Build quality and handling
Weighing 530g, the Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is noticeably heavier than the 335g Nikon 55-200mm VR, and it's 23mm longer, at 77 x 123mm. This extends to maximum length of 225mm with the hood fitted, at the longest zoom and closest focus settings.
Unlike the Nikon 55-200mm VR and 70-300mm VR, this lens doesn't have internal focusing, so the front element both extends and rotates during focusing. It's a bit of a pain when you're using filters such as a circular polariser, where rotation of the filter is critical.
Despite being longer than the Nikon 55-200mm VR, the zoom ring on the 55-300mm is actually a little shorter but still very comfortable in use. The action is smooth and there's no zoom creep even when using the lens vertically.
The manual focus ring is perched on the front of the lens, so doesn't get fouled by your fingers during autofocus. It's slightly larger than the focus ring on the 55-200mm VR and a little easier to use, but still doesn't have a focus distance scale.
Autofocus is as quick and quiet on the Nikon Nikkor AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR as with the Nikon 55-200mm VR throughout most of the zoom range, although it slows a bit at the maximum focal length of 300mm. Vibration Reduction gives rather more consistent results and lives up to its 4-stop claims.
Optically, the Nikon 55-300mm VR is impressively sharp throughout its entire zoom range, from the largest available apertures of f/4.5-5.6 down to f/16.
There's plenty of contrast too, and vignetting is well controlled, especially considering the big zoom range. Distortion is fairly minimal throughout the zoom range, and only really noticeable at around 135mm, where there's a little pincushion distortion.
Taken at 300mm, f/5.6