Nikon 70-300mm VR vs 55-300mm VR

So I thought I would take a moment to compare and contrast these two long telephoto lenses from Nikon. They both have a very similar range of focal length. They are also both very sharp lenses. That might be where the similarities end though.

The 55-300 VR is a DX lens and as such is much smaller and lighter which can certainly be a plus if you are carrying it around all day. The DX lens is also as such cheaper both in build quality and cost. I believe its currently running around 400 US dollars new. The main drawback I see with this lens is that Autofocus is insanely slow. I do not feel like I am exaggerating either. The manual focus ring on this lens is in the front of the lens which means it’s location moves as you zoom. If you are going to try and take pictures of anything that moves a lot you might as well give it up. If on the other hand you want a cheap lens that will give you a narrow depth of field at 300mm and aren’t concerned with the autofocus speed then this is your lens.

Now on to the 70-300 VR which is an FX lens and will work on full frame and crop sensor DSLR’s. This is a much bigger and more well built lens than the 55-300 and as such costs a little more. I believe the 70-300 VR is currently running 589 US dollars. The main advantage this lens has is near instantaneous autofocus. I have been simply amazed at how quick and accurate this lens focuses. Manual focus is also far superior on this lens also. This lens is hefty but not too bad to carry around all day. When it comes to bokeh I like this lens much better than the DX lens. I recently took it out for the day and threw a 35mm f1.8 prime in my pocket and to be honest I did not feel I needed anything else.

Nikkor 55-300 VR vs 70-300 VR

Nikkor 55-300 VR vs 70-300 VR

Nikon D7000's with the 70-300 VR and the 50-300 VR

Nikon D7000’s with the 70-300 VR and the 50-300 VR

And yes I happen to really like the Nikon D7000 camera’s. They have been great workhorses for me.

The view from behind

Here is a picture I recently took with this lens on my Nikon D7000. This was a shot taken at the world bird sanctuary. I was at 300mm and f8.

I realizes that most of the newer camera’s have a lot more mega pixels that my D7000’s do but to be honest I think 16 megapixels is plenty to work with in most situations. I always say megapixels don’t matter… that’s just a marketing gimmick in most cases.

So in conclusion the Nikkor 70-300 VR is the superior lens in almost every aspect but it also costs 189 dollars more than the DX lens. In some cases you get what you pay for and this is one of those cases. So yes it’s worth the extra $$’s to buy the 70-300 VR.

Edited to add another take on this debate… If I produced two images from these two lenses given that I had the time for the 55-300 to focus accurately I don’t think you could tell the difference between the two images. That is, my beef is not with the sharpness or clarity of the image the 55-300 lens produces. Its with the mechanics of how the lens functions. So in those terms the 70-300 is the superior lens in build quality and speed of focus and a non rotating filter ring. Not in the actual image resulting from using the lens in ideal conditions. Thus I am not saying you cannot produce good images with the 55-300 because you clearly can. I am just saying that a lot of time “moments are fleeting” and I don’t want to miss them because my lens is searching for focus.

Please feel free to express your perspective in the comments section below.

79 thoughts on “Nikon 70-300mm VR vs 55-300mm VR

  1. Pingback: photography tools of the trade | One Mans Anthology

  2. Kalpajyoti

    I am using a Nikon D5200. Is this lens compatible with this camera, since this comes with a DX body where as the lens is made for FX body. Thanks in advance.

  3. Jennifer

    Aloha!
    I have the D7000, and was looking to add this lense for taking more outdoor family function and portrait type photos. Good idea?

    The price seems worth the investment even if I’m just doing photos for fun. Read quite a few reviews, this has been the best most honest one so far!
    Mahalo,
    Jen

    1. hytekblue Post author

      The focus speed of the 55-200 is exactly the same as the 55-300, so yes certainly much slower than the 70-300. I have used the 55-200 for a long time and I think optically it might even be better than the 55-300. For the price its a great lens if you have the time to wait for the focus motor to catch up.

  4. Frank Barbas

    Thank You for the concise review.
    Love the shot of the Eagle.
    Nikon would sell more 70-300’s if they used your picture. 😎
    I also use a d7000 for my work, never felt I needed a better camera, lenses yes, camera no.

    Cheers

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Yes the 70-300 will work perfectly with your D3000. I used it with a D3000 for a short time. In fact I have also used it with a D40 and a D60. In terms of wide yes the 55-300 will be a little bit wider than the 70-300. However it will fall short of a full 300mm if you are focusing on a subject that is close.

  5. Akbar

    I have nikon D3000,
    I wanted to buy tele lens, What the perfect lens for my camera between 55-300 or 70-300??
    Please help me.

  6. Nerida Kennard

    I have a Nikon 7000, 18-200 VR and 35mm. I have booked on a photographic safari in Octobber photographing flowers and wildlife here in Australia and have been suggested to have at least 300-400mm lens. I am considering buying either 70-300mm VR and 105mm macro or the new Olympus om5 mark 2 with 12-40pro and 40-150. Would staying with Nikon 7000 and 70-300 be better than changing to Olympus?

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Nerida,
      Generally I would say that the body of a camera does not matter as much as the glass in your lens. That being said the Olympus om5 mark II is a really nice body that has some really cool features. The 40 MP multi-exposure mode is certainly nice if your subject is not moving. 1/8000th sec maximum shutter speed (1/16000th with electronic shutter) is also pretty nice. Now for my recommendation, if it were me going on a safari I would simply add the 70-300 and keep a body that I was already familiar with. This is not to say that the Olympus is not a good choice but for me I want to know my camera inside and out before a trip. I have missed to many shots fumbling for dials and buttons on new camera bodies in my life to risk missing a shot. My general practice is to just about wear out a camera getting used to it so that its second nature before I depend on it for a trip etc… but that is just me πŸ™‚ I wish you the best of luck on your safari. Post some pictures when you get back πŸ™‚

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

  7. takabanana

    Hi, I have the D90 right now, might consider getting a D5200 to replace it. Does the 70mm-300mm lens work with both model?

  8. Mahmood

    If 70-300mm is an FX lens, means it will give 450mm zoom at 300mm on a DX cam,……. meaning its zoom will surpass 55-300mm????

    1. hytekblue Post author

      No that is not how it works. They are both 300mm maximum focal length and the images at 300mm will look roughly the same depending on the distance of the subject. The only real difference you will see is in an image taken close up the 55-300 DX lens will not actually be at 300mm because of the way the focus system works on that lens. The difference in the view of these lenses is that on an FX body the image sensor is wider which uses more of the lens and thus you will get a wider field of view with the FX lens on an FX body than what you would get from the same lens on the DX camera body. Bot both the FX and DX lens taking a picture of a subject at 20′ will produce exactly the same image on a DX camera body. I hope this makes it clearer.

      Cheers
      Hytekblue

      1. Arsalan Siddiqi

        And what if i change my body and have D3100 in place of 5100. Would it work exactly as fine as compare too d5100?

        1. Bob Duvall

          OK, Regarding some of these D^*)() Questions. Did these people NOT read the article. Then The same question has been answered time after time after time… I applaud your Patience !

          “Yes either lens will work correctly on a DX body camera.”
          “Yes the 70-300 will work perfectly with your D3000. ”
          “I have nikon D3000, I wanted to buy tele lens, What the perfect lens for my camera
          between 55-300 or 70-300?” DID YOU NOT READ THE ARTICLE?? WHO Operates YOUR Camera FOR YOU?
          ” Hi, I have the D90 right now, might consider getting a D5200 to replace it. Does the 70mm-300mm lens work with both model?” YES IT DOES….. YES IT DOES… YES IT DOES… OK????
          ” I have D 5100, so pls help me to choose between 55-300 vr and 70-300 vr lence. Which is better lence for my D 5100? ” READ THE DAMN ARTICLE. Then if you can figure it out. Throw your Damn in the trash !!

          Holoka’i
          Bob

          1. Walter Paredes

            **) You’re right!!!

            But what really most impress me is the patience of the gentleman answered all the same questions, is a shame the some people don’t read the article… even he mentioned a few time that this lens will work perfect with any Nikon DSLR camera

  9. Ganesh

    I have D 5100, so pls help me to choose between 55-300 vr and 70-300 vr lence. Which is better lence for my D 5100?

  10. Joan B

    I am trying to decide about my next lens. I often want to take photos of birds on my back fence from the kitchen window, and then, both of my sons play tennis, so reach is sometimes a plus. I did my son’s graduation outdoors last week.

    I currently have a Nikon DSLR D3200. I have the kit lenses (no VR in either for this year’s WalMart bundle…I didn’t learn that they took that off the kit lenses until after I’d purchased them and knew to even look for that feature, sadly.). So, I have a non-VR 18-55, non-VR 55-200, and just bought my first prime, a 1.8 35mm.

    Here’s my flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74253128@N08/?|

    So…I’m starting to wish I had a superzoom for graduation settings, tennis matches, and wildlife in the yard. I am curious if a 300 mm (which would get me further on a crop sensor), or if I’ll always be wanting more “reach”. I am getting ‘decent’ images, but birds…I’m not going to get out of the back door closer without scaring them off. And then, I wonder how long I’ll be wanting pictures of birds in my own backyard anyway.

    I suppose all these questions are ones others have to muck through, but I’m just wondering if a 70-300 DX VR would satisfy me. I am taking good photos now, too, so convincing myself and my hubby that I “need” it is another matter. I saw one yesterday for $270 with two nice filter lenses, and wish I’d bit the bullet in a sense. In another sense, I’m glad I didn’t spend almost $300! LOL

    Anyone who has advice, I’m interested.

    PS: my 35 prime seems to shoot slow BETWEEN shots. I can’t do continuous shooting at all. Is this normal? I bought it on ebay, so I’m not sure if it’s functioning as intended or not. I tried a google search on this and didn’t see anything.

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Joan,

      First off nice photo’s. Second I never feel like I have enough reach. Even my 500mm lens leaves me wanting some times. There is also not a huge difference between 200mm and 300mm practically speaking. Also when it comes to the 35mm 1.8 Mine is fast focusing and super sharp. It tends to live on one of my D7000’s and it can certainly keep up with my camera body’s buffer. So in my case I need a faster camera body to push this lens.

      1. Joan B

        I will have to figure out why mine isn’t wanting to shoot fast between shots. It’s really a kill-joy. I thought I could just crop the photos later and take fast ones continuously, but there was a LONG pause between shots. Thanks so much for the input.

  11. Maggie

    If VR is essential for clarity in a 70-300mm, why do they make them without it? Is it really worth the $100 price difference (used)? Can a person live without it? I’m seeing $80 lenses, versus $230 lenses with versus without the VR. On a newbie budget, husband wondering why I even need to think about another lens…ever…, could I play with a non VR enough to really get some use out of it without the VR, or am I just frustrating myself? Some of this has to do with user error, I’m sure. I’m not much on a tripod in most cases. None of my lenses came with VR, so I don’t know what I’m missing. I have a 15-55 and a 55-200. This year’s Walmart bundle managed to take out the VR without telling any of the previous reviews of the bundle– didn’t realize I was getting sub-par lenses until it had been purchased. Here’s my flickr: if it helps. The graduation shots I took without a tripod since I had to reach over a fence to get them. I wish I’d had a little more reach, and I’m sure VR would have helped. I wonder what the 300 would have done. (Really bugs me that the paparazzi making money off shots blocked parents trying to get shots from across a football field, but hey, whatya gonna do?)

    1. hytekblue Post author

      VR is certainly not required for any lens. It’s nice to have and will certainly get you some shots that you might not have gotten clear and sharp otherwise but its not mandatory and it also drains your battery somewhat. I tend to keep it turned off if I don’t need it. If you are working with a fast enough shutter speed it should be a non issue.

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

      1. Maggie

        Thanks for the thoughts on VR. You can sure snag some better deals without it, that’s for sure. I’ll have to consider this. If I want to stick with DX, non VR is about the only cost saving measure I could take. I sure don’t want to do my own metering. Anyone tried non AF to save some $ and get more reach?

  12. Maggie

    At the risk of not irritating anyone, I withdraw my question. I read quite a bit last night and it seems the 55-300 VR DX is probably next on my wish list. May keep the 55-200 non VR for long outtings where weight would be an issue. Thanks for a great article and a friendly site.

  13. Charles

    I have a Nikon D 5300 and it have a Nikkor lense 18 to 55 vr. It takes good pictures but AF don’t work as I wish. Can you tell me which Zoom I can buy which is better to replace it, and not too expensive. Thanks in advance

    1. Maggie

      I had the same question. You can switch the AF “modes” in settings to cause it to focus on many things, on the central object, etc. Make sure you check the settings menu! Even when I put my lens on “manual” mode with my 35mm, I have to change it to manual in settings as well or I do not get manual focus, for instance. Settings are key!

  14. shahjahan

    I wanted to buy a camera which is equally good for portrait photography and video shooting in nikon….. and a perfect kit lens and extra macro lens that should be in reasonable range and good for portrait photography and video shooting

    1. hytekblue Post author

      shahjahan,

      Generally speaking I would not recommend one lens for portraits and video. I tend to like the Nikon 35mm f1.8 prime lens for video. This is a cheap lens and does really well for video on a Nikon DX series body. For portraits I prefer the Nikon AF-S 85mm Nikkor F/1.8G. Both lenses are reasonably priced. You can certainly shoot video with the 85mm lens but in general it has limited use in close area’s. A good set of ND filters will also go a long way when shooting video as your shutter speed is essentially locked at 1/60th a second during video recording. As far as camera either the D3300 or D5300 will work well for both purposes. A lot of people tend to go with the D5300 for video due in large part to the articulating LCD viewfinder which depending on the angle can allow for better viewing while filming video. I hope this helps a little.

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

  15. Haren Asher

    Hi.
    thanks for the great review. I have owned a 55-300mm Lens for my Nikon D7100 for about 2 years now along with my trusty 35mm 1.8.
    Its a nice lens, but as you rightly say, the focus is too slow for fast moving subjects, everything else being equal.
    My question. Is the 70-300 VR a worthy “upgrade” to the 55-300? I am an amateur photographer so not looking at the more expensive lenses out there(budget – within USD $500). Should i be looking at any other lens as well? ..
    regards
    Haren

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Haren,

      beyond focus speed you are really not getting much else with the 70-300. Perhaps an 85mm prime would be a good next lens if you are into portraits.

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

      1. Walter Paredes

        Hi
        I own the Nikon D5100 but I want the D7000 do you think the change will worth it?
        and is the answer is yes why???

        Thank in advance for your help

        1. hytekblue Post author

          Walter,

          Their are only a few advantages to the D7000 vs the D5100.
          1) better ergonomics i.e. more dedicated buttons to be able to changes settings faster with out a menu.
          2) A magnesium body which gives you added durability
          3) A second SD card slot which will allow you to write to two cards simultaneously. Think Instant Backup
          4) A slightly better View Finder and more autofocus points.
          5) A top view LCD screen for camera settings.

          That being said the Image sensor is exactly the same so by and large your images from both camera’s would pretty much be identical.

          For me the answer was yes it was worth the extra money to have the dedicated buttons and more AF points. It allowed me to change settings quickly and not miss shots.

          I hope this helps.

          Cheers,
          Hytekblue

  16. Nabeal

    Hi,
    Thank for the nice review. i have a nikon 5300. i am using sigma 70-300 (non OS) and usually soot birds. (may plan a trip to masai mara kenya soon). the only problem i am facing is that the images i am getting are not that sharp and colorful, also the fact being that i live in dubai where the weather is dusty. i am not sure if i should just buy a nikon to get my pics sharper and clear or is it just the dusty weather of Dubai.
    please see my pics on Insta: nm_boxer (i have to edit them slightly to get them sharper. do every photographer do that?)

  17. shane

    thanx for this review , i was torn between saving some money on the 55-300 or buying the costlier 70-300 , now i know spending that extra currency is going to help me a lot .

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Ramesh,

      Essentially all you gain is focus speed, the images will be identical otherwise. If you already have the 55-300 it might not make any sense to upgrade.

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

  18. Mahendra

    Hi. Thanks for your deep review. I have recently bought Nikon D 7200 along with 18-40 mm Kit lens. I am looking for a Telescopic zoom lens(probably Nikor 70-300 VR) which will help me to take wildlife photos. Please advise.

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Mahendra,
      The 70-300 is a great lens but it may not be long enough depending on how far away your subjects are. I often use my Sigma 150-500 lens when photographing birds.

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

  19. Dushyant

    I have nikon d5100, for bird photography can I mount recently launched nikon 200 – 500mm lense on nikon d5100. Is it compatible with my camera or it can’t bear the load of above mentioned lens.please help.

  20. Outlander337

    Thanks for this review , I already own the 55-300 and used it with a D80 for some time but I have never been happy with it as it is not as sharp as it should be. I bought it from ebay as a grey import. Unfortunately as a newbie back then it took me too much time to realize that I may have a bad copy of the lens so couldn’t send it back. You are correct about the focusing being glacial which is part of my frustration in owning this lens. I have read lots of reviews on both these lenses and now believe after reading your review that buying the costlier 70-300 is the way forward for me as I have now moved to the D5300 where there is room for extra crop factoring ,I hope it get a good copy of the lens as I have seen that there may be some bad copies of this lens out there too. I hope spending that extra currency is going to help me a lot and reduce my frustration, my question is what is the maximum crop factor you have achieved good results from 70-300 lens?

  21. Naima

    Hi .im going to thailand with family.i intend to buy nikon d5300 .i have a choice to buy either 18-55 mm or 18- 140mm lens .which one should I buy.please help me !

  22. Riccardo Flask

    I have the 55-300VR and it produces extremely sharp images at 300mm, focusing never was a problem, but I never tried the 70-300 to be able to compare.

    I was considering however a faster lens… but as when I shoot concerts this lens struggles at f5.6. My problem is that 200mm and f2.8 would partially solve my problem… (not to mention the cost!!).

    Any suggestions?

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Riccardo,

      Honestly the Nikon 70-200mm VR II would probably be my first choice but it is expensive. My second choice would be the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D NIKKOR ED. My third choice would probably be Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR AF-S. None of those are really even in the same ballpark price range but when you start talking fast glass and Nikon things get pricey.

      Cheers,
      Hytekblue

  23. Trevor

    I have the Nikon D5300 and I’m looking to shoot wildlife photos as well as do some indoor/outdoor sports filming. Would the 70-300mm lens be good for video?

    Thanks.

  24. Rob

    Hi
    I’m currently looking at both lenses and can see the difference in the price even on Ebay, as the lens is likely to be used in Manual focus a fair bit for night shooting of planets, DSO’s and such like, when I’ve not got my scope out or I’m away from home, but it will also be used for birds and landscapes.

    Is the 70-300 really worth it over the 55-300, i already have a 70-300 by sigma and its not the best i can’t seem to get pin sharp images on a D5200, I’m starting to think the issue lies with the lens not the camera as the camera has been back 4 times and its now pin sharp on my 35mm prime and the kit lens but still blobby and out of focus on the sigma regardless of the amount of time i spend fiddling, it seems fine autofocus though (bought used for ref).
    If i buy it will be new so I’m at a dilemma with the choice.
    thanks in advance

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Rob,

      I have actually had really sharp results from my Sigma 70-300 lens. It was however slow to focus and like the 55-300 it rotates your filter as it focuses which is be a deal breaker for me.

      On to your actual question “Is the Nikon 70-300 really worth it?” and to be honest I believe it is absolutely worth it.

      Cheers,
      Hytekblue

  25. Brutal

    Hi,

    sorry to bring this up again, but I am really confused and since I am a newb, hence confused πŸ˜›

    I have a Nikon D5200 with 18-55mm VRII lens.

    I am confused between my next lens, which one should it be 55-300mm or 70-300mm lens?

    There is a gap of 15mm between the two.

    Considering that I have a 18-55mm lens and as a layman, my next lens should be 55-300mm.

    How important are those 15mm? Can I do without those 15mm or will it make a lot of difference not to have those 15mm?

    Sorry for the stupid question.

    1. hytekblue Post author

      Brutal,

      No problem at all and it is not a stupid question. On a DX series camera the 15 mm between 70mm and 55mm is about one step. Literally one step as in take one pace backward with your feet and you have just changed your perspective the equivalent amount as adjusting your zoom. You will mostly likely find as you use your camera more that you will make bigger changes to your photo’s composition by moving your body to get a different perspective than you will with your zoom. But when you need to zoom you will be at the longer end of the spectrum. I hope this helps.

      Cheers,

      Hytekblue

    2. Mahmood

      I have 55-300 lens. It is a sharp lens but auto focus speed is a bit slow. Good for still shots…. not suited for fast moving objects.

  26. Rosie anderson

    Thank you for all the fantastic information you reply to on this site. I have been reading it all. I have recently brought a D5500 with 18-55 vs lens. My first DSLR camera and am a keen beginner. It’s great am I am enjoying it very much. But not happy that I am unable to bring the shots closer. My 8 year old daughter is pulling off a lot nicer shots on my old Fiji film with a 18-300mm bridge camera. Have tried to do a lot of research about the 70-300mm for me,even called Nikon today who said just buy a 70-300vr DX as that is the correct lens. My question is should I be happy with just the 70-300mm ED DX or should I go for the 70-300mm AFS Vr IF ED fx type? I realise it is a fair bit more money and my budget is pushing a secondhand fx type. Do I understand correctly that the DX will have a lot slower focus speeds?? please could you tell me all the positive reasons for getting the better lens. Not thinking of upgrading this camera,but want to make the right choice of which lens. I would prefer to get the better lens now,rather than regretting it in a years time if being frustrated by focus etc speeds. Will be using it for close up shots of birds and animals mostly I think. Really appreciate your time. Would you please be kind enough to include all the exact spec of camera language I need to look for when I hunt for the lens on e bay. All the AFS…ED…G…..DX…..IF?. Many thanks. Rosie

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