The FirstShots we took over the weekend gave a quick glimpse of what Nikon’s new 18-300mm DX zoom is capable of out of the box. We wanted to see if this longer zoom could replace the trusty Nikkor 18-200mm “grab-n-go” lens. In order to do that, we really needed to take it out into the field and give a workout. We could have stayed in Boston, but the 90º+ weather made us think that the Cape would be a better choice. So Sunday afternoon, we packed up and head down to Chatham, aka The Elbow of the Cape.
The first place we tested out the new Nikkor was at a baseball game. If you live in the New England area and have not been to a Cape League game, you are missing out. The cost of a ticket? What tickets? The games are free!
We got there after the game started, but were still able to find seats closed to third base. It was around 6:30 when we sat down. The lights had not come on yet, but we knew that in order to freeze the action, we had better crank up the ASA. So all the images taken at the game were at ASA 3200. All of the shots were taken hand-held and with VR active. Here are some shots of the field (18mm, f6.3, 1/1,250), the pitcher (155mm, f5.6, 1/1,600) and batter (230mm, f7.1, 1/800), and later in the game…around twilight(50mm, f5.3, 1/25).
We were impressed with how easy the lens was to handle. The large zoom range enabled us to frame and shoot with without thinking about anything else. We were able to pull in the outfielders, swing around to the announcer’s booth, and back down to the fans to get these shots without taking our eyes from the viewfinder. We were pretty happy with how this Nikkor behaved during a relatively sedate baseball game. How would it do if things got a little active?
The next day, we got tickets for a boat trip out Monomoy Island to see the seals. This outing was be a good test to see how the Nikkor performed under less predictable conditions.
When out on the water, the last thing a photographer wants to do is to expose the innards of the camera or lens to the sea spray or the salt air. Switching lenses is just not a good idea when you’re out bobbing on the Atlantic. So, you either bring along a few bodies with prime lenses already attached or use a zoom. On an outing like this, a lens like the Nikkor 18-300mm zoom really shines. We were able to go wide to get the group shot and quickly get in close when a seal was sighted. Covering that range would be difficult to do even with different lenses on multiple bodies. Also, a zoom lets you compose and shoot between bodies, something quite helpful in getting the shotwhen in a crowd that moves around unpredictably.
When swinging through one of the harbors, our guide pointed out an osprey nest on one of the pilings. As we got closer, we had a good look at the two chicks in the nest. We had one chance at getting a few shots off before the boat moved out of range. We dialed the zoom up to 300mm and started shooting. The resolving power of the zoom coupled with the VR was good enough to let us get an image where we could make out the pupil of the eye. More than reasonable for a handheld shot taken on the water. Here is a cropped full-res version of the osprey chick (300mm, f6.3, 1/500) peeking out at us as we passed by.
So we have had some pretty good results with the Nikkor 18-300mm zoom on land and at sea. But what about when the action is fast and furious? Can this new zoom lens focus fast enough to get us the shot we want? For that test, we looked to the air.
There is nothing tougher to shoot than birds in flight. A lot the birds have an underbelly which is the same color as the sky. This often makes it harder for the camera’s autofocus system to get a precise fix. A slow-to-focus lens can make a huge difference in getting or missing the shot. We are happy to report that our new Nikkor 18-300mm lens focused quickly at every gull we pointed it at. All of the gull shots were taken at 260mm, f6.3, and at 1/2,000 second (ASA 200). They have been cropped, resized down (none have been resized up), or shown at full resolution to give a sense of the detail possible with the lens.
Now that we have spent a few days shooting with this Nikkor zoom, we can confidently say that it will be our new “grab-and-go” lens. If you are shooting with a Nikon DX body and want to own just one lens, this one is it. If you have other DX lenses, start putting them on Craigslist. Once you put this Nikkor 18-300mm lens on your camera, the other ones are just going to be collecting dust.