Nikon 28-300mm review: Best photowalk and travel lens ever?

Image Source: Nikon, Inc.

If you just came to find out the answer to the question in the headline, if the Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VR AF-S lens is the best photowalk lens ever, then yes.  Yes, it is.  If you were looking for something a bit more in-depth, then I’ll gladly oblige.

Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6

I often get emails from photographers asking what is the best “all around” general lens for travel photography or for photowalks.  They want sharp photos and high quality optics in a lens that is inexpensive (read: cheap) and has a giant zoom range so they can take photos from all sorts of angles without moving their feet.  When the good folks over at BorrowLenses.com offered to send one out to me so I could review it here on the site, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see if this lens is as good as the hype builds this Nikon lens up to be.

There are a few use cases that I thought this lens would be perfect for: (1) Casually shooting outdoor pictures of the kids.  I say “outdoor” because it isn’t the fastest lens, but the gigantic zoom range would help to shoot in many different situations without changing lenses.  (2) Travel photography or photowalks where you want to take nice pictures of the area, but you are shooting somewhat casually on the go and don’t want to haul around a giant bag of gear. (3) Shooting well-lit sports games.  Again, it isn’t terribly fast so you need good lighting, but the giant zoom range would be convenient for shooting little league sports where the players can be right up close to you on one side of the field, and later be far away on the other side of the field.

So, I will admit that I wanted this lens to be a winner before I even tested it.  However, I try to be an impartial judge :-)

What does the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens do well?

First of all, the Nikon 28-300 is an incredible deal.  I found it selling for only $920 on Amazon.  I know that the word “only” in connection with anything that costs $920 may sound a bit unsavory, but remember that the Canon version of this lens costs nearly 3 times more, and you’re getting a very sharp lens.

Speaking of sharpness, I was blown away when I loaded the images on my computer and saw how sharp this lens is despite its giant zoom range.  From edge to edge and throughout the zoom range, I was pleasantly surprised at the sharpness I saw.  In fact, I would say that the degree of sharpness is on par with most lenses that cost twice as much money.  No other lens with such a huge zoom range compares to the degree of sharpness on this little beauty.

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What are some of the disadvantages to the 28-300mm lens?

As I mentioned in the introduction, I was hoping to use this lens for shooting the kids at the park.  The problem?  The kids move FAST and this lens does not autofocus very quickly.  Despite it’s silent wave motor, I was somewhat surprised that this lens did not focus more quickly.  Obviously, this is to be expected somewhat because the lens has to move the elements far in order to focus at 28mm on the short end and 300mm at the long end.  So, the first disadvantage to this lens is that the autofocus is a bit more sluggish than the lenses I usually shoot with.

At 28mm, there is more distortion than I would like to see, but this is also not a surprise given the gigantic zoom range.

What other lenses should I consider that are similar to the Nikon 28-300mm VR lens?

The 28-300mm lens is an FX lens, which means it will work on both a full frame camera (Nikon D700, Nikon D3s, etc) as well as crop frame cameras like the D7000, D5100, D3100, or the D300s.  Read more about the difference between crop frame and full frame cameras here.  Anyway, the main advantage to choosing the 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VR AF-S lens is that it will fit on crop frame and full frame cameras, but another option to look at if you shoot a crop frame camera is the Nikon 18-200mm.  In my opinion, the only reason to choose the 18-200mm lens vs. the Nikon 28-300mm lens is that the 18-200mm lens costs less than the 28-300mm.  So, if price is an issue and you have a crop frame camera, that might be a lens to consider; however, the 18-200 is not nearly as sharp and isn’t built quite so solidly.

If you shoot Canon, but you want to enjoy the 28-300mm lens wave, you are mostly out of luck unless money grows on a tree around your house.  The Canon 28-300mm lens costs two and a half times more than the Nikon, at $2,500.

Conclusion

I can safely say that the Nikon 28-300mm is the best deal in the entire Nikon line of lenses (except for the 50mm, which is tough to beat at $120).  This is one of the sharpest lenses you’ll find for less than $1,000 and to achieve such optical sharpness with such an incredible zoom range is unheard of.  Do not walk, run to your nearest camera store and buy a copy of this sub-$1,000 piece of optical beauty.  Better yet, rent it from BorrowLenses as a thank you for providing this lens for me to test out.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    And what about other alternatives? Sigma, Tamron? Both have similar lenses and according to dxomark.com (not sure how reliable is that score) they deliver similar results.

  2. says

    The Sigma variants have been discontinued, but they’re still readily available on the used market for much, much less than the Nikon reviewed here. And as the previous commenter noted, they were reviewed very similarly to the Nikon one being featured here.

    Tamron’s examples are still in production. There’s the 28-300mm for full frame sensors, similar to the Nikon. And there’s also an 18-270mm for APS-C sensors which not only offers a wider angle, but a larger zoom ratio as a result (15x).

    And that’s to say nothing of other systems (Pentax, Sony, etc). The options are plentiful, and they all cost way less than this Nikon lens (not to say anything about the Canon).

  3. says

    I’d love to see you do the same study for Canon all around lens, preferably in the same price range. As you noted Canon 28-300 is not exactly a bargain.

  4. Kathy says

    I bought the 18 to 200 which is a nice lens. I love that you can go close up and still zoom. I have an old Nikon 70 to 300. I miss that extra distance. Any place to sell my 18 to 200 so I can get this 28 – 300? :-)

  5. Nadeem says

    Great review. Just a comment. Simply wish to mention another lens the 28-200mm F3.5-5.6 ED (has 3 ED elements) for full frame cameras. I am referring to the G version and not the D version. Second hand price is a bargain. It is tack sharp but slow to focus. Distortion with some vignetting at the widest end. However, the most amazing bit about this lens is that it is a pocketable dinky size and perhaps a tad longer than 50mm 1.4. It weighs 360grams only. This is my favourite holiday lens.

  6. Melanie says

    This is in response to Alex Lillo. I bought the Tamron 28-300 VR lens upon the suggestion of a photography instructor about 7 years ago. I have to say I still love the lens. It is great and had a 6 year manufacturers warrenty (the lens didn’t crap the bed at the end of the 6 years either lol).

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