Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR review
Most pros looking for a first-rate telephoto zoom go for the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. It’s a terrific lens, but it’s also very big, heavy and costly. Until now, the only alternative was the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, but that’s a much cheaper, more consumer-orientated lens.
That left a big gap for a good-quality semi-pro lens that wouldn’t break either the bank or the straps on your shoulder bag – and the new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR fits the bill perfectly.
The Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR perfectly bridges the gap between the consumer-orientated Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 and the pro-level Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8.
It cuts a third off the f/2.8’s purchase price, is much more compact and about half the weight. In fact, at 850g, it’s just about light enough to enable you to mount the camera on a tripod instead of having to use a tripod collar on the lens, which is just as well because the optional RT-1 tripod collar costs an extra £149 ($200).
Its constant f/4 maximum aperture makes it a full stop slower than Nikon’s professional 7-0-200mm f/2.8, but is that really a problem? The superb image quality delivered by current Nikon SLRs at high ISO settings means super-fast lenses aren’t necessarily a top priority.
Better still, the latest full-frame bodies, including the D600, D800 and D4, have AF sensors that work at f/8, so super-fast lenses are no longer essential when using a teleconverter. The 70-200mm f/4 should work fine, even with Nikon’s 2x converter.
The 70-200mm f/4 can’t quite match the wonderful shallow depth of field effects of the f/2.8 lens, but it’s still easy enough to blur the background when combining an aperture of f/4 with longer zoom settings.
The reduced cost, size and weight make the f/4 lens a great match for relatively compact, full-frame camera bodies like the D600 and D800. However, the attraction is just as strong for shooters with DX bodies, where the effective zoom range stretches to 105-300mm.
Build quality and performance
The build quality feels pretty professional. The 70-200mm f/4 lacks the full weather seals of its f/2.8 stablemate, but there is a rubber ring around the mounting plate to stop dust and moisture getting into the camera, and even though the f/2.8 lens has a magnesium body, the f/4’s mostly plastic construction still feels very solid and sturdy.
Similarities between the two lenses include a nine-blade rounded diaphragm, which helps to produce a very smooth bokeh (quality of defocused areas in images), and internal focus and zoom mechanisms, so the overall physical length doesn’t increase when focusing or zooming. This helps the f/4 lens to retain its compact length of 179mm even at the long end of the zoom range.
The zoom and focus rings are silky-smooth in operation although the focus ring is a bit of a stretch as it’s at the front of the lens. Autofocus is super-fast and almost silent, while also offering full-time manual override. A key enhancement of the f/4 lens is that it features a five-stop rather than four-stop VR (Vibration Reduction) system, which helps to offset its widest aperture being one stop slower. Easily accessible onboard controls include A/M–M focus, a focus limit switch (infinity–3m), VR on–off, and normal–active VR modes.
Thanks to three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and an HRI (High Refractive Index) element, chromatic aberrations are kept to a minimum. Corner-to-corner sharpness is superb, and when this lens is mounted on a D800 body, the sharpness is spectacular. Contrast is also excellent, making the most of dull lighting conditions.
The 70-200mm f/4 can also focus as close as 1m, beating the f/2.8’s closest focus distance of 1.4m, which again helps when you want to get in close and minimise depth of field. There’s plenty of resistance to ghosting and flare, boosted by Nikon’s nano crystal coatings.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 is still a stunning lens, but if you don’t need that extra stop of aperture, or you want a more compact, lightweight telephoto zoom at a keener price, the new f/4 is a cracker. It’s also a sizeable step up in quality from ‘budget’ telephoto zooms like the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR.
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lab test results
All-round image quality is utterly fabulous, and the lens does brilliantly to eke out contrast even in very gloomy lighting conditions.
See also: Nikon 70-200mm f/4 vs 70-200mm f/2.8: how do you choose?, Nikon’s official press release: Nikon Launches AF-S NIKKOR 70–200mm f/4G ED VR and Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR product page.
on Thursday, February 7th, 2013 at 4:14 pm under Lenses, Reviews.
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