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|There are Nikkors and there are Nikkors|
|Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 ED-IF AI-s|
Is it just moire on a regular horse?!
We're bouncing through Etosha state park (Namibia) in a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup truck that could best be described as "well-traveled": ten coats of paint, seats from a Datsun that are anchored only on one side, a solar panel on top, and a transmission that won't shift into reverse. Now that it's noon, it's 45 degrees centrigrade (about 115º F), there is no shade, and everything is heating up - including the barrel of this lens. Heat waves are coming up off the scrub, and we are in the failure mode for lithiumn ion batteries and autofocus systems. This, my friend, is when you learn why Nikkor ED lenses focus past infinity. And you realize why you didn't bring some plastic fantastic lens to one of earth's most unforgiving environments.
The 300/4.5 ED-IF is the last of Nikon's compact manual focus 300mm lenses. It has a long thin barrel (including a generous focusing ring) that opens up to a front section with a 72mm rilter mount. The second and final version of this lens featured a 9-blade circular aperture and wide tripod collar. Note that both versions of the AI-s lens look alike, with the same markings around the"head"; if you can't tell by looking at the tripod collar, look on the Nikon lens serial number site to tell which version is which. The AI-s variants replaced the ED AI version (no internal focus) and the older Nikkor-H 300mm f/4.5.
Operation is easy, and you can focus the lens with your fingertips. The IF construction means that you are only focusing a few elements inside the lens. So use a light touch. The aperture (like the 180/2.8 AF IF and AF-D) sits behind the rearmost glass element. So keep the rear cap on it when the lens is not in use.
Optical performance is outstanding at all apertures (best at f/8-f/11) and is completely usable at f/4.5-5.6. Some people think there is some chromatic aberration in this lens; there may be, but if it's there, it's negligible. A tripod, monopod or beanbag is highly recommended at any shutter speed below 1/500 sec - at least until you get some practice. If you don't have time to practice, shoot like hell!
This lens will mount on any Nikon body ever made - but you will obviously not get autofocus. Nor would it do you much good. When you're out in the bush, AF will catch things that you need to look through - like grass. And worse, autofocus gets kind of dodgy when heat waves come up off the ground. Finally, there is no way to command AF to focus through something like that, and most times, you have little or no time to fix things before your animal bolts (exception: you can walk up on a giraffe).
To get auto exposure on Nikon digital cameras, you will need a D1, D1x, D1h, D2x, D2h, or D200. I strongly recommend the heaviest digital body you can find, the best viewfinder you can afford (read D2x), and the appropriate magnifier (DK-17M or DK-21M). I don't think a split-screen viewfinder would be of much help due the maximim aperture of the lens - and the accuracy limitations of split-prisms with telephoto lenses. For a film camera, I would counsel a U screen (like a B, but for 200mm and up) or a D screen (plain, toothy groundglass).
In the end, I was highly impressed by this lens, which made it through very rough environmental conditions without vaporizing any lubricants, getting any dust inside, or suffering in any other way. Nikon makes more sophisticated 300mm autofocus lenses today, but they all have plastic parts inside - and I wouldn't want to be hours from the nearest town when they decide to melt.