Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii Reviewed For Landscape Photography

NIkon 70-200mm f2.8 VRii Reviewed For Landscape & Nature Photographers


Upgrading to the Nikon D800/e and considering the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii as part of your landscape photography arsenal?  You'll want to read this review I have been a full-time nature photographer for 10 years and this lens is a revelation.....

As you may have already guessed, I like this lens - hell, I love this lens.  The Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 VR II is an incredible weapon for landscape photographers - quite simply, this lens has been transformational for my long lens landscape photography, particularly when paired with the D800e and D7000.

If you are buying the the Nikon D4, D800 or D800e you need this lens, it is the only zoom in the Nikon range of this focal length that will do justice to the incredible image making abilities of Nikon's latest DSLR bodies.  Read no further - just buy it.  Actually, do read on - this review took me bloody ages to write :-)

Before we start:
I am a landscape & nature photographer - a simple man. I am not a lens designer, lens tester, or nuclear physicist - I don't know a Bayer pattern from a sewing pattern and I have yet to come across an MTF test chart in the wild (I dread that day - I hear they can be viscious).  The results here are no more than my opinions and observations and are based on exactly zero scientific research.  With that said, I hope that this is of some value to you - enjoy!


I purchased the 70-200 f2.8 VR II in April 2012, in anticipation of receiving a brand spanking new Nikon D800e.  At the time my long lens option was restricted to the surprisingly capable (with caveats) Nikon AF-S 55-200mm f4-5.6G VR IF ED for use on the nikon D7000.
I had previously owned a nikon 80-200 f2.8 AF-D, a lens that I never came to love.  I may have had a poor sample but the 80-200 f2.8 's weight and poor handling never seemed to be adequately offset by stellar image quality. The 80-200 seemed to suffer from focus accuracy issues out towards infinity.

If truth be known, I actually didn't want to buy the 70-200 f2.8 VR II thanks to it's cost and weight.  This was compounded by the fact  that I had been using the Canon 70-200 f4 L IS for over three years.  The Canon lens is spectacular from wide open and incredibly light - if Nikon had built an equivalent f4 lens I would have taken it.  Nikon doesn't make such a lens and I was pretty much forced into buying the 70-200 f2.8 VR II as my only tele zoom option for the D800e - I am glad that I did.

Technical Specifications

Tech specs deplete my will to live.   After 20 years of photography I am no closer to understanding why I would care about the number of optical elements in a lens design - it either works or it doesn't.  Hence I present you with no lens cross section diagrams, discussion of lens coatings or tech specs - just practical results and findings. You can find the specs on the B&H product page.

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 In The Field

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRii mounted on a Nikon D800e
Field Handling: The 70-200 f/2.8 VRII handled being in this field really well.  (Attached to a D800e and clamped down to a Benro Tripod)

But seriously, on to handling. The 70-200 f2.8 VR II weighs in at a relatively hefty 1,530g - about 250g more than my old 80-200 f2.8 AF-D.  Now, given that I ditched the 80-200 largely due to it's weight this should be an issue, but it's not.

Somehow, somebody did something to something within the design of the 70-200 VR II.  That something that somebody did has made the lens wonderfully balanced to work with - I just don't notice the weight, and as we will see soon, the results more than compensate for the inconvenience.

When it comes to handling, the lens is terrific.  VR controls are well positioned, manual focus override is a cinch compared to the 80-200 (which involves pushing buttons and turning rings to move from AF to M) - just grab and focus. The zoom ring has a wonderfully positive tension to it and it's position is excellent for use when hand-holding.

Of course zoom and focus are handled internally on a lens of this calibre so there are no protruding extensions during operation - everything just happens on the inside - all very deep and meaningful.

Build Quality

The 70-200 f2.8 VR II is an exceptional piece of engineering - it is one of those rare cases where you can see and feel where your money went.  The lens housing is reassuringly metallic - I believe that it is constructed of the same magnesium alloy used in Nikon's pro camera bodies.  Yes, that mottled metallic finish that nikon moulds into it's plastic products is actually for real this time - nice.   All this metallic heft and bulk leaves you with the impression that, if money were no object, one could happily use the lens to hammer tent pegs while on a photo-safari.

I have yet to test the weather/dust sealing of the lens to extremes. I have never had any issues with weather sealing even on my cheapest Nikkors, so I presume that this will be the case with the 70-200 f2.8 VR II.

Evidence of build-quality can be found by simply twisting the tripod collar locking nut.  The collar swivels around with a velvety motion and the locking is extremely positive, going from free to locked in about half a turn.

But my favourite example of this build quality is the HB-48 lens hood. To me, it is a thing of great beauty, with a stylish yet manly petal shape and, for want of a better term, it mates beautifully with the lens.  This coupling is consummated audibly when the metal locking mechanism clicks into place.  A better lens hood I have not owned.

Focus Performance

The  70-200 f2.8 VR II is surely the fastest and most accurate lens that I currently own.   It locks onto subjects rapidly even under dim lighting conditions.

Nikon's silent wave motor has not always been that silent in my experience but on the 70-200 f2.8 it truly lives up to its name, operation is quiet and fast.

When paired with a relatively high performance body it tracks focus effortlessly - I am no bird or sports photographer, but I am father to two hyperactive kids and this lens just gets the shot when used on the D7000 or D800e.

Too Cute To Need A Title: AF-C Performance: Nikon D800e in DX mode (6fps) : f/2.8, 1/5000, ISO 400 at 140mm 35mm equivalent .  Sure, the D800 has state-of-the-art AF, but paired with the 70-200mm f2.8 it delivers incredible tracking performance with the press of the AF-start button. 

AF-C Performance: Nikon D800e in DX mode (6fps) : f/2.8, 1/5000, ISO 400 at 140mm 35mm equivalent - 100% crops - no sharpening applied, focus point set to Indi's chest.  I am too lazy to give you a crop of every shot in this sequence, so here are some loupe screen shots at 100% - I couldn't cram a loupe onto every shot so you will have to believe me that every shot in this sequence was technically usable.  The 70-200 f2.8 VR II delivers stunning AF performance.

Vibration Reduction (VR) Performance

The 70-200 f2.8 VR II is the first top of the range Nikon VR lens that I have owned and I am very, very, impressed by its stabilisation performance.  

I have had my reservations about the performance of Nikon's VR on my first generation 18-200mm VR DX and 16-85 VR DX lenses.  To me it has never seemed that effective.  This impression was only reinforced when I purchased the Canon 24-105 f4 l IS and 70-200 f4 L IS lenses.  The Canon IS system just seemed more aggressive or 'active' to me - it may not be the case but that is the way it seems and I have come to rely upon it when shooting handheld - especially with people. 

I am happy to report that the VR on the 70-200 f2.8 is stellar, and easily in the same league as the IS on my Canon lenses - probably better in fact, and certainly quieter. Check it out.

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II - VR Effectiveness: 1/30th Second, 200mm. 
Check out the sharpness in that loupe - and Nikon issued warnings about the D800e not being hand-holdable.  Nuts! to that I say - I got two in a row like this at 1/30th at 200mm.  VRII works wonders.  Did I mention that I am very impressed with the VR on this lens?
Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II - VR Effectiveness: 1/10th Second, 200mm. I needed to shoot something that didn't move to go this slow. 75% of these images at 1/10th were usable.  I even managed to get a sharp shot at half a second at 200mm!  Did I mention that I am very impressed with the VR on this lens?


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