If you want to isolate a cactus next to a large setting sun, you need a reasonably long telephoto. With the sun in the frame, you also need that telephoto to resist flare. The compact and wonderful Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is up to the task.
When this lens was first released, there was certainly some internet chatter about the Fresnel element causing bright lights to flare in a noticeable (and presumably objectionable) way. Since Nikon explicitly mentioned this in the press release announcing the lens, that was a natural reaction. I have not challenged this lens with what are likely worst-case scenarios of bright headlights at night or concert stage lights, but shooting directly into the setting Arizona sun seems pretty tough in this regard. As the example above shows, the nano-coated lens handles it just fine. No weird flare rings and no reflections.
Admittedly, the low sun is not as intense as it would be high in the sky and it is not surrounded by darkness. However, there are plenty of dark silhouettes in the frame that would tend to expose any problems. The following image, taken a few minutes earlier, features an ocotillo cactus silhouetted in the foreground and the sun behind some thin cloud. I am pretty happy with the exposure despite the backlit cloud being blown out; it combines well with the warm coppery color to make everything look hot. As for the lens handling the bright sun in the frame, I don’t see anything unusual or objectionable here.
If you are curious about detail, the following small crops clearly show the defensive armament of both cacti. Plenty of detail.
This is one of my favorite landscape lenses. The fact that it is pretty much the same size as my 16-35mm f/4G means I almost always bring it with me. If you are planning some sunset shots, don’t be bashful about pulling it out. You’ll get a big sun in the frame and the color is usually best near the sun, too. Find something interesting to silhouette in the foreground and you won’t be disappointed.
(Well, you may be disappointed if you stare through the lens at the sun and are seeing it for the next few hours even when you close your eyes. Please use LiveView on your camera instead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because I did.)
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