Nikon Zoom-Nikkor 70-200 mm F/2.8 SWM AF-S VR IF ED G Lens Reviews

Nikon Zoom-Nikkor 70-200 mm F/2.8 SWM AF-S VR IF ED G Lens

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The Best Just Got Better

Aug 1, 2003 (Updated Oct 10, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:VR mode up to 2 f-stops faster, great tripod collar design

Cons:"G" design lens--no f-stop ring, too many switches, poor FX performance

The Bottom Line: Redesigned and well thought out, the VR mode will clinch the deal if you shoot action. However, if you shoot with a D700 or D3, you may be disappointed.


Having owned just about every 80-200 zoom lens that Nikon has made, I was initially skeptical about the electronic wizardry of this new VR lens. But after several weeks, I realized that this lens was more than just the VR mode. The optics are even better despite 3 more lens elements and the focusing is even faster and quieter than its predecessor, the 80-200mm AF-S. The new 9-bladed diaphragm gives a much more natural blurring of the out-of-focus areas. All this in a package just a bit bigger than the 80-200 and slighter lighter in weight.

But let's get right to the nifty stuff--the VR modes. VR stands for Vibration Reduction and is Nikon's version of Sony's SteadyShot. At first, I really couldn't notice too much difference between VR turned on or off, let alone the active versus normal VR modes. Where I really noticed the VR was in a moving vehicle trying to track another moving object. Whale watching comes to mind. It worked better than I could have thought possible, enabling me to even use a 2X teleconverter at its smaller apertures. It especially helped when the light conditions weren't ideal. I can't say that it gave me 3 stops as Nikon claims, but I do know I got shots that otherwise would have required a tripod on steady ground. I'm still trying to distinguish the normal vs. active modes and the best I can figure is the active mode works better when both you and the subject are moving. The problems I noticed were the ever-so-slight lag when panning in active mode and that you must turn off the VR mode if you are shooting a time exposure on a tripod. I know, it only seems logical, but I didn't know for sure until I tried it and looked at the results: totally blurred images. You would think that the lens would automatically disable VR if the speed is greater than 1/8 second.

Nikon typically lags in technological innovation and VR lenses are yet another product that was slow to market. The VR is not the only innovation in this lens though. Compared to its predecessor, the focusing, both manual and auto is faster and quieter. While the zooming is smoother, it requires more movement to go from 70 to 200. Even though it's nice that the zoom ring is tight, that and the increased rotational movement makes it more difficult to change focal length quickly. It's predecessor was much easier to zoom. The diaphragm has 9 blades versus most other lenses that have 6 blades giving the out-of-focus areas a very natural blur, especially when shooting towards your light source.

Little details were also thought out. Since this lens is a 70-200, it fills that focal length gap between the 28-70mm and 80-200mm zoom lenses. The lens hood locks into place and a release button must be pressed to remove it. While it's nice in theory, it doesn't always prevent the hood from inadvertently coming off. The tripod collar is smoother and foot can be quickly detached without having to remove the entire assembly. The collar also rests well in your palm for hand-holding and the lens feels nicely balanced. The lens cap can actually be removed with the lens hood in place. (It looks like Nikon copied Tamron's lens cap design.) And Nikon finally has provided a lens case made of padded nylon that I can actually use.

What didn't I like? Optically, this lens seems more prone to lens flare than previous models, especially at larger apertures. It could have something to do with the extra glass but I'm only speculating. The "G" design works great with the newer bodies, but won't work with the older Nikons since there is no f-stop ring. There are now 4 switches on the side of this lens. It's rather confusing to keep track of which switch does what, but they are grouped and are different sizes. And once again, Nikon's instructions are rather cryptic and of little help in determining how the VR modes work. Finally, it's one of the most expensive tele-zooms on the market. It is about $300 more than its predecessor which is still a great lens. For those looking to upgrade their telephoto zoom, it will be a tough sell if you don't absolutely need the VR. Nonetheless, get it if you can afford it.

Update with D700 FX sensor:

After several weeks of using one of the few full-frame lenses I own with the latest Nikon FX sensor camera, I felt I needed to update my review of this lens. I was a little disappointed in the performance of this lens at full frame. On the smaller DX sensor, this lens is exceptional, but on the larger sensor many deficiencies become apparent. At 200mm, there is some noticeable distortion at the edges of the picture as well as a lack of sharpness in the corners. But the most obvious problem is light falloff or vignetting that gets worse the closer you get to 200mm. Stopping down doesn't really improve things much and it really shouldn't be a problem with a professional caliber lens. It really does seem as if Nikon designed this lens primarily for the DX sensor, which makes sense since the FX sensor probably wasn't even in development when this lens was released.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 VR has been around since spring of 2003 and is obviously getting a little long in the tooth. While I would still give this lens 5 stars for a DX sensor camera, on the FX sensor, I would have to reduce it to 3.5 stars because of the vignetting issues. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Nikon. I wouldn't be surprised if Nikon redesigns this lens for the FX sensor and incorporates some of their latest technologies for release in 2009.


Recommend this product? Yes

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