Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6
Compact for glass that reaches the equivalent of 450mm, the lens threw no shadow at any focal length when used with the built-in flash on our Nikon D7000.

Nikon’s longest zoom for cameras with APS-C-size sensors (DX format), this 5.5X 55–300mm f/4.5–5.6G VR ($360, street) scales up to the full-frame equivalent of 82.5–450mm. It offers two elements of ED glass, a high-refractive-index glass element (a DX first), Vibration Reduction II, the quiet SWM focusing motor, and tripod-detection mode. Adding reach to the two 55–200mm DX Nikkors, it promises new capabilities for wildlife, sports, travel, and people shots.

Physically, there’s a lot to like. Racked out, it’s still quite compact. The large zoom ring is conveniently sized and placed; like the focus ring, it turns smoothly and evenly, with nice damping. The spring-locking lens shade snaps quickly in place at any orientation—no tabs to line up.

We also appreciated its rapid and accurate autofocus. The near-silent VR motor, inaudible in test video, helped us capture shake-free, short-duration clips at 55mm without a tripod. (We did hear the AF motor, though.)

Drawbacks? The manual-focusing ring is inconveniently small, and the absence of a subject distance scale made itself felt when we needed to make on-the-fly focusing estimates in light too dim for AF. The front barrel also turns during focusing, which makes using lens-mounted accessories awkward, if not impossible.

On our optical bench, the lens delivered Excellent-range sharpness and contrast at 55mm and 200mm. Its dip to Very Good SQF numbers at 300mm, while expected, put it behind the uniformly Excellent numbers earned by a recently tested comparable zoom, Pentax’s 55–300mm.

But the Nikon did superbly in other optical categories: no light falloff and virtually no distortion at 55mm, and great subject magnification—1:3.14 at 300mm. An added bonus? The long focal length actually tested at 318mm—the equivalent of 477mm. And VR gave us between 2.5 and 4 stops of extra handholdability.

DX shooters craving a supertele won’t be disappointed. It’s well constructed, with admirable sharpness, distortion and vignetting control, magnification, and image stabilization. We call this $360 glass a steal.

55–300mm (55.01–318.53mm tested), f/4.5–5.6 (f/4.01–n.a. tested*), 17 elements in 11 groups. Focus ring turns 80°. Zoom ring turns 120°. Focal lengths marked at 55-, 70-, 100-, 135-, 200 and 300mm.
Diagonal view angle: 28–5 degrees.
Weight: 1.31 lbs. Filter size: 58mm
Mounts: Nikon AF.
Included: Lenshood, case.
Street price: $360.

Distortion: At 55mm, 0.07% (Imperceptible) barrel. At 200mm, 0.28% (Slight) pincushion. At 300mm, 0.20% (Slight) pincushion.
Light falloff: At 55mm, none. At 200mm, gone by f/5.6. At 300mm, gone by f/6.3.
Close-focusing distance: 50.83 in.
Maximum magnification ratio: At 55mm, 1:16.2. At 200mm, 1:4.53. At 300mm, 1:3.14.
Image stabilization: 2.5–4 stops.