Review: Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF

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Review: Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF

Postby Photoj » Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:54 pm

There are many reviews of this lens online - I will try to be different and eventually give a long-term impression of the lens.


liThis is a highly regarded lens by many, and yes, I am one of the many. This is the flagship telephoto zoom in Nikon's range, designed for use on both DX and FX frames. However it's not entirely compatible with every SLR Nikon's produced (even the D40/x - this combination is seriously front heavy but it works!); this is because the 70-200 lacks an aperture ring. It is a “G” series lens.



This lens has been on the market for a while now, replacing the AF-S 80-200 2.8. Among the improvements were vibration reduction to counteract camera-shake, a new tripod foot, a sculpted body and an increase in the range to 70mm.

This is not an up-market telephoto zoom; this is a professional-grade telephoto zoom, and the price tag reflects this. To date this is my most expensive lens in my armoury. Of course you may wonder if this is a lens worth investing in.

For the sake of comparisons, I have used the more affordable AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF and AF-S VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6 ED.


Following the vein of Gordon's reviews, here are the lenses at their physically most compact configuration without the lens hoods.


The 70-200mm measures 87mm in diameter and is 215mm in length. It weighs a lovely 1470g. For comparison, the 70-300mm is 80mm in diameter and 195.5mm in length fully zoomed-in. The weight is paltry in comparison at 745g. The 55-200 is the smallest in this test and is 73mm in diameter and 148mm fully zoomed-in. The size difference is also reflected in the filter thread of 67mm for the 70-300 and 77mm for the 70-200.


And with hoods on...


One thing to note is that the 70-200 is internal focusing, and so the length of the lens doesn't alter whether zoomed-in or zoomed-out. Both are equipped with AF-S motors, so AF functioning is swift and fairly quiet.

The 55-200 has a sturdy construction, but with a plastic camera mount. If the 70-300 was well-built, then the 70-200 is...well, let's say it's very well-built! Both lenses have metal camera mounts, but construction in the 70-200 is not made from a majority of plastic like the 70-300 and 55-200, but practically in entirety from metal. The build quality is vastly superior that you would feel confident that this lens could take some knocks (which of course we would rather avoid). The 70-200 is the only one to have a tripod foot and is weather-sealed, front and back. The 70-300 is only weather-sealed at the back.

The internal construction of the lenses are very different with the 70-300 having 17 elements in 12 groups with a 9 bladed diaphragm. The 70-200 has more elements, weighing in with 21 in total in 15 groups, and again with a 9 bladed diaphragm. This partially accounts for the weight. The lack of weight in the 55-200 is accounted by the 7 bladed diaphragm and 15 elements in 11 groups.

However the biggest difference is in the speed. The 70-200 is superior with f/2.8 when fully blown, and this is across the whole focal range; the 70-300 at its widest aperture is f/4.5 at 70mm and this varies across the focal range to f/5.6 at 300mm. The 55-200 does marginally better at f/4 at 55m and then f/5.6 at 200mm. Therefore you'd expect far better low light performance from the 70-200 purely from the larger aperture.

Focal distances differ in all three: the 55-200 tops the group with a distance of 1.1m, then the 70-300 and 70-200 come in behind at 1.5m. The 70-200 can focus at 1.4m, but only with MF.

The practicalities:

It's a fact: VR works, and Gordon has some fantastic examples in his reviews of the AF-S 70-300 and AF-S 55-200. AF-S is also fantastic - not just for fairly quiet and fast focusing, but for the ability to override the AF manually without flicking a switch.

But with so much gadgetry in a lens, the inevitable happens to your battery life. Over this weekend, the best I could muster from one EN-EL3e battery with the D200 shooting uncompressed RAW and normal JPEGs was 448 shots before hitting 0%. If you plan to take this lens out for the day, be prepared to charge your battery on the go, or have multiple spares. Fortunately I have many of the latter, and kept supplying this power hungry combination.

It isn't only the power that gets to you when shooting with this lens - the sheer weighty combination of the D200, battery grip, flashgun and lens is over 2.5kg. The battery grip is a must when this lens is on to balance the front heavy tendencies once it has been attached. Hefty as this combination is, Nikon have done a great job with the ergonomics. From my past use of the AF-D 80-200 2.8 (one-touch and two-touch editions), it has been much improved. The tapered shape of the lens makes for more comfortable handholding than previously - furthermore the tripod foot has been redesigned such that it doesn't get in the way like it did in the past.

It's not all good news though; I loved my one-touch 80-200 for the intuitive push-pull zoom action. In fact, I passed over the newer two-touch edition of the 80-200 in favour for the older one-touch purely for this. The 70-200 adjusts the focal distance with a ring like most modern lenses. For me, this wasn't as intuitive for manual focusing during action photography (useful on occasions where you want to prefocus on a spot and pre-empt where the action will end up). But for most part, this lens is left in AF purely because it is fast enough to follow most subjects, and it rarely hunts with the D200. And as I've mentioned, I can override the focusing at any time by twisting the focus ring.

On the subject of focusing, there are focus lock buttons at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock around the front end of the lens - you can see them as the round button in the images of the lens from earlier. They're not terribly useful where they are placed, and I find I hardly ever need to press any of them.

Image quality

There are many reviews on the internet already on image quality, so I won't dwell too long here.

Below are samples I took over the weekend of the 70-200 in action.


EXIF: taken handheld at 1/60, f/2.8 at 70mm, ISO 800, +1 exposure, centre weighted.

I'll add centre and corner crops soon. No editing, bar the addition of a white border.

Here are other two images, taken later in the evening when the lights were dimmed.


Taken handheld at 1/30, f2.8 at 102mm, ISO 800, Centre weighted, +1 exposure, no flash


Taken handheld at 1/20, f2.8 at 102mm, ISO 800, Centre weighted, +1 exposure, no flash

Comparison shots with the 55-200 and 70-300 all at 200mm. (Taken from same position under the same lighting. All with D200, ISO 800, f/5.6, normal JPEG, same camera settings)

First up, the 55-200. It doesn't actually fare badly at all. There's visible CA (purple fringing) in the top right corner crop, and none in the centre. There's a faint noticeable light fall off on the edges.

Top right:

Next up, the 70-300. The top right crop shows even more CA in this lens, however, it appears more sharp than the 55-200 at both centre and corner. Note here that light fall off is virtually non-existant.

Top right:

Finally we have the 70-200. No post-processing (bar the need to crop for centre and corner) has been done to all these. The performance here is instantly visible with a brighter image at the same f/5.6 as the others. There is virtually no noticeable CA, and the centre resolution is as sharp, if not sharper than the other two lenses.

Top right:

For comparison, here are the 3 full shots side by side.


So looking at these studio test shots, there's a noticeable difference between the 70-200 and the comparison Nikkors. However I feel the budget 55-200 actually outperforms the more expensive 70-300 at 200mm and fully blown at f/5.6. Note that at this focal length, the 70-300 has a maximum of f/5.3 and of course, the 70-200 at f/2.8.


The 70-200 is a very able telephoto zoom for some Nikon film SLRs, and all of their DSLRs. The focal range is a commonly used one, and one that I'm sure will be covered already by an existing lens.

The 70-200 is vastly superior to the other two lenses in this review in low light settings and in many other aspects. But the big question to ask is this: can I justify the cost?

I have two answers: yes and no. Yes if you are shooting professionally. This lens pays for itself with the increase in success rate; you really can take images you couldn't have done so before. It is especially useful in action and low-light photography. I would answer no if you cannot justify the cost other than the desire to own one. If you can afford it, by all means, but from the test shots I hope to have up soon, you will see that the 55-200 and 70-300 are low cost options that do 70-80% as good a job as the 70-200.
Last edited by Photoj on Sat Mar 01, 2008 10:21 pm, edited 12 times in total.

Postby Gatecrasher » Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:22 am

Very nice review! Just a bit out of my price range right now, but love to have one.

Postby Gordon Laing » Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:23 am

Great review, thanks!
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Postby grahamnp » Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:40 am

Great review Photoj. Out of curiosity, is it weather-sealed?

Postby Photoj » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:03 am

grahamnp, yes it is! There is a 2mm rubber seal around the camera mount. I'll put that in the full review once I've done my test shots.

Postby grahamnp » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:24 am

Very nice. I look forward to your full review Photoj.

Postby TelexStar » Fri Feb 22, 2008 10:43 am

Nice job Photoj. I could've seriously done with this lens during a school fashion show shoot. Alas I had to use the 18-200mm VR and a flash. It sufficed but wasn't ideal.

Out of interest, do you shoot professionally?

Postby Photoj » Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:14 pm

Semi-pro. I juggle journalistic photography with another profession (see profile).

VR on the 18-200 would have helped a little, but really for indoor photography, you do need fast glass. How were the resulting photos? I'm covering an indoor sporting event this weekend, and that will be the ideal real life test for the review.

Postby TelexStar » Fri Feb 22, 2008 1:10 pm

I've written up my experience here: Haven't gone through the photos yet but I'll post some of the results this weekend.

I'd love to hear how you get on with the sporting event.

Postby Photoj » Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:08 pm

I guess that's the review for now. I'm sure I'll add to it with comparisons with the 55-200 and 70-300 a little later. I just didn't have the space in my kit bag to carry all three over the weekend.

Postby fearless leader » Wed Feb 27, 2008 2:24 am

Man that makes me jealous, I want that lens for school so bad, since I can't justfy the cost....yet.... I've been using 50mm and 85mm f/1.8 primes, since all my action takes place fairly close to me and I don't need 70-200.

Great Reveiw by the way :D
fearless leader

Postby Photoj » Thu Feb 28, 2008 9:21 pm

I've now added some studio shots of all three lenses. All I have to do now are real life shots with all three in action...I can hardly wait for all the lens swapping!

Postby johngunnar » Wed Feb 04, 2009 8:39 pm

Photoj, again Im delving into your experience here for suggestions, is the 80-200 2.8 push-pull lens one you would recommend for FX? I got a pretty good deal on one, I think. (500 dollars, equivalent, remember this is norway prices so its pretty good here).
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Postby nomix » Wed Feb 04, 2009 10:18 pm

The 80-200's are regarded as quite fine on FX.

Postby Photoj » Wed Feb 04, 2009 11:03 pm

johngunnar wrote:Photoj, again Im delving into your experience here for suggestions, is the 80-200 2.8 push-pull lens one you would recommend for FX? I got a pretty good deal on one, I think. (500 dollars, equivalent, remember this is norway prices so its pretty good here).

I've actually just repurchased an 80-200 AF-D 1-Touch (Push/pull) for use on FX as a backup to the 70-200. It's a fantastic lens, only marred by the lack of a tripod collar. Otherwise AF speed is decent for a lens its age (sluggish by today's standards) and optical quality is about the same as the 70-200. What you lose out on are the faster AF, tripod collar & VR.

At $500 US that's not a bad purchase, but do check the condition of the lens before buying.


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