The Nikon 300mm f4.5 AI-S Manual Focus lens is one of the few manual focus lenses I actually have occasional use for.
When shooting moving objects, like women models, manual focus lenses are lessons in frustration. I also find, the shorter the focal length, the more difficulty I have focusing these manual jobs… I believe, due to the reduced bokeh at shorter focal length. The 300mm f4.5 I can focus, not using the screen, but using a selected focusing spot and the visual arrow and dot in focus/out of focus indicators visible in the view finder.
So, what’s good about the 300mm f4.5 AI-S?
It’s a pretty nice long lens, and a lot cheaper than other alternatives which have similar speed.
The 300mm f4.5 AI-s has a hard stop at infinity focus…
Well, it’s actually hard to focus modern zoom lenses at infinity… Most modern zooms do not have a single crank it to infinity and pin it focus point. The infinity point is somewhere on the long focus end, and it’s a kind of here it is, here it isn’t sort of place.
The Nikon 300mm f/4.0D ED-IF AF-S is over $900 used and almost $1500 new on Amazon.
If you are shooting in the dark, or are shooting action, like flying planes, or far away birds, or astrological objects, focusing zoom lenses are tricky.
AF (Auto Focus) does not work in the dark … And, even if you know your object is at infinity, you cannot manually focus a modern AF Zoom lens by cranking it to its longest focus.
If you manually focus a modern zoom lens, its focus may easily drift from this focus point (Nikon’s are usually smooth as butter) with any movement of the camera. And, without a handy crank it to long focus and confirm you focus point, you really don’t know if you are on focus or not.
Why would the camera move? Because to focus on infinity, you need something out at infinity that provides a bright enough contrasty edge you can use to focus manually (using the in focus/out of focus indicators in the view finder. Because long lenses are big and heavy and often require hands to hold them. Hands which can shift focuses.
Some older Nikon zooms have focus locks, I’ve read. I don’t have one of those. Nor do I see myself buying one for the few times I take these kinds of shots.
The 300mm f4.5 AI-S, being f4.5, presents a relatively bright image in the viewfinder. Any lenses slower than this present their own difficulties in focusing due to a too dark viewfinder image.
So, there is a kind of very affordable sweet spot where this 300mm f4.5 AI-S lives.
If you are shooting objects too fast to autofocus, like fast-moving airplanes at an air show, which are always a ways off, then a $200 inexpensive lens like the 300mm f4.5 AI-S, cranked to infinity focus, may be plenty handy for you.
My 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II DX Nikkor just wasn’t able to do what this 300mm beauty could …
On the other hand, I bought the 300mm f4.5 AI-S first, then the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR2.
The 70-200 VR2 is the most accurate and fastest focusing lens I have owned or tried to date …
If you have already shelled out for the $2000 plus for the 70-200 VR2, then it will probably do much of what the 300mm f4.5 AI-S can, except for the hard focus stop at infinity advantage, and 50% greater magnification.
For glamour, my usual subject, the 300mm f4.5 AI-S is pretty nearly useless. I have never shot a model at 300mm. This lens also only focuses down to 12 feet, its closest point. So, for what I usually shoot, I cannot see spending a lot of bux to cover this niche area of shooting.
What I do like the 300 f4.5 for is to take the occasional shot requiring more reach and a hard infinity focus point stop for cheap, with reasonable quality.
I also like to have some shots of things like the moon or far off animals at the zoo, which I can then use for my photo manipulation projects. The 300mm f4.5 AI-S is a suitable and economical choice for these type shots, particularly after some editing.
As you can see from the unedited shots below with the 70-200mm f2.8 VR2 Nikkor vs the 300mm f4.5 AI-S, the 70-200mm is indeed a much sharper crisper image, at 12 to 15 times the price.
The edited shot above, on the other hand, is pretty good for a lens I found used for under $200.
The moon is one of the few night-time objects which is relatively easy to focus. It uses short shutter times and is itself very bright.
Like a challenge, try focusing on stars … or harder still, clouds on a moonless night. Or other distant non contrasty objects.
Got a 300mm f4.5 AI-S? Just crank it all the way to infinity. It’s an easy lens to focus and stick at infinity, and not beyond.
My excellent Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM does not have this hard focus point stop at infinity feature …
My Nikon zooms do not have hard infinity focus stops. They are all ‘G’ version.
I am unable to ascertain definitively whether all Nikon ‘G’ version lenses lack hard stops at infinity, however, the very popular Nikon pro 24mm f1.4G ED AF-S RF SWM Nikkor lacks a hard focus stop at infinity.
It is my conjecture, all Nikon G lenses lack a hard focus stop at infinity.
While this is a small practical matter as far as I am concerned, for my style of shooting, it did create space in my bag for the 300mm f4.5 AI-S.
Depending on your style of shooting, it may or may not be a consideration in your photography.
Most of these long shots take a bit of steadying of some kind. A sturdy tripod or quick monopod are must haves.
In modern photography, there ends up being a lot of small important pieces of gear to keep track of. Thankfully, Manfrotto’s 200PL-14 RC2 rapid connect mounting plate is common to and interchangable between the Manfrotto 234RC and 804RC2 heads.
If you decide to try out a 300mm f4.5 AI-s, finding a used one may take a bit of searching and patience to locate a good working model at the right price. Nice ones are sometimes available for under $225.00 at Adorama with a 30 day return policy by clicking here then searching for “Nikon 300mm f4.5 AI-S“.