The 55-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is composed of polycarbonate plastic, with matte black finish, a metal body mount and plastic filter threads. As an advantage this makes the lens quite light (580, 18.7oz) and easy to handle; however, it doesn't feel as robust as Nikon's more expensive lenses. It doesn't feel cheap; it just doesn't feel as ''solid'' as one might hope. That said, Nikon's figured out what to keep and what to leave and out and still leave the lens economically priced: features such as using 9 rounded diaphragm blades in the aperture to deliver smooth out-of-focus elements; using 1 High Refractive Index and 2 ED elements in the optical design; and a tripod-sensing VR system.
The lens has two control features: a switch to enable or disable autofocus, and a switch to enable or disable vibration reduction. The lens does not feature a distance scale, depth-of-field indicators or infrared index. The lens takes 58mm filters: as mentioned, these will rotate during focusing.
The zoom ring is considerable, about one and three-eights inches wide, with well-textured raised rubber ribs. It provides a nicely spaced zoom selection, rotating 90 degrees through its range. The lens will extend about one and five-eights inches during its zoom range. Zooming action is very smooth but nicely dampened; the lens won't creep at all.
The focus ring feels like a bit of an afterthought, a ribbed rubber ring a quarter-inch wide. The ring offers ninety degrees of focus travel, with hard stops on either end of the spectrum. It's worth noting that there's some slight lens extension during autofocus, with the lens barrel protruding an additional 3/4 inch at 300mm. It's not impossible to achieve accurate manual focus, but it's definitely harder than it needs to be. Clearly, this is a lens that's not intended for anything but autofocusing. That said, autofocus, while dependent on the body, is very accurate.
The lens features vibration reduction, and in practice, it works quite well - see our IS Test section for full details. In short, it doesn't quite offer the 4 stops of shake reduction as advertised, but it does offer some benefit.
The lens ships with the HB-57 hood, a rounded hood that offers protection from flare. The lens can be reversed and mounted on the lens for storage; when mounted, it adds 1.5 inches to the overall length of the lens.