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Nikon 300/2.8 AF lens

by Philip Greenspun, 1991-1995

Let's not mince words: if you have a small penis, this is the lens for you. It costs and weighs about as much as a good used car, yet fits neatly into its own special suitcase.


Fashion photographers are going for longer and longer lenses. The telephoto perspective flattens facial features, an allegedly flattering thing when your subject is an anorexic 17-year-old. An f/2.8 aperture at 300 or f/4 at 600 gives you a depth-of-field that extends perhaps from the tip of the model's nose to the back of her eyes. That will focus the viewer's attention on the model's face.

So if you want to be taken seriously as a 35mm fashion photographer, you have to have at least a 300/2.8. Note the petulant yuppie at right with his Nikon 600/4. He is so far from the model, though, that he has to use a radio to communicate with her. Also, he has flown all the way down to South Beach (Miami Beach, Florida) for this shot, but the 600/4 means the background will be unparseable. He could have gotten the same image in a NY studio.

Note that none of the most famous fashion images were taken with lenses like this. For one thing, most of them were done with medium and large format cameras. Richard Avedon, for example, favors an 8x10 view camera. He'd need a 2000mm lens on an 8x10 to get the same perspective afforded by a 300 on a Nikon. Such lenses do not exist. It is possible to buy reasonably long lenses for Hasselblads and Rolleis, but they aren't fast and they don't handle very well. The standard 6x6cm fashion lens is the 150, which is equivalent to about a 90mm lens on a 35mm camera.

Important details about photo at right: yuppie Reef Runner shoes on photographer, assistant holding reflector to fill harsh shadows on model, Gitzo tripod (of course), annoyed expression on face of photographer (I'd shown up about 15 seconds before with my Rollei 6008, 50mm lens, and Velvia). The photos below are snapshots I took on my way to Alaska when I happened to have an 8008/300 combo handy on the back seat of my car.

Emma, Katmai National Park (Alaska) Erika, Whitehorse Yukon


A small bird in his nest of leaves. You'd think a $4000 telephoto lens would be perfect for wildlife. Well, it is. So long as the wildlife is in a zoo. If your subject is a pair of 900 lb. bears as in the top photo, then a 300 is fine. In that case, I was about 10 meters from the bears. However, if you are going after smaller animals then you'll need a teleconverter and/or a 600/4. The 600 is the minimum starting point for serious bird photography. Birds are small. The image at left was taken with the bird about 3 meters away (in a zoo aviary).

White Pelicans in Yellowstone National Park Pelicans are big birds. Nonetheless, for this image at right I think I had to use a Tamron 2X teleconverter (at one point I even added the Tamron 1.4X also). Contrast consequently suffers. Of course, one loses 1 stop of light with a 1.4X converter, 2 stops with a 2X (so the 300/2.8 becomes a 420/4 or 600/5.6). Location: Yellowstone National Park.


The 300/2.8 has internal focus ("IF" in Nikon nomenclature). That means the camera is only driving a lightweight internal optical element and not the whole barrel full of glass back and forth. This makes for much faster autofocus, probably adequate for many uses with the N90s. Personally, I only ever used the 300/2.8 with a 6006, 8008 or F4 and the single central AF sensor on those cameras made AF useless for me.

Using the lens

You can't screw filters onto the front of a 300/2.8. Well, maybe you can but you will go bankrupt buying them. There is a little filter drawer towards the back that takes 39mm filters. If you leave this drawer empty as opposed to containing the special clear filter that comes with the lens, then I think you get a strange line on your images.

What you can/should screw to the front is the lens hood. I think the Nikon 300/2.8 is actually reasonably flare-proof. The reason to use the hood is that (1) it is light, (2) it can't hurt image quality, (3) it helps protect the lens, (4) it is huge enough to inspire awe.

I saw a lot of wildlife photographers in Katmai National Park using little drawstring condoms on the front of their 300/2.8 sunshades rather than putting the contraption in a hard case.

Should you scratch the front of the lens, rest assured that this is a relatively cheap element and Nikon will replace it for you, maybe for around $300.

I've knocked my 300/2.8 a few times and it seems to be holding up fine. It is not a fragile product.

Oh yes, the price

You're looking at about $4000 including the suitcase. Used, maybe $3000. If you're really poor, the traditional pro alternative is a used Tamron 300/2.8 for about $2000. Console yourself that you don't have to shell out $6000-8000 for a 600/4.

If you have a Nikon N90s or F4 body, you'll want the AF-I version which has a built-in motor and lets you do the simultaneous AF/MF trick that makes Canon EOS USM lenses so pleasant.

Text and pictures copyright 1991-1995 Philip Greenspun

Article created 1991-1995

Readers' Comments

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Matthew Cole , January 18, 1997; 10:37 P.M.

Gosh, I hate to whimper and roll over on my back in front of all you 300/2.8-owning guys, but might I suggest that the old manual-focus Nikkor 300/4.5 ED-Internal Focus lense makes a good alternative? It's light, it'll fit right in the Domke bags, no need for a suitcase, it has a tripod collar, you can probably afford 72mm filters if you really want them, and, not too ask silly questions, why did the yuppie on the beach need an f/4 lens for anyway? I have to admit I don't quite get why all these photographers at football games being played at high noon need super-fast lenses other than maybe concern over their penis sizes. You can pick up the 300/4.5 ED-IF manual focus lens for around $500 used and it'll serve quite nicely. Mine does.

Dave Eaton , April 08, 1997; 06:40 P.M.

I like the lens; it has crisp and clear optics albeit with a heavy weight to lug around. It lucky the f4 doesn't seem to mind the odd time with the 300 trying to pull the lens mount out of it's body!

Contrary to the (typical) penis size comment, there are times you kill (or make a killing) for the extra stop you get. Sports and motorsport particularly. I agree about the fashion though. Not too sure why f2.8 is an advantage when offset against the sheer size of this lens in a studio setting, and in an outdoors setting, the lighting, control and subject characteristics (ie. little movement, strong control over lighting). Go for the f4 lens and you'll be happier...

Hopefully I will try the AF-S 300/2.8 which promises much better autofocus performance and less noise.

Robert McLaughlin , August 13, 1997; 11:28 A.M.

My girlfriend uses a Nikon FM and I got her a 300/4.5 and she loves it. It was $225 and had to be Ai'd but it really is a fun lens. On the other hand, I have the F5 (Valentine's Day gift) and of course MUST have the AF lens. I played with the 300/4. I played with the 300/2.8AF, then the AF-I verison. The AF-I was MUCH faster, but a bit more expensive, of course. $2300 vs $4000 used. My girlfriend decided that I deserved the best and surprised me with a 300/2.8AF-S and both tele- converters. Is it worth the extra $1550? let's put it this way: Buy the best and you only cry once. You WANT the AF-S but $5550 is a bit much. So you get the AF version for $2400 then sell if for $1600 to get the AF-S which has went up to $6000. So the lens costs you $6800 with the $800 loss on the sale of the one you really didn't want. This logic will probably get a lot of guys in trouble with their wives and significant others when they get the lens. Tell her she ought to buy it for you as a present, you deserve it! :-) I used to rent the EOS 300/2.8 and converters for an EOSA2 but believe me, the bulk of the F5, the 8fps motor, fast rewind and other features make it the way to go. At present I am in Bosnia until about December, bbut hope to be back on Venice Beach, CA very soon after that. Anyone want to stop by in December '97 (or Summer '98) and play with the 300? Happy shooting and I love this board!

Mak -- , June 15, 1998; 03:58 P.M.

I like my Tamron 300mm f2.8 on my F4s. I'm not wimpering, or have a problem with the size of my penis. I shoot a lot of wildlife shots and even use a 2x converter that works out quite nicely.You guys can spend all your money on the Nikon "big" lenses.(All my other equip.is Nikon though. Lenses AND my trusty FM2) I'll stick with my nice and sharp Tamron.

Robert McLaughlin , July 03, 1998; 02:23 P.M.

Well I am back from Bosnia and ready to sell my 300AFS, I want to geta 400AFS instead, I am using the converters all the time. As for the comment that no one is leaving messages here, I think this can be a very popular board! We have each lens run down, with pics even, I love it! if you want to go th http://members.tripod.com/~luckyrwe/index.html and click on BOSNIA link you will see a great shot of the president shot with the 300/2.8. I check this place at least once a month and love it!

Joel West , April 02, 1999; 05:53 P.M.

Taking one look at the price of the 300/2.8, I bought the 300/4.0 AF. For taking pictures of high school football games, it was perfect -- better balance, less worried about getting mugged in the parking lot. For pushing the (B&W) film another stop I saved a few grand -- well worth the trade-off.

I don't understand why Nikon discontinued this great lens, other than perhaps too many people bought it instead of selling their car to buy the 300/2.8. If you should happen to see the 300/4.0 somewhere, grab it.

Kevin C. O'Neil , May 28, 1999; 11:20 A.M.

The previous comment indicated that the Nikkor AF 300 f/4 was discontinued. As of 5/28/99 it has not been discontinued.

Michael Wood , December 13, 1999; 10:18 P.M.

I personaly have both the 300 4.0 af and the tamron 300 2.8 and find that both lenses are very sharp. The nikor is great if you have to carry it far and the tamron is good when shooting behind home plate through the wire of the back stop. I find that the large f stop is useful with converters makeing the 300 2.8 a 420 4.0. Thing is that then I find myself using the 400 3.5 with the other 1.4 converter to get a 560 4.9. Recently I picked up a tamron 400 4.0 to use with my olympus and pentax cameras and I find it to be as good as my 400 mm 3.5 nikor @ half the price, go figure. I think that to many tims photographers get to involved with the toys not the thought. I also used to have a 300 4.5 non ed and it was soft. I think it was a chromatic error, because if I shot B&W with a strong orange or green filter it would be sharp as a tack. When I shot color it didn't make any difference what I did, so we parted company one day. If you shoot with a 300 only rarely check out the pentax screw mount 300mm 4.0 smc takumar, I bought one in a yard sale recently to resell and after testing decided to keep it. When I tested it against my nikor 300 4.0 at work on 200 speed color neg film I could not tell them apart! It is nice to show up at an event with the bigest lens I guess, but I like to have the best image even better. As far as compareing penis sizes I won't touch that with a ten foot pole!

Paul Rumohr , April 04, 2000; 03:48 A.M.

Stepping up on the soapbox

I think it's important to note that there is no such thing as a "fashion" lens focal length, or a portrait lens focal length, or a landscape focal length, etc.

Such assertions come from 1960's Kodak how-to manuals and the efforts of advertisers to sell their lens (i.e. tell you why you MUST HAVE this lens).

The assertions and recommendations are further perpetuated in how-to articles in modern day magazines like Popular Photography and Petersen photographic. It really is just lazy writing, an effort to put fluff between the pages of magazines that really are just pure advertising.

It makes me crazy whenever I read the same articles again and again and again (like you have yourself) about which lenses should be used for what. You would think that someone would write an article that demonstrated "out of the box" thinking on occasion.

I shoot fashion and beauty assignments all the time. If you look in any of the best magazines- Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, W you will see right away and quite clearly that the adverisements and editorials are not just shot with a Hasselblad and a 150mm lens.

Fashion today (circa 2000) is shot with wide angles, normal perspectives, telephoto perspectives, and super-telephoto perspectives. It is lit with natural light, on-camera flash, conventional studio techniques, mixed lighting and exotic accesories like the Octabank and ring-flash.

The image that you thought was shot on that Hasselblad may have been shot on a Diana or a Holga. It may be a Polaroid film. It may be digital.

When you see an image you like you have to REALLY examine the image and look for the clues that hint to how it was taken. Don't assume that the landscape was shot with a wideangle if everything in it has compressed perspective and don't asume the fashion shot was taken with a telephoto if you can see the whole model's environment.

The industry tells you which lenses should be used for which kinds of shots. This leads to some pretty boring photography- everyone's portraits shot with an 85mm, everyone' party shots shot with a 28mm, and every swimsuit photographer's shots on 180mm or 300mm.

I think the most brilliant images have been shot with alternative perspectives and certainly not the ones recommened by textbooks or magazine articles.

Thank you.

Stepping down from soapbox

Arjay Uwe , September 02, 2001; 02:48 A.M.

Calling all Nikon 'expensive glass' experts:

I've heard that the 400mm f2.8 and 600mm f4 Nikkors have a removable lens shade. I would like to use them on my 350mm f2.8 Olympus lens. It is a strange focal length and its unbuilt shade is much too small. Does anyone know if the Nikkor lenses indeed feature a removable shade and, if so, what its diameter is.

Does it screw into the front of the lens or clip-on? PLEASE REPLY!

H Lee , July 16, 2007; 07:28 A.M.

I'm well hung, but would still love to have this lens.

Darren Beatty , November 08, 2007; 12:33 A.M.

LOL I agree with H Lee. Philip nice read.

Russ Gregg , January 30, 2008; 03:34 P.M.

Obviously this thread has been here for quite awhile but I just stumbled upon it the other day. It rang kind of familiar so I felt the urge to share with you my perspective on this issue. My wife tells me that for many years she has wished that I had a bigger lens, perhaps something like the 300mm lens that you have all been talking about. Heck, I didn?t even know she knew any of you guys, let alone what kind of lenses you have. Anyway, she apparently feels that my standard lens no longer satisfies her quest for the big ?I? (Image). I explained to her the inherent lack of depth that you get with a big lens but she just smiled at me and said that we would have to agree to disagree on that point. I also inferred from her comments that she thinks I must be concentrating too much on a lens with a wide open aperture since she told that my current lens shoots way too fast for her. Poor girl, she obviously doesn?t understand a thing about photography. Anyway, all of this got me to wondering ? if she thinks my equipment is so inferior, why did she ever let me shoot her in the first place? But then I remembered, before we married, the only modeling she had ever done was for her sorority sister who had a pinhole camera. What kind of an interesting image can you get from that? Besides, it is not like my wife is the ?perfect? model although she is pretty thin just like all the super models. There always seems to be a couple of things missing from the pictures I take of her. I think she needs a couple of those big bowl-type flood lights up front. Without them, she?ll keep coming out looking kind of, well, flat. But back to the point ? does a guy need a big or exotic lens to be taken seriously as a shooter? Does glass size really matter? Is bigger better? Would it help to stack filters? What about extension rings? Bellows?!?! Oh, my. Personally, I don?t think quality needs to rely on size but then I know that many of you will counter by saying that everyone shooting a 50mm lens says that. And you may be right. So, how about a compromise. What would you all say to a catadioptric lens? They are not altogether that long but boy are they big around. My wife thought that might be a great idea. She told me she bought something vaguely similar to a cat lens at a local video store (I didn?t realize they carried still photo equipment) and is trying it ?on for size? right now. She must really like it ? she is in the other room and it sounds like she is jumping up and down on the bed shouting about how good it is. I didn?t even know she had her own camera. No sir, no glass envy for me. My one-eyed instrument, myopic though it may be, always has and always will serve my purposes. Those who disagree are entitled to their opinions but I strongly question their qualification as true art lovers. And that?s OK with me. I can, and frequently do, enjoy my art in relative solitude ? just me, my little lens, and a variety of images dancing through my head. Thanks for listening. Hope I didn?t wander off-subject.

Roger Harman , March 25, 2008; 07:34 A.M.

Hi Russ, Glad to hear your monocular is in good shape! Just a short note... Tried catadioptrics before and found them to be quite flat , contrast wise. So Russ although they are usually very wide... remember it's the QUALITY that's important, not the size! Now get in there and help the missus out with that cat sui... errr I mean lens!

Roger......Proud owner of a 300 f2.8 hehe

Bryan Waagner , April 12, 2008; 04:23 P.M.

I've owned the Nikon 300mm f2.8 AFS -II for a number of years now since new. It is a great lens for a sports and news photographer. I am perfectly confident in my manhood and dont feel the need to compensate for anything with a fast car or fast lens. Some people's photography need this type of speed and lens quaility. I'm sick of hearing how heavy it is. Work out a bit use a mono/tripod and stop complaining. It is not difficult to handle. I still have my tamron manual focus 300. I use it for remote setups shooting down from rafters above backboard in large gyms. I also used to have the 300 f4. It was a dog in AF mode. The newer AFS version of the f4 300 is an definite upgrade, however I cannot tell you from shooting experience. I'm merely taking the results I get from my 300 and correlating them to the AFS version of the 300 f4. Also since I shoot dx format Nikon bodies still The lens is a 450mm f 2.8 That is a serious piece of glass. Couple this with a 1.4 tele and you are at over 600 f4. That puts you in the sports illustrated range for shooting football!

David Heinrich , July 28, 2009; 01:01 A.M.

Something worth noting is that the compression ratio is determined solely by how far you are from your subject; not by focal length. Focal length only determines the angle of view on any given format, hence how far away you need to be to frame the shot you want. Or to frame and crop the shot you want.

Standing at the same distance from the subject with a 50mm or 300mm lens, you will see that their faces look just as dimensional, or just as flat; the only difference is how much of the frame their face fills up. So of course you may still want to have that 100mm lens for head & shoulders portrait photos. But for environmental portraits, you may want a normal lens, so that you can stay the same distance from your subject, yet include more of the background.

Btw, getting further and further away and "zooming in" with longer and longer lenses isn't necessarily the way to go. I tend to stick to my 58/1.2 for portraits (although this is on four-thirds, so equivalent to 116/2.4 for DOF). Do you really want to eliminate a lot of the dimensionality of the subject's face? Take a look at http://www.yosemite-17-gigapixels.com and click on some of the zoomify points. You'll see people standing there; people who look like flat card-board cut-outs because they're miles away. Do you really think it make a great photo to use say a 1000mm lens and put someone almost a mile away?

Jim Hancock , February 27, 2011; 03:40 P.M.

My mainstay is 80-200 2.8 for all my fashion and glamour, and I do preach backup and zoom in as much as possible.... it helps eliminate distortion and does flatter the subject more. I lived on South Beach in 93, 94... the catalog shooters were looking to separate the subject and wardrobe from the background, because the background was just an ambiance at best, and they are selling clothes not pictures.... but it really becomes ridiculous, when you're using a 600mm lens, as it serves little purpose beyond "look at me with my big lens"..300 2.8 is plenty.....but any city besides Miami and you will have a lot of dirty air between you and your subject and it shows..... I know this is an old image and an old thread, but that guy and those shorts kills me....

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