300mm, they are approximately of equal length. When extended, the Nikon lens is very stable, there is virtually no wobbling of the front lens section. The extending sections do not rotate when zooming, neither does the front lens element.

The zoom ring operates rather smoothly. I have used more smooth zoom rings, but the Nikon 70-300mm lens is quite adequate in this respect.

This is one of the few Nikon 1 lenses which has a focus ring. It is very smooth, and is nicely dampened. The focus ring has a high quality feel to it.

Neither the zoom ring nor the focus ring are rubberized. On the other hand, they have nicely matted surfaces, which provide a lot of grip. I'd say they are a joy to use.

The hood supplied with the Nikon lens is longer. Both hoods are matte on the inside, and are of good quality. I would recommend using them.

The lens rattles a bit when not powered on. I guess that is the image stabilization unit which is loose when not in use.

The lens does not come with a tripod collar or a tripod connection point. However, there is a screw thread socket on the underside of the lens for the optional Nikon TR-N100 tripod mount. The Nikon 1 J1 camera to the left below, and the lens with the connection point for the Nikon TR-N100 to the right:

I think most serious owners of the 70-300mm lens will want to have this optional TR-N100 tripod mount. Due to poor availability, I have it on order from Japan, via Ebay. Read more about the tripod mount and how it works here.

With the deep hood, it can be difficult to access the front lens cap. Here is a trick I use, to make it easier. First, I buy a simple pinch centre front lens cap to replace the original one. Then I get some plastic pieces from a soft drink bottle cap, and glue them to the centre grips of the cap:

This makes it easy to see and feel where to press to remove the cap, and increases the usability a lot, in my opinion:

Field of view

While both lenses go to 300mm, the Nikon lens has a larger crop factor, 2.7x, versus 2x for the Lumix lens. This makes the Nikon lens considerably longer in terms of reach. Here is a diagram illustrating the equivalent focal length and the corresponding max aperture.

From the picture, we see that the Nikon lens has the longest equivalent focal length, 820mm. When taking pictures of birds, reach is king, so this is very good news.

On the other hand, the Nikon lens has the smallest maximum aperture throughout the focal length range. This is not really bad news for me, as I often find the need to stop down the Lumix lens for sufficient depth of focus anyway. If the Nikon lens is shart enough at 300mm, then this is no problem for me.


To test the sharpness, I set both lenses to 300mm, and focused on a distant building. I am aware that 300mm is not the same equivalent focal length with these lenses, but one would normally use them at the maximum zoom when taking pictures of birds, and that is why I test them like this.

I set the base ISO, and used a 10s shutter delay and electronic shutter to avoid any shake. While waiting for the Nikon 1 V3 to become available, I used the Nikon 1 J1.

Since writing this, I have acquired the Nikon 1 V3, and I have made a new sharpness test using the Nikon 1 V3 camera (click here to see the new test).

Here are the full images at f/5.6 (click to enlarge):

To better compare the sharpness, here are 100% crops from the images at various apertures from the centre (click for larger images):

And from the lower left corner:

What we see here, is that the Nikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-f/5.6 is impressively sharp. Even in the corner, and even wide open at f/5.6. You get some further sharpness improvement when stopping down, but it is hardly needed.

My conclusion is that the lens is fully usable wide open in the long end. This is very good news for birders!

Autofocus and optical image stabilization

The autofocus works well. With the Nikon 1 J1, I mostly use the centre spot focus mode, as it is mostly useful for birds. Some times, the autofocus can be quite slow at 300mm, taking 1-2 seconds to acquire focus. I would guess that this is a camera issue, and that a newer camera does better.

This is the first CX lens to feature a focus limit switch. The switch itself has a high quality feeling to it. Set it to "Limit" if you only want on focus on the far range, which reduces the focus time.

The VR (Vibration Reduction) is difficult to test scientifically. I does work, though. When I half press the shutter, I can see that the image becomes more stable.

Example pictures

All the Nikon example images in this article were taken with the Nikon 1 J1 camera. For example images taken with Nikon 1 V3, see this article (click here).

Here is a pair of images taken with the two lenses:

And 100% crops from the centre and corner:

Some more example images (click to enlarge):

300mm, f/5.6:

Details from the picture:

300mm, f/7.1:

100% crop showing details:

300mm, f/5.6:

And 100% crop from the centre:

A picture taken at about 1 meter distance, at 300mm f/8:

And a 100% crop:

In these example images, the bokeh is just fine.

Camera bag

If you are looking for a bag that accommodates the lens with a camera attached, try the Think Tank Digital Holster 10. It just fits the camera with lens, with very little extra slack. If you leave the hood on, in the extended position, you can extend the front end of the lens bag. That way, you can keep the camera and lens in a ready position inside the bag.


The Nikon 1 VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is a truly amazing lens. It is the best long tele zoom lens I have used. The sharpness is very good already wide open at f/5.6, even in the long end.

Sure, the lens is expensive, but I would say it is worth it. The lens feels quite solid, and is ergonomic to operate. If you are looking for a small and capable long tele zoom lens, there is no alternative.

Here is an article about using the lens with the Nikon 1 V3 for photographing birds in flight (BIF).

Alternative lenses

Within the Nikon 1 ecosystem, this is the only long tele zoom lens.

If we look outside of Nikon 1, which are the alternatives? I've already mentioned the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6, but here are some others:

LensNikon 1 70-300mmOlympus 75-300mmTamron 150-600mm
MountNikon 1 CXMicro Four ThirdsNikon FX/DX, Canon EF
Max aperturef/4.5-5.6f/4.8-6.3f/5-6.3
Equiv focal range190-820mm150-600mm225-900mm (1.5x crop)
Crop factor2.7x2x1x-1.5x
Lens elements/groups16/1018/1320/13
Minimum focus distance1m0.9m2.7m
Optical image stabilizationYesNoYes
Filter thread62mm58mm95mm
Hood includedYesNoYes
Tripod collarOptional, Nikon TR-N100NoYes


  1. Excellent! Still happy i did choose for the 75-300 Olympus and EM-1. Less quality then the Nikon at the moment, but will see when the 300mm f4 arrives!

  2. Thank you Fredrik for writing this nice review. Your review convinced me to save $$$ and buy this lens sometime this year.

  3. Yes I am also waiting on the Oly 300/4 before plunging into yet another system. I have and love a Lumix GX8 and it should pair well with the 300/4. It doesn't have 20 fps and the hybrid AF of the Nikon 1 v3 but it does have 4K Photo capture which yields 30 fps....that will be a most interesting comparison I hope someone does especially if Panasonic actually releases in firmware the ability to focus after the fact!

  4. My wife used to own the Olympus 75-300, but then she got one of the very first 70-300CX that arrived in Europe and what a difference! So the 75-300 was quickly sold, and use her Nikon 1 cameras almost exclusively with the 70-300CX, and her Olympus OM-D for almost everything else!

    I had the big 80-400 VR II on my V2, but the results with her 70-300CX, so I sold my exspencive lens, and got a 70-300CX of my own, and a 70-200 for my FX camera, as a complement.