Focus 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.
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!
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.
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 VR II is very comparable to the bokeh of 85mm f/1.4 – it is very smooth and “creamy”.
Vignetting has been 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 it can be taken care of via post-processing software like Lightroom with a single click. Here are some test shots that reveal vignetting at different focal lengths and apertures:
As you can see, stopping down the lens to f/5.6 and smaller almost completely gets rid of vignetting.
When it comes to chromatic aberration (CA), the lens has very little lateral CA from 70 to 85mm. As you zoom in, lateral CA definitely increases, with 200mm showing the highest levels at the maximum aperture. Unfortunately, stopping down does not do much to reduce chromatic aberration. Take a look at the below chart by Imatest:
The good news is that you can typically address lateral chromatic aberration issues in post-processing software pretty easily. The levels are not extreme to the point that you would have to do anything special – just enabling the lens correction module in Lightroom will take care of the problem immediately.
Distortion is controlled quite well on the lens, with the shorter focal lengths having practically no visible distortion. As you zoom in towards 105mm and longer, there is a bit of barrel distortion, with the strongest effect at 200mm. If you happen to use the lens for architectural work and for photographing textures and patterns, you can take care of the problem in Photoshop or Lightroom very easily by using Lens Corrections.
Ghosting and Flare
I have used the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II in many environments, including bright sun shining directly at the front element of the lens. While telephoto lenses are not designed to handle ghosting and flare well, Nikon’s Nano Coat definitely makes a huge difference when handling bright sources of light. In many cases, you will be able to photograph without any visible flares in your images, but it all depends on the location, the angle of the light source, whether you have a filter attached and whether the front element of the lens is clean or not. If you use a cheap filter or your front lens element is dirty, expect to see pretty visible ghosts and flares in your images. So if you plan on shooting against the sun, make sure to remove filters and clean that front element! If you don’t have a filter and your front lens is clean, then just pay attention to the location of the source of light in your frame – sometimes even moving the source of light in the frame by just a little will help significantly reduce ghosting and flare in your images. As always, make sure to keep that lens hood attached, as it helps a lot when shooting with the sun overhead!
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.
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).
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