I’ve used the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II for a couple of weeks now and so far, I’m impressed with the results. My short review complete with 100% crops at super slow shutter speeds after the jump.
Optical Performance and Vibration Reduction – As you can see from the 100% crop below, the lens is really very sharp at f/2.8 even when hand held down to 1/10 of a second or, depending how steady your hands are, even slower shutter speeds.
Considering that some people need shoot at a shutter speed that is roughly double the focal length in order to get sharp results (e.g. 1/400 at 200mm), that the lens can deliver at so many stops slower is real proof of the effectiveness of the Nikon VR II image stabilization system.
The VR II autofocus system is faster to acquire focus, tighter feeling and much quieter than its predecessor.
Nikon claims that the VR II system allows photographers to shoot at up to 4-stops slower than normal. While is certainly seems to be true, I believe that the changes to the physical size and ergonomics of the lens also contribute to sharper photos.
The new lens is shorter and easier to hold than the older version. In theory, a shorter lens means that the very tip of the lens (the part shaking the most) is easier to keep steady because it’s closer to the photographer’s center of gravity. Overall the lens feels heavier but also much more centered than the previous version.
The second most noticeable improvement is the addition of a stationary grip on the very front of the lens. The grip makes the lens very easy to hold on to without worrying about fouling your focus by accidentally turning the manual focus ring (I always found the manual focus ring on the old version too easy to turn while shooting).
Nikon also went one step further in this regard; the new lens features a new A/M or M/A focus mode that allows the photographer to select the sensitivity of the manual focus ring. A/M lowers the sensitivity of the manual focus ring in favor of autofocus. M/A gives a higher manual focus sensitivity for photographers who like to tweak their focus on the fly.
The new 70-200mm has a beautiful finish and an overall build quality that puts it on par with the newer Nikon 24-70mm and 14-24mm zooms. The shutlines are tight and the action of the autofocus and zoom rings are smooth and nicely geared. The toggle switches for the various AF and VR modes are very stiff and would seem to resist accidental movement during use. The switches are not so stiff that they couldn’t be used with light gloves on.
More Nikon 70-200 VR II Image Samples
These images were taken quickly and casually by aiming the camera at the wall, focusing and firing off two consecutive shots with a manual exposure of 1/10 at 200mm and f/2.8 and ISO200.
Since I wanted to show as close to real world results as possible, no extra effort was made to hold the camera steady. In addition, the autofocus mode was set to AF-S on “release” priority. Since I never use “focus” priority when I’m actually shooting I did not feel the need to turn it on even though it might have produced a sharper photo.
Given that my personal settings are biased towards taking photos quickly instead of focusing accurately, the sharper of the two images was chosen in all cases.
Additional settings – the samples were shot in RAW with the Nikon D3 using an in-camera sharpening setting of 3. The RAW files were converted to JPEG in Capture NX2 and saved for web without any further sharpening or processing.
As you can see below, my copy of the lens appears to backfocus very slightly out-of-the box.
Considering my quick and dirty shooting technique and the extremely slow shutter speed, the 70-200mm VR II produces great results in terms of image stabilization and overall sharpness. In the hand, the lens is very sturdy and significantly nicer to hold than it’s predecessor. I have no doubt that the lens will be a pleasure to use for years to come.
You may note that I have not covered lens vignetting or the actual field of view at 200mm; this is because neither of these factors matter to much for my work. Firstly, I tend to add more vignetting in post regardless. Secondly, whether the lens is a real 200mm or a 180mm as others have claimed, isn’t so big a drawback that it outweighs the big improvements in image stabilization and overall handling.
For a few real world sames from the lens, check out my photos of Marie Digby performing at Joe’s Pub.
Another sample after more microadjustment of the lens on the D3. 200mm f/3.2 and 1/60 handheld.
Here is an image sample after a -8 microadjustment to the lens. Nikon D3, f/3.5 and 1/60 at ISO200 handheld. In-camera sharpening set to 3. Saved for Web in Adobe Photoshop CS4 with no additional sharpening.