The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II
The telephoto zoom, 80-200mm and, more recently 70-200mm, is a standard lens for most professional photographers. It’s a standard go-to lens for wedding and portrait photographers and a useful tool for many commercial photographers too. It’s a lens all 35mm camera manufacturers take seriously and update often, and they’re expensive.
Nikon’s newest version, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 ED VR II, is awesome. It’s bigger and better than any previous version with a useful upgrade to the anti-shake “VR” system. Colors are deep and vivid, out-of-focus areas are smooth and beautiful, and in-focus areas are sharp and clean. It sells for around $2200, which is no joke, but it’s sure to spend more time mounted than any previous telephoto zoom. Read on for my take on this latest standard zoom:
What is Going On?
First, I should admit to a little puzzlement with the current Nikkor line. I’m a major fan of prime lenses, simple, fast, and beefy. I loved the Zeiss 85mm from my previous entry because it is a lot of all those things. While some new or drastically updated zoom lens pops up every year, many of Nikon’s prime lenses have gone unchanged for decades. Many lack the latest coatings and focusing technology. The new 24mm f/1.4F ED, as well as the recently updated 50mm f/1.4G are both encouraging progress in the lineup, but the range looks a little dated compared to the current Canon lineup. No 85mm f/1.4? Nikon has a huge history of lenses out there, which is a big selling point for Nikon DSLRs, but where is the innovation?
After becoming familiar with this newest telephoto, I’ve got an answer. Nikon appears to be banking on zoom-stigma fading away with film, manual focus, and aperture rings. They’re stabbing hard to make zooms the new standards for professionals. Perhaps, if the gamble is right, inflexible prime lenses will soon fade to the kooky niches. This lens makes a good argument for it.
Color rendering is – without a doubt – the biggest downfall of the older 80-200mm f/2.8D. Side to side, images look blue and hazy compared to those from a sharp prime lens. Also, it’s much more likely to render soft results, demanding careful operation and extra close attention to exposure. For this writing, I tested these two lenses side by side, switching back and forth, and the differences are very noticeable. The new 70-200mm grabs deep, bright colors and is much more capable of sharp results. Images have a familiar depth and spaciousness, familiar, that is, from my experience with prime lenses. It’s made my argument for snubbing zooms a lot more theoretical. It’s an awesome lens.
The Trade Off
It’s also an exceptionally large lens: longer, heavier, and more awkward than ever. It’s not going to be the thing you throw in your backpack at the last minute on your way out for a day at the beach. Not unless you enjoy hefting a $2,200 telescope with you. I believe it may really be capable of rendering images as sharp and creamy as Nikon’s 85mm f1.4D (which sounds crazy, I know) but the 85mm can do it with a fraction of the size, complexity, and cost of this jumbo jet lens. This is the first lens I’ve ever carried that would not fit in my camera-bag (and it’s a Big camera bag). Upright, it’s a couple inches longer than the bag is deep, which is impressive. The still-selling and 1/2 price 80-200mm fits great.
Nikon’s shift to complex zoom lenses instead of simpler prime lenses has two negative effects for photographers: bigger, heavier lenses to carry (some won’t even fit in our bags) and more expensive lenses. It used to be that a film-era photographer could collect a 35mm, a 50mm, an 85mm, maybe a 135mm along with a couple film bodies and be set for life or at least a couple decades.
I hope, after a decade of tumultuous changes in the industry, that we’ve arrived back to some stability. Perhaps a modern photographer can buy a D3, a backup body like a cropped D300s or full-frame D700, a wide 14-24mm f2.8, a middle 24-70mm f2.8, and a telephoto 70-200mm f2.8, and be set for 10 years. I could see holding on to this new telephoto for a decade… more so if it were not so darn big and felt a little more permanent. I suppose it should be largely plastic, or it would weigh 25 lbs, but still… it’s more than $2,000!
And one oddity to point out, though it’s subtle. There are times when this lens’s 200mm is not really 200mm. I noticed while comparing it to the 80-200mm that it doesn’t zoom as far. It’s more of a 180mm or even 150mm, which is weird. Others have pointed out that this is only an issue when focusing on something relatively close, and that it is a true 200mm at medium or long distance. If so, then it’s a bit wider when focusing close and a bit longer when focusing at a distance. Oh well.
So its an interesting tack Nikon is taking. Their drive for a nearly all-zoom professional line of lenses is different and more assertive than any other camera/lens maker and it might just work.. For now, despite it’s stupid-big dimensions too-plastic feel, and disheartening price tag, I would highly recommend this lens. It’s fun to use, with a comfy grip, smooth rings, and very useful VR technology. The results are awesome, and that’s what really counts. Color, sharpness, creamy out-of-focus areas, awesome. It is noticeably better than any previous generation and even a strong rival to Nikon’s classic primes. It’s a great tool, a necessity for any wedding shooter, and a useful tool for any Nikon photographer.