The key word in the Consumer Electronics Show is consumer. It is not the place we expect to find out about new high-end, professional-quality gear. Nikon, however, doesn’t seem to think that matters. While the D5500 DSLR was more-or-less expected, a new 300mm f/4 lens seems as likely to be found at CES as a bathroom there without a line. And this new piece of Nikkor glass is packed with technology (and comes at a price) that would cause most consumers to look the other way, but which causes us to want to look even closer.
The big selling point of this new 300mm is that it is 30% shorter and half the weight of the older version. Nikon achieved this with a technology called “phase fresnel” (hence the PF in the name). Other than adding an additional two characters to an already convoluted product name, the PF design allows for a smaller lens with fewer elements, while actually improving image quality by compensating for chromatic aberration (…and this is probably where we lose most consumers).
Chromatic aberration leads to the appearance of “color fringing” in photographs, most noticeable around high contrast areas like tree branches against the sky or black text on a white piece of paper. It is the result of the phenomenon of different frequencies (read: colors) of light focusing to different points as they bend to pass through a lens. With a standard lens element, the longer the wavelength of light, the farther the focus point. The PF element reverses this effect, so shorter wavelengths of light focus at a farther point. Now, this would still cause chromatic aberration, but Nikon has paired a standard element with a PF element, essentially canceling out chromatic aberration. It remains to be seen how well this technology works on this specific lens in the real world, but Nikon has employed such PF glass in their microscopes in the past and Canon has used it in some of their telephoto lenses, as well, albeit under the name of “diffractive optics.”
The other important feature of this lens is new VR technology, which Nikon promises will deliver up to 4.5 stops of vibration reduction. That is important on an f/4 telephoto lens, especially one that is small and light enough to encourage hand-holding. Of course, all of this technology comes at a price: $1999.99 (…and this is where we lose the rest of the consumers). However, given the technology that’s going into this lens, it’s a pretty good bargain for all enthusiast and professional Nikon shooters who want a more compact, lower weight, full-frame telephoto for wildlife, sports, travel, etc.