Nikon 70-200mm VR II Review

Product shot of the Nikon 70-200

This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens. While my reviews aren’t super technical, I do try to give a good idea on the optics of lenses but you will not see sample brick wall pictures in this review.

The Nikon 70 200mm VR II is a pro-grade Nikon telephoto zoom lens that produces beautiful images for select types of photography.

It makes up the telephoto end part of the Nikon “holy trinity” of lenses, three zoom lenses that cover a range from wide angle to telephoto.

It’s a nice upgrade in terms of image quality and features over the previous version of this lens, which was called the 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF. The Nikon 70 200mm VR II is a serious financial investment but is absolutely worth it for enthusiasts and professional photographers.

So if you’re interested in buying this lens, hopefully this Nikon 70-200 review will give you some insight as to whether it would be a good option for you.

Build Quality/Ergonomics of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II

The 70 200 f2 8 Nikon, like the other two zooms that make up the Nikon ‘holy trinity’, is built like a tank and in the hand feels like it could take a serious beating… or give a beating.

That’s due to its all metal barrel construction. This thing really feels like it was built to be a serious photographic tool.

Not only does the Nikon 70 200 f2 8 feel like it could withstand a lifetime of standard photographic abuse, it’s also weather sealed, meaning it can be used in the most demanding of weather conditions without worry of damaging it.

Hot weather, cold weather, snow or rain, Nikon’s weather sealing is very effective in keeping the 70 200 Nikon safe from the elements. That doesn’t mean you can go and use this lens underwater but it’s really nice not having to worry about your equipment when a downpour starts.

The Nikon 70 200 VR II’s focus rings feel well-made and durable. They have a strong resistance, which I think is a good thing so that things aren’t getting bumped around and moved.

I have heard from some photographers that the resistance of the focus and zoom rings starts to loosen up a bit over time but that’s to be expected I guess.

The same goes for the four switches on the barrel of the Nikkor 70 200 – they feel like they’re well-constructed and stay solidly in place. They take a bit of force to switch back and forth. Same thing goes for the tripod collar once you’ve tightened it in to place.

Size/Weight Considerations of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II

Like the 24-70 Nikon that I previously reviewed, the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is quite a whopper and is even bigger and heavier than that lens – by quite a bit actually.

The Nikon 70 200mm VR II is 3.43 x 3.43 x 8.23 inches and even bigger with the included lens hood attached – which I highly recommend doing to protect the front element of the lens. I personally think the size of this lens is obnoxious but if looking like you’re carrying around a bazooka is your thing, then you’ll love this lens.

If there’s one benefit of having such a large lens, it at least makes you look like you’re doing some serious photography business. I don’t think anyone is gonna question your credibility as a photographer with this thing.

The crazy size of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is only topped by the lens’ crazy weight. In my review of Nikon’s 24-70 I griped about the heavy weight of that beast of a lens but this one outweighs that one by a landslide.

The weight of the 24-70? Two pounds, or 900 grams. The weight of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is a beefy 3.4 pounds, or a little over 1500 grams. So yeah, this thing is quite hefty to say the least.

The upside?

You’re gonna get some big beautiful biceps lugging this bad boy around.

I know plenty of photographers who use the Nikon 70 200 f2 8 for wedding photography but I ended up switching for an 85mm/35mm setup because:

1) its large size makes it likely you’ll bump into someone or something during a hectic wedding day, and

2) this weight of this lens makes it uncomfortable to have strapped around your shoulders all day.

This lens does have its place in wedding photography but personally if I go back to using it I would only use one camera and lens at a time, switching lenses in and out when necessary.

Additionally, because of the weight of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II, I don’t feel comfortable letting it hang off my shoulder without holding it as that puts strain on the lens mount and camera contacts.

Durability of the Nikon 70-200

Even though the Nikon 70 200 f2 8 feels like it could survive a grenade blast, all those moving parts and internal elements (there’s 21 of them!) make them susceptible to certain mechanical failures.

The most common among them being a jammed zoom capability, in which case it has to be sent to Nikon for servicing.

But here’s the fact of the matter:

70-200 f/2.8 lenses in general are loaded with electronics and optical elements and just complicated stuff in general.

They’re thought to be built like military-grade equipment because of the all-metal barrels. But all of that stuff needs to work in conjunction perfectly. As a result, it’s inevitable that some of those moving parts go haywire eventually; regardless of the model or what company manufactured the lens.

Nikon 70 200mm VR II – Sharpness

The cool thing about the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is its consistent sharpness at all focal lengths. It’s always sharp in the middle of the frame, regardless of focal length or aperture.

At the widest apertures, images taken with the Nikkor 70 200 have softer corners than in the center of the frame. But when stopped down, even just to f/4, things get a lot sharper.

Even using a teleconverter wide open at f/4(because you lose a few stops by using one), which is common for sports photographers to use in conjunction with a telephoto lens like this, things are very sharp throughout the entire frame.

Overall, images from the 70 200 f2 8 Nikon are as sharp as a knife cutting through some hot butta so be careful. Safety first.

Chromatic Aberration

The Nikon 70 200 VR II does an excellent job of preventing chromatic aberration. That’s not to say that you won’t come across some, but in like 99% of cases it’s not even noticeable unless you’re pixel peeping. Plus, you can easily correct it in Lightroom.

It’s more pronounced at 135mm and longer focal lengths.

But again:

Chromatic aberration with the 70 200 Nikon is kept to such a minimum that it’s not worth worrying about.

Pretty cool in my opinion.

Distortion

There’s barely any distortion with this lens. The distortion that it does have is easily correctable in post and shouldn’t concern anyone considering buying the Nikon 70-200.

Flare

The older version of the 70 200 f2 8 Nikon was already very good in the flare department. Now that Nano coating has been added to this lens it’s gone from very good to great in terms of dealing with flare.

So:

Reduction of both flare and ghosting are controlled as well or even better than you’d expect from a Nikon professional lens.

Vignetting

Vignetting with the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is at its most noticeable at 200mm for some reason.

However, you can really only tell it’s there in unrealistic, testing situations like shooting white walls. When using it for it’s made for, the vignetting does not affect images and for picky photographers they can remove it in post.

Nikon 70 200mm VR II – Autofocus

Autofocus is where this lens kicks some serious ass.

It’s hands down, THE fastest focusing Nikon lens on the market, faster even than the already super-fast Nikon 24-70.

But here’s the kicker:

Not only is it the fastest autofocus out of all Nikon lenses, it’s also the most accurate. That, and it can acquire focus in super low light conditions.

So for shooting dimly-lit wedding reception halls or high school gyms for example, the Nikon 70 200 f2 8 locks onto subjects quickly and doesn’t hunt around trying to acquire focus.

Out of all the Nikon lenses I’ve used, it requires the least amount of contrast to get focus – it really is impressive and I don’t say that lightly.

Bokeh

Bokeh of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is not only very round and smooth, the 200mm focal length really lets you separate your subject from the background. Put up against the cream machine Nikon 85mm f1.4, this lens falls just a little bit short in terms of bokeh quality, but not by far.

The 70 200 f2 8 Nikon is up there with the best of the best bokeh-producing Nikon lenses. Viva la bokeh!

Who is the Nikon 70 200mm VR II for?

Because of the long focal length possibilities, the Nikon 70 200 VR II should be in pretty much every portrait photographer’s bag who shoots Nikon. Sometimes you really need that background separation that more traditional 85mm lenses just can’t compete with.

You might be wondering:

Is this THE best Nikon portrait lens?

I don’t think so. I think that title belongs to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4, at least for now.

But this Nikon 70-200 has its place among the best in portrait photography – and the best portrait photographers use it in conjunction with the 85mm.

The next type of photography the Nikkor 70 200 really holds its own in is sports photography.

In the majority of sports you need as much reach as possible because you’re going to be seated somewhat far away from the action.

At the long end, the 70 200 Nikon will get you to the action at the other end of the floor if you’re sitting on the baseline of a basketball court, for example. It’s nice to have a teleconverter in these instances as well, but you also have to take into account that when using one you’ll lose some stops of light and also your depth of field will increase.

But it’s an amazing lens for sports.

There’s a ton of great wedding photographers who love using the Nikon 70 200mm VR II as well. For the entrances during the ceremony it’s really nice to have. And while it’s not my style, wedding photographers like using it during the reception as well.

(My preference during receptions is to be more mobile and use lighter and smaller camera gear.)

Last but certainly not least, landscape photographers can put this lens to really good use.

A lot of photographers who are trying to find their niche think “70-200 for landscape photography?! You must be out yo mind.”

But for landscapes, more often than you’d think, you want to be able to isolate a certain part of the landscape while far away and you need a tool like the Nikon 70 200 VR II to do it. Not everything can be done with the wider angle lenses, even though they’re an essential part of your camera bag.

But you’ve got to be versatile. And for photography like landscape photography, versatility will give you a vision that’ll put you ahead of a ton of other photographers trying to do the same thing. In landscape photography, it’s not always just about the wide angle.

Showing the emotion of a grandma from far away using the 70 200 Nikon

 

Example image of a couple leaving their wedding ceremony to some bubbles from far away with the Nikon 70-200

Example Image of bride getting into car after wedding from a distance with the Nikon 70-200

Final Thoughts on the 70 200 f2 8 Nikon

I can’t express how awesome the Nikon 70 200mm VR II is without sounding like a bought-off shill. But the lens really is as good as you can get in terms of optical performance.

It’s super sharp. It has gorgeous colors and bokeh and you don’t have to deal with much of any optical weirdness like chromatic aberration or ghosting.

Let’s get this straight:

The Nikon 70 200mm VR II is as expensive as balls.

But:

If you’re going to be doing this as a living or even think you may do so in the future, the Nikon 70-200 is absolutely worth investing in. Especially if you’re thinking about getting into any of the types of photography that I mentioned previously in the article.

The Nikon 70 200mm VR II is an amazing piece of glass, for sure. It’s the best image quality you can get in its focal range.

The problems of this Nikon 70-200 are in the details. It has incredible image quality but that comes at the expense of size and weight. It’s just obnoxiously big and heavy.

When you go to consider the 70 200 f2 8 Nikon as a lens to add to your bag, the size, and probably more important, the weight, need to be taken into consideration.

Because with all this sexy image quality comes a package that is large and super heavy that will way down the strongest of photographers after having strapped around their neck for a while. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker but it is certainly something to think about when going to buy this lens.

To me, the size and weight of the Nikon 70 200mm VR II overshadow its stunning image quality.

But that’s really in the eye of the beholder. (On the shoulders of the beholder?)

I know photographers that have used this lens to get incredible images. I probably would have used a different lens or approach to the same situation but that’s the beautiful thing about photography:

Every photographer sees things in a different way.

What do you think? Is the Nikon 70 200mm VR II the best Nikon portrait lens? Should it even be considered as one? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Let me know in the comments.