The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ is a telephoto lens with an FX mount. That is to say that it is compatible with both Full Frame (Nikon D4, D800, D600) and APS-C DSLRs (Nikon D3200, D5200, D7000 replaced now by the Nikon D7100). It is of course a more “powerful” lens on the latter, reaching a 300mm equivalent. It has the great advantage of maintaining a constant aperture of f/2.8 on its entire focal range: 70-200mm on a Full Frame body and 105-300mm on an APS-C DSLR. This telephoto is a massive lens weighing over 1.5 kg, which summarizes the purpose and philosophy of its build. You will likely appreciate its internal focus mechanism and its fast and silent ultrasonic motor (SWM). Its optical formula comprises 21 elements in 7 groups including 7 ED glass lenses for correcting chromatic aberration. The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ is coated with a Nano Crystal Coating which reduces flare and ghosting while improving contrast and image sharpness. It is officially selling at 2089 euros, all taxes included. We received the lens just about the time the Rallye Monte Carlo was in the region, an ideal opportunity for us to test the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ lens review : the picture
Naturally, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ is stabilized, and the second generation Nikon VR system compensates movement up to 4 f-stops. Considering that this is a telephoto lens, the minimum focus distance is relatively high at 1.4 meters at all focal lengths. The diaphragm is composed of 9 circular blades to create aesthetic background blur, or bokeh.
Weighing 1540g, the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ is a sizable device in Nikon’s telephoto zoom range. For example, it is nearly twice as heavy as the F/4 version Nikon just released ( AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm F4G ED VR ). Some photographers may be attracted by the speed of the F/2.8 lens, but anyone considering it should also take into account its excess weight compared to the F/4 version, not mentioning the significant additional cost. The F/4 lens costs 900 euros less and is 40% lighter. Muscle fatigue should be expected when holding a 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens at arm’s length, mounted on a DSLR that can also be quite heavy in itself. Mounted on a D4, the set weighs nearly 3 kg
This generation of the Nikon telephoto lens offers a variety of functions. To begin with, the internal focusing (IF) mechanism. The front lens doesn’t move when focusing, which makes it easier to use polarization filters. The ultrasonic Silent Wave Motor (SWM) autofocus is always pleasant, quick and quiet. It can also be set to M/A mode. You can then use the AF to focus while allowing for manual over-ride. The Nikon VR II optical image stabilization system is said to compensate up to 4 f-stops. As always with this type of telephoto lens, you can use the regular mode, that will stabilize the image on all axes, or the active mode for one-axis stabilization. This configuration will be used, for example, for a panning shot in a moving car.
The Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ build is remarkable, and despite the fact that it incorporates many plastic parts, we are left with a strong sense of security and reliability with this positively professional lens. When handling it, we really appreciated the mechanism being internal so the front lens doesn’t extend when you zoom. The lens uses 77 mm filters that are all the more enjoyable to use as the front lens, as we mentioned, does not turn when focusing. Polarizing filters and graduated natural density filters can hence be used easily. The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ comes with its conical petal lens hood and tripod mounting collar.
The lens includes a focus distance display, but no indication as to depth of field. The latter can be reduced to a bare minimum thanks to the lens’ extended focal length and large aperture. This effect can be amplified on a Full Frame camera. Those who aren’t accustomed to working with telephoto lenses can opt for a mobile software solution that allows you to specify the depth of field based on subject distance, aperture and focal length, via a smartphone application such as True DoF Pro for iPhone. For more experienced photographers who are used to working with telephoto lenses, assessing depth of field is a second nature.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ review : Autofocus performance
This telephoto lens is a dedicated to action and sports photography. We tested the autofocus AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ hands-on during the of Monte Carlo Rally between Velay and Vivarais on the Saint-Bonnet-le-cold / Saint-Julien-Molsesabate route. To increase the technical challenge, we had fun testing this lens on the Nikon D5200 , an amateur DSLR that does, nonetheless, feature an efficient, nearly professional autofocus. It is in fact no other than the very same autofocus system packed in the Nikon D7000. And it worked well. This was largely due to the AF Nikon 70-200mm autofocus motor performance which captured the subject instantly and almost faultlessly. Yes, almost flawless, as, incidentally, two pictures focused on the snow on Sébastien Loeb’s car for his final rally in France… what a shame. The autofocus built into the AF Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ alone can justify its purchase if you are a sports photograph enthusiast, a photo rally fan, or if you spend Sundays afternoons at airshows… This is however a versatile telephoto lens and many studio and portrait photographers may choose to use it, and in fact have.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ review : Optical quality
Distortion is usually not a problem on telephoto lenses, but on the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ it is particularly discreet at all focal lengths. Chromatic aberrations are well corrected by seven ED glass lenses. However, some aberrations can be noticed in corners especially on high contrast pictures, at maximum aperture only. While these optical defects were troublesome a few years back, they are now perfectly corrected either in JPEG format using the camera firmware or in RAW format using Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro. As a reminder, Apple Aperture still does not correct these optical defects, but they can still be fixed by correcting the color layers manually. We are still waiting for Aperture 4 which is expected to embark profile lens correction.
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ is clearly not a macro lens. However, with a minimum focus distance of 1.4 m over the entire range, it is decent at a 200mm focal length which provides a magnifying ratio of 0.12 x. Of course there are many other choices in the Micro Nikkor lens lineup for proxyphotography or real macro photography.
The quality of background blur has become a key criterion today when it comes to lenses. Buying a fast lens provides easier control on depth of field that can be reduced, thus detaching the subject from the background. With 9 curved diaphragm blades, an attractive bokeh effect is achieved as well as pleasant, rounded diffraction.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ review : Lens sharpness
At 70 mm, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ is excellent at the center from f/4 to a very tight f/16, after which diffraction begins to reduce sharpness. Angles and edges achieve optimal sharpness between f/5.6 and f/16. The same sharpness is observed at 105 mm for the same openings and at 200 mm, it is still excellent from f/4 at the center and from f/5,6 at the corners. This new generation of Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 is much more homogeneous at all focal lengths than the first generation that was much softer at 200mm. Full aperture can be used without second thoughts, whenever the need arises or for artistic effects. While Canon and Nikon compete on the professional market, the first generation was clearly a limited success compared to the quality of its optical equivalent in the Canon EF range. This second generation is lessening the gap and offers similar optical quality.
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ review : Conclusion
Purchasing a Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ obviously means accepting substantial additional costs and weight to enjoy a clearly professional and bright lens thanks to its f/2.8 aperture. Sharpness is exemplary throughout the focal range when dropping one stop, and is fully operational at f/2.8, even if, at this opening, a little chromatic aberration can be detected, and the lens, naturally, does not deliver its full potential. Nonetheless, the extreme versatility of this telephoto lens, its efficient autofocus system, its optical image stabilization as well as the excellence of its build, are all very convincing. Add to that a curved nine-blade diaphragm which delivers beautiful blurred backgrounds and you have a versatile lens for sports and portraits alike. Rightly, it has become a favorite amongst both professional and amateur photographers.
You got the gist: this lens is a must. But once again, Nikon sets the price pretty high for its professional lens.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Ⅱ lens review : sample image gallery