I am a new photographer and investigating entry-level Nikon telephoto lenses for possible purchase. (I already have the 18-55 kit lens.) I am confused about their telephoto zoom offerings.

If I want something better (optically) than the 55-200 kit lens, my options include the:

  • Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR,
  • Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR.

They are exactly the same price (at least on Amazon). Both are for DX cameras and include VR. My camera is new enough to be compatible with both.

Is there any reason I should prefer the first to the second, which has a greater zoom range and a wider aperture at the 300mm end?

I have two guesses.

  • The autofocus system might be better on the second. I don't know anything about the merits of AF-P versus AF-S, but I would assume AF-P would be superior to justify the trade-offs above.
  • The 70-300 may be sharper because (extending the reasoning often given for why prime lenses are superior) it is easier to construct a quality lens in a narrower zoom range.

Are these guesses correct? Why might one lens be preferable to the other?

Edit: I'm updating this post with evidence for my guesses from this review.

Final Words

If you need a low-cost, light, competent DX telephoto zoom and have one of the most recent low-end DX bodies (D3400, D5500), the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 AF-P VR just became the lens to buy. Optically, it seems clearly better than the 55-300mm, and in good light with a cross sensor the autofocus performance is in a whole other (far better) category, too.

The author concludes that if you have a compatible camera body, "[the 70-300] is the basic telephoto zoom to buy, no questions asked."

Also, as pointed out in the comments, the AF-P is compatible with fewer cameras, so that is another difference to consider.

All facts from Google:

  • The 55-300 has more range at the lower end and a wider aperture at the long end.

  • The 70-300 is about 22% lighter (415g vs. 530g), has a nearer min front focus (1,1m vs. 1,4m), and often has better test results.

  • The front lens of the 55-300 spins while focusing! So adapting a polarizer would be pain.

Because you have already a 18-55, a 55-300 would provide you a seamless range. Also updates to the kit lens are often stuff like 17-50mm, so you would only have a small gap after upgrading your short lens.

Personal tip: Also search for lenses of Sigma or Tamron, they have often good alternatives for the same zoom range at a lower price, while the overall performance is more or less the same. And some of them have also a macro mode.

For example, Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5,6 Di LD 70 mm-300 mm (has image stabilization and also macro mode, min focus distance is 0.95m, better aperture and comes for about 100€ (in germany))

  • Thanks. Do you know if there's any difference in the autofocus performance (e.g. tracking moving subjects)? – Potato Oct 11 at 4:27
  • tracking objects is a feature controlled by the camera – Horitsu Oct 11 at 7:12
  • It seems the quality of the lens autofcous mechanism plays a large role, too. – Potato Oct 11 at 14:58
  • @Potato Depends on the definition of "large role". While autofocus motor speed (a lens characteristic) can affect whether or not moving object tracking is lost, the body's AF tracking is the overwhelming controlling factor. An argument can be made that optical quality (especially away from the center of the frame) can affect the AF resolving and hence impact edge-case tracking, but that is incredibly difficult to quantify the impact to tracking, and like all optical performance test measurements, is highly subject to copy-to-copy variation (i.e., need 10-20 copies for good measurement). – scottbb Oct 11 at 16:52
  • @scottbb Thanks for the comment. How does this comport with the claim in the link I edited into the OP that the 70-300 has superior autofocus performance? Is it some combination of superior optical quality and the AF-P mechanism? The reviewer seems to think the difference is quite noticeable even on the same camera body. – Potato Oct 11 at 18:44

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