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.
I often get emails from photographers asking what is the best “all around” general lens for travel photography, shooting candids of family, or photowalks. This is it.
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.
Who is this lens for?
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. It's not a steal like the 50mm f/1.8 lens, but remember that the Canon version of this lens costs nearly 3 times more, and you're getting a very nice lens.
Speaking of sharpness, I wasn't blown away when I loaded the images on my computer–but I was pleasantly surprised. It isn't on par with the sharpness of the 70-200mm lens, and it isn't really what I'd call “professional quality.” However, that doesn't mean that it isn't an excellent lens that many pros would do well to buy. This lens does remarkably well in terms of sharpness, vignetting, distortion, and a host of other image quality features when you recognize what this lens is. This lens is for convenience–not the ultimate image quality. In fact, despite that fact that I'm incredibly picky about image quality, I could very easily see myself purchasing this lens because it's perfect for trips to the zoo, travel photography, etc.
Having said that, keep in mind that I'm used to shooting the highest quality professional lenses. If you're coming from a kit lens or a Nikon 55-250mm lens or a 70-300mm lens, you're gonna eat this thing up! It's far better in terms of quality than any of those starter lenses.
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 a surprising amount of barrel distortion–much more than I would have expected. But this is also not a surprise given the gigantic zoom range.
Also, this lens is prone to vignette, and does have chromatic aberration issues.
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.
I can safely say that the Nikon 28-300mm is one of the best deals in the entire Nikon line of lenses. FOR A TRAVEL/WALK AROUND lens, this lens is quite sharp and has good optics. If you catch yourself leaving your camera behind or taking lighter lenses just because you don't want to lug around a 70-200 all day long, then this is the lens for you. 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.