Nikon 120-300mm f/2.8 Teardown and Test Reveals ‘Classic’ Build and ‘Spectacular’ Optics


Lensrentals cracked open the brand new $9,500 AF-S NIKKOR 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR lens this week, putting the behemoth of a zoom lens to the test. And while they found a “classic” Nikon build that isn’t as elegant as the new Z-lenses, the bench tests reveal that the lens is “spectacularly good optically.”

You can dive into the full teardown at this link, but the findings are broken down into two parts: build style and optics.

In terms of build style, Roger hoped to see that Nikon had “unified” the design language of the F-Mount and Z-Mount lenses. And while it’s possible they will eventually do this, that’s not the case with the new 120-300mm. Inside, Roger found the same somewhat inelegant “classic” design he’s seen on every F-Mount lens they’ve cracked open.

He describes this as the “‘why have a PCB when we can run huge flexes and stick pieces of circuit board all through the lens’ style of electronics,” and you can see it on full display in the images below:

As Roger points out, this really shouldn’t matter to anyone who isn’t tearing down and fixing lenses. It means more work—and two different workflows—for the team at Lensrentals, but for Nikon DSLR users it changes nothing about the performance they can expect from this lens.

Speaking of which… the second part of the teardown was the optical test, and the results out of this single lens they were able to put on the MTF bench are staggeringly good.

“I doubt this lens sells significant quantities, but for those who buy it, they truly are getting a zoom that is at least as good as, perhaps better than, the [Nikon 300mm] prime,” writes Cicala. “The Nikkor AF-S 120-300mm f/2.8 lens is spectacularly good optically, particularly at the long end, which is probably the most important place to be spectacularly good optically.”

You can see a side-by-side MTF comparison of the new Nikon lens against the already-good (but much cheaper) Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 below. There is absolutely no contest:

Roger dives into way more detail—both optically and in regards to the build style and quality—in the full teardown, which you can find on the Lensrentals blog.

And while they were only able to tear down and test this one copy of the lens—there will be some variation from copy to copy and focal length to focal length—one thing seems pretty clear about the new Nikon 120-300mm f/2.8: if you’re a Nikon DSLR shooter with deep pockets, this is one of the best zoom lenses money can buy… lots of money.


Image credits: All photos by Lensrentals/Roger Cicala, and used with permission.



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