Review: AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

I’ve had Nikon’s 70-200mm f/4 since I bought my D750 in March. I really like this lens, so I wanted to quickly explain why with some photos. If you are looking for a more detailed technical review, check out any of the following:

Quick Comparison

So why did I pick this lens? Nikon has four lenses in its telephoto zoom lineup. They are as follows from most expensive to least.

Starting from the bottom, the 70-300mm is a great deal. It provides a longer range than any of the other lenses, includes a silent wave motor, and offers Vibration Reduction at ⅓ – ¼ the price of any of the other lenses. The compromise is that the lens barrel extends while zooming but does not rotate during focus, making it easy to use a polarizing filter. Maximum aperture changes throughout the zoom range – from f/4.5 at 70mm to f/5.6 at 300mm. This reduces light sensitivity at the long end, reduces autofocus speed in low light, and could make exposure inconsistent at different zoom levels. It is very sharp across the frame at f/8 and above, but shows noticeable softness wide open and at f/5.6.

The 80-200 is one of Nikon’s older lenses, but it has extremely high image quality — the same as the 70-200mm f/2.8 for about half the price. It is more than twice the price of the 70 -300mm and has 100mm less range, but is internal focusing and non-extending like Nikon’s more expensive zooms. It trades a silent wave motor for screw focus and loses Vibration Reduction, which is extremely handy for lenses of this depth. It provides 1 – 2 full stops more speed than the 70 – 300mm and it’s fixed at f/2.8 throughout the zoom range, making this a good lens for low light even without VR. It’s also housed in a metal body that is more rugged than any of Nikon’s other VR lenses in this range.

For a couple hundred dollars more the 70-200 f/4 provides a silent wave motor and Vibration Reduction for up to 5 stops. It’s not nearly as rugged as the 80-200 and is a stop slower at f/4 throughout the zoom range but it focuses fast and the extreme VR helps make up for the loss in speed. Drop another $700 to get the 70-200mm f/2.8 tops the range with the largest fixed aperture, 4 stop Vibration Reduction, and weather sealing. This is the cream of the crop in terms of image quality and matches Canon’s 70-200mm L lens.

What I Think

Nikon’s AF-S 70-200mm VR is well regarded across the many reviews that I’ve read. In a nutshell it offers nearly the same image quality as the 70-200mm f/2.8 at ⅔ the cost and half the weight. I’ve taken over 1,000 photos with it and really love this lens.

  • It autofocuses very quickly and very accurately, rarely hunting, even in dim light.
  • The zoom and autofocus rings are more firm than Canon’s but in such a way that it allows me to zoom and focus in a more controlled manner. It makes composition easier, not harder.
  • It’s pretty light weight for such a large lens and it balances on the camera body very well.
  • The Vibration reduction works really, really well. I took some shots of the Seattle skyline in the evening and nearly every shot was taken 1/60 and ⅓0 of a second when they should have been 1/125 and ½50. That’s a 3 stop improvement which means I could keep shooting at f/8 for deep depth of field while keeping noise down at ISO 3200. With a non-VR lens I’d have to have to had shot at f/4 and ISO 6400 or f/8 and ISO 25,600 which would have resulted in much lower quality images. According to Nikon I could even sneak an extra stop of VR out of this thing!
  • This lens is very sharp, even wide open at f/4!
  • Using this on a full frame camera provides a true 70mm field of view making it much more versatile. I can keep this lens on my camera more often because I don’t sacrifice as many standard angles as I do on my crop camera where 70mm equates to 112mm
  • Other than being longer than a lens that extends while zooming, I have no complaints about this lens. It’s amazing!

Images

The best way for me to review a lens is to show the kinds of images I can take with it. Below are images taken at various apertures that I’ve been really impressed with. Click for higher resolution versions.

 

1/1000 sec @ f/4 ISO 400 200mm
1/1000 sec @ f/4 ISO 400 200mm

This image shows sharpness wide open. The profile of the duck is crisp against a smoothly blurred background, which is exactly the effect I was trying to achieve.

1/320 sec @ f/8 ISO 400 200mm
1/320 sec @ f/8 ISO 400 200mm

I accidentally took this image at f/8 whereas usually I’d want f/4 for maximum background blur. I was surprised that I was still able to isolate the subject. That’s partially because I zoomed in all the way and partially because the tree was very far away from the flower. A great example of this lens’s sharpness and bokeh, even at smaller apertures.

1/200 sec @ f/4 ISO 720 200mm
1/200 sec @ f/4 ISO 720 200mm

Another image wide open showing the detail available. Look at the texture of the feathers. It’s great for a lens at its maximum aperture!

1/15 sec at f/8 ISO 1600 130mm
1/15 sec at f/8 ISO 1600 130mm

This image would only have been possible using a tripod if it were not for the vibration reduction available on this lens. Normally I would have had to shoot this at 1/125 for a steady shot. That would mean I’d need to shoot at f/4 and ISO 3200, losing sharpness and increasing noise in the image. The VR provided 3 stops of reduction in this case.

1/640 @ f/11 ISO 100 200mm
1/640 @ f/11 ISO 100 200mm

This is an HDR shot of the cascade mountains as viewed from the Kirkland side of Lake Washington. Zoomed in all the way at f/11 it shows the extreme sharpness of this lens.

1/640 @ f/4 ISO 100 120mm
1/640 @ f/4 ISO 100 120mm

I took a portrait of Adam. His face isn’t quite as focused as I’d like (due to my own error), but the image shows the bokeh of the lens. It’s not super creamy or smooth as some lenses but it’s smooth enough to reduce distractions.

More Images

I didn’t have room to comment on all of the images. Here are some more that I think really show the capabilities of this lens.

Tips

  • Sometimes Nikon will offer an instant rebate on this lens. I saved $100 when I bought mine.
  • Adorama provides a 4% refund as a store credit which is about $56
  • You can occasionally find them used at Adorama for around $1050. They generally come with accessories, an Adorama warranty, and the remainder of the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • You can also try eBay if you trust the seller

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