Lens Review: Nikon NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

February 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

This is a great lens. It matches or exceeds the resolution of the D800E and provides consistent, fast performance at a lighter weight and much lower price than the older Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR, with a superior new vibration reduction system. For me this is one of the rare lenses I’ve come across that I have no regrets about purchasing, no second thoughts. It just does its job and keeps churning out great photos.

Pros

  • Sharp even wide open (f/4)
  • Nano coating provides great contrast and flare resistance
  • Vibration Reduction is Nikon’s 3rd generation and the best lens-based VR solution I’ve encountered so far
  • Silent, fast, accurate autofocus
  • Internal zoom and focusing (no change in physical length, less places for dust to enter)
  • No focus breathing issues like the 70-200mm f/2.8G (magnification stays consistent at 200mm even at the minimum focus distance, resulting in better close-up ability)
  • Priced right for the image quality you are getting

Cons

  • No tripod collar included
  • ‘Only’ f/4 (but that saves you a ton of money and weight vs the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G)
  • Feels a little ‘plasticky’ despite the gold ring heralding it as a professional lens – build quality just isn’t as high as some other professional Nikon lenses, and definitely nowhere near Zeiss Zf.2 quality
  • Focusing ring isn’t particularly well damped or pleasurable to use
  • Vignettes a fair amount at f/4
  • Still pretty long, physically

Through the CanopyThrough the CanopySunlight streams down through a break in the canopy - Oregon

This is one of those easy recommendations. If you don’t need f/2.8 (can live with f/4 as the max aperture), and you need/want a 70-200mm lens for Nikon, buy this one. I recommend it over the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 options as well, assuming, again, you don’t need f/2.8, as the Nikon will hold its value better and it is lighter, smaller, and has better vibration reduction, with just as good if not better image quality.

Is it up to the quality of, say, the Nikon 200mm f/2 or the Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO? No. Of course not. And, from the other reviews and reports I’ve seen, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G probably has somewhat better microcontrast, less vignetting, and better build quality. But – and this is a big but – all three of the lenses I just mentioned are significantly more expensive than the 70-200mm f/4, and none of them has the 3rd generation VR, which is truly excellent.

The lens is fairly lightweight, and focuses and zooms internally, so the external physical dimensions do not change. There is no tripod collar included with the lens, so if you want one you’ll have to buy either a Nikon or a third party collar separately for a few hundred dollars; I haven’t bothered because, honestly, the lens balances just fine on the D800E and weighs less than some other lenses I’ve had (e.g. the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Zf.2), and I haven’t had any issues with the balance when using the camera on a tripod.

I’m pleased to say the lens is also very sharp, at all focal lengths, declining only somewhat at 200mm (most telephoto zooms are weakest at the longest end). The colors are good and the macrocontrast, probably thanks in part to the Nano coatings, is excellent. I haven’t had any flare issues – but, of course, I’ve left the hood on at all times.

This lens won’t give you quite the separation and bokeh of the f/2.8 lens, of course, much less the Nikon 200mm f/2, but at 200mm and f/4 you can still have a narrow depth of field, and the bokeh quality is quite high. I haven’t run into any severe lateral or longitudinal chromatic aberrations, either (‘slower’ lenses tend to be less affected by those, especially LoCA, compared with ultra-fast primes).

Foggy MountainsFoggy MountainsOn Snoqualmie Pass as the sun dips below the line of the Cascades, in Washington State

I’ve been extremely pleased with the effectiveness of the 3rd generation VR technology in this lens. I’ve gotten tack-sharp results hand holding the lens at 200mm with 1/50s and even 1/25s shutter speeds, which is remarkable.

Would I prefer the overall image quality and ‘pop’ of the Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO? Yes. Definitely. But I also lose a lot with that lens compared with the 70-200mm f/4: the flexibility of the zoom range and the fantastic VR for handholding. I can also say, comfortably, that if I was a working photo journalist who needed a robust lens that could take a beating and keep working, I would go for the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G instead.

Overall: if I could always use a tripod and shoot with careful, deliberate care (and had unlimited funds) then I would comfortably say I could get superior results (in terms of pure image quality) with a combination of the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4, Zeiss 100mm f/2 Macro Planar, Zeiss 134mm f/2 APO, and Nikon 200mm f/2. But I can’t always use a tripod. The 70-200mm f/4 provides nearly as good image quality as all of those lenses (combined) at a significantly lower price and with much greater flexibility for off-tripod shooting.

That’s a winner.


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