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
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
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).
4) Focus Speed and Accuracy
Autofocus speed of the 70-200mm f/4G VR is excellent, I would say very close to the AF motor on the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. I took the lens out to a couple of birding spots around my area and while at first it felt like it was not as quick as my f/2.8, it was fast enough to photograph birds in flight. Here is a photo of a bald eagle in flight, captured from the window of my car (using Nikon D3s):
As for autofocus accuracy, I could not tell any difference in AF accuracy between the 70-200mm f/4G and the 70-200mm f/2.8G – it was equally as good in daylight and low-light conditions. Lola and I did a a model shoot in a studio with flash. I was testing some lights and the room was too bright for what I was doing, so we turned off all the lights and blocked the windows to have the least amount of ambient light in the room. Most lenses, especially variable aperture lenses, suffer in low-light conditions, with focus hunting back and forth when trying to acquire focus on a subject. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR did really well in such environment and most of the shots turned out to be in perfect focus. Here is an image sample from the studio shoot:
If you are wondering how sharp the image is, here is a 100% crop:
I also shot a Taekwondo tournament with the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR and it handled extremely fast athletes really well at the largest aperture. Here is an example, shot at 70mm, f/4, ISO 800:
5) 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 (compared directly to other lenses with similar focal lengths). 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 better subject isolation and smoother bokeh (if the camera to subject distance remains constant). 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, because of massive difference in focal lengths. Hence, at close distances, the 70-200mm f/4G is actually a better lens to use for subject isolation. I know what you will say: “but the field of view is different”. Yes, true, but think about photographing a small subject at close distances. With the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, you cannot zoom in any further to get the subject to appear bigger – the only thing you can do is add a teleconverter. Whereas with the 70-200mm f/4G VR, you can make the subject appear bigger (and even bigger with a teleconverter) and you have more options for better 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, again because of difference in focal lengths. 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. Again, this shows that the 70-200mm f/4G would be much better suited for close-up work than the 70-200mm f/2.8.
What about for portraiture? Obviously, one would not be interested in zooming in to a person’s face more just to get better subject isolation, especially if the subject already filled the frame. In those situations, the lens with a faster aperture still has the advantage in terms of depth of field. So if I were to take both the f/2.8 and f/4 lenses and match the field of view from both lenses, the f/2.8 lens will yield shallower depth of field. This is why I compared all lenses at f/4 when showing bokeh performance below – all lenses had to have a similar field of view with exactly the same aperture for a fair bokeh comparison.
6) Lens Sharpness and Contrast
Photographers choose expensive professional 70-200mm lenses for their excellent sharpness and consistency in sharpness throughout the focal range, at their maximum apertures. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is excellent in that regard – it yields extremely sharp images wide open at f/2.8 and if I stop it down, I only do it to increase depth of field. When Nikon announced the 70-200mm f/4G, the first thing I did was look at the provided MTF charts. As I expected, the MTF charts showed a very positive picture. I will soon be publishing an article on how to read MTF charts from Nikon, Canon and other manufacturers. But for now, just remember two simple things – the higher and the straighter the line, the better the contrast and sharpness of the lens. Here are the published MTF curves from Nikon (click on each image to open a larger version):
Per Nikon, this lens delivers excellent contrast across the full frame (solid red line). Sharpness starts out very good at 70mm and improves even more towards 200mm (solid blue line). There is a little bit of field curvature on the wide end, but it is off the center, so it should not be noticeable. Center, mid-frame and corner performance should all be excellent, especially at 200mm.
While I don’t always trust MTF charts from Nikon (since they are only theoretical), this one is pretty dead on with my lab assessments (see my Imatest results further down below).
So after I looked at the MTF data, I decided to compare it to the MTF data from Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. Take a look at the following comparison:
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. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G seems to start off a tad worse in the center sharpness-wise, but yields better corner performance wide open (again, my lab tests confirm this). Now let’s see what happens at 200mm:
We see even a better pattern here – the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR not only has better contrast wide open, but its resolution is also significantly higher throughout the frame, especially in the corners.
What does this all mean? It means shoot the lens at f/4 with confidence at any focal length and only stop down if you need to increase depth of field.
7) Teleconverter Compatibility and Performance
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR is compatible with all three of the current Nikon teleconverters: TC-14E II, TC-17E II and TC-20E III. I have received a number of requests from our readers, who asked me to tell about my experience with these teleconverters – which ones work well, which ones don’t. Specifically, most people seem to be interested about how the lens works with the Nikon TC-20E III.
The Nikon TC-14E II has always been my most favorite teleconverter and it is a must-have for any photographer that wants to expand the range of telephoto lenses. The reason why I like this teleconverter so much, is because it almost does not affect the performance of lenses, or their focusing abilities. And the same is true for the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR – the TC-14E II works extremely well, making it a 98-280mm f/5.6 lens. Autofocus speed and accuracy did not drop at all and the lens resolved a lot of detail wide open, making this combo very suitable for any kind of work.
My experience with the TC-17E III was fairly short, because I am not particularly fond of this teleconverter in general. I mounted the TC-17E II on the 70-200mm f/4G VR (equivalent to 119-340mm f/6.7) and tested it out both indoors and outdoors. When shooting outdoors in bright light, the TC-17E II did quite well. AF speed and accuracy were both good and sharpness was fairly close to what I was getting with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II with the same teleconverter. I expected the lens to suffer like my Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR does when using it with the TC-17E II, but it certainly did better. In less than ideal lighting conditions though (especially indoors), AF speed and accuracy did suffer visibly more, with some loss of contrast.
As you may already know, I am quite pleased with the performance of the Nikon TC-20E III, which I reviewed back in 2011. The TC-20E III turned out to be a much better teleconverter than the old TC-20E II, which only seemed to work well with a couple of high-end super telephoto lenses. It performed surprisingly well with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, which I reported in my review of the lens. So when testing the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR, I wanted to see how well the TC-20E III would couple with the lens when it comes to sharpness, autofocus speed and accuracy. Unfortunately, because of distance limitations, I was not able to put the setup through my Imatest lab (which I took care of later, so I will reassess the performance of my telephoto lenses later this year), so I had to resort to simpler evaluations. There is quite a bit of loss of contrast with the TC-20E III, similarly to what you would see with other lenses, which is expected. There is also visible loss of sharpness wide open at f/8, which does not seem to improve by much when stopped down to f/11. Autofocus performance and accuracy are also a mixed bag. With the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II + TC-20E III, you can get pretty decent results even in less than ideal lighting conditions, because it is still an f/5.6 lens. Stopping down the lens to f/8 improves sharpness dramatically and it becomes a great combo for wildlife photography. So focusing with older Nikon bodies like D3s and D700 works well with the 70-200mm f/2.8 + TC-20E III combo. However, with the 70-200mm f/4 + TC-20E III mounted on my D3s, the situation was not the same. AF speed and accuracy suffered by a lot and my D3s hunted for focus quite a bit when photographing birds. I stopped after a few tries, because I got frustrated. On my Nikon D800E though, the experience was not as bad, so if you happen to own the latest Nikon DSLRs, you might find this combo usable.
If you are looking for a good wildlife lens + TC combination, I would not recommend the 70-200mm f/4G VR with the TC-20E III. Yes, you can get decent results on the latest Nikon DSLRs, but it is nowhere close to what you can get with the Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S + TC-14E II. The latter does not have VR, but if you are into birding, you will be shooting at 1/1000 and higher shutter speeds most of the time anyway and you want VR turned off at such high shutter speeds. VR is only useful for slow shutter speeds, when light conditions are poor.
8) Color Rendition
If you have been shooting with Nikon lenses for a while, you might have noticed that Nano coated lenses produce better colors than non-coated lenses. Although Nikon states that Nano Crystal Coat helps reduce ghosting and flare, in my experience it also improves overall colors and contrast as well. Nikon has been exclusively using this coating technology on higher-end lenses and if you compare some of the recent lenses with their older counterparts that do not have it, you will probably notice the difference in color rendition as well. On some lenses, the effect is stronger than on others. For example, I find that the nano-coated Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR renders superior colors than the older Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 and the new Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, both of which do not have Nano Crystal Coat. Straight out of the camera, images just look better on the 24-120mm VR. When testing out the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR, I found that it renders colors the same way the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II does, which is excellent. Again, I think it is because both the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and the 70-200mm f/4G VR have similar lens coating.
9) Vibration Reduction – VR III
When I read about Nikon’s announcement of the new Vibration Reduction III technology in the 70-200mm f/4G VR, I was a little skeptical that it would be in any way better than VR II. While image stabilization technology is certainly effective on any lens, I never quite agreed with Nikon’s bold “4 stop advantage” claims in their VR II. In my experience, 2-3 stops is a more realistic number. So when Nikon announced VR III with “5 stops of advantage”, I wondered if it meant an improvement of 1 stop over the realistic 2-3 stops, or another marketing lie.
Unfortunately, measuring any image stabilization performance is a difficult task. There is no way for me to provide any quantitative data, because it would require a complex setup that involves machines shaking the camera in a certain manner and direction. And trying to do a measurement by hand-holding the lens and reporting on the number of sharp vs blurry shots is never accurate either, because there are too many variables involved.
Having used the lens for a month, I came to a conclusion that the new VR III system is indeed more effective than VR II. I tried shooting at very slow shutter speeds with both the f/2.8 and the f/4 lenses and my hit ratio with the 70-200mm f/4 was better. Again, I won’t be able to provide any numbers here and it is hard to say how much better it is – probably between half a stop to a full stop (depending on the situation) is a good guess. I cannot say that my results came out better just because of the newer VR though. Keep in mind that the 70-200mm f/2.8 is about twice heavier than the f/4 version, so weight could have been the reason for better sharpness in my case. Either way, I really liked how the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR handled vibrations and I felt like it worked better than on my f/2.8G VR II.
When looking at bokeh performance, it is not very useful to only look at a single lens – I personally find side by side comparisons with comparable lenses much more useful. Therefore, I tested all four 70-200mm lenses in similar conditions. The first bokeh comparison shows how the lenses compare in rendering highlights (all shot at f/4 with comparable field of view):
While none of these highlights look as smooth as from portrait primes like Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, it can be clearly seen that some look better than others. In this case, I was rather surprised to see Sigma render highlights so well when compared to Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II – similar edges, but slightly smoother inside the highlight shapes. It certainly does not suffer from the “onion” bokeh many Tamron and Sigma lenses typically have, which is great. If you look at the specifications comparison from the earlier part of the review, you will see that Sigma has the most complex optical formula, with more lens elements and groups than other lenses (including the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II).
The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Macro also looks good, but my sample had a serious issue when stopping down to f/4 – the aperture was actually smaller, closer to f/5.6. You can see it from the crop above; bokeh highlights look smaller in comparison. I dismounted the lens and tried a few other things and this issue reoccurred every time.
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR seems to render bokeh highlights the worst in this group. The outer edges look OK with some visible fringing, but the inner part of the circle certainly does suffer from dirtier look. If we look at the less visible highlights, I cannot see that much difference though.
But bokeh is not always just about 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 these lenses – all four produce pretty smooth and pleasing to look at bokeh.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR produces a rather high amount of vignetting wide open at longer focal lengths. It starts out fairly low at 70mm, but the effect quickly increases, with 135mm producing the highest amount of 2.35 stops on average. Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 reduces vignetting quite a bit, but it still stays around the 1 stop mark even at f/11-f/16, as can be seen below:
And here is a a graph that shows the spread of light falloff across the image frame at 135mm, f/4 (worst vignetting levels):
Again, vignetting is relatively easy to fix in Lightroom via the Lens Correction module.
12) Ghosting and Flare
Coated optical glass elements certainly help with handling ghosting and flare on the 70-200mm f/4. Take a look at how it handled direct sun when compared to the rest of the group:
Colors on the building were preserved the best on the 70-200mm f/4G VR, but I still like the way the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II handled the bright sun in the corner, with less noticeable and better looking ghosting.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR has more noticeable distortion when compared to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. It suffers from both barrel and pincushion distortion at short and long focal lengths and pincushion distortion is most pronounced at 200mm. Here are the measured distortion results from Imatest:
In comparison, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II has twice less barrel distortion and less noticeable pincushion distortion at 200mm:
Both Sigma and Tamron also handle it better, but the best one in the group is the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II.
Gladly, distortion is not a major problem and can be quickly fixed in Photoshop or Lightroom using the Lens Correction filter.
14) Chromatic Aberration
When it comes to lateral chromatic aberration, the lens seems to handle it quite well, even in high-contrast situations. Imatest measured a little more CA at 70mm, 85mm and 105mm, but less CA than on the 70-200mm f/2.8G at 135mm and 200mm. Here are the results from my lab measurements:
Longitudinal chromatic aberration / LoCA (which is the effect of color fringing in front of and behind the focused area) is also handled well at large apertures.
15) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 70mm
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G measured in my lab environment at 70mm:
Just like the MTF charts showed, the lens shows excellent performance in the center, with a slight degradation of image quality in the mid-frame and the corners.
16) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 85mm
Here it is at 85mm:
Again, pretty consistent performance with what we saw at 70mm.
17) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 105mm
Zoomed in to 105mm, we again see excellent results from the 70-200mm f/4G VR:
Corners increase in resolution at 105mm, as can be seen from the above graph.
18) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 135mm
And they get even better at 135mm:
19) Sharpness Test – Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR @ 200mm
Lastly, here is what 200mm looks like:
Excellent all-around performance at 200mm from center to corners. In my experience, only a few Nikkor lenses are able to achieve such superb performance.
Now let’s see how the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR compares to other lenses.
20) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 70mm
As I pointed out earlier in this review, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II suffers from a focus breathing issue, which made it a bit difficult for direct comparisons – I had to readjust the camera to test target distance every time I changed lenses and re-calibrate my setup. Here is what Imatest measured from both lenses at 70mm:
Without a doubt, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is a great lens for resolving detail in the center, but it requires stopping down the lens to f/5.6 to get the maximum resolution on a 36 MP camera body. It resolves less detail across the frame wide open and the performance is equivalent at f/4, but only in the center and mid-frames. The corner frame remains weaker in comparison, as can be seen from the above graph. Only at f/11 the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 surpasses the smaller f/4G across the whole image plane.
21) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 105mm
Let’s see how the lenses compare at the focal length of 105mm:
Both lenses improve in mid-frame and corner performance, but the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II now has even a harder time catching up with the 70-200mm f/4G VR – we only see similar performance at f/11 between the two lenses. At all larger apertures, the smaller and cheaper f/4G outperforms its bigger brother.
22) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 200mm
Finally, let’s take a look at the performance of both lenses at 200mm:
We see a similar pattern at 200mm as well – while the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 improves its corner sharpness, it doesn’t quite catch up with the 70-200mm f/4G.
23) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II Summary
As you can see from the above graphs, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR showed impressive performance when compared to my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens. It clearly outperformed its bigger brother in the mid-frame and in the corners, at all tested focal lengths. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II does provide more resolving power in the center, but its sharpness is not uniform and the corners certainly suffer more. I was rather surprised to see these results and I certainly do not exclude the possibility that my copy of the 70-200mm f/2.8 is weak. However, my experience closely matches Nikon’s MTF charts, so this performance difference might be quite normal. When I test the upcoming Tamron 70-200mm lens, I will make sure to get another copy of the 70-200mm f/2.8 to see if it yields better numbers than mine. So far, I am very impressed by the performance of the 70-200mm f/4G.
24) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Sigma 70-200mm @ 70mm
Now let’s see how the lens compares to the Sigma 70-200mm:
At the shortest focal length of 70mm, the Sigma 70-200mm produced impressive center performance. However, its mid-frame and corner performance were a whole different story. My copy of the lens suffered from very noticeable curvature of field, which is why its performance varied depending on where I focused. If I focused in the center (as in the above graph), I would get great center performance, but weak mid-frame and OK corner performance. If I focused in the mid-frame area, I would get sharp mid-frame, but soft center and slightly better corners. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR does not have such nasty field curvature, so its performance is much more uniform across the frame. The corner performance of the Sigma 70-200mm at 70mm is pretty weak.
25) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Sigma 70-200mm @ 200mm
The corner performance of the Sigma 70-200mm improves as the focal length is increased and its corner resolution nearly doubles at 200mm, as seen in the comparison below:
However, it is still not enough to compete with the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR.
26) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Sigma 70-200mm Conclusion
Despite a rather complex optical formula, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 did not seem to be able to deliver good sharpness throughout the frame, especially in the corners. My copy suffered from field curvature issues at all focal lengths, which is visible from the above comparison charts.
27) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm
Let’s take a look at how the Tamron 70-200mm Macro handles sharpness:
At the shortest focal length of 70mm, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 showed impressive performance when compared to the Sigma 70-200mm, but it was still not enough to beat the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at large apertures. Although at f/8, its corners looked better.
28) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm
Let’s see what happens at 200mm:
When I saw Imatest produce such low numbers for the Tamron at 200mm (at 3 different focus attempts), I thought that I screwed up something with my setup. After I re-calibrated everything, re-acquired focus via live view first and then manually and reran the tests, the results came back the same. I just could not get a sharp picture with my copy of the Tamron at 200mm, no matter what I tried. I don’t know if it was just my copy that was bad (in addition to aperture problems with it), or if the lens is indeed very weak at long focal lengths. My guess is the latter. Interestingly, the lens performed fairly well all the way to 135mm and its sharpness deteriorated quickly from there.
29) Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR vs Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Conclusion
The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Macro that I tested clearly had optical issues. First, its diaphragm was quite inaccurate from f/2.8 to f/4, as shown earlier in this review. Second, the sharpness and contrast of the lens seemed to drop dramatically above 135mm, making it rather unusable for telephoto work as shown above. Its autofocus motor is also very loud and not as accurate as the Nikkors or the Sigma. Again, this particular lens is not suitable for this comparison – the new Tamron 70-200mm VC would have been a much better choice instead.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR was definitely worth the wait. As you can see from this review, there is very little not to like about the lens. With its excellent performance from center to corner, no noticeable field curvature issues, beautiful color rendition, fast autofocus, extremely useful vibration reduction and no focus breathing, it even tops the high-end Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR in a number of ways. It makes sense to use this lens over the f/2.8 version for photographing small subjects at close distances, because it has longer reach and its minimum focus distance is much shorter. Add a teleconverter with a close-up filter and you got yourself a nice macro setup. Yes, its bokeh rendition for highlights is not as smooth, it has visible vignetting at wide apertures and its distortion levels are noticeable on both short and long ends of the zoom range. However, if it did not have these issues, it would not have cost $1K less than the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II now, would it? Gladly, aside from bokeh, many of these issues can be easily fixed in Lightroom and Photoshop, so I would not consider them showstoppers by any means.
Similar to other superb f/4 lenses like Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR and Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR, I find the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR of incredible value. If you enjoy using the 16-35mm or the 24-120mm lenses, take my word for it – the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR is even more impressive optically.
31) Where to buy
32) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Photography Life, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating