I had been on the waiting list for about 6 months when last week I got a notice from my pro equipment supplier in NYC (BHPhotovideo.com) that my new digital telephoto zoom lens was shipping. The MLK holiday slowed things a day, but the past two days I have been marveling at this incredible piece of optics.

Just a bit of background so you can better judge my opinions – I am a long-time photojournalist and switched form my wonderful 35mm Olympus and 4×5 film cameras a few years ago to a Sony VX2000 video camera and a pro-sumer Nikon D70.

The D70 is no longer even the top pro-sumer camera (I will upgrade to a D80 (10.2 M pixel) as soon as I get a good offer on eBay for my D70 body) but it had all the features I needed for animal and news photography, such as virtually instant-on imaging and fast image storage – it can shoot continuously at about 3f.p.s.

But the original lens, while good, was not the best for my needs.I will keep the 18-70mm standard AF-S Nikkor zoom for indoor work where it works fine but the new lens is seldom going to leave the camera body since I mostly work outdoors.

The Nikkor 70-300 zoom not only has fantastic glass for wonderful resolution and a rounded diaphragm for better blending out-of-focus elements, it also has switchable VR II, an active/passive vibration reduction system which is what makes a 300mm zoom practical for hand-held work.

In addition to OFF, there are two VR modes, one counters hand-held (slower) vibration and the other reduces the sort of mechanical vibration you would get in a moving vehicle – both work like magic.

Focusing down to 4.9ft, this 1.6 lb. lens is a bit of a monster, but one well worth lugging around and it balances nicely enough on the big D70 SLR body.

For those who don’t know, although you can mount many Nikkor lenses on the digital SLRs, digital lenses are optimized for digital cameras. My feeling is that if you really need a Nikon SLR, then you should bite the bullet and buy new digital lenses – besides, they all come with fantastic automation features and are very fast and accurate as well as nearly silent during the autofocus stage.

If you are an experienced film photographer and have really steady hands, you may be thinking that you could hold a 300mm lens steady enough without the extra technology – well, I can too, if it is 35mm and I have good light, but you need to realize that for a digital SLR 300mm is the equivalent of 450mm  on a film camera and I don’t know anyone who really likes to hand hold a 450mm lens at less than 1/1000 sec.

The VRII system lets you shoot at a considerably slower shutter speed than you would otherwise need and works even better when you have a monopod or cheap tripod.

My first test shots were taken on an overcast day and at 300mm.  I got “snapshots” of one of my rams which clearly shows individual hairs on his chin but the background is nicely blurred – the long lens not only made him stand out from the background, it produced an image where you can easily count hairs.

The shot was handheld and I was shooting about 3 frames per second at the time –  I was also about 50 ft away and it was a living, moving animal.

For me the combination of this lens and a D70 is almost perfect and I suspect moving up to the D80 will complete the package. If I were still doing a lot of political coverage I would keep both the D70 and a new D80, but now I just shoot for the Web and for a glossy  magazine, as well as publishing some CD-ROMs with stock photos.

I won’t be moving up to the vastly more expensive pro Nikon cameras – not now and probably not ever.

If I need that sort of resolution and flexibility, well I still have a couple 4×5 cameras and high-end lenses I can pull out of storage – NO digital camera of any price can even come close if I were going to say crop the image and still print a billboard size photo!

But for real world imaging my editors at Small Town Life Magazine just LOVE the quality of these Nikon cameras and lenses.