Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor
Lab Test Results
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January 5, 2010
by Andrew Alexander
The Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G AF-S ED VR II was announced in July 2009 and released later that year in November. The lens is the second generation in the 70-200mm series, intended to alleviate issues of corner softness and flare.
The lens uses a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture and is designed to fill the 35mm film frame or FX image sensor. While the lens is completely compatible with DX sensor-based camera bodies, the effective field of view will be approximately 105-300mm. The lens is equipped with several accessories: a large, petal-shaped lens hood, attached tripod mounting bracket with removable foot, and a soft lens case. The lens is available now for approximately $2,400.
The previous version of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 had been accused of having unacceptably soft corners; based on the sample of the new version of this lens, we can conclude that Nikon has dramatically improved this performance. Perhaps one of the most telling and interesting observations we can make is that the results for sharpness were nearly identical for both the sub-frame D200 and the full-frame D700.
The lens produces exceptionally sharp images at ƒ/2.8, from 70mm through to 200mm. At this aperture its ''best'' performance comes at 70mm, with just over 1 blur unit in the center and 1.5 blur units in the corners; the center becomes marginally less sharp as the lens is zoomed in to 200mm, but whether this is noteworthy is doubtful - even at 200mm, we're seeing just 1.5 blur units across the frame. Of the lenses we've tested across all manufacturers, none have achieved this performance at ƒ/2.8.
Stopping down does improve performance: at ƒ/4, the lens is basically as sharp as sharp gets, offering 1 blur unit across the frame from 70mm through to 105mm. At 135mm and 200mm, some peeping at the charts shows it is actually slightly above 1 blur unit, but at this point, we're picking the nits pretty closely. Performance at ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8 is just as good.
Diffraction limiting begins to set in at ƒ/11 with some very marginal loss of sharpness, and even at ƒ/16 we still note results of just 1.5 blur units across the frame. Fully stopped-down at ƒ/22, we note results of just under 2 blur units across the frame.
In summary, these are some of the sharpest results we've seen in a zoom lens.
For Nikon lenses, the D700 applies automatic chromatic aberration reduction, which is why we still like to do our subframe camera testing with the D200, which does not, and gives us a fairer indication of the lens' performance, rather than the camera's. In this case though, the lens is exceptional at preventing chromatic aberration, with only nominal results to report from the D200. In this case there is slight blue fringing in the corners at the 70mm and 200mm focal lengths at ƒ/2.8. On the D700, there is hardly any CA of note.
With the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 VR2 mounted on the D200, corner shading is not an issue, with any focal length and aperture producing less than a quarter-stop of shading in the corners.
It's slightly different when the lens is mounted on the D700. The focal length most affected is 200mm. The worst performance is noted with the lens zoomed to 200mm and the aperture set to ƒ/2.8; with this combination, the corners are up to two-thirds of a stop darker than the center. At other focal lengths at the ƒ/2.8 aperture, we note between a third and a half of a stop worth of shading. Corner shading is marginal for 70-105mm at ƒ/4; for 135mm, it's reduced significantly, but only marginal at ƒ/5.6. To completely remove corner shading at 200mm, you'll have to shoot at ƒ/11, where the corners are less than a quarter-stop darker than the center.
Distortion performance has also been improved in the new version of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8. The previous version of the lens appears to have attempted to provide an undistorted image at the 105mm mark; in the new version, Nikon has made 85mm the target point, and distortion begins from there. As the lens is zoomed in towards 200mm, average (central) distortion becomes slightly barrel-distorted, while the corners take on a distinct pincushion distortion. On the D200 this effect is not substantial (at 200mm, we note an average of just under +0.1% barrel and extreme corners of -0.5% pincushion). On the full-frame D700 however, distortion is a bit more significant: at 70mm there is actually some noteworthy barrel distortion, +0.2% in the corners; at 200mm, the corners are distinctly pincushion distorted (-0.5%) with some barrel distortion throughout the image (+0.25%).
Nikon has made some significant changes in the focusing system in the new 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens. None of these has impacted on the overall speed of the auto-focusing system, which (similarly to the previous version of the lens) is incredibly fast, going from infinity focus to close-focus and back again in under a second. Small changes in focus happen incredibly fast.
The AF-S specification of the lens allows the user to override autofocus results by just turning the focusing ring at any time, however, Nikon has improved upon this feature by adding an additional focusing mode - ''A/M''. (The convention on Nikon lenses for this switch has been ''M/A'' - manual / autofocus - and ''M'' for purely manual focus). The ''A/M'' switch seems to add an additional layer of gearing to the autofocus ring, the effect of which is to make a turn of the ring produce less of a change in the amount of change in focus. In practice, Nikon suggests that this setting would be used in the case where a user did not want to accidentally change focus results. However, in our sample of this lens, any movement of the focus ring still affects focus results, regardless of the setting. When set to the A/M setting, the movement of the ring just has less of an effect.
Nikon has changed the parameters of the focus limiter switch. Where the previous version of the lens enabled the lens to be limited between infinity and 2.5 meters, the new switch enables the lens to be limited between infinity and 5 meters.
Finally, the lens no longer has the three focus hold buttons found in the previous version of the lens.
The 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 makes a very poor macro lens, with just 0.12x magnification. However, its close-focusing range has been improved, at just 1.4 meters (around four feet from the end of the lens).
Build Quality and Handling
The Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G AF-S ED VR II is a large and heavy lens - slightly shorter than the previous version (209mm instead of 216mm), but slightly heavier (1,540 grams instead of 1,450 grams). Nikon's improvements to the previous lens include replacing the nine straight diaphragm blades with nine rounded ones, for improved bokeh performance (though truth be told, bokeh performance in the previous lens has been held in very high regard). Nikon has replaced two of the lens elements with ED glass, making for a grand total of seven ED glass elements (21 in 15 groups). Nikon has used its Nano-Crystal coat process to reduce flare and ghosting. Finally, the vibration reduction system employed is now the VR2 system.
Operationally, there has also been some redesigning. As previously mentioned, the focus hold buttons have been removed, a new focusing mode (''A/M'') has been added, and the parameters of the focus limiter switch have changed. The windowed distance scale has been repositioned closer to the middle of the lens, so it can now be seen while the lens hood is mounted for storage. There are still no depth-of-field or infrared index marks on this scale, however. The Vibration Reduction switches have stayed the same: VR can be activated or deactivated with one switch, and changed from normal (2-axis, panning) operation to active (4-axis) operation with the other switch.
The zoom ring hasn't changed much, retaining the rubber texture with large, raised ribs. It's about 7/8 of an inch wide and has great tactile feel. It's smooth to turn, and offers only slight resistance, taking gentle pressure from two fingers. There are about ninety degrees of turning action. For the purists, it should be noted that Nikon has changed the 80mm focal length marking on the previous version of this lens to a more conventional 85mm focal length marking.
The focusing ring is a different design, owing to the new shape of the lens. While the previous version of the lens had a distinct cone-like shape, the new lens is more cylindrical. Where the old version of the lens used a focusing ring that was larger and followed the expanding size of the front of the lens body, the new focus ring is a little less wide (1 inch) and is essentially flat. The extra space at the end of the lens is filled with an immobile ring-shaped rubber grip, for extra stability when holding the lens. The focusing ring has a generous amount of rotation room, about 160 degrees between infinity and close-focus. The ends are bordered with soft stops, so an increased amount of resistance lets you know you've reached the end. The lens will focus past infinity. Finally, attached 77mm filters will not rotate during focus operations.
The tripod mounting bracket is permanently attached to the lens, similarly to the previous version, and the foot can be removed (and perhaps, replaced with a third-party option which is directly Arca-Swiss compatible). The bracket itself is exceptionally stable, and can be rotated fully 360 degrees around the lens. There are rotation points present on the lens body at 90 degree intervals, and a knob tightens the lens well into its rotated position.
The lens hood has also been revised. The petal-shaped HB-48 (replacing the HB-29) is much shorter, down to 2 1/2 inches (compared to the original 3 1/4). Consequently this allows the user to access the manual focus ring with the lens hood in storage position. Users have also reported that the reduction in size for both the lens and hood have allowed them to place a camera/lens combination in their bag without having to switch the hood to its storage orientation.
We haven't had the time to extensively test the new VR2 vibration reduction system in this lens, but we can say through casual use that it does work, at least as well as the system in the previous lens. From conversations with other photographers who have taken to using this lens, we have heard nothing but praise for the new VR system.
The Close-Focusing Focal Length Controversy
This issue has been the cause of much debate across photography forums on the internet and the shop floor of many a camera store. In a nutshell, while the lens is marked as a 70-200mm focal length lens, this is only the case if you are focused to infinity. Focusing closer results in a reduction in the longest possible focal length; at the minimum close-focusing distance of 140 centimeters, the lens is offering an actual focal length that's reported to be 128mm. This effect isn't actually all that new, it's the case with many lens designs, it's just been brought to light by the substantiality of the difference found with the new Nikkor. If it was 180mm instead of 128mm, it could be that people wouldn't notice.
In the interest of informing the consumer, we have taken some standardized photographs showing the actual difference in focal length with the lens set to 200mm.
|Distance||Old Version, 200mm||New Version, 200mm|
Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR ~$?
The previous version of the 70-200mm remains a popular lens. Optically, it's outdone by the new version in terms of sharpness, chromatic aberration, distortion and corner shading. The lens has its champions though, especially in light of the new lens' performance at 200mm and at close-focus. Some people will miss the focus hold buttons.
Nikon 80-200mm ƒ/2.8D ED AF ~$1,100
If you don't want or need VR, this lens remains a popular choice. It's not as sharp as the new Nikon at ƒ/2.8, but stopped down to ƒ/5.6 it performs as well everywhere except 200mm. It even has a dedicated macro mode, though magnification at this setting is only 0.17x.
Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 II EX DG Macro HSM APO ~$750
Sigma offers a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens alternative, however, without optical stabilization. We haven't tested the newest version of this lens, but the previous generation we tested proved to be exceptionally sharp when stopped down to ƒ/4. CA performance was very good, though corner shading and distortion were somewhat high, especially when mounted on full-frame.
Tamron 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Di LD IF Macro SP AF ~$750
Tamron also produces a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 alternative, also without optical stabilization. Of the alternatives, this one approaches the new Nikon 70-200mm in terms of sharpness at ƒ/2.8. The lens isn't as fast to autofocus as the Nikkor, and it does show more corner shading.
There's little doubt that the lens represents some of the best optical engineering to date, and that the purchase of the lens represents an investment that's not likely to lose its value. For Nikon shooters, the 70-200mm lens has been the de facto pro lens, and Nikon has come through with excellent improvements. Whether they're worth the price premium is going to depend solely on the intended usage of the lens, though there's little doubt that working photographers will, if they haven't already, find much that justifies the upgrade.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor
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Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by dhale001 (6 reviews)Sharp, fast, durable.None
I have had this lens for two and one-half years. It has been on a Nikon D90, D7000, and now D800E and D3200. The latest cameras are the first digital's I've had that deliver the image quality I expect, and this lens is not a limiting factor. This is the primary lens I use for wildlife and landscape.reviewed March 18th, 2012 (purchased for $2,195)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Yucel (15 reviews)Wow, the VR and image quality are amazing!Big, Pricey
Love the pictures it takes, see samples at: http://glamourphotography.co/?p=2466reviewed August 15th, 2011
I can take shots at 1/13 sec at 200mm on a D7000 hand held with the VR, wow.
Or can reach out to a surfer on a board.
The construction is well done, just can't believe all the dust inside... I mean really, can't they assemble it in a clean room? Even if it doesn't effect picture quality... It just looks wrong...
All in all, my favorite lens in the bag.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by ZinhaEq (2 reviews)sharpness, lack of vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberrations, focus speed and accuracynone
This is the best Nikon's 70-200mm lens yet. It's simply stupid to talk about IQ, lens construction and so on. Not even to mention VR II system, which is really effective. The lens is perfect! And for those who hate focus breathing: if you really can't live with that, than you should be alright with the old 70-200mm, which is quite soft in corners and has a lot of vignetting wide open.reviewed July 19th, 2011 (purchased for $2,750)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Nikonuser (5 reviews)Fast, sharp, VRIIA bit expensive
Just a word WOW! I have been using a 70-300 VR and I recently upgrade for the 70-200, it is a world of difference. I use it with a TC-14e II and it is precise clear and realy a good IQ. It is realy a pro lense without any doubt.reviewed April 19th, 2011 (purchased for $2,150)
8 out of 10 points and recommended by azoele (5 reviews)*Sharp* (from 2.8), very fast autofocus, VR works very well, excellent construction, beautiful coloursOnly email@example.com, not sharper, on D700, than a good 80-200AFS, expensive
I own a 80-200AFS, and that is an extremely impressive lens: sharp from wide open, fast focusing, beautiful rendition. Only drawback, no VR.reviewed February 18th, 2011 (purchased for $2,200)
What was a surprise to me, is that in side-by-side tests, the VR II, despite all the hype, is just *marginally* better. Perhaps on a D3x it'd show its qualities better, but on a D700 it simply vignettes less than the AFS! Sharpness wise, I can't distinguish them in a blind test, even at F2.8, and the only giveaway is the AFS's more pronounced vignetting at full aperture...
That, and the nasty VR II's habit of getting shorter the closer you focus. Before owning it, I thought it was one of those net's whines, now I can assure you, it really bothers... for this issue, the old AFS is a lot better.
It is built like a tank, really, excellently built, and autofocus is very, very silent, and fast. I feel it is even faster, just a little, than the AFS.
All in all, it's a *stellar* lens. But after having owned it for a month, I'm inclined to believe it's not really worth 2x the cost of an AFS...
10 out of 10 points and recommended by radityopradipto (5 reviews)Sharp Sharp and Sharp!, F/2.8 at all range, VRII works wonderfully!heavy, price, and focus breathing
I just got this lens a few weeks ago, and I can promise you that this lens is one of the sharpest tele zoom I've ever tried.reviewed April 29th, 2010 (purchased for $2,489)
Sharpness is awesome, this lens replace all of my fast tele primes needs. VRII also works awesome... I can shoot static object at @200mm effective focal length (@135mm DX) with 1/10 shutter speed, and it was tack sharp!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Hawaii-Geek (4 reviews)Sharpness, Bokeh, AFMFD at 200mm wish it was closer to 190mm vs 128mm , but is all good in exchange for sharpness
Am sooo glad (and lucky) I changed to Nikon at "this" time. With Nikon updating there FF f2.8 lens. This 70-200mm f2.8 VR II is a dream to use , and answers most if not all the FF lens issues of the past. And in my mind shows what is ahead in the future. Sharp Wide Open shooting.reviewed January 12th, 2010
* maybe a new and improved 24-70 f2.8 (which I also own) Nano coat VR II ??? :) ... I will be first on the list for that one. As I was for this one. And not for a second do I regreat it. One of the few times , being first did not cause regret. :)
* literlly, from the first AF lock, wide open at 200mm on a models eye , I knew ... This was the lens for ME !
Did I say , I "also" did that .. now famous test with this lens ... 200mm 1/15 , f2.8 , iso6400 low light shot with a D700 and was WOW'd by it.
The kind of WOW, that makes you a Nikon shooter Forever ! lol
9 out of 10 points and recommended by bradhill (9 reviews)Overall image quality, bokeh, autofocus speed, improved performance on FX bodiesMinor (and controllable) sharpness fall-off in corners/edges at 200 mm
In summary, if there was ever a single "must-have" lens for ME (and I think many Nikon-using nature photographers), this lens would likely be it. Here's the slightly longer "Executive Summary" that I posted today on my website:reviewed December 4th, 2009 (purchased for $2,130)
5 December 2009 UPDATE: I have updated my "Executive Summary" immediately below - and the more detailed review on my website (link below) - to include the "Mysterious Shrinking Focal Length" (when focusing on near subjects) issue...
The Executive Summary: This lens is a very, very solid performer that I will be using a LOT! It is VERY sharp at all normally-used apertures (which means f2.8 thru f11 for me) though not quite as sharp when shot wide open. The bokeh (quality of the out-of-focus zones) is superb and at f2.8 rivals that of the venerable (and amazing) Nikon AFS 200mm f2 VR. The autofocus is blazingly fast. The VR works as advertised (which means very, very well!). Teleconverter performance (with the 1.4x TC-14EII) exceeded my expectations dramatically. BUT, the lens is NOT completely perfect - edge-to-edge sharpness is not stellar at 200 mm at larger apertures, though this limitation can be overcome by stopping down to only "reasonably small" apertures. Plus, some users will find the reduction in focal length when focusing the lens on very close subjects troublesome. But, in my opinion there are enough subtle improvements (and some not-so-subtle improvements) in this lens that combine to make the "whole package" markedly better than its precursor. For me, and I suspect many FX body owners, this lens is as close to a "must-have" lens as any on the market. DX body owners who don't already own the previous iteration of this lens will love it (and I highly recommend it for them). For DX body owners who already own the previous version - you know, that "old" (but nearly legendary) lens works so well on DX bodies already that I couldn't really recommend swapping your current lens for this one (unless, of course, you have money to burn).
A far more detailed account of my findings on this lens, and selected sample images, can be found here:
A final word regarding my rating of this lens. In my opinion the best telephoto zoom I have ever used is the 200-400mm f4 VR - which I would give a rating of 10. If the 70-200mm f2.8 VR didn't show slight sharpness fall-off in the extreme corners/edges, it too would rate as a 10 in my eyes. It's very, very good, but not quite perfect!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by jake (8 reviews)excelent, very fast, sharp and good optics, perfekt image quality also at f2,8nothing
this the best zoom at this categoryreviewed December 3rd, 2009 (purchased for $2,100)