In this article, I will do a comparison between the new Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR and its bigger brother, the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. This comparison is expanded even further in my Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR review. I have been using both lenses for the past month, along with two other similar lenses from Tamron and Sigma, so the review will include direct comparisons between all four lenses, along with bokeh and other lens feature comparisons. Let’s take a look at the detailed lens specifications, along with a side by side comparison to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II:
Lens Specifications and Comparison to Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
|Feature||Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR||Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II|
|Mount Type||Nikon F-Bayonet||Nikon F-Bayonet|
|Focal Length Range||70-200mm||70-200mm|
|Maximum Angle of View (DX-format)||22°50′||22°50′|
|Minimum Angle of View (DX-format)||8°||8°|
|Maximum Angle of View (FX-format)||34°20′||34°20′|
|Minimum Angle of View (FX-format)||12°20′||12°20′|
|Maximum Reproduction Ratio||0.274x||0.12x|
|Compatible Format(s)||FX, DX, 35mm Film||FX, DX, 35mm Film|
|VR (Vibration Reduction)||Yes||Yes|
|VR Technology||3rd Generation||2nd Generation|
|Nano Crystal Coat||Yes||Yes|
|ED Glass Elements||3||7|
|Super Integrated Coating||Yes||Yes|
|AF-S (Silent Wave Motor)||Yes||Yes|
|Minimum Focus Distance||3.28 ft.||4.6 ft.|
|Focus Mode||Auto, Manual, Auto/Manual||Auto, Manual, Auto/Manual|
|Accepts Filter Type||Screw-on||Screw-on|
|Dimensions||3.1×7.0 in. (Diameter x Length), 78.0×178.5mm (Diameter x Length)||3.4×8.1 in. (Diameter x Length), 87×205.5mm (Diameter x Length)|
|Weight||30.0 oz. (850g)||54.3 oz. (1540g)|
|Supplied Accessories||LC-67 Snap-on Front Lens Cap 67mm, HB-60 Bayonet Hood, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-1225 Semi-Soft Case||HB-48 Bayonnet Hood, CL-M2 Case, 77mm lens cap, LF-1 Rear lens cap|
There are a couple of differences worth noting here. While the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G has a maximum aperture of f/4, its minimum aperture is also smaller at f/32 (versus f/22 on the 70-200mm f/2.8G). Next, it obviously has a simpler optical design with 20 elements in 14 groups, while the 70-200mm f/2.8G has 21 elements in 16 groups. The new Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR also comes with a brand new, third generation Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, which Nikon claims can provide up to 5 stops of image stabilization. This is interesting, because while the new 70-200mm f/4 lens is one stop slower than the 70-200mm f/2.8, in some situations it regains the light loss with better VR control. After playing with the lens for sometime, I must admit that the VR on the 70-200mm f/4 is in fact better. I am sure Nikon will be using this new VR system in all future lenses, because it really works. The number of ED elements in the 70-200mm f/4G lens design is fewer: 3 versus 7 on the 70-200mm f/2.8G. A big advantage, in my opinion for the 70-200mm f/4G is its closer focusing distance of 3.28 ft versus 4.6 ft on the f/2.8G version. Because the barrel size is smaller, the filter size is also smaller – 67mm versus 77mm. And lastly, it is a smaller and significantly cheaper lens. But what about everything else? Looks like the rest of the features are pretty much exactly the same. Both lenses have a 9 blade diaphragm, both are coated with Nano Coated glass, both have Super Integrated Coating, AF-S motor and Internal Focusing.
MTF and Sharpness
Thanks to all these optical features, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR performs extremely well compared to the f/2.8 version. Take a look at the MTF chart of the 70-200mm f/4G compared to the MTF chart of the 70-200mm f/2.8G at 70mm (wide):
At 70mm, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR yields better contrast from center to corners than the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, which is very impressive (red line). Now take a look at the blue line, which represents resolution. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G seems to start off a tad worse in the center, but look at how the line ends up at the far end of the graph – it is significantly higher in comparison, which means that the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G will probably yield better corner sharpness wide open. Now let’s see what happens at 200mm (telephoto):
We see even a better pattern here – the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR not only has better contrast throughout the frame wide open, but its resolution is also significantly higher throughout the frame, especially in the corners.
Just like I thought, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G turned out to be one hell of a lens. And my lab tests using Imatest fully support this data – the lens outperforms its bigger brother in a number of ways:
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 70mm:
And the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 70mm:
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G looks a little worse in the center as the 70-200mm f/2.8G (which is razor sharp stopped down), but take a look at the corners – it clearly resolves more details in comparison.
Zoomed in to 105mm, we get the following results from the 70-200mm f/4G:
And the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 105mm:
Once again, the 70-200mm f/4 shows excellent performance throughout the frame that outresolves the 70-200mm f/2.8 in the mid frame and the corners.
Lastly, here is what 200mm looks like on the 70-200mm f/4G VR:
And the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 200mm:
And it gets even better at 200mm, with excellent all around performance. The 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II seems to resolve more details in the center, but its sharpness falls off quickly in mid-frame and extreme corners.
Autofocus speed is excellent, very close to the AF motor on the 70-200mm f/2.8G. At almost half the weight and cost, the 70-200mm f/4G is showing unbelievable value. The only bummer with the 70-200mm f/4G, is the $223.95 price tag attached to the lens collar. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ships without a lens collar, so if you want to mount your lens on a tripod directly, then you will have to pay this ridiculous price. A lens collar would be nice on lightweight DSLR bodies, but if you are planning to use it with any of the semi-pro and pro bodies, then you do not have to worry about getting one – the lens relatively lightweight for the mount and it balances quite well. Compared to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II that weighs 1540 grams, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR is almost twice lighter, weighing only 850 grams. This, I am sure will make many event and travel photographers happy. Having shot a number of long weddings with the 70-200mm f/2.8G hanging off my neck and feeling the pain, I know the weight difference will be a major factor for many photographers out there. Just make sure that you use a good tripod plate that won’t break or come off easily, if you are planning to mount the setup on a tripod.
Lens Breathing and Depth of Field
As you may already know, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II was a disappointment for some photographers, because it suffers from a “lens breathing” optical design, where the focal length of the lens varies depending on subject distance. At close distances, the 70-200mm loses quite a bit of the range, which can be a problem for those of us that like to fill the frame with small objects. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR does not have this problem – I measured its focal length and it was exactly 70-200mm, no matter how close or far I focused. Its optical formula is similar to that of the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Macro, which also measured about the same. Now why is this important? If you lose some focal length at close distances, it also means that you will have to zoom in closer with the f/2.8 version to get a similar field of view. And as you may already know, longer focal length translates to shallower depth of field, which translates to better subject isolation and smoother bokeh. When comparing bokeh on the two lenses, if I focused with the 70-200mm f/4G VR at 116mm at a distance of about 5 feet between the lens and the subject, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II required me to zoom in to 200mm to get a similar field of view! That’s a pretty significant difference in focal length… If we use a depth of field calculator, we can plug what a 116mm lens at f/2.8 is like compared to a 200mm lens at f/4, both at 5 feet subject distance. The calculator says that the 70-200mm f/2.8 will yield a depth of field of 0.09 feet, while the 70-200mm f/4 will have 0.04 feet. That’s right – at close distances, the 70-200mm f/4G is actually a better lens to use for subject isolation. Now 5 feet is obviously too close, so let’s do slightly more realistic numbers. When doing my lab tests, I measured that the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II at 200mm is equivalent to the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at 170mm, both at a distance of 13 feet. If I plug those numbers to the same calculator this time, I end up with 0.29 feet of depth of field for both lenses. What this all means, is that the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G yields shallower depth of field than the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G from the closest focusing distance to about 13 feet. Past 13 feet, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G starts to take over, because the lens breathing effect starts to wear out and the lens recovers most of its focal length. Therefore, at close distances, that one stop advantage of the 70-200mm f/2.8 is really not that of an advantage!
What about bokeh, you might ask? Let’s take a look at how the two lenses compare. First, let’s start by comparing the highlights (Left: Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR, Right: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II):
Both of these were shot at f/4 and different focal lengths to match the field of view. Both lenses have a defined ring around highlights, which looks about the same. However, the f/2.8 has comparably clearer highlights than the f/4 when the highlights are well-defined. If we look at the less visible highlights, I cannot see any difference between the two. Bokeh is not always about just highlights though, so let’s take a look at how the background is rendered with less visible highlights:
In all honesty, I cannot see any differences worth noting between the two. Both produce very smooth and pleasing to look at backgrounds.
Hence, unless you really need the fast aperture of f/2.8 for low-light situations (and slightly better highlight bokeh), there is little reason to buy the heavy and expensive 70-200mm f/2.8G. Overall, there is not much to complain about on the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR. Similar to the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G lenses, I will be recommending this lens over the f/2.8 version going forward for most of our readers.
More to come in the upcoming review, so stay tuned!