I needed a better walkaround birding lens to use in wet weather. I like to have my camera and lens tucked inside my raincoat so that when a photographic opportunity presents itself, I can bring out the camera and take a decent image without getting my gear wet. After months of reviewing the options, I decided on the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR as the best solution. Specifically, this lens appealed not only for its optical quality but I found a deal on Adorama. The deal was for a factory refurbished lens and the price was a very affordable $350 USD. It included a 90 day factory warranty.
When the lens arrived it came in a plain corrugated box with a label indicating it was from Nikon as a refurbished product. The lens came with caps and case and it was in pristine condition. My next task was to determine optical quality and AF fine tuning. I was amazed that at 300mm the lens needed no AF fine tuning with my Nikon D500. And as far as sharpness and contrast, this lens at 300mm is excellent, actually on par with my Nikon 300mm D series F4 prime.
Then it came to AF performance and I was apprehensive because the reviews indicated that the lens suffered in this regard. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this lens on the D500 is far better than any of my screw drive lenses and on par with the AF-S lenses that I own. In practice, I have many more keepers of birds in flight than ever before and the sharpness is so exemplary that I can crop tighter and get superior detail. When I am out with other bird photographers, the results that I achieve give me many compliments. Some have even asked if they could get this lens. However, they are Canon shooters and out of luck.
Now, one area that this particular lens is notable in is the sharpness at the long end as it is not supposed to be so. The reviews all indicate that it is soft after 200mm and must be stopped down to f8 for any acceptable results. This is not my experience and I believe that it may be due to the fact that my lens was factory refurbished to a tighter spec than production models. I have read that this is the case and hoped it would be for this lens when I ordered it. Having it confirmed, at least for this one lens, leads me to want to purchase more refurbished equipment even if the price is slightly higher than used equipment.