Nikon 70-300 AF-P Preview

Update: The lens is out, but I haven’t picked one up, saving up for a D850 instead. Looks like the optical performance should be better than the AF-S, but I have not had a chance to shoot them both.

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I don’t usually do sight unseen reviews, but this lens hit at a time I was interested in it, and I found out some interesting things that would be valuable to anyone else looking at it. I have one of the original AF lenses, and was thinking about upgrading to the AF-S until this came out. So, looking at the lenses, should you wait and pay the extra for the AF-P?

Why it matters:

The 70-300 in it’s various iterations has been a very popular lens for quite some time, and with good reason. It covers a useful telephoto range, and is a reasonable size and cost.

What’s New:

AF-P, Pulse/stepper motor focusing is supposed to be quicker and quieter than the Silent Wave Motors. Stepper motors were introduced in some DX lenses last year, and everything I have seen seems to back this up, including looking at some at the store. The drawback is that the AF-P lenses are only compatible with certain digital cameras, and no film cameras. Out of the box, only the latest cameras, the D7500, D5600, D3400, and D500 are fully compatible.

Additionally, the D5, D750, D610, D600, D5500, D5300, and D3300 are fully compatible with a firmware upgrade. I checked for my D610, and it did not appear that new firmware was available yet.

The D4, D4S, D3, D3X, D3S, D810, D810A, D800, D800E, Df, D700, D300, D300S, D7200, D7100, D7000, and D5200 are compatible “with limitations.” From Nikon’s information, and what I have found on the DX format AF-P lenses, the lens will work, but focus resets when the camera goes to sleep.

All other cameras are incompatible.

One noticeable difference from the other AF-P lenses is that there are switches for AF/MF and VR, where this needs to be changed from the camera for the DX lenses (based on the photographs, verify this when the lens releases if it is a deal breaker for you).

The other big change is that this is an “E” type lens, meaning the aperture diaphragm is electronically controlled, rather than with the mechanical system most Nikon lenses use. The drawback is camera compatibility, but the AF-P focusing is already limiting this, so it is not much of an issue.

The benefits are that it is, at least in theory, more accurate than the mechanical control. This is going to be noticeable in bursts, and especially time lapses. More exciting for video users, you can change the aperture while shooting video and in live view. I have a PC-E lens, that also has the electronic diaphragm control, and like being able to open the aperture to focus in live view.

Other Changes from the AF-S:

Slightly (probably not enough to notice) larger, but lighter. Lens elements go from seventeen elements in twelve groups, to eighteen elements in fourteen groups. Interestingly, it loses an ED element, from two down to one.

Nikon rates the VR as 4.5 stops, as opposed to the 2.5 stops of the previous lens. This would be valuable to me.

Price jumps from $500 to $750, so a 50% increase, which is pretty steep.

The following is from Nikon’s specs, for comparison.

Mount Type Nikon F-Bayonet Nikon F-Bayonet
Focal Length Range 70 – 300 mm 70 – 300 mm
Zoom Ratio 4.3 x 4.3 x
Maximum Aperture f/ 4.5-5.6 f/ 4.5-5.6
Minimum Aperture f/ 32 f/ 32-40
Format FX/35mm FX/35mm
Maximum Angle of View (DX-format) 22°50′ 22°50′
Minimum Angle of View (DX-format) 5°20′ 5°20′
Maximum Angle of View (FX-format) 34°20′ 34°20′
Minimum Angle of View (FX-format) 8°10′ 8°10′
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 0.25 x 0.25 x
Lens Elements 17 18
Lens Groups 12 14
Compatible Format(s) FX
FX in DX Crop Mode
35mm Film
VR (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization Yes (2.5 Stops) Yes (4.5 Stops)
Diaphragm Blades 9 9
Distance Information Yes
ED Glass Elements 2 1
Super Integrated Coating Yes Yes
Autofocus Yes, SWM Yes, Pulse Motor
Internal Focusing Yes Yes
Minimum Focus Distance 4.9  ft. ( 1.5 m) 3.94  ft.
( 1.2 m)
From focal plane at all zoom positions
Focus Mode Auto
Electric diaphragm No Yes
G-type Yes Yes
Filter Size 67 mm 67 mm
Accepts Filter Type Screw-on Screw-on
Approx. Dimensions (Diameter x Length) 3.1  in.
(80  mm)
x  5.6  in.
(143.5  mm)
3.2  in.
(80.5  mm)
x  5.7  in.
(146  mm)
Distance from camera lens mount flange
Based on CIPA Guidelines
Approx. Weight 26.3  oz.
(745  g)
24  oz.
(680  g)
Based on CIPA Guidelines

Bottom Line:

I am looking forward to this lens, but the price and the fact that it is not fully compatible with some cameras like my wife’s D7200 are drawbacks. The improved VR could also make it worth it. I’ll end up waiting for it, but there is a chance that I’ll end up with the AF-S lens.

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