The latest generation of the 70-200mm lens is no exception – Nikon completely redesigned the lens, adding more “ED” (Extra-Low Dispersion) optical elements, making this lens sharper than the previous version. Nikon also added the new “N” (Nano Crystal Coating) to this lens, which is supposed to minimize ghosting and lens flare. Other new features include a brand new “VR II” vibration reduction system, which provides a four stop benefit over non-VR systems and a new “A/M” focus mode for auto-focus priority.
So, compared to the older 70-200mm (which is a superb lens), this lens is supposed to deliver better sharpness and vibration reduction, better resistance to ghosting and flares and less vignetting on full frame bodies (which was a major weakness of the older lens). In this review, I will do my best to provide a thorough analysis of this lens, along with image samples and comparisons against other Nikon lenses.
1) Technical specifications
These are taken from the Nikon press release.
- Focal length: 70-200mm
- Maximum aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum aperture: f/22
- Lens construction: 21 elements in 16 groups (with 7 ED and some Nano Crystal Coat-deposited lens elements)
- Picture angle: 34°20’ – 12°20’ (22°50’ – 8° with Nikon DX format)
- Closest focusing distance: 1.4 m/4.6 ft. (throughout entire zoom range)
- No. of diaphragm blades: 9 (rounded)
- Filter/attachment size: 77mm
- Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): Approximately 87 x 205.5 mm/3.4 x 8.1 in.
- Weight: Approximately 1,540 g/3.4 lb.
More information about the lens and detailed specifications can be found on the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens page.
2) Lens handling
Just like its predecessors, the new Nikon 70-200mm VR II lens is built like a tank to last a lifetime. It is made of solid metal and can easily withstand tough weather, occasional bumps and is well protected against dust and moisture. The 21 optical elements within the lens, along with the metal body add to the weight – making it 3.4 pounds in total weight, which makes it necessary to hold the lens with one hand, while holding the camera with another. The lens feels solid in hands and the zoom ring is easy to rotate from 70 to 200mm and vice versa. The focus ring is located close to the zoom ring, making it easy to reach it with fingers for manual focus, without having to move the hand to the front of the lens barrel. Compared to the older version of this lens, the zoom ring is a little longer, while the focus ring is a little shorter, which was a smart move by Nikon. After-all, this lens is created for automatic focusing and the focus ring does not get nearly as much use as the zoom ring.
3) Focus acquisition speed and accuracy
When it comes to speed of focus acquisition, the 70-200mm is one of the best performers in the Nikon line of professional lenses. The lens autofocus system with SWM (Silent Wave Motor) is quiet, while focusing is instant and accurate, even in low light conditions. I recently shot a corporate event with this lens and I was amazed at the speed and accuracy of focus when mounted on an FX sensor. Here is a good example of how the lens focuses in a very dim environment:
As you can see in the picture, the room was poorly lit with candles and very dim light and yet the lens focused fast and dead-on, wide open at f/2.8. Out of approximately 250 pictures that I took that day, only about 5 were slightly out of focus, mainly due to the limited amount of light in the meeting room. Quick note: none of the test images have been processed in Photoshop – I extracted them as they were from Lightroom without making any changes.
4) Lens sharpness and contrast
I won’t go much into lens sharpness, because you can see all sample images yourself in the next several pages. But if you can’t wait, see the large version of the above picture – I shot it at f/2.8. This lens performs so well at f/2.8, that you wouldn’t want to shoot it at higher apertures, unless you need to increase the depth of field or improve corner sharpness. In fact, once I saw how good the shots were coming out at f/2.8, I just kept shooting wide open and really loving the results! Best of all, the lens has consistent sharpness across the board, from 70mm all the way to 200mm. Color and contrast have also been improved over the previous 70-200mm.
I measured the sharpness of the lens using Imatest and here are my findings:
As I have said above, the lens is very consistent at all focal lengths. Corners are a little softer wide open, but improve dramatically when stopped down.
5) Vibration Reduction – VR II
The new vibration reduction system in this lens is truly amazing! I loved my old 70-200mm, but it made me nervous to shoot it below 1/40-1/50th of a second. After I got the new 70-200mm VRII in my hands, I decided to see what I can get with this lens at much lower shutter speeds. Take a look at this shot:
Unbelievable! Tack sharp at 1/13th of a second at f/2.8! Good luck trying the same on the previous 70-200mm! The new vibration reduction system really works and you can get some magical shots with this lens. Wedding photographers will absolutely love this!
The bokeh on 70-200mm lenses has always been outstanding. Although I no longer have my old 70-200mm lens (I sold it at a higher price than what I paid for it 3 years ago) to compare with, I feel that the bokeh actually looks better on this lens than on its predecessor. I went through some of my archived images and I can say that the bokeh on the previous 70-200mm does look a little harsher, although I rarely shot the older lens wide open, due to softness at very large apertures between f/2.8 and f/4.0.
Anyway, I still had to do a bokeh test of this lens against the Nikon cream machine and the king of bokeh – Nikon 85mm f/1.4. Take a look at these image samples:
As you can see, the bokeh on the new 70-200mm VRII is very comparable to the bokeh of 85mm f/1.4 – it is very smooth and “creamy”.
Vignetting has been greatly reduced at lower focal lengths, but at 200mm it is still quite noticeable when shot against a plain bright background. Nothing to worry about though, as I could not spot vignetting on my images at 200mm – I only noticed it during testing. Here are some test shots that reveal vignetting @ 200mm at different apertures:
At higher apertures of f/8.0 and above, the effect is minimized to the degree where it is barely visible.
8) Ghosting and Flare
I haven’t yet performed a real test for ghosting and flare outside, but judging by what I have seen so far, the effects are almost completely gone – I did not see any ghosting while shooting indoors. I’m also sure that lens flare has been substantially reduced (due to “N” Nano-Coating), otherwise Nikon would not have changed the lens hood to be shorter and more open. Talking about the lens hood – I was able to squeeze the lens into my bag with the lens hood attached! I was never able to do that on my older lens, because it was too long and I had to reverse the hood to fit it into my camera bag.
9) Tripod Support
I rarely use this lens on a tripod, but if you need to mount it on a tripod for whatever reason, the tripod mount is very stable and sturdy, just like on its predecessor. Since nothing changed on the tripod mount and the leg is the same as on the previous model, I was able to re-attach my RRS “L-10 Lens Plate” on the lens leg and it worked perfectly! When mounted on a tripod, don’t forget to turn “VR” off.
This lens is practically distortion-free. There is a slight amount of it on both short and long focal lengths (barrel and pincushion), but nothing to be worried about. When you use this lens for architectural work and for photographing textures and patterns, you can fix the minor distortion in Photoshop very easily by using the Lens Correction filter.
11) Focus Breathing / Increased Field of View
The new Nikon 70-200mm VR II has a larger FoV (Field of View or Angle of View) compared to the older version at close focus distances. Some people refer to this phenomenon as “focus breathing”. I spotted the difference while doing a comparison of this lens against the Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S. With a 1.7x teleconverter mounted on the lens, I could not produce a similar field of view at 300mm when standing very close to the subject – the lens was far off. Even at 340mm (200mm x 1.7x TC) the lens was shorter than what Nikon 300mm was giving me, which is not good news for those who want to use this lens for close telephoto work. When I did a similar comparison with my older 70-200mm, I didn’t have that big of a difference, so there is definitely a loss in magnification at both short and long focal lengths when in close focus. If you stand further away (13-15+ feet) from the subject with focus near infinity, the field of view issue goes away and the focal length returns back to normal. This happens due to focus “breathing”, an effect when focal length changes with the change in focus distance.
So, how pronounced is this difference, especially on the long end at 200mm? At the closest focus distance (4.6 feet) @ 200mm, the lens is like a 120mm lens. As you move about 10 feet away from the subject, the focal length changes to approximately 165mm-170mm. When the lens is near infinity, the focal length is very close to actual 200mm. Does this present a problem? For most people it doesn’t. For those that like to get close to smaller subjects, it sure does. At longer distances and when focused close to infinity, the new and the older lens have almost exactly the same field of view (near 200mm).
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests. Select the next page from the drop-down below.
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 3700 Temp, +11 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D700 FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect. After each successful focus acquisition, focus was switched to manual to prevent camera refocusing
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted (-.20 to +.033) to make sure that all images have the same brightness
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures. I rarely use this lens above f/8.0 and did not see the point of doing tests at very high apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm @ 70mm Center Frame
This lens performs incredibly well at all apertures @ 70mm in the center of the frame. I tried to compare the images and could not spot any difference.
13) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm @ 70mm Corner Frame
Corners also look very good, although there is slight softness at f/2.8. At f/4.0, the image looks tack sharp all the way to f/8.0.
14) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm @ 105mm Center Frame
Again, the center of the frame is super sharp all the way from f/2.8 to f/8.0!
15) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm @ 105mm Corner Frame
Same story as with 70mm – the image is a little softer at f/2.8, but sharp starting from f/4.0.
16) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm @ 200mm Center Frame
Center frame @ 200mm is as sharp as the other focal lengths throughout the aperture range.
17) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm @ 200mm Corner Frame
Corners look a little soft @ f/2.8, but very sharp starting from f/4.0.
Use with Nikon TC-14E II Teleconverter
18) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II Teleconverter @ 70mm (100mm) Center Frame
The lens works incredibly well with the Nikon 1.4x teleconverter at all apertures, even wide open at f/4.0. I could not see any difference between the above shots.
19) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II Teleconverter @ 70mm (100mm) Corner Frame
As expected, there is some softness to the image at f/4.0 in the corners, due to slight softness of this lens in the corners at f/2.8 without a teleconverter. But at f/5.6 and above, the softness is completely gone.
20) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II Teleconverter @ 105mm (150mm) Center Frame
Again, very sharp in the center at all apertures.
21) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II Teleconverter @ 105mm (150mm) Corner Frame
Corners are again a little soft wide open at f/4.0, but nothing to be too worried about.
22) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II Teleconverter @ 200mm (280mm) Center Frame
Can’t tell the difference between the images – everything is tack sharp.
23) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.4x TC-14E II Teleconverter @ 200mm (280mm) Corner Frame
Same thing, corners are a little soft at maximum aperture.
Use with Nikon TC-17E II Teleconverter
24) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.7x TC-17E II Teleconverter @ 70mm (120mm) Center Frame
I’m not sure if I got a very good sample of the lens, but the performance with a 1.7x teleconverter is surprisingly good. My previous sample of the 70-200mm VRI was nowhere close in comparison with a 1.7x TC. On the VRI version of the 70-200, the lens would have a hard time acquiring focus with a 1.7x TC in a dim environment. This lens focused marginally better in a similar environment with the same teleconverter. Again, the center frame looks about the same between f/4.8 to f/8.0
25) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.7x TC-17E II Teleconverter @ 70mm (120mm) Corner Frame
As expected, the corners are a little soft at f/4.8, but sharp at f/5.6 and above.
26) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.7x TC-17E II Teleconverter @ 105mm (180mm) Center Frame
Same thing as with 1.4x TC – center is very sharp at all apertures.
27) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.7x TC-17E II Teleconverter @ 105mm (180mm) Corner Frame
Slight softness at f/4.8.
28) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.7x TC-17E II Teleconverter @ 200mm (340mm) Center Frame
The center suffers a little bit at 200mm and f/4.8, but is back to normal at f/5.6 and above.
29) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm with Nikon 1.7x TC-17E II Teleconverter @ 200mm (340mm) Corner Frame
Use with Nikon TC-20E III Teleconverter
One of our readers, Ron Wales, provided some test image samples from his Nikon 70-200mm VR II + TC-20E III setup on a Nikon D700 body. Historically, the previous-generation Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR performed poorly with a 1.7x TC and even worse with the 2.0x TC. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the latest Nikon 70-200mm VR II works beautifully with all three teleconverters and provides acceptably sharp results with the new Nikon TC-20E III teleconverter.
Take a look at the following 100% crops:
Performance wide open @ 200mm without a teleconverter for comparison:
And here is a full-size version of the above shot at 400mm f/11.
Some notes from Ron: The images are hand-held and I visually matched image scale between the 200mm and 400mm shots using the viewfinder grid. I’m probably off by a few percent between the images but it’s close enough for our purpose here. As you can see, the 200mm @ f/2.8 cropped image is very sharp. The 400mm @ 5.6 image drops off a little and f/11 brings it back. The bottom line here is that we are “pixel peeping” in this exercise. If you view these images at 100% it’s hard to tell the difference. I think the Nikkor 70-200 VRII coupled with the TC 20EIII is a winning combination.
I am very impressed by this performance and I honestly did not expect a zoom lens to be this good with a 2x teleconverter.
Big thanks to Ron Wales for providing these images!
Compared to Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S
30) Nikon 70-200mm VR II vs Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S
As I pointed out in page 1 of this review, there is a magnification issue with the new 70-200mm VR II. Because of this, it was a little difficult to make a fair comparison between the excellent Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S and the 70-200mm VR II. After many trials and errors and moving the setup back and forth, I was able to photograph an equivalent field of view on both lenses and compare sharpness at 300mm (Left: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, Right: Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S).
The Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S is still sharper (and it should be, because there is no TC attached to it) compared to Nikon 70-200mm VR II with a 1.7x TC-17E II. However, the image from the 70-200mm is NOT much worse when it comes to sharpness! When I compared the older 70-200mm VRI to my 300mm lens, it was much softer wide open at f/4.8, so there is definitely a big difference in lens performance, especially at maximum aperture.
Summary and Image Samples
Summary and Image Samples
The new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II is clearly a better lens than its predecessor. As can be seen from the image examples in this review, the performance of this lens is outstanding at maximum apertures throughout the focal lengths and the new VR II system clearly helps in getting shake-free images at low shutter speeds of 1/50 and below. Nikon did an outstanding job in addressing the problems with vignetting on FX bodies and the Nano Coating should help to minimize ghosting and flare issues the older lens suffered from. The only two drawbacks that I can think of are price and decreased magnification. With a $2,400 price tag, which is equivalent to what a brand new Nikon D700 costs today, it definitely does not fall into an “affordable” category. The decreased magnification is not good news for those who need the reach, but is not necessarily bad for portrait photographers, because they can fit more, if needed. Professionals that work in challenging conditions and could use the sharpness and the new vibration reduction feature will definitely buy and appreciate the lens, while others might look at the older version as a good alternative, especially if they are shooting on DX bodies.
32) Where to buy
The lens is currently available at all big resellers. I personally pre-ordered mine from Adorama, but you can also find it in other stores like B&H. Nikon did a really good job in making sure that the lens gets in stock on time at all major camera stores, just like they did with the Nikon D3s.
33) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.