new telephoto zoom is a winner.
has thrown in virtually every possible feature with this new
lens, resulting in an alphabetic menagerie added to its official
elements in 15 groups; 5 ED elements.
collar and removable tripod foot, VR (vibration reduction),
focus limit switch, manual focus override, AF-S lens
focusing motor, internal focus, 77mm filter size. Comes
with HB-29 hood and CL-M2 semi-soft case. Focuses to
4.6' (1.4m) in manual focus, 4.9' (1.5m) in autofocus.
215mm long, 49.2 ounces (1395g) with collar.
has had at least six previous f/2.8 telephoto zooms in this range:
f/2.8 ED. This manual focus lens was first introduced in
1978 at Photokina. The lens has a unique rotating tripod collar
and was a two-ring design, but only a handful were produced.
f/2.8 ED. The most common of the manual focus versions uses
a one-ring design and a full depth of field scale engraved on
the barrel. The lens is distinguished by a huge 95mm front thread.
Introduced in 1982, again, not a lot of these lenses were made.
80-200mm f/2.8 ED. The first of the autofocus versions appeared
in 1987. Curiously, unlike most early AF conversions, Nikon appears
to have made a few optical changes in this conversion, adding
an element and making the front element the standard 77mm size
used in most pro lenses.
80-200mm f/2.8D ED IF. The first D version appeared in 1992
and added no rotating front element.
80-200mm f/2.8D ED IF. A two-ring version of the classic
design appeared next.
80-200mm f/2.8D ED IF. In 1999, Nikon added an AF-S version
of the two-ring design, making a few other minor changes, as well.
six of these lenses are universally regarded as being sharp, quality
designs. Arguments abound about which of the AF versions is sharper
than the other, with the most commonly held view appearing to be
that the AF-S is the sharpest, the one-ring next sharpest, and the
short-lived two-ring non AF-S as the weakest of the three. Frankly,
however, they're all quite sharp and unless your handling is perfect,
I doubt you'd be able to distinguish between them. One common rap
on all three is that there is a fair amount of light drop-off in
the corners on full frame cameras, and I'd agree with that assessment.
all these earlier lenses have a common design history (especially
the autofocus versions), Nikon's replacement, the AF-S 70-200mm
f/2.8G ED IF VR, appears to be a completely new optical design.
So let's take a closer look at the basics.
is a very complex lens, with 21 elements in 15 groups. By comparison,
previous designs tended to be 15 or 16 elements in 11 groups. Five
of the elements are now ED (low dispersion glass), up from three
in previous designs. The aperture is a 9-blade type and appears
to have moved slightly in position. It seems clear that Nikon has
not settled on a tweaking--this is a new lens design.
the new lens is longer and smaller in diameter than the one it replaces,
though it retains the two-ring design (near ring is for zooming,
far ring is for focusing). AF-S means that the lens has a built-in
motor for focusing, doesn't rotate the front element during focus,
focuses very fast and reliably, and allows you to override autofocus
by simply grabbing the focus ring and turning it.
the very front of the lens is the focus scale (but with no depth
of field or infrared markings) and focus hold buttons. On the camera
side of the zoom ring are a set of four buttons:
Focus button: In the M/A position the lens
works as usual (autofocus with manual override). In the M
position, the lens focuses only manually.
Limiter button: In the Full position the
lens will focus at any point from its nearest focus point to the
furthest. In the 2.5m position, the lens only
focuses from 8.2' to infinity.
button: In the ON position, VR is active;
in the OFF position, VR isn't used.
Type button: In the Normal position, VR
will detect panning and not try to correct for it. In the Active
position, VR takes out all motion.
tripod mount is new. Unlike previous designs, this consists of two
pieces: a rotating collar on the lens that isn't removable, and
a foot that locks onto the collar via a hot shoe-type connector.
I was skeptical when I first heard about this feature, but the foot
removes and remounts easily, and the twist knob on its side definitely
locks it securely onto the collar. The nice thing about this design
is that you can take the foot off without taking the lens off the
camera. Since VR begs for using the lens handheld, this new collar
makes it a no-brainer to go back and forth between tripod and handheld.
seen reviews by others that indicate that the reviewer thinks this
lens handles better than its predecessor. I guess I'd agree with
that contention, but then, I didn't think the previous AF-S 80-200mm
lens handled well. (I need to admit that I loved the one-ring AF
80-200mm. This lens was convenient to use and the huge ring fell
into your hand no matter how or where you grabbed the lens. It was
also shorter than the current design.)
new 70-200mm is longer than any of the previous AF designs, though
the barrel is a slightly smaller diameter (good for small hands).
Personally, I find it it a little too long and the focus and zoom
rings too narrow. It's taken me awhile to get used to grabbing the
focus ring so far in front of the camera (the focus ring has a "curb"
on it that makes it easily distinguished, assuming you reach out
that far). Further, the focus hold buttons are out beyond
the focus ring. On the one hand, you won't accidentally touch them;
but you'll also find your hand-held shooting stability destabilized
if you have to reach out to them (good thing this lens has VR; but
this is a design flaw in my view, as the buttons are in the position
you'd expect them to be for tripod use and not for VR use). Personally,
I'd rather have the focus hold buttons in the focus ring itself
so I don't have to move my hand when handholding the lens. I.e.,
press the shutter release to get a focus point, override it with
the focus ring and press a button to hold it without having
to move my hand position.
complained about Nikon's focus limit buttons on previous lenses,
and this lens doesn't completely end that trend, though I prefer
the two-range button on this lens to the three-range previously
used. If you're using the lens for close-in work, your only choice
is the Full position, unfortunately. More troubling,
however, is that all four control switches on the lens are grouped
together and all are two-position switches. That means that you
won't be making changes to lens settings by feel unless you absolutely
memorize which button is where (hint: the top two are AF related,
the bottom two VR; the top switch in both groupings is a slightly
wider "ON/OFF" switch and the ON position is toward the
front of the lens, the narrower bottom switches in each pair set
last two telephoto releases (the 80-400mm VR and the 300mm f/4 AF-S)
had what some felt were questionable tripod collars. The 70-200mm
lens features a new design that should answer all the complaints
from those critics. Instead of removing the whole collar, which
has always required dismounting the lens from the camera, this new
version has a hot-shoe like apparatus that allows you to remove
the mounting foot (leaving the rotating collar behind). You can
get the foot on and off the lens very quickly, yet the whole thing
is quite stable when you need it to be. There's only one drawback
that I can see, and that's that the mount is slightly low in profile;
on some heads if you mount the lens on the head then the bottom
of the camera body can hit long handles (but then why are you even
using a video-type panning head? See my Tripod
101 article!). In short, I want this collar (or some variation)
on all my telephotos! [The manual, by the way, has the following
amusing note: "When using a tripod, be sure to fully tighten
the tripod collar lock screw, otherwise the lens may fall off the
tripod accidentally and cause bodily injury." That unspecified
bodily injury, of course, would be the concussion you get from banging
your head against the wall after doing something so stupid with
a very expensive lens.]
brings us to VR and tripods. Once again Nikon's manuals seem to
be causing some confusion. The manual is explicit: "When
the lens is mounted on a tripod, set the vibration reduction ON/OFF
switch to OFF." Of course, the next sentence starts the
confusion: "However, set the switch to ON when using a
tripod without securing the tripod head, or when using a monopod."
That still seems pretty clear to me (i.e., if you're panning off
a tripod, you might want to turn VR back ON). It's only when you
read the other sections of the manual that you start scratching
your head. For example, the description of Normal versus Active
VR says "In this mode [Active], the lens does not automatically
distinguish panning from camera shake." Okay, so if you're
panning on a tripod, you should be in Active mode, right? Probably
not. You don't want the VR to fight your panning, only to correct
the motion in the axis you're not moving.
Nikon's documentation only hints at, but never quite makes clear,
how VR handles panning. Page 17 of the English section has one of
the worst diagrams I've ever seen; it's a poor attempt to tell you
when to use each VR mode. In this case, 100 words is worth any number
of Nikon diagrams, so here they are: When you pan the camera in Normal VR mode, two
of the four stabilizers are deactivated (for a horizontal pan the "left"/"right"
pair are deactivated; for a vertical pan the "top"/"bottom" pair).
When you rotate the lens the actual physical stabilizers that are deactivated change, though the intent stays the same. Thus, up/down motion is always taken
out in a horizontal pan regardless of whether you've positioned the camera and lens for a vertical
or horizontal shot. In short, if you pan in Normal VR mode, the
lens tries to take motion out that isn't a pan.
VR takes away this automatic panning detection--all four stabilizers
are always active. Thus, in Active VR mode, the lens assumes you
want to remove all motion. Do you need to put the lens
into Active VR mode to remove motion when you're not panning? Not
really. Most photographers produce much more up/down motion (due
to stabbing at the shutter release) than they do left/right motion.
But if you have lots of strong vibrations you need to remove--as
you might when shooting from a vehicle with its engine on--set the
VR to Active to be sure that nothing is interpreted as a pan. [Okay,
that was more than 100 words, but hopefully clearer than Nikon's
on the positive side, the new pinch-release lens cap design finally
makes some sense to me (I couldn't figure out why Nikon was spending
any engineering time on a new lens cap when there are so
many other things that could use some work). When you have the (big)
lens hood on this lens, you can still reach in and remove (or replace)
the lens cap. Of course, this new design lens cap seems to pop off
accidentally more often than the old edge-squeeze designs, so it
isn't a total win. Still, I like being able to leave the hood on
and get the cap on or off without too much hassle. (If you've ever
set up but waiting somewhere where there's "gook" in the
air, such as at the Volcano in Hawaii, you'll know why.)
included lens hood, by the way, is a large one of the bayonet type.
You can reverse bayonet it onto the lens to carry it, though this
makes the lens bulkier to carry.
typically boils down to two things: autofocus speed and sharpness.
So let's just cut to the chase: this is one of Nikon's sharpest
lenses, and the AF-S system works just as fast and as quietly on
this lens as it does on any other.
testing shows that not only is this lens sharper wide open than
its predecessors, it has excellent corner sharpness and slightly
better than expected sharpness at small apertures (where diffraction
starts to take a bit of sharpness away). I can't say it often enough:
this is a sharp lens.
sharp is this lens? Here's a blowup from the center of the frame
with the TC-20e on and the lens wide open (i.e., at 400mm; 1/45
and f/5.6, VR off and lens mounted on tripod). While I see a
bit of softening due to the teleconverter, this is still quite
good performance. Without a converter, this lens is as sharp
as any Nikon has ever produced.
other performance factors are probably of interest to you if you're
going to pay US$1700 for a lens. Here, too--with one exception--this
is one of Nikon's best efforts to date. For example, light falloff
is relatively low in the corners, though still present to a small
degree through f/4. Prior 80-200mm designs have very observable
falloff if you shoot, say, a bird against a blue sky at anything
wider than f/8. That's simply not true of this new lens. Falloff
is still there (as it is with almost all lenses), but it's present
only at the widest apertures and only in small increments. Digital
body users need not worry about it at all.
me, however, the most striking performance factor of this lens is
the bokeh (visual quality of out of focus areas). Even with VR off
this lens renders out of focus areas in a very pleasing manner,
with no touch of harshness or edge artifacts. With VR on, this lens
may rank right up there with the classic bokeh champions (such as
the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4). If you're looking for a portrait lens that
captures your subject sharply and produces no distractions in an
out-of-focus background, look no further.
the downside, I was very disappointed in the focus abilities of
this lens. No, not the speed or accuracy, both are which are what
you'd expect from an AF-S lens (fast and accurate). No, what's disappointing
is the close focus distance--5' (1.5m) at 70mm isn't particularly
close. This has been my biggest peeve with the previous 80-200mm
lenses, as well: I remember sitting on the bumper of my vehicle
on safari in Africa when a lioness walked by closer than I could
focus (!). You'll probably be shooting something less dangerous
(though some wedding photographers have encountered brides and moms
that are probably more vicious and more likely to hurt the photographer),
but you'll still want closer focus. One of the things I've always
liked about the 85mm Nikkors is that they focus down to about 3'
(1m), allowing you to get tight portraits. Sure, you can zoom in
with the 70-200mm, but that changes the depth of field; you want
to shoot those portraits at 70mm f/2.8 to get enough depth of field
to cover the most important facial features but still throw the
background into that gorgeous out-of-focus bokeh. Zoom into 135mm
and the depth of field squishes to a very tight area and the background
deteriorates into a plain wash of color.
with the TC-14e teleconverter is nothing short of astonishing. How
good is it? Well, I can't see any differences between the 70-200mm
at 200mm with a TC-14e and the highly regarded 300mm
f/4 AF-S! That's both unexpected and unprecedented. In other
words, if you need a 300mm f/4 AF-S, just get the 70-200mm and a
TC-14e. You'll get a more versatile lens and lose no sharpness.
the TC-20e teleconverter, the results are still good (see above),
but sharpness is slightly compromised in the corners. I would characterize
the results as being an "better-than-adequate" 400mm f/5.6.
You might be able to do better with a dedicated 400mm or the 300mm
f/4 AF-S with a TC-14E, but the 70-200mm and TC-20e combination
will get you by if you don't have one.
there's a measurably weak aspect to the 70-200mm's performance,
it is ghosting. When you shoot directly into a light source, those
21 elements and 30 air/glass transitions start to work against you.
This lens is much more likely to produce a ghost of one of those
elements (or the lens aperture) than the previous lenses. Moreover,
this lens seems more prone to contrast decreases than previous designs
when light directly hits the front element. You can help reduce
the latter possibility by using the supplied lens hood. The hood
is deep and shades the front element from just about anything except
light sources that appear directly in the frame.
saved the most obvious performance questions for last. One of the
first things I get asked about this lens is "does the VR work?"
I've postponed discussing this aspect of performance because I need
this lens to work without VR before I can even consider using it
at slow shutter speeds or in moving vehicles. As should be obvious
by now, even without VR this would be a remarkable lens. And yes,
the VR works. Rather than me describing how good it is, let me give
you a recent example. I had this lens with me at my 2003 California
desert workshops. While we were waiting for one the students to
get back out of the slot canyon in Anza Borrego State Park, one
of my other students saw that I had the 70-200mm on my D100 and
asked: "does the VR really work?" I just handed him the
camera, showed him where the VR switch was, and said "try it."
Now the portions of the shots that follow aren't examples of compositional
greatness or even perfect sharpness, but it'll give you a quick
idea of just how much the VR system can improve handheld results
(and we were getting blasted by wind gusts, so hand holding was
definitely a challenge and the Ocotillo bushes were moving in the
images were shot at 1/8 of a second at 200mm; no sharpening
was imposed in camera nor added after the fact, and these are 100%
crops from a section of each photo. The first one is without VR,
the second one with. The student's response? "Wow!" (Remember,
we had a storm blowing through, so these branches weren't rock steady
to start with!) I tend to shoot on a tripod most of the time, but
in the instances where I've gone handheld, I've been impressed by
the job the VR does.
yes, VR works. In my opinion, it works very well (perhaps a bit
better on this lens than on the 80-400mm
VR), though it is not a substitute for a tripod or good holding
VR seems to have added about US$400 to the price. At US$1895,
this is a pricey lens that you won't be buying on impulse. Eventually,
as demand is met, I suspect we'll see this lens offered more
in the US$1700 range, but that still makes it Nikon's most expensive
optic other than the exotic teles.
When you have light sources in the frame, this lens tends to
produce ghosts more often than the preceding lenses in this
line. You'll want to always use the supplied hood.
issues. This is a lens that absolutely requires
that you turn the camera off before removing it or mounting
it. If you use internal flash or the AF-On button, you'll find
some more of the little gotchas (see right-column). Minor quibbles,
such as the four switches being inidistinguishable by touch
and the total lack of depth of field information mar what would
otherwise be a world-beater design.
One of Nikon's sharpest lenses ever. Sharp at every aperture.
Sharp with teleconverters. And the VR helps you achieve that sharpness.
bokeh. Gorgeous out-of-focus rendering, perhaps as good
as any existing Nikkor.
and AF-S in one package. Nikon
can finally match Canon in features. VR doesn't slow the speed
of focus of this lens, and AF-S doesn't keep VR from working.