Nikon 70-200mm VR II
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II (77mm filter, 54.3 oz/1,540g, 4.6'/1.4m close focus, about $2,400) enlarge. I'd order it at Adorama, J&R, or Amazon. Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear, especially the older model 70-200mm VR. It helps me keep adding to this site when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.
NEW: Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR. Just as sharp, for half the price.
NEW: Nikon 80-400mm G VR. Same price, twice as long zoom range.
I hate this lens because it is so good than now I want to buy one. I borrowed one to test, and it turned out so subtly excellent that it surprised me.
I was fully hoping that this was the same as the previous 70-200mm VR, except missing the AF lock buttons and $500 more expensive, but no.
This new 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II does everything a little better than every other previous 80-200mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. Drat. I can't find any area in which it isn't Nikon's best yet. The only potential gotcha is that at close distances, the effective focal length range contracts, effectively becoming a 65-135mm lens at 5 feet (1.5m).
Nikon should know: they invented the world's first 80-200mm f/2.8 in 1982, and every five years, Nikon cranks out a better one. Every one of these lenses has been, and today still is, superb. The few of us who get the luxury to test each of these sadly have to admit that this is the sharpest, least distorting, fastest and most accurate focusing fast tele zoom ever from Nikon.
This new 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II is now the seventh iteration of this series. I chronicle and compare all seven versions at Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 History.
What's new is that the close-focus distance is now rated as 4.6 feet (1.4 meters) instead of the 5 feet (1.5 meters) of every other Nikon f/2.8 tele zoom since 1988.
Every pro I know wants this new lens because 5 feet is never close enough. Paying $500 more is a bargain to get an extra half-foot close-focus range for the lens that most pros shoot 80% of the time, all day, every day. All of us are always banging the close focus stop of our tele zooms, and this new lens gives us an extra half foot.
In fact, I measured it, and the sample I borrowed focuses to just 4 feet, two inches (50" or 127cm), much better than specified. The only other Nikon tele zoom that focuses more closely is the pro's secret, the 1986 70-210mm f/4 AF, but since it's a secret and sells used for only about $150 used, I won't tell you about it. The 70-210mm f/4-5.6 focuses more closely, too.
Focus is superb. At f/2.8 on my D3, every single shot is dead-on, unlike some other lenses that can show focus offsets.
This new 70-200mm VR II has only half the distortion of the lenses that came before it.
Vibration reduction is so good it lets me get perfect tripod-equivalent sharpness most of the time hand-held at 1/8 of a second at all focal lengths!
Sharpness of every Nikon f/2.8 tele zoom, even the manual-focus 1982 model, has always been superb. This model is even better. Pros never look for sharpness in the corner of a tele because they want the corners soft and dark, but for amateurs that don't know enough about photography to think that sharp, bright corners are good, this new version has sharper corners and less light falloff compared to the previous 70-200mm VR. Actually, corner sharpness at 200mm seems much better, but the sample of 70-200mm VR II I borrowed was somewhat softer on the right than the left side. This is normal production variation for $2,500 zoom lenses.
The AF-Lock buttons, present on the past two 70-200mm VR (2003-2009) and 80-200mm AF-S (1999-2004) models, have been removed from this new 70-200mm VR II. Sorry, Nikon has to do something to save costs when they raise the price $500. Children are starving in Japan, too.
A new focus-mode switch position is less sensitive to accidental movement of the manual-focus ring.
Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR II, tripod foot removed. enlarge.
With every new model, weight also goes up. The length shrinks by 10mm, but the weight goes up another 2.25 oz (64g) as I actually measured between the two 70-200mm VR models. Personally, the plastic made-in-China 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D takes pretty much exactly the same pictures, and weighs only 11.7 oz (333g) and sells for only about $50 used, but pros don't want it not because of optics, but because pros need to shoot in the rain and not worry about the lens leaking, and beat the heck out of the lens physically.
The plastic hood is quite sturdy, with a metal locking pin. It's an effeminate, flowery little thing, consisting of just four little pods. It's not much excuse for a hood; I'd leave it in the box. It's not a macho-man hood like the one that comes with the 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S, but at least it's not likely to fall off when it gets knocked.
The closer focus is very important to almost every pro, making this lens a must-have for full-timers. Part-time wedding shooters and others couldn't care less and will prefer to save their $500 and keep their now old-and-crummy 70-200mm VRs.
Yes, you should buy this lens if you're full-time, and no, save your money for more film and travel if you're a student.
If I was buying a new f/2.8 tele zoom, this would be it. Personally, I prefer smaller fixed lenses.
See Is It Worth It.
Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR II. enlarge.
The incompatibilities for older or cheaper film cameras are that:
1.) It won't autofocus with the cheapest new AF film cameras like the N55, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. Even if you lose autofocus, these cameras have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.
2.) Late 1980s ~ early 1990s AF cameras like the N90s, N70 and F4 will focus just fine, but you'll lose VR. You'll have Program and Shutter-priority modes, but lose Manual and Aperture-priority since you have no way to set the aperture on the camera or on the lens.
3.) You're really pushing it with the oldest AF cameras like the N2020, N6006 and N8008. You'll have no AF, confused exposure modes, and no VR. Manual focus is fine, along with electronic focus indications.
4.) Since it has no aperture ring, it's just about useless with manual focus film cameras.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AF-S, AF-I," "G" and "VR" columns for this lens. You'll get the least of all the features displayed in all columns, since "G" (gelding) is a handicap which removes features.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.
Internal construction (ED elements in yellow). enlarge.
21 elements in 16 groups.
7 elements are of ED glass.
VR II, claiming four stops of improvement.
The original 70-200mm VR claimed only 3 stops.
4.6 feet (1.4m), specified.
4 feet, 2 inches (50" or 4.17 feet or 1.27 meters), measured.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
1:8.3 (0.12x), not very tight, due to the shrinking actual focal length as you get closer.
CL-M2 case. enlarge.
3.4" (87mm) diameter.
8.2" (205.5mm) extension from flange.
Nikon originally specified 209mm extension from flange, and added an erratum in the instruction book that it's really only 205.5mm. I don't have a test rig to measure this myself.
Lens with tripod foot: 54.055 oz. (1,532.4g), measured by me.
Lens without tripod foot: 51.205 oz. (1,451.7g), as measured by me.
Tripod foot alone: 2.845 oz. (80.7g).
54.3 oz. (1,540 g or 3.4 lb), specified by Nikon.
The hood and rear caps are made in Japan, too.
The front cap is from Thailand.
Nikon Product Number
30 July 2009
This big lens and its case arrive inside an even bigger box. The 50mm f/1.4 AFS shown next to it is terrified.
The case is held inside the box with laminated cardboard. The lens is steadied for transport inside the case with a small expanded polystyrene collar.
$2,400, October 2012.
$2,170, November 2010.
$2,300, March 2010.
$2,399.95, December 2009.
As Nikon's top tele zoom, this is a must-have for every full-time professional. Every other one that came before it is now old and crummy if you earn your living with this every day. Call Adorama and they'll send you a postage-paid box and cash for your old 70-200mm VR.
It's probably too big, heavy and expensive for other people. Heck, I prefer carrying the smaller and lighter 70-300mm VR for my FX cameras, or the all-plastic 55-200mm VR for DX cameras. They all do the same thing.
Bokeh is wonderful.
Bokeh varies from great to neutral.
I can't get bad bokeh from this lens.
The flashlight test shows the usual amount of dust inside this brand-new lens.
Get over it. Air flows all around as you zoom any zoom lens, so they all get filled with dust eventually.
Color rendition matches my other AF Nikkors.
This is Nikon's closest focusing f/2.8 tele zoom, and I confirmed it by measuring it.
This 70-200mm VR II is excellent for work in close quarters.
This new 70-200mm VR II has only half the distortion of every other Nikon 80-200 and 70-200mm lens that comes before it.
As with most zoom lenses, there is barrel (bulging) distortion at the shorter end and pincushion (sucking) distortion at the longer end. The barrel distortion is largely invisible, as is the pincushion distortion out to about 135mm.
It's trivial to correct the distortion by plugging these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter. + means barrel distortion, and - means pincushion distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
Ergonomics are swell, except that the tripod collar doesn't come off. You can remove the foot, but the rotating collar remains as on the former 70-200mm VR (2003-2009). It came off completely on the 1999-2004 80-200mm AF-S.
If you use a tripod, the lens and your camera rotate very smoothly and precisely in the collar when loosened, and tighten down smartly with only a slight touch of the lock screw. If you use this on a tripod, you'll love this.
When you remove the foot, there is another tripod socket left on the lens on the stump that used to connect to the foot. Screw it; I simply bolt down my camera to the tripod directly and ignore the feet. I pull off the foot and leave it in the box.
The lens comes on and off the foot quite smoothly, solidly and precisely as well. Nikon knows how to do its mechanics.
The zoom ring moves well, and is well spaced. One moderately strong finger can move it around.
Manual focus goes the full range in about a third of a turn.
Falloff isn't a problem with the 70-200mm VR II. It is slightly improved over the former 70-200mm VR.
I've greatly exaggerated the falloff below by shooting a blank target and then presenting the images against a gray background.
The only time falloff is visible is at f/2.8 at 200mm, and when you're shooting at those extremes, falloff isn't likely to be a concern.
On DX it's a non-issue, since only the middle of these images is used. (see crop factor).
Direct photo of the sun, 70mm, f/16.
Flare and ghosts are not a problem.
This is the worst I could do, with the full daytime sun in the image. The sun is so bright that it has blown-out the entire top left half of the image. It's as if I shot the light of freedom over Hiroshima at 8:16AM on 06 August 1945, and all I got was a dim ghost. You can go blind — or worse — looking at the sun with telephoto lenses like this.
Other settings give much less ghosting. I can't get ghosts with the sun outside of the image.
At infinity, you get the full 70-200mm focal length range.
Nikon used an optical trick common in wider-range zooms, like the 18-200m VR and Canon's 28-135mm IS, to get extra-close focusing: the actual focal length gets shorter at closer focus distances.
Every full-time pro I interviewed prefers a physically shorter focus distance in exchange for a slightly shortened maximum focal length. Why? A pro usually only carries this lens and a wide zoom. If he's shooting in confined quarters, he may not have five feet between him and his subject.
The few extra inches of close-focus will make the difference between getting the head shot with this tele, or having to use his wide zoom at 35mm instead, which is not a pretty picture.
The pro can always crop to make up the slightly shortened focal length, we have way too many pixels today, but you can't use a shot that's not in focus.
That said, this 70-200mm VR II is the closest focusing f/2.8 tele zoom ever from Nikon, and also the most foreshortened at close focus distances.
At ten feet (three meters) and the 200mm setting, this 70-200mm VR II gives about the same field of view as other 80-200mm zooms set about halfway between their 135mm and 200mm settings.
At 5 feet (1.5 meters), the 200mm setting is similar to only a 135mm lens.
Let's fix a D3 on a tripod, and shoot the same subject at ten feet at maximum aperture and the longest zoom setting for each lens. Let's see which has the best bokeh, the softest background, the smallest field of view and the least falloff.
Feel free to click any image to bring you to that lens' own review.
So? It's still just a railing au Musée d'Orsay, and looks pretty much the same regardless of if it's shot with a $50 or a $2,400 lens, and the $50 lens got a lot closer at 10 feet. So? It's trivial to crop from the 70-200mm VR II shot, or to have taken a step closer.
The effective focal length at the 200mm setting at 5 feet (1.5 meters) is 135mm. This means that the angle of view at 5 feet and the 200mm setting is the same as most zooms set to 135mm, or fixed 135mm lenses, at 5 feet.
At the 70mm setting and at 5 feet, you get about what you get with other zooms set to 70mm, maybe a little wider.
At infinity, you get the 70-200mm range that you expect at each setting. It only gives wider views than expected at closer distances.
Focus is fast and sure.
Most critically, autofocus on my D3 is always dead-on, with no offset or error for still subjects. (Sorry, I'm not a sports photographer.)
It doesn't matter how sharp your lens is if the AF system is slightly inaccurate and focuses slightly in front or behind of your intended subject.
This new 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II always nails my subjects in perfect focus, especially at f/2.8 where it matters.
This subtlety is is one of the reason's I'd love to buy one of these lenses.
None, on a D3.
Rear, Nikon 70-200mm VR II. enlarge.
The mechanics seem identical in durability to the former 70-200mm VR.
Plastic bayonet, with metal pawl and pawl cover.
Bayonet Hood Mount
Zoom ring: engraved.
Identity plate: debossed metal.
Switches and under-barrel gibberish: just paint.
Nikon-standard dull chromed brass.
Ass Gasket (rear rain barrier)
Engraved on small plate under the rear of the outside of the lens near the mount.
USA Version shown by
"US" prefix to serial number.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio is a specification of maximum image size. 1:7 is about normal, ratios like 1:4 are very large, while ratios like 1:15 aren't.
This is the ratio of image size (at the sensor) to life. 1:8 means that the image covered is 8 times the size of the sensor. For Barnack 24x36mm, this means that at 1:8, you'd see something about 8x12" (20x30cm) in the frame, and at 1:4, something half that size would fill the frame.
This is a tabulation of Nikon's data.
The 70-200mm VR II isn't a macro lens. If this is important to you, keep your old 70-200mm VR.
Of course it's sharp. It's a $2,400 Nikon lens for goodness' sake. Every other Nikon f/2.8 tele zoom made since 1982 is also almost as sharp.
It's wonderfully sharp, not that pros worry that much. If you worry yourself about this, you're probably new to the hobby.
That said, the sample I borrowed was a little softer on the right side and perfectly sharp on the left. This is normal production variation; if you can't handle it, shoot fixed manual-focus lenses like LEICA or Zeiss ZF. Zooms don't give uniformly perfect corner-to-corner sharpness until they hit at least the $10,000 - $25,000 mark.
This 70-200mm VR II is sharper in the corners at 200mm than the old 70-200mm VR.
This 70-200mm VR II is also slightly sharper than the previous gold standard, the 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S (1999-2004), which fetched high used prices because it was slightly sharper than the previous 70-200mm f/2.8 VR (2003-2009). It looks like it's time to sell my 80-200mm AFS while I still can.
This new 70-200mm VR II is a super-sharp lens at every aperture and focal length. I just can't make a soft picture with it. It's much better than Nikon's crummier lenses, but honestly, for normal photos in the hands of a skilled photographer, even the awful plastic Chinese 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D makes extraordinary photos. It's the man; not his tools.
Nikon's claimed MTF at 70mm.
Nikon's claimed MTF at 200mm.
Vibration Reduction (VR) is superb.
The Nikon 70-200mm VR II gives me three real stops of improvement over what my already steady hands give me.
I can get perfectly sharp shots at 1/8 of a second or slower at every focal length, and these are shooting free-standing, with no bracing any part of my body on anything.
By "sharp shots" I mean perfect tripod-equivalent sharpness when viewed at 100%, as shot on a D3. For most uses, one can use even slower speeds. See Why VR Matters for more.
Lowest speeds for perfectly sharp shots 50% of the time
"Real Stops" are how many extra stops I get over shooting without VR.
"Marketing stops" is the improvement over the old-wives' tale of 1/focal length as a lower speed limit.
Hint: VR improves your hit ratio. It doesn't guarantee that every shot will be sharp. I always shoot at least three-shot bursts at slow speeds so I can pick the sharp shot out of several when shooting handheld at really slow speeds.
Nikon 70-200mm VR II zoom ring.
The zoom ring is wonderful. Everything is spaced perfectly to allow fast and precise setting of any focal length.
When a bomb goes off next to you, you can flick it to one end immediately as you instinctively turn and fire to nail the perfect shot.
For landscape shooters, it's precise enough to allow perfect framing at every focal length. Nothing is too spread out or too crowded. It seems like a perfect logarithmic curve.
For comparisons to all six other f/2.8 pro Nikon zooms, see Nikon Pro Tele Zoom Comparison.
Nikon 70-200mm VR II with tripod foot. enlarge.
The little tripod foot comes off. Loosen the knob, press the tab and slide it away from the lens.
Nikon 70-200mm VR II with tripod foot removed. enlarge.
After you remove the foot, there is another tripod socket on the bottom of the stub.
Bottom, Nikon 70-200mm VR II with tripod foot removed. enlarge.
You cannot remove the collar or the stub; you're stuck with this for hand-holding.
Rotate the collar to get it out of your way.
Personally, I use the camera's tripod socket when I need it. I don't know of anyone with the time to screw with this stuff in the field.
Remove the tripod foot, and stow it in the case along with the hood in the box for resale in ten years. You don't need it, unless you're addicted to tripods. With VR or digital, you don't need no stinking tripod.
Control Panel, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II (tripod foot removed).
A/m, M/a and M
Use A/m or M/a.
In either position, you get autofocus when you press the camera's shutter button, and revert to manual focus when you turn the manual focus ring.
The difference between the two settings is how far you have to turn the ring to get the system to recognize you.
The M/a position is the same as on other AF-S lenses. The slightest touch and you're in manual mode.
The new A/m position is for people who tend to knock the focus ring by accident, which turns off AF. If this is you, use the new A/M position, which works the same, but requires just a little bit more of an initial turn to set the system into manual mode. Once you're in manual, the ring works like it always does.
FULL — ∞ - 5m
This limits the autofocus range in the ∞ - 5m position.
I leave it in FULL, unless I have a problem.
VR ON — OFF
Vibration Reduction. Leave it on, but turn it off if you still have a tripod.
VR NORMAL — ACTIVE
Use NORMAL for hand-holding from a fixed position.
Use ACTIVE if you're in a helicopter, sand rail, or motorcycle. ACTIVE is also OK for hand-holding while still.
If you're a pro or serious amateur, this is your new tele lens. While the many incremental improvements are nice, the close-focus ability makes it a must-have for full-time pros.
Casual shooters will become addicted to the perfect focus and best-yet sharpness and freedom from distortion of any Nikon pro tele zoom.
When you use your lens all day, every day, an extra $500 doesn't matter. That's the amazing thing about photography as a business: it's one of the few businesses you can run with under $10,000 in capital equipment. Even a handyman spends more than that on his truck. See Is It Worth It?
Nikon doesn't screw around here; for pros, this is the one lens that makes or breaks the entire system, so Nikon does it right.
Unlike digital cameras, which you trade in every 18 months, this lens will last you at least a decade and work great with all the upcoming cameras you haven't bought yet. Lenses retain their value, while money thrown at camera bodies goes down the drain.
For example, back in 1999 I bought my 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S and F100. The lens cost me about $1,000 while the F100 cost me about $1,700. Today, the F100 is worth one-tenth of what I paid, while the used lens is worth more than I paid for it new. The F100 is worth as much as it is because it's film; a digital D1 from 1999, which sold for $5,000, today is worth only $50 due to digital rot.
Today you could buy a D700 or this lens for the same money. This lens is a much smarter buy; in 2019 you'll be thanking me.
The smart money is spent on lenses, not cameras. Newcomers often make the big mistake of buying expensive cameras and putting cheap lenses on them. Don't; use less expensive bodies if you must, but never deny yourself the lenses you deserve.
If money matters, sure, the older 70-200mm VR does the same thing, and if you don't need VR (the people who use f/2.8 teles rarely do), then the current non-VR 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D is just as good for sports and action photography, even if you have to move a switch to get between auto and manual focus.
If you want to look for used, if you don't need VR, get the 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S, which offers the same modern full-time instant manual-focus override and adds AF lock buttons. The 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S was the upgrade to the older non-VR 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D which remains in production, while the 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S was replaced by the previous 70-200mm VR. I explain this in more detail at Nikon Pro Tele Zooms.
f/2.8 zooms are for people who need f/2.8 and are too lazy (or can't) walk forward or back a couple of steps to frame a picture.
If you don't mind moving a step or two to frame your photo, you can get better, faster lenses for a lot less money. The 85mm f/1.8 AF-D is superb, and only about $450. The best portrait lens is Nikon's 135mm f/2 DC, for half the price of this 70-200mm VR II. If you want close focus or macro, any of the 60mm, 105mm or 200mm macros are worlds better for a fraction of the price.
For nature and landscape shooters who use a tripod and want the best sharpness and who can live without f/2.8, I kid you not: a good manual-focus Nikkor zoom, like the last 80-200mm f/4.5n zoom of 1977-1981 (rectangular rear baffle), is as sharp or sharper than any of these f/2.8 AF lenses, but with half the weight and takes 52mm filters, and sells for under a hundred bucks. Manual focus lenses are completely compatible with FX cameras. Adding VR and speeding it up to f/2.8 is what adds the size and expense, not sharpness.
What would I use? I'm a nature and landscape shooter, so even if you gave me one of these new 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lenses for free, I certainly wouldn't carry it through the woods with me. I'd take the 70-300mm VR, which weighs only half as much, or the 85mm f/1.8 AF-D which weighs only one-quarter as much and is much smaller and faster than any of these. I don't mind walking two steps to frame a picture.
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