Lens Sharpness and Contrast
As expected from a high-end professional lens, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II does not disappoint when it comes to sharpness. When compared to the previous generation Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR, it is not only sharper in the center, but also significantly superior in the mid-frame and the extreme corners. This lens performs so well at f/2.8, that you wouldn’t want to shoot it at larger apertures, unless you need to increase 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 f/2.8G ED VR, thanks to better coating and superior optical design.
Here is how the lens measured with Imatest software at different focal lengths:
As you can see, the lens starts out very sharp at maximum aperture at the shortest focal lengths and its performance diminishes towards 200mm, particularly in the corners. Stopping down visibly improves sharpness, especially at f/5.6 where the lens shows the best overall performance.
Use with Teleconverters
The lens works incredibly well with the Nikon 1.4x teleconverter at all apertures, even wide open. Although sharpness is definitely impacted (as expected with any teleconverter), you will not notice a visible drop in sharpness in your images. If the corners look a bit fuzzy, just stop the lens down to f/5.6 and smaller, and they will improve dramatically. I have tested both the TC-14E II and TC-14E III with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and both teleconverters performed admirably. When measuring the performance of the teleconverters in Imatest, I did not notice any drastic sharpness differences in the center of the frame, but the TC-14E III did show slight advantages in the extreme corners. If you already own the TC-14E II, there is no need, in my opinion, to upgrade to the TC-14E III for use with this lens. The TC-14E III performs a tad better with the latest generation Nikkor prime lenses, as it is specifically designed for them.
The lens also performs surprisingly well with Nikon TC-17E II (1.7x TC), which is known to only couple well with a select few high-end Nikon primes. Take a look at the below image of the bird that I captured using this combo:
And here is a 100% crop of the above image to show its pixel-level performance:
The previous generation 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR was nowhere close in comparison with the 1.7x TC. On the first generation 70-200mm VR, the lens would have a hard time acquiring focus with a 1.7x TC in anything but ideal light. This lens focused marginally better in a similar environment with the same teleconverter. Again, stopping down improves sharpness quite a bit, especially towards the edges of the frame.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II does a pretty decent job with the TC-20E III (2x TC), which is something I personally did not expect, as doubling the focal length of the lens rarely ever results in usable images. I have previously tried the TC-20E II with this lens and after taking a few sample shots, I took it off immediately. However, the newer TC-20E III is a whole different animal – it performs much better compared to its predecessor. Although wide open performance at f/5.6 is too soft for my taste, stopping down the lens to f/8 yields pretty decent sharpness and autofocus is quite usable with the latest generation Nikon DSLR cameras. So if you are looking for a versatile setup capable of reaching up to 400mm of focal length, the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is a great choice. However, keep in mind that prime lenses will always outperform this lens coupled with teleconverters, so if you are wondering if the 70-200mm with the 1.7x or 2x teleconverter would be comparable to a 300mm or a 400mm prime, the answer is a definite “no”, especially at maximum aperture.
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