Posted by: photographytuition | March 23, 2012

Which is best – zoom or fixed focal length lens?

How does a zoom lens compare against a fixed focal length lens?

It’s more difficult to make a lens that works well at a number of focal lengths than one that just needs to get it right at one focal length – but just how big is the difference?

Nikon 70-300mm f4.5/5.6 VR and Nikon 300mm f4 AF-S compared.

The set-up used for the test.

Both lenses were tested at 300mm – obviously!

The camera, a D7000, was set on a sturdy tripod and the photos taken with the mirror up using a remote release to minimise  camera shake. The VR on the 70-300mm was switched off.

A section of the book was then enlarged.

Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-f5.6 VR at 300MM f5.6.

Nikon 300mm f4 AF-S at f5.6.

Both photos were taken at 5.6 as this is the largest aperture available on the 70-300mm lens at 300mm. These images are straight from the camera – apart from cropping nothing has been altered.

Clearly the 300mm f4 wins and it’s interesting to see exactly how much better it is.

The zoom lens performed better at f8 but was still a good way behind the 300mm f4 even at it’s widest open setting of f4.


This isn’t as straight forward as it may seem!

70-300mm = £430

300mm f4  = £950

The 70-300mm is a VR lens – Vibration Reduction – and is roughly half the size and weight of the 300mm f4 and is consequently much easier to hand hold. In the real world, ie not using a tripod, the 300mm f4 is quite hard to hold steady and camera shake is likely to be an issue, evening up the differences in the lenses.

I use both these lenses. The 70-300mm is great for carrying around all day and covers a usefully wide focal length range but for ultimate quality, for example photographing birds from a hide, I take the 300mm f4.

I hope you found this helpful.

If you have any questions please email me: or if you would like to join me on a photography course and try out these lenses for free take a look at my website:


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