Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S vs Nikon F 70-200mm f/2.8E FL VR
The most obvious lens to compare against the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S is its F-mount cousin, the famous “E FL” version of Nikon’s long line of 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. Released in October of 2016, the Nikon F 70-200mm f/2.8E FL was an instant hit and we ultimately declared it Nikon’s best 70-200mm lens ever. Does the new Z version surpass it? Let’s take a look.
Below is their performance at 70mm, with the Nikon Z lens shown first and the F lens shown second. Keep in mind that the graphs for the two lenses have a different Y axis; the reason is that we needed to raise the Z-series lens’s Y axis in order to fit its high sharpness numbers:
At 70mm, the Nikon F-mount 70-200mm f/2.8E FL hardly touches the unreal performance of the Z lens. The biggest performance differences occur at f/2.8 and f/4, where the Z lens is much better in the center, midframe, and corners. The sharpness differences don’t begin to equalize until at least f/11, by which point both lenses are limited in sharpness due to diffraction. This is pretty amazing on the part of the Z-series lens considering that the F-mount lens is already so good.
The comparison is similar at 85mm. As good as the F-mount lens is, the Z-mount lens continues to set unbelievable sharpness standards. In fact, at 85mm, there is not a single aperture value or part of the frame at which the F-mount lens is the sharper of the two.
The Z-mount lens reaches some of its best numbers at 105mm, especially in the corner of the frame. Meanwhile, the F-mount lens is still very good, but its corners have dropped slightly compared to the wider focal lengths. The result is predictable: As with 85mm, there isn’t a single f-stop or portion of the frame at which the F-mount lens looks better.
The Nikon F-mount 70-200mm f/2.8E FL has its best numbers at 135mm, while the Z lens has started to fall off a bit. In the corners, the two lenses are essentially equivalent at every aperture. The midframe and central performance are still noticeably higher on the Z-series 70-200mm f/2.8.
Finally, here’s 200mm:
This is the weakest focal length on both lenses, although I’ll emphasize again that this is still excellent performance overall on both of them. I wouldn’t hesitate to use either of these lenses at 200mm, including wide open at f/2.8. That said, the Z lens is once again the sharper of the two, especially wide open and in the center of the lens. Stopping down to f/4 and f/5.6 sharpens up the F-mount lens, by which point it’s neck-and-neck with the Z lens in the corners. Central and midframe performance continue to favor the Z-series lens throughout the aperture range.
Overall, even though the Nikon F-mount 70-200mm f/2.8E FL is an extremely sharp zoom, it falls behind the groundbreaking sharpness of the Z-mount 70-200mm f/2.8. However, in order to see these differences in real-world images, you need to be using impeccable technique and ideally pairing the lens with one of Nikon’s higher resolution Z-series cameras. Otherwise, the differences may not be easy to spot.
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S vs Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR
Considering that Nikon doesn’t have very many telephoto zooms at the moment for the Z system, some photographers may be forced to make the awkward comparison between this 70-200mm f/2.8 S and the consumer-grade 24-200mm f/4-6.3. It’s hardly a fair fight considering that this is a $2600 dedicated telephoto zoom against a $900 superzoom, but no other zooms in Nikon’s Z-series lineup at the moment cover these same focal lengths. When Nikon eventually releases a Z-series 70-200mm f/4 or similar, we will add it to this comparison.
Keep in mind that the shared aperture range is different on these two lenses, so when you look at the charts below, make sure you’re comparing the same apertures against one another. Here’s 70mm:
No contest. The 70-200mm f/2.8 S is the much sharper lens. In fact, it’s sharper at f/2.8 in the corners than the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 ever gets in the corners.
The same is true here – they’re not even close. I’m a fan of the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 overall and gave it a pretty favorable review, but it just isn’t in the same league as the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S.
At this point I’m getting embarrassed to be comparing these two lenses head to head and am desperately hoping Nikon releases a 70-200mm f/4 or something else that I can compare instead! These two lenses are just in totally different leagues – and the incredible part is that the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 isn’t even a bad lens. It’s better than any other superzoom we’ve tested, and it’s clearly sharper than some old F-mount staples like the 24-120mm f/4 AF-S. But compared to a truly high-end zoom like the 70-200mm f/2.8 S, it doesn’t hold a candle.
Mercifully, here’s the last focal length to compare, 200mm:
While both lenses are weakest at 200mm, that means something different for each of them. The 70-200mm f/2.8 S continues to put up excellent sharpness numbers that are only slightly lower than before, while the 24-200mm looks pretty uninspiring even compared to its own performance at earlier focal lengths. It’s still within the bounds of acceptable, but the 70-200mm is within the bounds of excellent.
Overall, I wouldn’t even be comparing these two lenses head to head if not for the lack of other Nikon Z lenses in the telephoto range at the moment. I’m actually a fan of the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 and use it as my personal go-to lens for landscape and travel photography, but there’s no denying that it’s a big step down from the 70-200mm f/2.8 S optically.
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S vs Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Now let’s take a look at how the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S compares to one of Nikon’s famously sharp Z-series prime lenses, the 85mm f/1.8 S. Although the two lenses don’t serve exactly the same purpose, this comparison should crystalize just how good the 70-200mm’s sharpness is. Here they are:
Amazingly, the zoom is just as sharp as the prime throughout the shared aperture range. In fact, taking the corners into account, it’s arguably the sharper of the two. This is really a stunning result, especially considering that the 85mm f/1.8 S is itself one of the sharpest lenses on the market. I don’t know what Nikon has done to make the 70-200mm f/2.8 S shine so much in sharpness, but it’s pretty amazing to see.
Again, I’ll emphasize that taking advantage of this sharpness isn’t always easy. You need to minimize motion blur, focus errors, and low-light noise if you want to catch glimpses of this performance in practice. But under the right conditions, your photos from this lens will be seriously crispy. If you can optimize everything else, you’ll get photos with the 70-200mm f/2.8 S that are sharper than with practically any other lens on the market.
Next, I’ll sum up everything and give my final opinion on whether or not you should get the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. So, click below to go to the next page of this review, “Verdict”:
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