Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Lens

Well, as I’ve been waiting on the delivery of my pre-ordered nikon 24 1.4 for a month I went ahead and picked up the new nikon 70-200 vr2. Don’t worry…my 24 1.4 is still on order, but I figured I can afford the new 70-200 and seeing as how my current 70-200 vr1 is one of my most used lenses I thought I’d see how the new one could stack up.

The Quick

I’ve only had it a day, but after shooting a press conference, a few tests, and a few random DC walk around shots…my thoughts are mixed.

The Build

Totally solid build quality. Typical Nikon professional lens with strong metal and ace quality glass. There’s been a lot of talk around the internet about people finding “flakes of metal” inside the glass elements of the lens, but I didn’t find anything in my copy. Perhaps a manufacturing defect, but mine was in the early batches too so I’m not sure what to make of these claims. Either way… it’s something to be aware of.

The Use

So, my base line for comparison is the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR1 lens, which I shoot with all the time for press events. Right off the bat I noticed that the VR2 is significantly wider, heavier, and a bit shorter too. I don’t like this. In fact, I hate it. Gripping the focus ring on my VR1 feels much more fluid and easy vs the VR2, which feels like I’m turning the steering wheel of a school bus. Well… not that bad, but it’s annoying.

I also dislike that the VR2 cannot stand upright on the ground with the lens hood on because it’s got a slightly rounded edge. I mean wtf? The VR1 stands up perfectly fine and I take advantage of this all the time.

Moving on… the hot button issue with this lens is the change in focal length when focusing at close distances. I won’t go into detail about it now, but you can clearly see the impact from the photos below.  They were each shot with the same exact settings from the exact same distances, but clearly the top right image (vr1) has a lot more reach than the top left image (vr2).

But wait! do you see the difference in sharpness? WOW. The VR2 lens looks MUCH sharper to me. Not to mention the significant reduction in vignetting.

So now to point out what I really tend to be most excited about with lenses…the bokeh. Because the reach isn’t as far on the VR2 it can’t technically render as much bokeh as the VR1. You can kind of tell that looking at the images in the first row. The second row of images I took to showcase the extremes of bokeh on just the new VR2 shot at the same settings, but with adjusted f/2.8 at left and f/22 at right. obviously the iso was changed to get proper exposure.

The third row of images demonstrates how well this lens retains contrast in backlit situations. The answer? Extremely well. No doubt this is helped by the ED glass and Nano Crystal Coating.

(CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGES)

The Conclusion

I’m still undecided. I’m a sucker for a ton of bokeh, and though the new 70-200 vr2 clearly has some pleasing qualities, I’m not sure i am willing to give up the lack of reach/bokeh capability. I shoot a LOT of close range press conferences so it could prove to be a problem. I JUST got comfortable moving from DX to totally FX and I can tell you losing that 1.5 crop kind of hurt. I essentially went from having a 300mm lens to a 200mm switching from DX to FX. Using the 70-200mm VR2 means maxing out around 160mm (on an FX sensor) when focusing at anything under 30ft away? Yikes.

The vignetting improvement isn’t really a plus or minus for me. I never really mess with it in post processing, and usually find myself adding some if anything. The improvement in VR is nice, but I was always able to shoot down at 1/15 on the vr1 and I almost never need to shoot below 1/80th anyway… SO, really the only thing going for the VR2 is the added sharpness and contrast. It’s definitely an amazing improvement. I’ve got a month to return it and a very busy month booked. i’m willing to give it some more time, but i did go ahead and print out the return forms :(

UPDATE: I returned it and continue to use my VR1

Here are some more photographs I’ve taken with the 70-200 VR2. It can certainly hold its own.

Summary

Rating

70-200 VR2 is optically superior to the VR1, but the experience it provides isn’t.

  • Price
    $2396
  • In my gear bag?
    No
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. Hi Sam. Me again.
    I have been looking at this lens 70-200/2.8 on and off. I hate to carry heavy camera bags and almost always leave my 14-24/2.8 and 24-70/2.8 at home when travelling (without my car). Trying to stick with the “golden three”; 50/1.4 (or 50/1.2), 35 + 85/1.4. But, as said, I am a little bit indecisive if I should go for this lens or not. And especially since you can get a second hand VR1 for less.
    Any suggestions? Or more thoughts?
    /Jan

  2. i have been becoming more of a primes guy myself lately, but i can say without a doubt i NEED to get to 200mm a lot. sadly, i think the 200 f/2 is just too big to consider carrying (though i am going to rent it soon to see :) ) and the only other way to get to 200 2.8 is with one of these zooms. i returned my 70-200 vr2 and decided to stick with the vr1. it’s smaller and faster to handle. it’s got a larger magnification ability, and i almost never shoot below 1/80th anyway so i have no need for vr2. absolutely buy the 70-200 vr1. it’s one of my work horses, and you won’t regret it.

  3. Quick post of a question asked of me via e-mail:

    Name: Bryan

    Message:

    Sam in the video on the R/20 you mentioned you thought the 70-200 Nikon VR1 was better than the VRII what are your views on this if you will

    Response:

    Well, I probably shouldn’t have said “better” as it’s definitely relative to your own needs as a photographer. Overall, I felt the vr1 was a better fit for me as it’s smaller, easier/faster to handle, more reach when shooting 30 ft and closer, and the focus was just as fast as the vr2. the vignetting performance was better on the vr2, but i never had a problem with the vr1 vignetting and tend to kind of like the effect anyway. the sharpness and contrast was also improved on the vr2, but not to a point that it really effected things for me. the vr1 has its own quality to it and it’s nothing that needs to be replace or upgraded IMO unless you’re shooting 24 MP or something (and who would want to deal with those file sizes?!). I also prefer the bokeh of the vr1 to the vr2, which is something i usually don’t worry about either.

  4. Deborah Hallgren says:

    Wow Sam, out of my league on the verbage, but the photos are great (so I guess I do “get it”). Amazing, the sky is the limit.

  5. Great review, I’ve been debating between the two lenses after renting both. I preferred the VR1 as well, big hands, easier to zoom. Anyone know where to buy a new VR1? Looks like Nikon, Andorama, B&H, Amazon, etc have removed all of them and are now only offering the VR2.

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