Manual Telephoto - zoom or prime?

I thought I’d take a moment to go over two general range telephoto lenses.  First defining “general telephoto” as a 300mm, mainly because 400 gets you into the “pro-domain” or “super-tele” and they’re really expensive.  Manual focus lenses are generally more affordable, and the two I have here are both Nikon lenses.  The Nikkor 100-300 f5.6 AI-s and the Nikkor 300mm f4.5 ED-IF AI-s.  All sample photos were taken with the Nikon F3 on Kodak Portra 400.



Both lenses are roughly the same size and weight, the 5.6 has a 62mm filter thread, and the 4.5 has a 72.  The zoom lens covers 100-300mm and has a close focus on the 100mm.  The 300 ED lens has Nikons secret sauce glass for sharpness.  This lens has a close focus of 8 feet, which isn’t very close.  The prime also has a tripod collar, which the zoom didn’t, and with a teleconverter this is an issue.  I’ve shot at least a roll on both lenses with and without a 2x teleconverter, and noticed hands down, that at 300mm the prime ED lens is sharper.  A lot of people note light falloff with this lens but I have seen none.  Both lenses stop down to f32 and they both have 9 aperture blades.  They’re easy to focus and are very robust.  At 300mm, the zoom image quality degrades significantly and a 2x converter makes it look twice as bad.  I’ll post some samples.






This first batch of images is from the zoom-Nikkor lens.  Some of the images are very sharp, and others are not.  The blur in the out of focus areas is very smooth, and the color rendering is also very good.   There is little to no aberration of any kind, and no ghosting or flares.  The only thing is that all throughout, the focus is soft.


2x taken on Color Plus 200

2x wide open, HP5

Now we get into the ED lens.  It’s obvious very quickly that this lens is way sharper, and way more suited for focusing longer distance.  The internal focus system is also incredibly smooth, and that makes this lens very easy to handle.  Another bonus is the built in lenshood which cuts down on flare in direct sunlight.  All of these shots were taken handheld, many of them wide open.  In the harsh highlights there’s some purple fringing, but everywhere else it’s completely free of any sort of image degradation.  On top of it, it’s still amazingly sharp with the TC-200 2x teleconverter.  This lens is often considered the best manual focus 300mm lens available, and it’s significantly sharper than its 6,000USD modern counterpart. 

I’d like to let the images speak for themselves on this one, hope you enjoyed. 


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