Article – Comparison of sharpness and contrast of 4 lenses

While waiting for Nikon’s response to my weird D7000 image quality issue with fast AFS lenses, I keep on translöating some older comparison between some new lenses and old lenses. At least, they were new, when I originally did the comparison last late summer.

Nikon presented last september its brand new and highly anticipated FX super zoom  – the AFS 28-300mm VR – which triggered in many discussion forums hot debates about the merits and drawbacks of a 11-fold zoom. Most discussions were based on hearsay and speculation or, on viewing some small images on the web and deduct their qualities from there. Plus the imho grossly overlooked AFS 55-300mm DX VR came along as well

It was time to put more meat into the debate …..

The real reason was my own curiosity. How good will the new FX superzoom and newly introduced DX telezoom performance wise compare to existing contenders? Addressing the hugely philosphical question for once and all: Is it possible to produce sharp and contrasty pictures with these lenses, or should we abandon these lenses from the very beginning?

A comparison was needed. As usual with some preparation, to get to a predictable and reproducible state. As reader might have realized, I am sharing the images I am basing my assertations and conclusions on, for any interested reader to check for himself at the level of relevant deatil or area of attention I am not caring about.

Here we go. We have 4 lenses waiting on the starting line, 2 are new, 2 are well known:

  • AFS 28-300mm VR – In Nikon’s marketing terms: AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm/3.5-5.6G ED VR
  • AFS 18-200m VR I –  (AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm 1:3,5-5,6G IF-ED VR)
  • AFS 55-300mm VR – (AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR)
  • AFS 70-300mm VR – (AF-S NIKKOR 70-300 mm 1:4,5-5,6G VR)


  • It was the usual setup I did. People familiar with my comparisions already know this setup.
  • Camera was mounted on my sturdy Gitzo tripod ( D3 for FX and D300 for DX)
  • Both cameras ware set to manual exposure, whitebalance set simple to sunlight to turn off auto mode
  • Mirror pre-release approx 5 sec
  • VR was set with all lenses to OFF
  • I too 3 exposures with each lens – f5.6, f8 and f11
  • The increase in light to maintain brightness with gradualy stopping down the lenses was compensated with the studio flash system (ProFoto D4)
  • All 100% crops are taken from the out-of-camera NEFs
  • All 12 NEF’s are available here for personal inspection ( 4 lenses x 3 f-stops)

Due to significant focal shortening of IF lenses at close distances, I tried to keep the same framing of the scene. Please disregard the misleading focal data in the EXIF metadata of the lenses (especially the AFS 28-300mm). I kept the tripod in the same position.

My very quick assessment of the images:

  • Wide open, the 2 telephoto lenses (AFS 55-300mm and AFS 70-300mm) are hard to beat by the superzooms.
  • The difference between the 2 telephoto lenses is marginal at best.
  • The gap to the superzooms is as expected significant.
  • The 18-200mm DX lens is better than the 28-300mm lens in this test.
    But the real test is you – take your time download the images and consider for yourself, if they deliver teh level of quality you would like to have – or not.
    Is this comparison really relevant for a purchasing decision? I don’t think so, but some of the discussions are just fun in itself and please treat this comparison in this way as well ….
    …. and yes, I do take normal photographs as well. I’ll get you individual articles with real photos for the 2 new lenses soon. ( at least they were new last year …)
    Have fun,
    These are unprocessed 100% crops from the original NEFs
    AFS 18-200mm VR DX (Typ I)


AFS DX 55-300mm VR (new)

AFS 28-300mm VR (new)

AFS 70-300mm VR

4 Responses to Article – Comparison of sharpness and contrast of 4 lenses

  1. dave says:

    How come the first two shots have so much noise in the gray background? To my eye, the 55-300 seems to have the best resolution when viewing the compass. The last image is very similar in that regard. IMO, the 28-300 looks to be the softest (looking at the label on the PCB)

    • nikonandye says:

      Hi Dave.
      Good question.
      Have to check the original files to see where this is coming from. The AFS 55-300 in this setup has indeed very good resolution, but on a D7000 (or D5100) sensor, don’t expect super fantastic performance above 200mm. (check my D5100 review, part 2). You are right that the AFS 28-300mm VR is the softest in this comparison. It fits quite well with the 12mp FX sensors, it is a bit challenged on sensors with high spatial resolution.


  2. bopyproli says:

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    • nikonandye says:

      Feel free to provide your view on this comparison as a comment. I am allways willing to listen (read) to constructive and thoughtful comments. At the same time, I assume the photo community would welcome your view as well.
      ~ Andy

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