Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration and focus shift
Longitudinal CA (loCA, a.k.a. “axial color” or “bokeh CA”) are seldom a problem at focal ratios of f4.5 or smaller. And indeed, the new Nikon shows practically no coloration wide open in the foreground (left) or in the background (right). And there is no focus shift to be seen at these shooting distances.
The predecessor is also devoid of problems in this respect:
Sharpness and contrast
Let’s have a look at the theoretical performance of the new Sigma first and compare it to the performance of the Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-5.6E VR:
These charts show the lens-performance of both lenses wide open without influence of diffraction. Higher values are better and the closer the line-pairs are together the less astigmatism (= resolution depends on the orientation of the test-pattern) the lens has. The x-axis displays the distance from the optical axis (=center of the sensor) in mm. I’ll show you the real-life performance at 4 mm (center), 13 mm (DX-corner), and 20 mm (FX-corner) on a 36MP Nikon D810 body.
From the charts, overall contrast (red lines) and sharpness (blue lines) from the new Nikon look better on average than from its predecessor. With two exception: at 70mm focal length the older lens seems a bit sharper in the center and at 300mm the astigmatism of the new lens is worse in the outer 2mm of the full frame. Let’s see how this theoretical performance translates into real life results in the sharpness test based on Siemens-stars.
What follows are near-center results (first column) followed by DX-corner results and FX-corner results on a D810. Processing was done in Lightroom 6.10 from RAW at Camera Standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 35/0.5/36/10, with no extra tone, color, or saturation adjustment.
White-balance was adjusted to a neutral white and I did some exposure compensation to make the brightness of all crops match. So you will not see light fall-off in the corners. Removal of lateral color aberrations is ON, longitudinal CA are not corrected.
The following are all 100% crops!
First up is an overview of the wide-open performance at different focal lengths. You can jump to the detailed results at different apertures and comparisons with other lenses by clicking on the crops of the respective focal length. Except for 150mm because the results were not so much different from 105mm or 200mm.
Nikon’s new lens delivers a very impressive performance across the zoom-range with only a few exceptions: The FX-corner at 70mm is soft but sharpens up to a very good level at 105mm already. And at 300mm the FX-corner becomes soft again with the center and the APS-C corner just a tad behind the shorter focal lengths. If you want to see all the details and comparisons with the competition from Nikon and Sigma, read on. Or fast-forward to the performance at long distances.
Performance at 70mm:
The FX-corner is soft at f4.5 but improves visibly when stopping down to f8 or f11.
Following is a comparison with the Nikon 70-300/4.5-5.6G VR and the Nikon 80-400/4.5-5.6G VR:
The Nikon 80-400mm shows the best performance here (albeit at 80mm not 70mm), the new 70-300mm comes in second and its predecessor produces good sharpness in the center but becomes progressively softer towards the corners.
Performance at 105mm:
At 105mm the new lens performs very good across the full-frame sensor right from the start. Following is a comparison with other telephoto zooms:
At 100mm focal length the new lens looks much better than its predecessor which is pretty soft at the DX-corner and develops some strong pincushion distortion. The Sigma 100-400mm looks similar to the new Nikon with some astigmatism marring the performance in the FX-corner. And the Nikon 80-400mm performs on the same level as the new 70-300mm.
Performance at 200mm:
The new Nikon shows a very good performance at 200mm, too.. Let’s see how the new lens fares against the alternatives:
The predecessor is no match for the new lens: outside the center it is soft, suffers from astigmatism at the DX-corner and develops a very strong pincushion distortion towards the FX-corner. The Sigma 100-400mm (shown here at 155mm) and the Nikon 80-400mm both perform as good as the new Nikon, even a bit better if you look closely.
Performance at 300mm:
At 300mm the new Nikon becomes a bit softer outside the center. When stopped down the corners improve a bit. Following is a comparison with the other lenses:
At 300mm the new lens again proves to be clearly superior to its predecessor. It also can hold up to the Sigma 100-400mm and delivers a better performance than the Nikon 80-400mm.
Overall Nikon’s new design is a clear improvement over its predecessor and delivers sharp to very sharp images across the zoom-range with somewhat softer FX-corner sat 70mm and 300mm. Its closest competitor in this comparison is the Sigma 100-400/5-6.3 OS Contemporary which plays on a similar level optically even sometimes has a slight advantage.
Performance at long distances
The Siemens-star test-targets are shot at a distance of 40x focal length (i.e. at 8m for 200 mm focal length). But performance of lenses also depends on the shooting distance. Therefore I present another series of test-shots of a city around 1 km away. Processing was done in Lightroom 6.10 from RAW at Adobe Standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 35/0.5/36/10, with no extra tone, or saturation-adjustment. There’s no tinkering with vignette-control so you see it here as it is produced by the lens. I used AF in live view at the largest aperture and did not change focus for other apertures.
First up is an overview of the wide-open performance at different focal lengths. You can jump to the detailed results at different apertures and comparisons with other lenses by clicking on the crops of the respective focal length (again, not for 150mm). As usual I have selected the diagonal that provided the better corner results as almost any lens is a bit decentered.
In this long-distance test the new Nikon shows little weaknesses. It can be used wide open across its zoom-range and delivers contrasty and sharp images across the high resolution full-frame sensor. If you want to see all the details and comparisons with the competition from Nikon and Sigma, read on. Or fast-forward to the next chapter.
The main image shows the complete scene wide open to give you an impression of the angle of view and to judge vignetting. You can access the respective shots up to f16 via the links beneath the main image. All shots were made at ISO 64 and VR switched off. Following the main image are 100% crops from the center, the DX-corner and the FX-corner wide open from the new Nikon and its predecessor the Nikon AF-S 70-300/4.5-5.6G VR as well as the Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6G VR and the Sigma 100-400/5-6.3 OS Contemporary to compare performance and then from the new lens down to f11. The 80-400mm Nikon and the 100-400mm Sigma was shot another day with similar atmospheric conditions. As usual I have selected the diagonal that provided the better corner results as almost any lens is a bit decentered.
You can click on each image to access the large original. Please respect our copyright and only use those images for personal use.
Results at 70mm focal length:
Of the three lenses above the predecessor of the new zoom has a slightly weaker DX-corner and a clearly weaker FX-corner.
All four lenses perform very good at 100mm and the advantage of the new 70-300mm Nikon over its predecessor outside the center is pretty small.
The new Nikon and the Sigma are in the lead at 200mm and the old 70-300mm is clearly the softest.
Nikon’s new 70-300mm shows the best performance of the four lenses at 300mm. The Sigma comes a close second.
In this long distance test the new Nikon again shows its merit. It is clearly better than its predecessor with the sole exception of 100mm focal length, where the advantage of the new lens is more subtle. It also could compete well against the Sigma 100-400mm and the Nikon 80-400mm.
To make it easier to compare light fall-off in the corners of a full-frame sensor I’ve arranged a series of shots with the Nikon AF-P 70-300/4.5-5.6E VR and the Nikon AF-S 70-300/4.5-5.6G VR at different apertures. First at 70mm focal length, f4.5, f5.6, f8.0 (from left to right):
Next at 300mm focal length, f5.6 (left), f8.0 (right):
The new Nikon displays stronger vignetting than its predecessor, at 300mm focal length very visibly so.
There is not much to expect Bokeh-wise from lenses with focal ratios of f/4.5 or smaller unless you go real close at the maximum focal length. But it is still interesting to see that there are some clear differences between the new lens and its predecessor in my standard test. So here’s the Bokeh-performance shooting a book-shelf at an angle of 45 degrees at 150mm focal length wide open.
As was to be expected there is not much to write home about the Bokeh of the new lens as it really produces only a very weak blur of subjects in front or behind the plane of sharpest focus. Interestingly the Bokeh of the old Nikon AF-S 70-300/4.5-5.6G VR is clearly better: it shows a stronger blur in the foreground and the background plus a smoother transition zone in the middle-ground. I took this shot from the exact same position but had to zoom out a bit to 140mm to get the same framing. At this focal length the predecessor has a larger focal ratio of f/4.8 which certainly aided in this comparison. Still this is another clear win for the predecessor.
A strong light-source shining directly into the lens could produce strange colorful ghosts-images or reduce contrast considerably through flare and glare. The appearance of flare and ghosting depends on factors like the aperture, the focal length, and the angle of the light hitting the lens. So to judge the proclivity of the Sigma for these artifacts I went through a series of well calculated shots against a strong light source to provoke flare, glare, and ghosting.
The lens produces quite some glare at the long end (below right) but is pretty well controlled at the short end (below left):
When the light was clearly outside the frame (but still shining into the lens) there was almost no flare, glare or ghosting and the blacks were really black. This is better than from its predecessor or the Sigma 100-400mm.
Just try to keep strong light-sources well outside the image circle at the longer focal lengths.
Next check out my sample images!Check prices on the Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6E at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!