AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D


None of the flash, less of the cash.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

A holdover lens that Nikon continues to produce and that continues to be popular, despite not having all the latest and greatest goodies.

Lens Formula
16 elements in 11 groups; 3 ED elements.
Other Features
Rotating tripod collar, autofocus/manual focus switch, internal focus, 77mm filter size. Requires optional HB-7 hood. Comes with case. Focuses to 4.9' (1.5m).
Size and Weight
About 7.5 " (187mm) long, 46 ounces (1300g).
Price
US$1099 (street)
   

The Basics

Nikon has produced a lot of f/2.8 telephoto zooms over the years (current count is eight). Of these, only one has had a very long production run (10 years and counting), and it's the subject of our review today.

The 80-200mm f/2.8D design predates Nikon's digital bodies, but it's still a very competent lens on even a D3x. At half the price of the current 70-200mm, the 80-200mm is very tempting to many photographers, but the price also means that you'll be passing on a host of current lens features: no VR, no AF-S, no weathersealing at the mount, no removable tripod collar, and no Nano coating, for instance.

On the other hand, this is a reasonably simple lens optically, with 16 elements in 11 groups, which makes it only about three-quarters as complex as the current 70-200mm. In lens design, less complex is often good. Three of the elements are ED (low dispersion glass). The aperture is a 9-blade type.

Overall, the new lens is the slightly shorter than either 70-200mm, and somewhat lighter (by as much as a half pound [240g]).

Lack of AF-S means that the lens requires that the camera body drive the lens elements to focus, and that you can't override focus without flipping either the camera or the lens to manual focus. Screwdrive motors in the Nikon bodies vary from weak (consumer models) to strong (pro bodies), so there's some variability in focus speed depending upon which camera you're using. Also, cameras that don't have a screwdrive (D40, D40x, D60, D3000, and D5000) will not focus this lens.

The focus ring is at the front of the lens, the Zoom ring is the one closer to the body. At the very front of the lens is the focus scale (but with no depth of field and one infrared marking). The camera has two switches: one handles focus limiting (10' [3m] to infinity or the full range), the other is the old wrap-around Autofocus/Manual focus switch hidden as a ring between the focus and zoom rings.

The tripod collar is shallow and rotates through 290 degrees. It cannot be removed. Unlike many modern Nikon tripod collars, this one seems to have almost no slop when tightened. Also unlike modern Nikkors, this lens has a lockable aperture ring (normally kept at f/22 for modern DSLRs).

The serial number is barely visible and etched into the back of the aperture ring. Official US imported models have a serial number that is preceded by a "US." The lens is made in Japan.

Handling

The 80-200mm has a barrel that stays constant in diameter through its length. The lens has a diameter that may cause some small handed users to object a bit, but I find size to be comfortable. The zoom ring is smooth and goes from short to long in a quarter turn. The focus ring, when set to manual focus, is a little looser than than the zoom ring, and moves from near to far in almost a half turn, allowing precision without (usually) forcing you to reposition your hand when going from one extreme to the other.

I've complained about Nikon's focus limit buttons on previous lenses. If you're using the lens for work any closer than 10' (3m) your only choice is the Full position, unfortunately. It would have been nice to have a 3m-infinity and maybe a 2m-infinity position.

The 80-200mm lens features Nikon's old style, small foot design. Good thing it's a small foot, as you can't remove the collar. Thus, when handholding the lens, you tend to rotate the foot up to the right of the lens (if you're zooming with your left hand). The foot blocks a bit of the zoom ring, which is the reason why you want it out of the way on the right side of the lens.

Overall, there's nothing particularly wrong with the handling of the lens. It's basic old-school Nikon design, so once you remember that, you'll soon find by feel that M-A ring for changing from manual to autofocus.

As usual with Nikon's higher-specified lenses, the 80-200mm is built a bit like a tank. It should handle rough handling fairly well. The lens now comes with the pinch-style front lens cap, but the lens hood is an extra cost option (you do get a soft case for the lens, though).

Performance

The real question is what do you give up when you buy a lens that's half the price of its newer brother? Obviously, a lot of features, but what about performance? I'll give you the short answer in bold at the beginning of each sub-section.

Aperture: No significant loss. This new lens is about t/3.4, about the same as the older 70-200mm VR and less than a sixth of a stop slower than the new 70-200mm. What's a t/stop? Well, an f/stop is a theoretical aperture (length divided by opening). A t/stop is the actual transmission property of the lens, and it's almost always lower than the marked f/stop because each air/glass transistion in the lens is robbing just a bit of light.

Autofocus: Potential loss. Autofocus on this lens is screw-driven from a motor in the camera body. On the high-end pro cameras, the motor has a lot of torque, and I can't really say that you lose much from an AF-S lens. On the lower specified consumer DSLR bodies that support this lens, performance is indeed noticeably slower than a good AF-S lens. On the other hand, if you're comparing this lens for a D90 against say, a 70-300mm f4.5-5.6, the difference isn't as noticeable. The constant f/2.8 aperture helps the AF system. So 200mm at f/2.8 versus f/5.6 narrows the difference.

You'll also notice that this lens tracks focus pretty well, again probably due to the f/2.8 aperture providing more light to the AF system in the camera. Even though it isn't AF-S, it is usable for sports and other action photography. Not all screw-drive lenses can claim that, in my experience. I will say that if the camera/lens lose focus, there's often more hunting on this lens than the 70-200mm to re-acquire focus, though. This means you need to make sure that you look at the Lock-On options a little more carefully, if your body supports them.

I do note that screw-drive lenses like this one seem to have more of a "jump" to focus than AF-S lenses. This isn't really a speed difference, but more of a noise issue. On the D300, for instance, there's usually just a slight pause before focus acquisition completes. On an AF-S lens you only notice this visually through the viewfinder. On a screw-drive lens, you hear the lens race to position. While the 80-200mm isn't a particularly noisy lens, the noise is slightly more obvious than a good AF-S motor.

Sharpness: Slight loss. A D3x exposes the 80-200mm as being good, but not great. At 200mm here's the f/2.8 and f/5.6 results:

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan center f/2.8

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan center f/5.6

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan corner f/2.8

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan center f/5.6

The results are similar at all focal lengths, though better than you see here at 200mm: at f/2.8 there's always a loss of contrast and slightly blurred results on a D3x at all focal lengths, but by f/5.6 the lens is perfectly sharp and full contrast. On a D3 I'm less bothered by the wide open results: they're perfectly usable, though there is an overall loss of contrast and the corners are slightly unsharp. DX users will also find the loss of contrast the primary problem shooting with this lens wide open, though corners wide open are acceptable.

In some ways, this lens reminds me of the old 70-200mm: it's being pushed in the corners and wide open, but many will find the results acceptable.

Light Falloff: Slightly better. Vignetting on DX bodies is very low (half stop wide open worst case), and decent on FX bodies (perhaps a stop in the corners, but it settles down fast and is mostly ignorable by f/5.6 at all focal lengths).

Chromatic aberration: Slightly worse. The two extreme focal lengths produce the most chromatic aberration, though still generally not enough to get concerned with (especially true if you're shooting JPEG with a recent Nikon that corrects CA). With DX cameras, I'd say that chromatic aberrations are okay overall and can usually be ignored. On FX bodies, especially the high resolution D3x, there is visible CA in the corners that you'd want to correct at 80mm and 200mm, but not in the middle focal ranges. In no case is the amount of chromatic aberration high enough to cause anyone to choose another lens, though.

Flare: No loss. Fewer lens elements and air/glass boundaries mean this lens does pretty well without Nano coating and other recent refinements. If you don't use a hood, you can induce visibly lower contrast at close focusing distances (the front element moves out close to the front edge of the lens). But you should be using a hood. Unfortunately, you have to buy that hood as an option.

Distortion: No loss. Slight barrel distortion at 80mm, slight pincushion distortion at 200mm. On DX, the worst distortion figures are significantly less than 1% and it takes good eyes to even see the distortion. On FX, the 200mm pincushion distortion nears 2%, which is visible but not objectionable.

Bokeh: Slight loss. The 80-200mm isn't particularly known for being a bokeh bravo, but it does pretty well for me--I have no complaints here. The chromatic aberration can show up in the edges of out-of-focus highlights, but the nine-blade aperture diaphragm produced very regular shapes in my sample, even at small apertures where sometimes the multi-blade approaches produce non-circles. I'd call the overall bokeh good, not great.

Teleconverters: not tested. This lens requires TC-14A (vignettes) or TC-14B (manual focus only) teleconverter.

Compared to the 70-200mm
DX users can pretty much use either if they have a screwdrive. Indeed, I'd tend to say the 80-200mm is optically slightly better on DX than the old 70-200mm, slightly worse than the new one. The only significant tradeoffs are focus speed in some situations and loss of VR.

For FX users, the 80-200mm still turns out to be a pretty good option. It is clearly better in the corners than the older 70-200mm once stopped down, but slightly less good than the new 70-200mm. The real issue for FX users is f/2.8: there's a clear loss of contrast and lower MTF scores wide open than for either 70-200mm. But again, by the time you get to f/4 the 80-200mm is better in most respects than the older 70-200mm on an FX body. Unfortunately, it never quite matches the new 70-200mm. So the old adage "you get what you pay for" comes into play here.

Overall, for half the price you get much of the optical goodness of the 70-200mm lenses, but lose the best possible focus performance, a number of features, and some loss of contrast wide open. It's clear to me why Nikon has kept this in production for so long: it's just a darned good lens for its price. Sports shooters really don't need VR, anyway (they're usually keeping their shutter speeds at 1/500 or above). Event shooters might miss the VR, but they'll like the slightly smaller and lighter physique of the 80-200mm. Just watch that f/2.8: you'll need to optimize both your shooting discipline and your post processing to extract the best images from this lens wide open, as it will fight you a bit with loss of contrast, slight blur, and chromatic aberration in the corners at the extreme focal lengths.

Drawbacks

  • Old-school Autofocus. Screwdrive autofocus is best on the pro bodies, slightly less capable on mid-range bodies, and not even available on most low-end Nikon DSLRs.
  • It Really Costs $40 more. You really should have the optional HB-7 lens hood, especially if shooting at closer distances where the front element is more prone to flare.
  • Feature Free. No VR, no AF-S, no Nano coating, no weatherseals. This is a basic lens.
  • Permanently Collared. The tripod collar is good, but not removable.

Positives

  • Optically Fine. DX users won't find a significant flaw, FX users will still be very happy, especially at f/4 and smaller.
  • Friendly Price. Half the price (or less) than the 70-200mm II. Cheaper new than a used version of the older 70-200mm.

 

 
Quick Evaluation


Recommended
; an alternative to the expensive 70-200, but with fewer features.

Absolute Scale:
features
focus speed
optics
build

Value Scale:
features
focus speed
optics
build

overall value

At less than half the price of the current 70-200mm, you expect to get less. The less in this case is VR, AF-S, and a handful of other features, but not optical quality.


Table of Contents

Original Review: 2/8/2010
Lens Source: purchased

Limitations


The 80-200mm lens has a few limitations you need to be aware of:


Not for consumer DSLRs. Does not focus with D40, D40x, D60, D3000, and D5000 cameras due to lack of screwdrive in those bodies.

Not Teleconverter Friendly.Requires older teleconverters that aren't AF.





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