A lot of elements come into play when trying for a great shot with a Nikon DSLR camera: light levels, shutter speed, aperture values and the quality of your lens. These ingredients, when combined properly, lead to your best shots, especially in difficult lighting conditions. Nikon's Nikkor lenses come in all shapes and sizes, with different qualifications and classifications. The vibration reduction feature -- abbreviated "VR" -- is one of many features, but it's arguably one of the most important lens specifications.
Nikon began releasing Nikkor lenses with vibration reduction technology in 2000. VR lenses do exactly what their name implies: reduce shake when you're using your camera without a tripod. Anyone who has tried to take a photo in anything other than broad daylight can understand and appreciate the difficulty of getting a steady shot in dim lighting. VR isn't a cure-all for shooting in dim light, but it's a big help and reduces your dependence on a tripod.
VR and Shutter Speeds
According to Kent Rockwell, who runs a Nikon-centric camera review and tutorial website, VR takes about four steps off your shutter range. This means that you can use a shutter speed four steps faster with a VR lens than with a non-VR lens in the same lighting condition. If you've shot at shutter speeds in the 1/4 to 1/60 of a second range, you'll appreciate the difference this can make. Instead of shooting at 1/10 of a second, you can step up to 1/25 of a second, increasing the clarity of the shot in twilight.
VR is primarily a feature on zoom and telephoto lenses. Nikon's 2011 Nikkor lens chart shows just 24 of the 71 lenses with vibration reduction features. Of these 24 lenses, half a dozen are standard zoom lenses, like the kit lenses sold with most Nikon DSLR cameras (18-55mm). VR is also available on two telephoto lenses, five super telephoto lenses, seven high-power zoom lenses (200-400mm maximum distance) and two macro lenses.
Nikkor Lens Naming
A quick glimpse at the Nikon lens chart, as of April 2011, reveals six abbreviations that are regularly added to the names of Nikkor lenses: DX, VR, SWM, ED, N and IF. If you look at any of your Nikkor lenses, you'll see one or more of these abbreviations in addition to AF-S, AF-I, G or D. These names aren't as hard to understand as they might first appear. Consider the following super telephoto zoom lens from Nikon: the AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR. The "AF-S" stands for "auto-focus silent," "Nikkor" is the name of all Nikon-made lenses, "600mm" is the maximum focus distance, "f/4G" indicates that the widest aperture setting is 4 and the "G" stands for gelded, meaning the lens doesn't have an aperture ring and the aperture is controlled by the camera body. "ED" and "VR" are the two key elements: "ED" stands for "extra-low dispersion" glass, which is present in most of Nikon's high-end zoom lenses; "VR" is vibration reduction, a key feature for shooting in low light.
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