Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR AF-S Nikkor
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January 9, 2013
by Andrew Alexander
The Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/4G ED VR AF-S was announced near the end of 2012. The lens is marketted as being smaller and lighter than its more expensive sibling. Designed as a full-frame lens, it offers an equivalent field of view of 105-300mm when mounted on a sub-frame camera body such as the D7000.
The 70-200mm ƒ/4 employs Nikon's latest iteration of image stabilization technology. The lens takes 67mm filters and ships with a round lens hood, but does not ship with the RT-1 tripod mount (optional, $200). The lens is available now for around $1,400.
The 70-200mm ƒ/4G VR offered some excellent results on the sub-frame D7000, producing tack-sharp results when used wide open at ƒ/4, at every focal length save 200mm. At 200mm the lens has a harder time keeping up, producing moderately sharp images at ƒ/4; stopping down to ƒ/5.6 however, will get back to tack-sharp.
The vast resolution of the D800e's 36-megapixel sensor wasn't as kind to the 70-200mm ƒ/4. It provided moderately sharp results through the 70-135mm range at ƒ/4, but again, 200mm at ƒ/4 was not as good. In this case, stopping down makes only a slight difference. As expected the corners are slightly more prevalent with the lens mounted on a full-frame camera as opposed to the APS-C sensor of the D7000, but not terribly so.
On either camera, results for sharpness are more or less stable through to ƒ/16, with a noticeable increase in softness at ƒ/22. Fully-stopped down performance at ƒ/32 is dramatically soft, and should be avoided on both sub- and full-frame cameras.
Interestingly, while image softness increases slightly at the 200mm focal length, chromatic aberration decreases. At any given focal length, CA is kept well in check, but as the lens is zoomed towards 200mm it decreases dramatically.
Corner shading is not evident when the lens is mounted on a sub-frame camera such as the D7000. On the full-frame D800e, it was a bit more prominent, but not enough to really be worried about. At its worst result, (105+mm, ƒ/4) the extreme corners of an image were just over a half-stop darker than the center of the image. Move the aperture down by just one stop, and there is no corner shading of note.
There is some complex distortion going on in the 70-200mm ƒ/4G VR. Nikon has made 85mm the target point, and distortion begins on either side 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 D7000 this effect is not substantial (at 200mm, we note an average of just under +0.1% barrel and extreme corners of -0.3% pincushion). On the full-frame D800e however, distortion is a bit more significant: at 70mm there is actually some noteworthy barrel distortion, +0.5% in the corners; at 200mm, the corners are distinctly pincushion distorted (-0.6%) with some barrel distortion throughout the image (+0.3%).
Now - these aren't huge numbers. It may be that they won't even be noticeable in most photographs, and further, modern photo editing software can even correct it.
As is typical with Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) AF-S lenses, autofocus is exceptionally quick: well under one second to rack through the entire focus range. The switch to enable or disable autofocus has just the A/M or M selection, abandoning the previous convention of M/A. (M/A allowed the user to autofocus, and override autofocus results by just rotating the focusing ring; A/M does the same, only with an increase in resistance, useful if you didn't want your autofocus results to accidentally be moved). Attached 67mm filters won't rotate when focusing is underway.
A focus limiter switch is available, which can restrict the autofocusing range between infinity and three meters.
The lens isn't designed for macro work, with a minimum close-focusing distance of 1 meter (just over three feet) and a maximum magnification of 0.27x.
Build Quality and Handling
The Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/4G VR is relatively small and light, especially when compared to its bigger brother, the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G:
|70-200mm ƒ/2.8||8.2'' (209mm)||54.4 oz (1,540g)|
|70-200mm ƒ/4||7'' (178mm)||29.3 oz (830g)|
Of course, the ƒ/2.8 lens includes the tripod mount in this weight, while the ƒ/4 lens only has a tripod mount as an optional accessory. The weight of the ƒ/4 lens is perhaps low enough that a tripod mount is not strictly necessary.
In addition to the focus and zoom rings, there is one bank of switches which controls the operations of the lens. As previously described, two switches control the activation or deactivation of autofocus, as well as focus limiting; two additional switches activate or deactivate image stabilization, and which image stabilization mode is selected (passive, for correcting camera movement in the vertical direction only, or active, which corrects in all four directions).
The large zoom ring is about 1 1/2 inches 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. As an internally focusing lens, there is no increase in length in the lens as the lens is zoomed in or out.
The 70-200mm ƒ/4G VR has taken its design notes from its larger brother. The focusing ring is also about 1 1/2 inches wide, and there is a ring-like area at the end of the lens: this extra space 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. 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.
While the lens is light enough that a tripod collar is not strictly necessary, the optional RT-1 tripod collar does make the lens more stable on the tripod. However, we felt when rotating the lens in the tripod ring is should have been smoother. It’s slightly noisy in use, like plastic rubbing against plastic and not very exceptionally smooth.
The HB-60 lens hood is round in shape and attaches via bayonet mount. Its interior is a smooth black. When attached, the hood adds two inches to the overall length of the lens: the hood can be reversed and attached to the lens for storage.
Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II AF-S ~$2,400
This is the big decision many Nikon photographers will be looking to make: spend $1,000 to get an extra stop of light-gathering ability? Of course it's much more than that: our tests show the ƒ/2.8 lens is extraordinarily sharp across all focal lengths and is extremely resistant to chromatic aberration. For this perfection you'll pay in both dollars and weight.
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 about as sharp as the new Nikon at ƒ/4, and has its own problems at 200mm. It even has a dedicated macro mode, though magnification at this setting is only 0.17x (which is bested by the new 70-200mm ƒ/4 with 0.24x).
Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO ~$1,700
For not much more money you can go ƒ/2.8, if you don't mind going out of the Nikon camp. The Sigma has its own issues with corner softness when used on full-frame, but otherwise, it's about on-par with the 70-200mm ƒ/4.
Tamron 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC USD SP ~$1,500
We haven't yet reviewed this lens, but again, it's possible to go with a ƒ/2.8 lens (with image stabilization) for a similar price as the Nikon, so long as you don't need it to have the Nikon brand.
There is a lot to like about the Nikon 70-200mm ƒ/4G ED VR AF-S, not the least of which is its small profile and light weight. Nikon users have long looked at Canon with longing for a smaller version of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 workhorse. That time has now arrived, but now it leaves Nikon shooters with an interesting decision to make. Up until now, if you wanted to get into the 70-200mm range, you didn't have a decision. Now you can save $1,000 and get the smaller, lighter lens - except it isn't quite as good as the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8. In a way, Nikon has created a good enough lens that those who don't demand the quality will be quite happy with the savings, but those who do, will likely pay the premium price.
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/4G ED VR AF-S Nikkor User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by andre_ (31 reviews)image quality, VR, lightweightno weather sealed, distorsion
I just used this lens in my trip to Ghana few weeks ago, with my D600.reviewed December 30th, 2013 (purchased for $1,300)
Together with a 24-70/2.8 lens, this telezoom makes a perfect equipment for a travel.
Despite it lacks the weather sealing, it is very well built, and I haven't had any problem in the hard conditions I've used it.
The colour rendition is the usual for the new Nikkor lenses: high contrast, high saturation, but compared to the 24-70 this 70-200 has more details in the shadows.
I haven't experienced any flare, and both the CA and the fringing are virtually absent.
This 70-200/4 is sharp from the full apertures, and the bokeh is surprisingly good.
If one adds a strong light falloff til f5.6 (but it's easy to fix in PP), this zoom is ideal for portrait photos and every large apertures photos.
I never complained the lack of the f2.8... And I never took a photos closer than f5.6, actually.
The pincushion distortion is quite visible when there is a horizon in the frame.
Luckily, the lens correction in Lightroom works well.
The VR works perfectly, as every other new Nikkor lens, and the image degradation is virtually absent (when in the firsts VR models was better turn it off with the shorter shutter speeds). One can always forget the VR.
I'm very satisfied of this lens: it's flexible, light and has outstanding performances.
I haven't used it under a hard rain yet, and I fear a little the lack of every kind of sealing.
But for everything else it's a perfect lens.
Very few photographers need the bulky, epensive f2.8, now that the market offers this one. :)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by lalitjee (13 reviews)very sharp,fast AF,lightweightno, no really
i have used this lens on my d3s,so far in three weddings and very happy with the results and handling,reviewed March 29th, 2013 (purchased for $1,565)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by lgerlanc (1 reviews)very sharp, very fast AF, close min. focusing distance(less than 1m), light, VR,made out of plastic, no weather sealing
This lens is for everyone who doesn't need f2.8. They say that the 2.8 VR II is sharper, but I can't imagine it being a noticable difference because this is supersharp. It seems to be just as fast at focusing. The VR works perfectly(I was able to get sharp images at 1/4 sec @200mm, standing and without leaning on anything). The thing that impressed me the most was the close min. focusing distance(it seems to be less than 1m), it's very useful. I only wish it was built a bit tougher but it's probably because I'm comparing it to my old AF 80-200 2.8 D which was like a tank :).reviewed March 28th, 2013 (purchased for $1,521)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by blowup (1 reviews)sharp, fast and my arm doesn't fall off from holding itstill a little heavy
I switched from a canon setup to a D800 recently, not realizing how much money i had to spend and how much weightlifting i needed to do if i wanted to use their best zooms.reviewed January 21st, 2013 (purchased for $1,300)
I've tried both the 24-70 2.8 and the 70-200 2.8 - both were far to heavy for me leave on the camera all day for the kind of shooting i do.
I ordered the 70-200 f4 the day it was announced, keeping my fingers crossed that it would be a good lens because Nikon has made some problematic zoom lenses recently. Fortunately, they got this one right. I've shot in candle light handheld and still gotten 4 out of 5 sharp images with moving targets.
Very satisfied. Now if Nikon could just make a cheaper, lighter solid mid range i could put my primes away.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by thejohnz (5 reviews)Sharp, compact and light, great VR, works well with teleconvertersNo f2.8
As an owner of the Nikon 70-200 F2.8 i was very curious as to whether this lens was comparable. Well, after having this lens for a few days and doing some intense side by side comparisons, I must say that this lens is simply spectacular. At comparable apertures it mostly outperforms my F2.8 version with or without the TC-14Eii and the TC-20EIII attached. Using the D800, focusing was not a problem even with the x2 tele. The VR is rock steady and definitely the best I have ever experienced on any Nikon lens.reviewed January 12th, 2013 (purchased for $1,396)
I have to say that the test results above done by SLR Gear do confuse me a bit. The pixel pitch of the D800 and the D7000 are almost the same but the data in the area where both sensors are being used seems to suggest otherwise. I can understand the corners in the FX area would be different but why the difference in the middle areas? The earlier tests of the 70-200 F2.8 were done on a D700 so there is no way to compare those test results here directly. (it would be good if SLR Gear did test the F2.8 on a D800E)
I will need more field time to really get a good feel for this lens but so far I have high expectations. Check out Brad Hill's website for some good field testing of this lens.
Some other pluses for this lens is that it can focus to 3.3' and does not suffer from focus breathing.
At 5' from the image this lens has 50% more magnification than the F2.8 version does!
So if you can live without F2.8 (and I am beginning to think I can) this lens will serve you well.