Nikon has a long history of making professional 70-80 to 200mm focal length zoom lenses, but aside from the very old 70-210 f/4 AI-S and AF lenses, it has never had an affordable and lightweight constant aperture f/4 model in its line. With its arch-rival Canon making a 70-200mm f/4L lens since 1999, and the high cost of the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II model, Nikon was often criticized for not providing an f/4 alternative. After many years of delays, Nikon finally announced a lightweight alternative to the f/2.8 version in October of 2012 – the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, which is designed to work on both full-frame (FX) and cropped-factor sensor (DX) DSLR cameras.
With the introduction of the 70-200mm f/4G VR, Nikon completed two sets of lenses for professional and enthusiast/budget use. The high-end professional “trinity” is comprised of Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, 24-70mm f/2.8G and 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, while the enthusiast/budget set contains Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR, 24-120mm f/4G VR and the new 70-200mm f/4G VR – all stabilized constant aperture lenses, albeit with a little overlap. In this review, I will not only go over the features, specifications and performance of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR lens, but will also compare it side by side with its bigger brother, as well as other third party lenses like Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain the latest Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD lens for a comparison, because the Nikon mount version was not available yet.
1) Lens Specifications
- Up to 5 stops of image stabilization compensation with the latest Vibration Reduction III technology
- Lightweight, portable and highly versatile, weighing only 30 ounces and measuring 7 inches in length
- 3 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass elements for maximum sharpness and minimum chromatic aberration
- Nano Crystal Coat (N) reduces ghosting and lens flare
- Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides ultra-fast, ultra-quiet autofocusing with seamless manual focus override
- Internal Focusing (IF) lens construction, which means that the lens does not change in size during AF operation
- Focal length: 70-200mm
- Maximum aperture: f/4
- Minimum aperture: f/32
- Lens construction: 20 elements in 14 groups (with 3 ED and Nano Crystal Coat-deposited lens elements)
- Picture angle: 34°20’ – 12°20’ (22°50’ – 8° with Nikon DX format)
- Closest focusing distance: 1m
- No. of diaphragm blades: 9 (rounded)
- Filter/attachment size: 67mm
- Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): Approximately 78 x 178.5mm
- Weight: Approximately 850g
2) Lens Handling and Build
Unlike its big and heavy brother, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, which has a weather-sealed construction and solid metal barrel, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR is designed to be lightweight and portable. Therefore, it does not have the same tough build, which is expected from such a lens. Most of the barrel is made of plastic and both focus and zoom rings are covered with textured rubber, as seen on other recent AF-S Nikkor lenses. This does not, however, mean that the lens feels cheap in any way or that its quality is sub-par. Many of the Nikon professional lenses are also made with a hard plastic shell to make them lighter, so there is no need to worry. In fact, plastic handles extreme temperatures better than metal, because it does not expand and contract like metal does when temperatures change quickly. On top of that, it is much easier to hold a plastic lens in extremely cold temperatures without using gloves. Still, plenty of metal is used in the lens – it has a metal zoom ring (under rubber), metal mount and metal parts are used to hold optical elements. So I do not see why the lens wouldn’t last a lifetime if you handle it well. The zoom ring is easy to rotate from 70 to 200mm and vice versa, with some needed resistance. Overtime, it is normal for this resistance to get weaker – most of my zoom lenses were stiffer at first and got much easier to rotate after several years of use.
Will it live through occasional bumps every once in a while? Most likely. But I do not think it will survive a drop. As I was reviewing this lens, I happened to drop my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II from about two feet on the bare floor. The lens barrel bent and I can no longer mount filters on it, but the lens still works well. I tested it with Imatest and compared the results to previous measurements and I saw no notable differences. I doubt the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR would work the same if it suffered from the same type of abuse. So if you are a working pro and you know that you will be abusing your gear, the 70-200mm f/2.8 will probably be a better option. What about weather sealing? Again, the f/2.8 version will certainly do better in extreme weather conditions – I have used mine in dust, rain and snow and never had any issues. I was only able to test the 70-200mm f/4G VR in light snow and temperatures below zero Celsius and it worked without any problems. However, I do not think I would be comfortable using it in heavy rain. One of our readers reported that his copy started fogging up on a rainy day, so keep this in mind.
Weight-wise, the 70-200mm f/4G VR is a bliss – at 850 grams, it is 50 grams lighter than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and almost twice lighter than the f/2.8 VR II. I love my 70-200mm f/2.8G, but after a couple of weddings seasons, I find myself using lighter prime lenses instead. Those that use the lens on a pro body like D4 and shoot all day long will know exactly what I mean. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G feels much lighter in comparison. It balances nicely on most Nikon DSLRs and feels just right for those long photography assignments. It would also do great as a travel lens, leaving more room in your bag for other essentials and not causing as much pain on your back. For me, weight is always a huge factor to consider, so I suggest that you weigh in your priorities.
3) Compared to Other 70-200mm Lenses
Let’s take a look at how the lens compares to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Macro that I used in this comparison:
|Feature||Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR||Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II||Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8||Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Macro|
|Focal Length Range||70-200mm||70-200mm||70-200mm||70-200mm|
|Maximum Angle of View (DX-format)||22°50′||22°50′||22°50′||22°50′|
|Minimum Angle of View (DX-format)||8°||8°||8°||8°|
|Maximum Angle of View (FX-format)||34°20′||34°20′||34°20′||34°20′|
|Minimum Angle of View (FX-format)||12°20′||12°20′||12°20′||12°20′|
|Maximum Reproduction Ratio||0.274x||0.12x||0.125x||0.32x|
|Compatible Format(s)||FX, DX, 35mm Film||FX, DX, 35mm Film||FX, DX, 35mm Film||FX, DX, 35mm Film|
|Vibration Reduction / Image Stabilization||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Image Stabilization||5 Stops||4 Stops||4 Stops||N/A|
|Coating||Nano Coating||Nano Coating||SML Coating||IS Coating|
|Low Dispersion Elements||3||7||2||2|
|Silent Focus Motor||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Minimum Focus Distance||3.28 ft.||4.6 ft.||4.6 ft.||3.1 ft.|
|Focus Mode||Auto, Manual, Auto/Manual||Auto, Manual, Auto/Manual||Auto, Manual||Auto, Manual|
|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)||3.4×7.8 in. (Diameter x Length), 86.4×198.1mm (Diameter x Length)||3.5×7.6 in. (Diameter x Length), 88.9x193mm (Diameter x Length)|
|Weight||30.0 oz. (850g)||54.3 oz. (1540g)||50.3 oz. (1430g)||40.5 oz. (1150g)|
As I have already said above, the Tamron 70-200mm Macro lens does not really belong here – it should have been the new Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD lens instead. Since the lens was not available for the Nikon F mount at the time of testing, I could only obtain the old Macro version. I certainly have plans to test the new Tamron lens, because it seems to be comparable to the Sigma 70-200mm and a good alternative to the Nikkors.
Let’s go over some of the feature comparisons from the above chart. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR has some similarities with the Tamron 70-200mm in terms of macro capabilities. Both lenses have a minimum aperture of f/32, Nikon’s maximum reproduction ratio of 0.274x is pretty close to Tamron’s 0.32x and the minimum focus distance of 3.28 ft is very close to Tamron’s 3.1 ft. With these specifications, Nikon could have also added the word “Micro” to the name of the lens. So if you like to get close to your subjects, Nikon’s 70-200mm f/4G VR would be much a better choice than the f/2.8 versions. As I was playing with the lens’ macro capabilities, I remembered how painful it was in the past to do product and food photography with the 70-200mm f/2.8, because of its close to 5 foot focus distance. Being able to get over a foot closer with the f/4 without losing any focal length (read more on focus breathing below) is a huge advantage for detail shots.
Except for the Tamron 70-200mm, all other lenses have image stabilization / vibration reduction technology. The new Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR offers the best stabilization technology with up to 5 stops of advantage (on paper, read about my VR experience further down in the review), while both Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 are at 4 stops. The Tamron also comes short in focus motor performance – it was the loudest, slowest and the least accurate of the bunch.
Filter size of 67mm is a definite disadvantage for the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G – it is the only one in the group that does not have the standard 77mm filter thread. Given the smaller size of the lens barrel, I can understand why Nikon went with a smaller filter, but for many of us that rely on filters, it means buying additional rings to accommodate filters and filter holders. If you happen to use filters a lot, just get a 67mm to 77mm filter adapter and keep it on the lens for convenience.
Size and weight-wise, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR obviously stands out from the group, followed by Tamron, Sigma and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. Its weight advantage is a huge reason why I would personally prefer it to the f/2.8 version. Having shot a few weddings with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, I know that a lighter alternative would be more than welcome for my neck and back. It is one thing to shoot with a lens for a few hours and another to lug it around all day. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G is even lighter than the 24-70mm f/2.8G, which makes the f/2.8 version a beast in comparison at almost twice the weight.
Price-wise, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G is obviously much cheaper than its bigger brother, but it falls in the same range as the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 and the new Tamron 70-200mmm f/2.8 lenses. Hence, many photographers will be looking at both Sigma and Tamron lenses as alternatives. In this review, I will go over the performance characteristics of the Sigma and compare to the Nikkors, as well as the old Tamron, but you will have to wait for my evaluation of the new Tamron 70-200mm (which I am planning to review later this year).
3) Tripod Collar
As I have already pointed out in my Nikon 70-200mm f/4 vs f/2.8 comparison, Nikon decided to exclude a tripod collar with the 70-200mm f/4G lens and made it optional. The initial price for the optional RT-1 collar was set to ridiculous $223.95 (a pretty hefty price for a small piece of metal), which got dropped to a little more reasonable $169.95 within a few weeks. You might be wondering whether to get this optional collar or not. In my opinion, Nikon did the right thing by excluding it, because the lens does not need it for most cases – again, it is not much different than using a lens like Nikon 24-70mm. The only case where I recommend the collar, is for people that have lightweight/entry-level DSLRs and need the extra stability (for photographing landscapes, etc). Without a doubt, all entry-level Nikon DSLRs will easily be able to handle the weight of the lens, so that’s not why I recommend it. The main reason is the long length of the lens and the balance of the setup.
When shooting at very low shutter speeds at long focal lengths, the mirror slap of your camera will send vibrations to the lens. And because of the length of the lens, those vibrations might result in softer images. With a tripod collar, the setup gets a little more balanced and the mirror slap effect is greatly reduced. For heavier and higher-end DSLRs like D800 and D4, you do not have to worry about this for a couple of reasons. First, the weight of the camera is probably going to be greater than the weight of the lens. Second, those cameras have advanced exposure delay modes with up to 3 seconds of delay, which can be used in conjunction with the self-timer mode. So you can pretty much completely eliminate camera shake by using these features. Lastly, if you have a high-end camera, you probably have a good and stable tripod system, which is far more important than having the lens collar. No collar will stabilize your setup if you use a cheap and flimsy tripod. See my article on buying a tripod if you need help with picking a solid tripod system for your needs.
Personally, I would not buy the Nikon lens collar, since I heavily rely on the Arca-swiss quick release system. If you want a quality collar, wait until Kirk and RRS collars become available and buy those instead, with a solid Arca-swiss tripod head (if you do not have one).