Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII - review!

serious business - Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VRII 


Firstly, I should remind you that I'm not going to focus on the technical sides. These are only my personal impressions and views. Things like chromatic aberrations won't be featured here, as I'm no fan of pixel-peeping (though I do sometimes to check the focusing) to search for a flaw my lenses have. Again I remind you that these are all my opinions and may differ from other reviews or your own thoughts.

This particular lens belongs to my brother. Since he's leaving for Germany to further his studies, I had to scramble and make this review possible! Another lens of his, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D will also be reviewed soon!

The Story Behind the Purchase + First Impressions

It was back in 2009, when my brother got this lens. It was a present from my parents for his achievements in his SPM (O-level equivalent). Although they bought him this a few months before his results were out, he did magnificently for that exam (10A's out of 10 subjects - damn how am I going to beat that?!). At the time, my parents did the same for me, they bought me the 85mm f/1.4 which I have sold after 6 months of use. But we're not talking about the cream machine, we're talking about the versatile baby-crier! - read on to understand what I mean by that.

Our first impression of the lens were incredible. We were blown away by the size, I can tell you that! My brother had the Nikon 18-200mm at the time, and it is 2 times smaller than the 70-200mm, possibly 3 times smaller. We didn't find the weight appealing too! It is heavy.  If you suffer from tennis elbow like I do, I suggest staying away from this lens as much as possible! The other significant thing was the image quality wide-open. When you buy a lens of this caliber, you expect unrivaled performance without any compromises and I can safely say that you wouldn't be disappointed here. 

On another note where it isn't photography-related, this lens is scary to look at! My brother and I have pointed this lens to several kiddies and most of them ended up crying and running over to their parents after staring at this big boy! So if you were planning on scaring some neighbourhood troublemakers, this would fit the bill nicely - that is if you wouldn't mind spending so much on a lens and not use it for your photography!

focusing switches ; zoom ring ; distance scale ; focusing ring ;
all placed exactly where you expect them to be

You expect the best when you buy a premium lens like this one. This gigantic beast delivers on that front. It is very solid. You're going to have to slam the lens VERY hard to even dent it a bit. The lens is easy to hold ; the zoom ring is quite a distance away from the camera mount for easy access. And the lens' distance scale separates the zoom and focus rings. The zooming ring is perfectly smooth and you won't get stuck at any focal lengths (the new 55-300mm has this problem when you're going from 200mm to 300mm). Although being a lens capable of fast, and I mean REALLY fast autofocusing, you can manual-focus it with acceptable precision. It is not as enjoyable as say, my CZ 2/35, mainly because of the short focus-throw compared to the 35mm, so fine-tuning is harder to do on the 70-200mm. 


As I mentioned above, autofocus is very very fast! It is faster than other lenses me and my brother have owned. I can't stress how fast it is, but according to my simple judgement, the lens take 1-1.5 seconds to focus from the minimum focusing distance of 1.4m all the way to infinity. I could be wrong on the timing, but believe me, it is very quick. The only lens I can think of that can rival this lens on focusing speed is Nikon's own 24-70mm f/2.8, by the slightest of margins I'd say.  

Vibration Reduction

Nikon specified that the second generation of their Vibration Reduction system allows you to shoot 4 stops slower than normal as oppose to 3 stops in the first generation. I always have the VR on (except when I have the lens on a tripod) and I have shot at 1/15 seconds at 200mm without any obvious signs of camera shake. I only saw a slight blur when I viewed the images on the computer, and even then, the shots were very much usable. Trust Nikon on this, their VR is quite unbelievable.

dancers from Assunta's Prom Night 2010
The Event Planner

I have been lucky enough to have used this lens for a number of events in the last 2 years. And in my mind, it is the best lens to cover events. Deep down, I know the lens will serve fantastically well along with the 24-70mm f/2.8, giving you 24-200mm in two amazing zoom lenses. Sadly enough I don't have the financial backing to purchase the 24-70 nor would I need to get that lens. 

Moving on, as I was saying, this lens is perfect for shooting events. In sheer versatility alone, this lens could blow you away. You could shoot full body portraits at 70mm, and head-shots at 200mm with nothing to worry about. 

Portraits? Yes sir.

some ladies during Assunta's Prom Night, which I shot in December 2010

Many people buy this lens because of its sheer image quality and versatility, especially when they shoot portraits. Portrait-snappers often set their camera at apertures close to the maximum available, sometimes even wide-open to isolate their subjects and make them stand out from the background. Shooting at large apertures is definitely not a problem for this lens, and it shouldn't be.

a view of Kuala Lumpur!
Look far away

Another good use of this lens is landscapes. That is if you are shooting far far away from the subject. The clarity and detail is phenomenal if you are thinking of  shooting landscapes. Shooting at medium apertures (f/8.0 - f/11.0) allows you to maximize detail and sharpness in your shots. It's quite weird to shoot landscapes with a telezoom, but have a go at it and judge for yourself!

Smooth, circular bokeh

One of my favourite topics in photography, the bokeh a lens produces. This lens is up there with the best in this category (and every other category for that matter). Thanks to the 9 diaphragm blades, the bokeh is very smooth and make your subjects pop!

Other Alternatives

This is one of the best 70-200's out there, for sure. 

However, if you have invested in the Nikon system, there are a bunch of options for you to consider. A lot of folks are selling their used 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, the predecessor of the current lens. You can find some good prices on those. 

Another option is to go after third-party brands. Sigma just released their 70-200mm f/2.8, they have added an image stabilization system (Sigma calls it OS - Optical Stabilizer). I'm not sure on the price for that one, but at the time of release, I thought the list price was a bit too close to the equivalents from Nikon and Canon. 

Tamron also have something similar in their arsenal, but without any form of image stabilization. That might be a turn-off for some people, but for myself, I would consider it because of the smaller size and it is after all lighter than the other 70-200's in the market (as far as I know). The Tamron also focuses as close as 0.95 meters, which is good for close-ups, something I'm into. 

Is this for you?

If you shoot a lot of events, portraits, this lens is definitely for you. It is very versatile for events, I have shot events with only this lens alone! For portraits, it allows you to step back and give some space to your subjects. Sports and wedding photographers adore this lens because it is wonderful to use and compact (sort of). It is lighter than most telephotos, and light enough to be used handheld, in part due to the excellent VR technology. If you're planning on getting this lens, be sure to use it on bodies that will balance well with the lens. I have used this with my D60 and it was too front-heavy. I'd get neck-pains every time I put the camera strap on my neck, it was killing me. On the D700, it is really balanced, especially with the battery grip attached. The lowest you could go is probably a D90 (with the battery grip), or you could suffer from all sort of pains from carrying this lens.

Mystical powers - Nano Crystal Coating. use it to believe it.
If you think getting the shot is more important than preserving your upper limbs (for those like me who suffer from tennis elbow or similar injuries), I couldn't recommend this lens more highly! It is not as heavy as some other telephotos but it gets to you once you go past an hour or two of carrying this monster around. Having said that, I think it is the best lens ever in the range. Let's hope Nikon update this lens in 5 years time and include VRIII and make it lighter (dear God, please let it be lighter!) and I will be starving everyday to purchase it. I can dream can't I?!

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