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Brian Tobey
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G VR AF-S

NIKON 70-200mm f/4 VR

MULTIPURPOSE LONG-RANGE ZOOM | PRICE $1399

SHARPNESS:
 
9.3
BOKEH:
 
8.5
BUILD:
 
9.6
VALUE:
 
7.8
OVERALL:
 
9.0
VRInternal FocusNano Crystal CoatingFXManual Focus Overide
PROSCONS
VR - 3RD GEN
LIGHT WEIGHT
3.3FT FOCUS

Last Updated: january 3, 2012 | By Brian Tobey Email Google+

SUMMARY


INTRODUCTION

The long anticipated Nikon 70-200mm f/4G is finally available. Unlike the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, which had a history of lens designs, this f/4 version is brand new to Nikon’s lineup and is the first lens to feature third generation VR technology, offering 5 stops of vibration compensation. The lens is designed for full frame FX cameras, but is compatible with DX, and CX sensors as well. Do not misjudge this lens simply as an affordable solution to its 2.8 counterpart. Instead, this lens is built tough for professionals who do not require a maximum aperture of f/2.8. It weighs substantially less and is physically more manageable to use.

70-200mm is a commonly used focal range for a variety of photographic disciplines. Without question, a lightweight, affordable solution was absent from Nikon's lineup. Canon has offered both an f/2.8 and f/4 companion for several years. Similar to Canon, Nikon designed the new f/4 to meet the demands of professionals which includes many features of its 2.8 partner. The lens incorporates the gold ring around the barrel, an indication of professional grade. The design is complex, with 20 elements in 14 groups. It utilizes nano-crystal coating, 3 ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements, and 1 element with a very high index of refraction. The diaphragm has 9 blades, rounded for improved bokeh.

Overall the design is welcoming, as its weight, size and price are significantly reduced from the 2.8 version. The ultimate question is how well the new 70-200mm f/4 performs. I have tested this lens using the Nikon D4, D800E, D600, and D3200 (DX), along with the TC-20E-III 2x teleconverter. This review encompasses the performance of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR, its features, and its handling. Later, comparisons are provided against the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G II and the more exotic Nikon 200mm f/2G.

Nikon 70-200mm F/4 VR Build

REASONS FOR CONSIDERATION

The 70-200mm f/4G is a versatile lens, at a 2.9x zoom it covers a very relevant focal length for many photographers. Most important, its performance is excellent, and does so with minimal weight and size. It is hard to find reason not to bring it along. For even situations of uncertainty, there are just too many scenarios where a lens like this is useful and worthwhile to have with you. It pairs nicely with the Nikon D600 and D800.

DESIGN



VIBRATION REDUCTION (VR)

vibration reduction

New to the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR is an updated 3rd generation VR system capable of delivering up to 5 stops of vibration compensation. Shooting at 1/20th of a second at 200mm is possible. Of course the likelihood of motion blur remains at about 50%. The prior generation, found on the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, provides only 4 stops of compensation.

What is the advantage of the new 3rd generation VR system? It allows you to steadily hand hold the camera and still attain sharp imagery. Theoretically, under conditions where camera shake is a concern, the 70-200mm f/4 at f/4 can achieve the same low light results as the 70-200mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 by exposing at half the shutter speed.

Vibration reduction is limited in that it can only compensate for camera movement, not subject movement. Therefore if the subject is in motion, like in sports, events, or weddings, etc, the VR has little to no effect. However, the purpose of this lens is somewhat designed around portability, at least compared to the f/2.8 version. The new VR system is a nice advantage to accommodate for a wide variety of shooting conditions.


VR IMPACT ON COMPOSITION

The new generation VR exhibits a larger axial displacement to compensate for camera shake. What does this mean and how does it affect composure? The VR system engages as you hold the shutter release half way to mitigate camera shake while looking through the viewfinder. There it becomes apparent just how well the new VR system behaves. However, upon release of the shutter, just before the shutter opens, the VR system will re-center itself to allow for maximum displacement compensation during the exposure. This re-centering process impacts the composure and is very noticeable using this lens. If composure is important, I would provide a bit of margin when framing the image in case of the VR adjustments.

The diagram below is my attempt to illustrate the affects of VR on composition. The image on the left shows how the VR could be positioned close to a VR boundary when looking through the viewfinder. But upon shutter release, it would re-center the frame and noticeably change composition of the resulting image from what was originally observed through the viewfinder.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR Compensation Effects


CONSTRUCTION BUILD QUALITY

The lens is built tough, mostly of metal, both internally and externally. It is environmentally sealed, and features a rubber gasket on the mount. Both the focus and zoom rings are smooth, nearly identical to the 70-200mm f/2.8. The focus ring is positioned at the end of the barrel and provides a larger grip than the 2.8 version. The slip clutches transition smoothly at the near and far focus stops. There is no depth of field scale, just an indicator for focus distance, again similar to the 2.8 model.

Nikon 70-200mm F/4 VR on Nikon D4

FILTER THREAD

The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR uses 67mm filter thread. A common filter thread for mid-priced lenses. The most recent lenses to utilize the same 67mm filter thread is the 28mm f/1.8G and the 85mm f/1.8G.


WHAT IS INCLUDED

Packaged with the 70-200mm f/4 is a lens hood specific to the lens, a cheap lens pouch, not worth using for protection in transit, and the standard lens caps (not LF-1). The tripod collar is not included and is available at an additional cost.


THE TRIPOD COLLAR

A tripod collar allows you to attach a tripod to a lens to achieve a better weight distribution balance. Tripod collars are commonly used for larger longer lenses, where the lens outweighs the camera. However, the tripod collar for the 70-200mm f/4G is sold separately. Nikon provided this as an option rather than including it as an effort to keep cost down.

The RT-1 tripod collar appears a bit out of scope in the design. I say this because the lens is designed more for portability than the 70-200mm 2.8 VR. Additionally, 200mm is not quite a long enough focal length to justify purchasing a tripod collar as an extra cost. If you plan to use the tripod collar, spend your extra money towards the 70-200mm f/2.8 instead, as it includes a tripod mount.


TELECONVERTERS

The TC-14E works great on the 70-200mm f/4 and retains autofocus functionality for all autofocus points.

If you have a camera that can autofocus down to f/8, (D4 / D800 / D600), then you can retain autofocus using the TC-17E and TC-20E at the center autofocus point. The TC-17E and TC-20E extend the focal length up to 340mm and 400mm, respectively. Surprisingly you can still autofocus using the D3200 and a 2X teleconverter.


PERFORMANCE



SHAPRNESS

The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G performs real well in terms of sharpness. The samples below are 100% crop from the Nikon D800E. I compared both the corners and centers at both 70mm (wide) and 200mm (tele) focal lengths.

Overall, the lens is sharp, even at f/4. It is a smidge soft in the corners on FX at f/4, but not worth discussing. I found it to achieve optimum performance at aperture f/8.

One thing to add for the pixel peepers out there: when stopping down to f/5.6, it does not offer much improvement in terms of contrast and sharpness. Not until f/8 does the lens really snap. Most lenses stopped down by 2 stops from their wide open aperture typically offers the best image performance. This is true for other lenses, such as the f/2.8G VR II version. But the advantage of the f/2.8G VR II is that it really pops with rich contrast at f/5.6 and still blurs background pleasingly. The f/4G is optimal at f/8, but its depth of field is larger, which can be undesirable. Additionally, its light sensitivity is less at f/8 than f/5.6. Of course all this is obvious, but I found myself shooting at f/5.6 thinking it was optimal, but in reality I should be at f/8. Something I am not used to shooting with mostly primes.

One more thing to mention: I noticed that when focused at its minimum distance, 3.3 feet, the image was soft. Further testing is required at this distance. The samples below were all performed at reasonable distances, approximately 7 meters.


TEST CHART AT 70mm

70mm: Center at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Center Sharpness at f/4
70mm: Center at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Center Sharpness at f/5.6
70mm: Center at f/8
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Center Sharpness at f/8


70mm: Corner at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Corner Sharpness at f/4
70mm: Corner at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Corner Sharpness at f/5.6
70mm: Corner at f/8
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Corner Sharpness at f/8



TEST CHART AT 200mm

200mm: Center at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Center Sharpness at f/4
200mm: Center at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Center Sharpness at f/5.6
200mm: Center at f/8
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Center Sharpness at f/8


200mm: Corner at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Corner Sharpness at f/4
200mm: Corner at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Corner Sharpness at f/5.6
200mm: Corner at f/8
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Corner Sharpness at f/8





BOKEH

The image on the left is at aperture f/4, wide open. You can see how the lens aberrations affect bokeh and slightly distort the shape. Overall the outer perimeter of the image exhibits somewhat poor bokeh wide open. The center is nice.

Of course stopping down to f/5.6 helps mitigate aberration effects and improves the outer area bokeh. Overall the lens exhibits pretty decent bokeh. The diaphragm maintains a nice round shape throughout its aperture range. You can see more real life examples in the samples section.


Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Bokeh at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Bokeh at f/5.6


FOCUS BREATHING

Focus breathing is often mistaken for physical suction of air or air movement as focus is adjusted. Instead focus breathing is a relationship between magnification or focal length and focus distance. In theory, they should stay constant as focus is adjusted throughout all distances. Ultimately this impacts angle of view and is more consequential in video than still photography. However it is not something that should be overlooked, regardless, as many photographers were critical over Nikon's 70-200mm f/2.8G II, which only provides an approximate 140mm when zoomed to 200mm at close focusing distances.

The 70-00mm f/4G VR exhibits much less focal breathing than its f/2.8 VR-II partner. In fact, it maintains an accurate focal length across all distances. The f/2.8 VR-II lens reduces its magnification at close focal distances, while the f/4G maintains standard focal lengths throughout its zoom range, therefore providing greater magnification at close focal distances.


Nikon 70-200mm f/4G Autofocus

AUTOFOCUS SPEED

The autofocus speed is quite fast. It is not as fast as the 2.8 VR II, but it is hard to tell the difference. The autofocus is silent, even quieter than the 2.8 VR II, but it is loud when it hunts and bounces off the focus stops, louder than the 2.8 VR II.


AUTOFOCUS LIMITER

The focus limiter is set to 3m or 10ft. This allows you to limit the scope of autofocus, preventing long hunt times in case of a misread. Of course you would only set this for shooting subjects at distances beyond 10ft. The 2.8VR II was limited to 5m or 16ft.


AUTOFOCUS ACCURACY

Autofocus accuracy was dead on using the D4 and D600, however, my D800E required a -6 focus adjustment. The lens focused ever so slightly forward. The lens demonstrated autofocus consistency throughout its focal range. Overall the lens performed well, but I found the 2.8 VR II to have a bit better consistency between cameras. I always calibrate my AF, especially in primes with larger apertures. The D800E provides 20 custom AF fine tune lens adjustments. The D600 only provides 12.

Autofocus Accuracy at 200mm f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Autofocus Accuracy 200mm
Autofocus Accuracy at 70mm f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Autofocus Accuracy 70mm



LIGHT FALL OFF

Light fall of or vignetting is not much of a concern at 70mm. However, at 200mm f/4 it becomes quite obvious. Sometimes this can be desirable, depending on the subject. Regardless, it is easy to correct. I suspect Adobe will provide a correction profile soon.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G Light Fall Off

FLARE

The lens features nano crystal coating which mitigates the impact of flare. I did not find flare to be much of any concern. In fact it is better managed than the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II.


CHROMATIC ABBERATION

The lens exhibits some lateral chromatic aberration on the edges of the frame, redish / cyan fringes. It is more pronounced at 70mm than at 200mm. In fact at 200mm the LCA is better than the f/2.8 VR II. Nikon corrects for LCA in the camera when using JPEG / TIFF output. You can correct for it in lightroom manually as well, when shooting RAW. Adobe should soon have a lens profile that should automatically fix LCA in post processing.

The lens also exhibits minimal longitudinal chromatic aberration, which is much less easy to correct. Luckily it is nearly insignificant, and stopping down some rectifies it.


USE WITH VIDEO

Unlike many other Nikon zooms, I would recommend this lens for video use. First, the focus ring is large and provides nice resistance for smooth focusing. Second, the magnification does not change significantly between focus distances. Third, the VR system is quite impressive for even hand held use. Overall I would still prefer a prime lens, but this lens does a nice job.


T-STOPS

A t-stop is a measurement of light transmission through the lens. It represents an actual real value instead of an f-stop which is just a specification, focal length / diameter. T-stops are important for determining light sensitivity and typically marked lower than f-stops due to the impedance of light as it traverses through glass.

The 70-200mm f/4 exhibits a bit worse light transmission than the f/2.8 VR II. I could not measure it, but it is a small fraction of an f-stop less light than the 2.8 version provides. When shooting in low light, the 2.8 provides a smidge more light capturing capability.




SAMPLES


The samples below were all shot in RAW, and later processed afterwards using Adobe Lightroom. The samples were shot on a varitey of cameras including the Nikon D4, D800E and D3200 at various ISO settings.

Nikon 70-200mm f4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D800E at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D800E at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D800E at f/4.0
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D800E at f/4.0
Nikon 70-200mm f4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D4 at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D4 at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D4 at f/4.0
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 Sample
NIKON 70-200mm f/4G
Nikon D4 at f/4.0





COMPARISONS



SIZE COMPARISON

The size of the 70-200mm f/4 is noticeably smaller than the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 200mm f/2. The 2.8 version is 15% longer than the f/4, and the barrel diameter is 11% larger. All of this is obvious when comparing them hands on.

Nikon 70-200mm F/4 VR Comparison

NIKON 70-200MM FEATURES COMPARED

FEATURENikon 70-200mm f/4G VRNikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
Focal Length Range70-200mm70-200mm
Zoom Ratio2.9x2.9x
Maximum Aperturef/4f/2.8
Minimum Aperturef/32f/22
Maximum Angle of View (FX-format)34°20'34°20'
Minimum Angle of View (FX-format)12°20'12°20'
Maximum Reproduction Ratio0.274x0.12x
Lens Elements2021
Lens Groups1416
VR Compensation3rd Generation
5 Stop
2nd Generation
4 Stop
Diaphragm Blades99
Distance InformationYesYes
Nano Crystal CoatYesYes
ED Glass Elements37
Super Integrated CoatingYesYes
AutofocusYesYes
AF-S (Silent Wave Motor)YesYes
Internal FocusingYesYes
Minimum Focus Distance3.28 ft.4.6 ft.
Focus ModeAuto/Manual, ManualAuto/Manual, Manual/Auto, Manual
G-typeYesYes
Filter Size67mm77mm
Accepts Filter TypeScrew-onScrew-on
Dimensions3.1×7.0 in. (Diameter x Length)
78.0×178.5mm (Diameter x Length)
3.4×8.1 in. (Diameter x Length)
87×205.5mm (Diameter x Length)
Weight30.0 oz. (850g)54.3 oz. (1540g)
Supplied AccessoriesLC-67 Snap-on Front Lens Cap 67mm, HB-60 Bayonet Hood, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-1225 Semi-Soft CaseHB-48 Bayonnet Hood, CL-M2 Case, 77mm lens cap, LF-1 Rear lens cap



NIKON 70-200MM SHARPNESS COMPARED

Nikon D600 with 70-200mm f/4G VR

MTF is a technique intended to evaluate lens sharpness (blue line) and contrast (orange line). There are various ways to perform MTF measurements, but generally the setup includes black white transitions. The lens is then assessed on its ability to reproduce the black to white transitions. However, the testing is limited to a flat surface and should not be a sole basis to characterize lens performance. There are many real world attributes that affect optical quality.

Posted below are Nikon's published MTF results. The Nikon 70-200mm shows excellent MTF results. If you compare it to the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, you can see that it greatly excels on the telephoto end.

These results are expected as the complexity in design of an f/4 zoom is less sophisticated than an f/2.8. This is why there exists an additional cost associated with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. Further it is more difficult to achieve ideal optics at lower apertures.

Nikon 70-200mm F/4 VR MTF Comparison

TEST CHART EVALUATION

Test charts should be used cautiously when performing lens assessments. It is less frequent to encounter flat, 2 dimensional subjects in a 3 dimensional world. That said, test charts are great for evaluating sharpness in a simplistic approach. The samples below are a comparison of the 3 lenses set to focal length 200mm.

I chose to evaluate the center part of the test chart. Yes it is somewhat uninteresting compared to other regions I could have used. However, the D800E at 200mm could nearly out resolve the chart from the maximum distance I had available. I felt it was important to compare the text as well as part of the circle spiral.

Nikon 70-200mm F/4 VR Evaluation



WIDE OPEN CENTER COMPARISON

With all lenses set at their wide open maximum aperture, they all exhibit a minimal amount of softness. In this test, the f/2.8 VR II had the best contrast wide open. However, no lens was particularly sharper than the other. If anything, the 200mm f/2 showed a bit of softness.

However, these results contradict Nikon's published MTF results to some extent. The only thing I could conclude is that if we evaluated these images at the same magnification levels, not focal lengths, the f/4 may be sharper with more contrast. Remember that the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II exhibits such vast focus breathing that I expect its focal length is more like 180mm in this example, not 200mm.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR at f/4
Nikon 200mm f/2G VR at f/2
Nikon 200mm f/2 VR at f/2
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II at f/2.8
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II at f/2.8


f/4 CENTER COMPARISON

With all lenses set at aperture f/4, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G remains at a disadvantage as it is still at its wide open maximum aperture while the others are stopped down some. Clearly you can see the 200mm f/2 is the sharpest with the most contrast. The 70-200mm f/2.8G is a tad sharper with improved contrast than the f/4G.

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR at f/4
Nikon 200mm f/2G VR at f/4
Nikon 200mm f/2 VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II at f/4



BOKEH COMPARED


When comparing the bokeh of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR to the Nikon 200mm f/2G VR, no question the 200mm dominates. The 200mm f/2G offers a unique milky bokeh and can maintain pleasing light accents (sunstar effect).

However, if we compare the 70-200mm f/4G VR to the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, the differences are less substantial. Although the f/2.8 version maintains the outer aspects of the frame better, stopped down some, there is hardly a difference.

BOKEH COMPARISON WIDE OPEN

Nikon 200mm f/2G VR at f/2
Nikon 200mm f/2 VR Bokeh at f/2
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II at f/2.8
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II Bokeh at 2.8
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Bokeh at f/4


BOKEH COMPARISON AT f/4

Nikon 200mm f/2G VR at f/4
Nikon 200mm f/2 VR Bokeh at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II Bokeh at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/4
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Bokeh at f/4


BOKEH COMPARISON AT f/5.6

Nikon 200mm f/2G VR at f/5.6
Nikon 200mm f/2 VR Bokeh at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II Bokeh at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR at f/5.6
Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR Bokeh at f/5.6




PURCHASING RECOMMENDATIONS



NIKON 70-200mm 2.8 VR-II PRICE HISTORY


PRICING

The 70-200mm f/4G VR costs $1399 as of 2012. This is a fair price from Nikon, considering Canon's 70-200mm f/4L IS introduced back in 2007 costs roughly $1100. Also the price does not undercut the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR-II. If you need the extra stop of aperture 2.8, you need to throw an extra $1000 at it.

I have provided a table to the right that shows the latest 70-200mm VR-II pricing, used offers on eBay. I would not pay more than $2200 for a used one on eBay.

At the current time, purchasing this lens used does not provide a significant discount. I would instead purchase it new from sites like Amazon or Adorama.



CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES

Sigma produces a 70-200mm f/2.8 for Nikon mount with optical stabilization. However, the autofocus is slower and the optical stabilization is somewhat noisy and nowhere near the capability of Nikon’s 3rd generation VR. Further, the build quality is not on par with what Nikon has done here in the 70-200mm f/4.

Tamron also produces a 70-200mm f/2.8 as well. In fact it is new in 2012. But much like Sigma, it is also plagued by slow autofocus, just not as bad. Tamron’s vibration compensation (VC) is quite good, better than Sigma, but not as good as Nikon’s new VR.

Tokina also has a 70-200mm f/4 variant, that is built to higher standards than Tamron or Sigma. However, the Tokina is not available.

All of these should be considered before purchasing. However, from my experience, Nikon is consistently superior to third party lens manufacturers. Obviously, Nikon lenses are priced at a premium, and I will leave the decision to your budgetary constraints.


CONCLUSION

The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G offers professional quality and outstanding optics in a small form factor. It covers a very useful, common focal range. I expect this lens to be a classic for years to come. Canon's version has been for Canon users. Overall I highly recommend this lens, more so than Nikon's f/2.8 version. The 2.8 should cautiously be considered for those looking to stop action in low light or high speed situations. Otherwise, for many, this f/4 model should suffice with superb results.



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