Pros: Very rugged and robust, outstanding optics, Vibration Reduction, VERY FAST Focus!
Cons: High Cost. No aperture ring.
Seven epinions reviewers before me have reviewed this lens and I'd have to say that every one of them has done a fine job of pointing out why serious photographers using Nikon cameras should own this lens.
As of this writing, I do not, but I know a few NIKON reps and they know that I use their gear and write about their stuff here. One was kind enough to loan me this lens, provided of course, that I reviewed it here at epinions.
So, ladies and gentlemen and photographers everywhere, here's my take on what may well be Nikon's finest zoom lens ever AND a lens that me just well be the finest zoom EVER manufactured ANYWHERE by ANY manufacturer.
I have been a Nikon camera and lens user for the last six or seven years, but it was only this year (2006) that I made the transition to a digital SLR when I purchased a Nikon D200. When I returned to the Sandbox after an emergency leave to be with my Dad in his final hours, I did not take the new camera back with me (even though it had been delivered to me there). Instead, I had my Nikon N90s and the older of my two F100s. I also had access to U.S. military owned D1Xs and D2Xs that I was able to use with a variety of lenses.
After returning home, I inquired about borrowing this lens and was able to do so. I also decided that I would use it on both FILM and Digital SLRs and did so. I used this lens with my F100, my D200 and a D2Xs that I was also able to borrow. Below are my findings.
ED GLASS: ED glass in a Nikon lens stands for 'extra low dispersion' glass and is the highest quality glass that Nikon utilizes in its better lenses. It is so designated because it provides higher quality light concentration through the focus point of the lens. This means that less light is refracted improperly, that colors are more faithfully reproduced at the focal point and that there will be a lesser tendency for inaccuracy as the light hits the film plane or the digital sensor.
There are FIVE ED elements in this glass and they help to reduce chromatic distortion.
SILENT WAVE MOTOR (SWM): This is Nikon's name for their ultra-quiet and extra fast motor system in their auto-focus lenses. It enables lenses that are so equipped with extra high speed auto-focusing without the attendant noise one would expect from the motor that drives the auto focus system. It is an ultra-sonic based system but results in a very quiet and therefore less distracting lens/camera system. Because there is less need for the camera body motor to power the lens, it is also less energy hungry and draws less power from the camera body's internal batteries. This is especially helpful when using a digital body due to their already higher level of energy consumption and battery drain.
VIBRATION REDUCTION: (VR) This Nikon system allows the photographer the ability to hand-hold longer lenses using a shutter speed 3 stops faster than a lens lacking such capability. The longer the lens, the higher the need for stability, so as to obtain sharper images. With a VR equipped lens, one can hand-hold the lens and camera and still obtain very sharp photos. This feature is also very useful when one is in a car, flying in an airplane or on a boat, where your base is a less than completely stable platform.
This feature is especially nice because it can be turned on/off based on the conditions at the time.
This lens focuses internally which assists with a smoother operation and adds to the overall balance of the camera/lens combination. It also means that one can use circular polarizers enabling you to darken the sky at will by turning the filter rather than having to change position as you'd have to do with a linear polarizer.
M/A Mode: For Manual/Auto mode. This feature enables the photographer to switch almost instantly from autofocus to manual without the need to take one's eye from the viewfinder to make the switch on the camera body. This switching can be done even while the camera is being operated in the Auto Focus Servo mode.
ZERO POWER CONSUMPTION DURING MANUAL FOCUSING: Exactly what it says is also exactly what it means. Should you be using MANUAL focus, then there is no drain on the camera's internal batteries to provide power for lens operations.
CLOSEST FOCUSING DISTANCE: 4.9 Ft in AF and 4.6 in MF. Not bad for a long lens and this can assist with close-ups of extra small objects, especially if the camera and lens are tripod mounted.
TRIPOD COLLAR: this accessory is removable and is provided with the lens.
FILTER ATTACHMENT: does not rotate while in AF or MF modes.
COMPATIBLITY WITH NIKON TELECONVERTERS: This lens is fully compatible with the Nikon TC-14E and TC-20E teleconverters. While the TC-14E loses one stop of light and the TC-20E two stops, the VR function more than compensates by allowing hand held shots 3 stops lower than one would expect for a lens of this size, weight and length when mounted on the camera body.
FILTER SIZE: 77 mm
HOOD: HB-29 and is supplied with the lens at time of purchase.
CASE: Semi-soft and also provided.
WEIGHT: 3.2 lbs with tripod collar attached. 3.0 lbs without.
Number of Diaphragm Blades: NINE and these rounded blades make for very soft out-of-focus effects.
NET RESULT OF COMBINED FEATURES:
Every technological advance that Nikon has developed and included in its lengthy list of auto-focus lenses have been combined in this lens. The lens is fully compatible with both film and digital Nikon bodies and there is no vignetting on film bodies. Likewise, because this lens is NOT a DX series lens, it does benefit from the 1.5x magnification factor that results from Nikon's use of APS sized sensors in their digital cameras. As a result, this lens, designated a 70-200 mm is a 105-300 when mounted on a digital body.
Because of this "dual" capability, this lens is completely compatible and usable on all of the following Nikon bodies:
Digital - D1X, D1H, D2H, D2Hs, D2X, D2Xs, D100, D70, D70s, D200, D80
Film - N65, N75, N80, F100, F5, F6
OTHER Features and CONSTRUCTION:
There are THREE (yes three) focus lock buttons at the end of the lens. This means you won't have to use your shutter release button to activate the AF mechanism.
FULL-TIME MANUAL FOCUS OVERRIDE: invaluable because it means you won't have to take your eye from the viewfinder to change the servo mechanism from AF to MF and back again.
LENS BARREL CONSTRUCTION: All metal and made from a light-weight machined casting. With this robust design and construction, the lens can and will take more abuse than a plastic/polycarbonate lens.
DETACHABLE LENS HOOD: Probably the best ever provided by Nikon. The company has the unusual proclivity of NOT providing lens hoods with all of the lenses they sell. While all have hoods available, not all lenses come with a hood at time of purchase, making the purchase of the called-for hood an oftentimes expensive option.
With this lens, which itself is not inexpensive, the buyer/user receives a detachable hood that 'snaps' into place and then, STAYS attached. This hood does a GREAT JOB of reducing flare in just about all conditions. The sole exception may be when you shoot directly into a light source such as the sun, candle-light or light from man- made or reflective sources.
SOME OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:
Weight: with the tripod color attached, this is not exactly a lightweight lens. Then again, it is not exactly Nikon's heaviest, either. The weight is the direct result of the high level, professional build quality and the use of ED glass (Nikon's best).
The ergonomics are what one would expect from a lens of this quality and the lens has rubberized zoom rings that are placed exactly where they should be to optimize their use without the photographer having to strain to reach and operate them. Because they are fairly wide, the user will note that they are quite easy to grip and use. For zooming in and out, the zoom grip is placed closest to where the lens mounts to the camera and I found this to be ideal for me, as I have small hands for a man and an extra reach often means I'd have to take my eye from the viewfinder to verify that I had placed my hands on the right control ring.
When one considers that this lens is well designed ergonomically, has the VR feature and a silent wave motor, one has a right to expect blisteringly fast autofocus when compared to lenses that lack these capabilities. This lens does not disappoint! Of all the lenses that I have used with all of the Nikon bodies I have ever used, this one focuses the fastest, doesn't hunt and stays locked on the subject in ways that are simply ASTOUNDING!!! Even in lower light levels, this lens finds the subject, focuses on it and STAYS THERE! Amazing!!!!!
THE VR feature also contributes to the speed and efficacy of focusing and when I use a lens, I use a simple test to determine its real sharpness. If a lens is rated to 200 mm, then I rack it out to that focal length and take several shots. Now with LCD equipped digital bodies, one doesn't need to wait for a blown up print to determine relative sharpness. If I see even a hint of softness at maximum focal length, then I get nervous. This lens does not do that and even with a relatively slow shutter speed and NO VR, I received tack sharp shots with both film and digital at 200 mm at speeds as slow as 1/3 and 1/8 sec. For the film tests, I used ISO 100 speed films and dialed in ISO 100 on the digital bodies to determine sharpness. Again, this lens made the grade and performed well beyond my expectations.
OPTICAL PROPERTIES OF THIS LENS:
As with their entire line of lenses, Nikon manufactures this lens and does NOT farm manufacturing out, as do some other camera manufactures with their own line of lenses (Canon and Pentax both contract with Tamron as a supplier).
This lens has 21 separate lens elements in 15 groupings and I have found that there is no disparity in sharpness anywhere within the circumference of the lens's various elements. From corner to corner, this lens is and stays sharp and at all ALL focal lengths!
Category LEAD HOWARD CREECH discussed lens 'BOKEH' in one of his earliest reviews here and in that discussion explained the properties of lenses that possess good Bokeh. I am not a physicist, nor am I am optics designer and I can't beat Howard's description of what makes for good Bokeh. What I can say is that I do know when a lens provides it and this lens does! And it does so in such magnificent ways that viewers of your images may find it difficult to believe that you used a 70-200 zoom to shoot the photos.
Having said that, I must confess to a certain amount of residual amazement that this lens does everything asked of it so well. Generally speaking, zoom lenses, especially those designed in the past were compromises. They were designed to provide a degree of flexibility, but most pros would tell you that they were much less sharp than fixed focal length telephoto lenses or prime lenses at the shorter end of the focal range. This lens, in my humble opinion, would seem to end that argument forever.
As I said earlier in this review, I do NOT own this lens. But I will qualify that confession by saying that this lens from Nikon will be my very next purchase I make for use with my D200 and F100 film bodies.
I will sell my Tokina 80-200 f2.8 to help pay for the purchase and that's saying a lot because I really like that lens. However, this lens possesses better optics, lighter weight and additional features that all but render the Tokina lens obsolete.
This is a great lens for sports and indoor work in gymnasiums. It makes an ideal lens for sideline sports photographers and those who shoot in baseball parks. It possesses ALL of the features, that when combined make a good lens a GREAT lens. Nikon has taken EVERYTHING they ever knew and learned about optical design and ergonomics and combined it in a lens that has all of the bells and whistles one needs and the image quality that professionals and their customers require.
If you are Nikon film or digital SLR photographer, you will be the poorer for the purchase of this lens. But after doing so, your work will be the richer and the results will be on a level that will be almost impossible to beat.
I endorse this lens from Nikon UNEQUIVOCALLY!