Cruise Vacation Photography
Nikkor 70~300mm AF Zoom lens f1:4~5.6 D

In this section, I will review the photo equipment I typically take on board cruises, how I pack the equipment, and some photo examples. I rarely take all of the equipment on a given cruise, but rather tailor what equipment I take to where we are going.

The Nikkor 70~300mm f1:4~5.6 D AF Zoom lens is no longer made, but you can still find a few new ones, and it can be had in the used market for under $200 (B&H Photo, Adorama, etc). I bought it in 2004 during my transition from 35mm film to digital camera equipment, so it is a full-frame lens. When used on a DX camera such as the D90, the sensor multiplication factor means the lens is equivalent to a 105~450mm lens, which for a telephoto lens isn't necessarily all bad. For those of you that prefer new equipment, I have suggested a few close cousins.

While I normally like faster lenses, there are a few things to consider when cruise photography. First, the telephoto lens is likely to be used outside on bright sunny days, generally the subject matter is not going to be sports or fast moving objects, and cost. Within these parameters, the lens is certainly acceptable.

Lens Type: Zoom
Format: FX (full-frame)
Maximum Aperature: f1:4 to 5.6
Minimum Aperature: f1:32
Focal Length: 70mm to 300mm (105-450mm DX)
Autofocus Type: AF
Minimum Focus Distance: 5ft
Maximum Field-of-View: 34 to 5 deg
Filter size: 62mm
Manufactured: Japan
Lens construction: Advanced Amateur
Street Price: $250

Nikkor 70-300mm f4~5.6 and alternatives.

Overview: I classify this lens as advanced amateur as it has a metal mounting ring, and a fairly heavy body. So much so that you will likely tire after a day of lugging it around and shooting with it. Like most inexpensive lenses, it does not maintain it's aperature throughout the zoom length. However, in the cruise environment, the expectation is it will be used mostly under daylight conditions. The lens is a FX full-frame format, which means there is a magnification of 1.5x when used on DX cameras. And since it is AF focusing, the lower end Nikon cameras (D3000, D3100, D5000, D40, and so on) cannot autofocus with it, as they require AF-S lenses.

Alternatives: The alternatives I suggest include both FX and DX format, and those with AF-S focusing and Vibration Reduction. If those features are important to you, I'd suggest looking into those alternatives.

Since the lens does not have Vibration Reduction, you may find the need to use a tripod or monopod, especially given the 450mm effective focal length at maximum zoom. Otherwise, you will want to use a fairly high shutter speed; perhaps 1/500th of a second or more, which means increasing the ISO speed or opening the aperature; and we're back again to the fast lens argument.

But what if you want a fast 2.8 lens? While Nikon does make fast f2.8 telephoto lenses (the Nikkor 70~200mm f2.8 VR IIis perhaps the ubiquitous favorite), the cost well in excess of $2K, so they are not practical investment for the serious amatuer, and certainly not likely to have an advantage for a cruise photography where the predomonant location for this lens is going to be outside-daylight photography. Also, the f2.8 lenses are a lot heavier, and you are lugging enough junk on your cruise anyway, right? If you feel this lens is necessary, cheaper alternatives are the Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 (no VR), or the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 equivalent as they are both priced well under $1K. All of these lenses are FX format, meaning use in a DX camera is possible, but with a 1.5x increase in focal length.


Perhaps we can cheat.

We already know that the less expensive lenses are slower, and that varies over the focal length. But what if we used the lower end or middle of the zoom range to take advantage of a larger aperature. Would that help? You bet. Here are the focal lengths vs. aperature for my Nikkor 70~300mm f1:4~5.6 D AF Zoom lens:

Zoom focal length
DX (1.5x) length

For comparison, this would now be a good time to review the standard aperature settings. The chart below shows full f-stops between each aperature setting. In other words, each f-stop has an Exposure Value (EV) of 1.


If we can limit our focal length on the zoom lens to 135mm (DX equivalent of 202mm), we end up with a minimum aperature of f4.2. Not too bad. F4.2 is within 10% of f4, so for all practical purposes, we can say that at 135mm, this lens is 1 f-stop (or one EV), slower than a super-expensive f2.8 telephoto lens. If you are familiar with the concept of Reciprocity, you know than that to compensate for this difference, we must either double our ISO speed or halve our shutter speed. Even if we cannot compensate enough and end up shooting one EV too low, most post-processing software has enough infomation to fix the exposure value (assuming you shoot in RAW format).

So, by cheating and limiting the largest focal length on the inexpensive zoom to the DX equivalent of 200mm, we can get almost the same performance as the expensive lens - exposure wise. Of course, this does not account for other differences in the lenses (optical clarity, sharpness, and so on).

You can clearly see in these photos the effect of underexposing by an EV of 1 (difference between f2.8 and f4). This difference can easily be compensated in post-processing. Remember though, this would only happen if you were at the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed you dared to go with the slower lens.

Exposure Value -1 (underexposed by 1 f-stop).

Exposure Value correct.


Zoom Focal Length.
As shown below, the difference between 70mm and 300mm is quite significant.

70mm - yacht leaving port - St. Thomas, USVI

300mm - yacht leaving port - St. Thomas, USVI

Summary: Quite frankly, this is probably the least used lens in my camera bag, and if I were going to leave any lenses home, this would be it. It's heavy, and ideally requires the use of a monopod at the highest power zoom. There are just not a lot of photos that require the long-distance of the telephoto in the cruise environment. One issue in the Caribbean is humidity, which creates a haze at long focal lengths. While a UV filter can prevent some haze, it cannot eliminate it. Shooting long telephoto lenses tends to accentuate the haze, resulting in photos that look washed out.