NYC photo session with Nikon 200mm f2 AF-S VR

NYC photo session with Nikon 200mm f2 AF-S VR

I recently allowed myself a vanity purchase … the Nikon 200mm f2 AF-S VR lens (B&H).

Last year some time, after seeing another photographer’s results with the Canon 200mm f2 IS, I was curious enough to rent one, check it out, and then lust after one. I posted a write-up and some images at the time. What got to me was how insanely sharp the lens was at f2 .. and of course the incredible dream-like bokeh at f2 imparting an impressionistic appearance to the background.

With me reverting to Nikon recently, I picked up a used copy of Nikon 200mm f2 VR instead. But it’s been too cold outside to try this lens out .. until yesterday when there was a slight thaw in the temperatures. Since I really liked the results when I photographed Jackie with the Canon 200mm f2 IS, using only the lights in Times Square … I decided to meet up with a new model in Times Square last night to try out the Nikon 200mm f2 VR.

I really liked Lauren’s looks, and thought that her Goth sense of style and dress, along with the lights in Times Square, would give a Blade Runner-like feel to the images.   The light is just whatever light there is in Times Square.  Which is a LOT of light from all the neon signs.  And it constantly changes.   So no flash.  There was some available light at the beginning of the shoot, and you can see this in the half-length portrait of Lauren.  But in the image at the top, it was all due to the neon lights in Times Square.

All of the images were at f2, handheld at shutter speeds varying as either 1/250th or 1/200th .. all at 800 ISO with the Nikon D3.

I did take care in positioning her so that we’d get side-light from some of the larger neon signs closer to street level.  So it isn’t entirely random.  In the same way that I would choose the direction of the light when using flash, (and ambient light for that matter), I was deliberate in where I positioned Lauren.  In a few of the images, I had moved her more forward of the main bank of neon lights close to us, so that the light would come from her side and from behind her.  In that way I avoided getting lighting that appeared too flat.

Similarly, the backgrounds were chosen deliberately.  Sure, I had no control over when cars would steam by and their headlights cause a beautiful defocused glow in the background .. but the bright colourful backgrounds were quite deliberately chosen in how I positioned myself and Lauren.  I avoided dark empty backgrounds.

Getting perfect skin tones are of course near impossible with all the neon lights constantly changing. So I tried for good skin tones per image. So there will be some variation.

I did some slight skin retouching, since I believe that very few people would be flattered with close-up photos with optics that are this sharp. But I did mask the background.  So the backgrounds are what they are .. un-retouched.

And here is the beastie:  the Nikon 200mm f2 AF-S VR lens (B&H)

First impression? It is huge.  It is bulky and heavy.  Have I mentioned that it is huge and heavy?  Fortunately, on the recommendation of others, I bought the Kirk SGH-1 Super Grip Handle, (B&H) and the Kirk LP-51 Quick Release Plate and Foot (B&H) … so that I could carry the lens by the handle.  The lens is so heavy that it just feels like you’d damage the camera if you somehow only held this combo by the camera alone.

Optically the results are truly impressive.  Perhaps that is a wild claim since I’ve only used it af f2 … but I do believe that this kind of optic was meant to be used at f2.  And as you can see from the images, the bokeh of this lens is just beautiful. (And btw, don’t confuse thin DoF with great bokeh … they are not quite the same thing.)

What else to say but that I am in love with this lens?

25 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1Mariano Ortiz says

    Fantastic Neil. any question:

    don’t use flash in this shots?
    only ambient light?

    the resolution, focuses and brightness of this f2 are very good :-O

    four years later i purchase the old 200 f2.8AF and two weks later i turn back becouse don’t quality to my use.

    it’s the momment to purchase this new lens.

  2. 2 says

    Mariano … No flash. Only the available light. But there is a LOT of light in Times Square with all the neon lights there on the tall buildings.

    Neil vN

  3. 3James says

    Hey Neil,

    Just curious on your thoughts as compared to the canon version. I would imagine they are both superb lenses. Is the nikon an older lens, as I know canon introduced theirs not to long ago? Sorry to say I don’t keep with the current nikon lenses as they won’t fit my canons.

  4. 4 says

    James .. I didn’t have the Canon lens and the Nikon lens at the same time, so wouldn’t be able to make an objective comment on each one’s sharpness relative to the other. And I’m not sure there’s much to be gained from such a test … they are both stellar lenses.

    But I do think that anyone, using either lens, will have a holymacaroni! reaction when they see the images they get from these lenses. I know, I’d be happy with either lens. : )

    The Nikon lens is a few years older, since the Canon was recently released.

    A side-note: when I used the Canon lens, it was on the Canon 1D mk3, and the 1.3x crop was a real hindrance with that lens.
    The crop factor made the 200mm an uncomfortably long lens to use for portraits. The 200mm f2 makes MUCH more sense on a full-frame camera, whether the D3 / D700 / 5D / 1Ds mkX

    Neil vN

  5. 5Ryan Brenizer says

    Probably the most flawless lens I’ve ever used. I’ve had to fight to keep myself from buying this one quite a bit. The recent price increases help my willpower.

  6. 6 says

    I found this lens online for a very very good hire price, so I’ll definatly be getting one for my next wedding.
    Your Review came just at the right time, its made me ever more sure about getting this awesome piece of glass.

    I wonder if I’ll be able to hold it though, I’m only small…? :)

  7. 7 says

    (great shots! I really like the first one)
    About the lens:
    Is really useful the VR shooting at 1/200s? Is there a rationale why you chose that speed?
    How comfortable is shooting portraits at 200mm?
    I use a D80 and the 18-200 and usually take wrong the focal length for portraits. Could you say a bit about this?

  8. 8 says

    I would say the VR is very useful, even at 1/200th … which is actually too slow a shutter-speed to handhold properly otherwise. I do believe many photographers use too slow a shutter speed anyway, and somehow get stuck on the 1/(focal length) formula which is deceiving.

    It is generally accepted that a focal length of 100mm (on a 35mm camera) will give a pleasing perspective for portraits. I rarely go wider than 50mm, and even then only for environmental portraits .. not close-up portraits. So your best results will mostly be when you stay at 100mm effective focal length or longer for tight portraits.

    Neil vN

  9. 9Stephen says

    Hi Neil,
    How far away were you from the model when you took the photographs? Time Square is generally crowded with people all the time, so I’m curious where you were relative to the model. Weren’t people walking on the sidewalks that would inhibit setting up the shots (i.e. people walking between you and the model) or was this a quiet night at Times Square?

    Also, do you think there any visual difference between this lens and the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR? Because looking at these photos, I feel like very similar photos could have been taken with the 70-200mm f2.8 VR (at 200mm).

  10. 10 says

    Stephen … there is the middle island where you can get some space to move. Also, I was mostly kneeling and shooting slightly upwards, and that way didn’t have much problem with people in the background. There are also parts of the road in Times Square that is marked off from traffic, with fewer pedestrians too.

    As for the difference between how the 70-200mm f2.8 would look as compared to the 200mm f2 … I didn’t do any tests, but if you check the link to the mini-test I did with the Canon lens, you’ll see the difference in the background between f2 and f4 … and there is a difference there. You’d see it between f2 and f2.8 as well. Not huge, but it’s there.

    How substantial the difference is, and whether the price is worth it .. that’s a personal decision. : )

    Neil vN

  11. 11Harry Simpson says


    As to your decision to go Nikon, have you tried the Canon 5D Mark II – It’ll give insanely nice results even up to 6400 ISO. Was really hoping you’d address bounced flash even at such high ISOs at some point…..Beautiful shot – yes that bokeh is nice!


  12. 12 says

    Harry .. I’ll probably try the 5D mk2 at some point. The hi-def video intrigues me. That has some potential. In anticipation of trying one out, I already bought an adapter to use my Nikon lenses on the EOS body.

    Neil vN

  13. 13Nina says

    That lens is like the 70-200 on steroids! Wow! I thought ours was heavy. Looks like you could double it as a weapon in Times Square.
    What I think is interesting is that I like to look at photos and try to figure out what draws me to them so that I can emulate it. The 4th photos was my fav, and it reminded me of a mantra of a photog I worked with at a magazine. He went for color everytime. His goal was to get 4 primary colors in his photos (CMY and/or RGB). He would hunt color down. It was weird, but this reminded me of how that can really accentuate an already awesome photo.

    Sweet lens! Bokeh baby, bokeh!!!

  14. 14Ed Verosky says

    I like the shots! Now, the lens itself looks like some neat gadget NASA would have designed. The photo gear geek in me wants one, even though I don’t have a Nikon camera to attach it to.

  15. 16Doug Smith says

    Hi Neil

    Brilliant work – you really are taking advantage of the new high signal to noise technology to achieve something new.

    One of the many things I love about these shots is how the colors vary across her skin – reflecting the many different sources. It is how we actually see someone at night in a lit up city.


    PS – I am a huge fan of your site. It is the most informative on the net.

  16. 17 says

    Neil, can you do me a favor? Please, stop posting pictures made with this lens, my desire for this lens is increasing with pics like these and I don’t have the budget to buy one :-) No, just kidding :-) The results are amazing! I’m really impressed!

  17. 20 says


    Killer shots with this 200 f2. I have the Canon equivalent and I am interest to see how it compares. I even might hook up our Nikon to Canon adapter and try them both out on a 1D Mark 4. I am wondering if Nikon will update the 200 f2 to VR II as they did with the 300 f2.8.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the information on the setup. Good information to have!


  18. 21David Blair says


    Thanks for the reminder of what I’ll never own as I have the fatal photographic problem of all…..a wife. Saving wouldn’t be an option, as more important things will be bought. I am interested though, what was happening up and over to the right that evening in Times Square? Would love to see some eye contact to really make these shots zing.

  19. 22 says

    David .. she is looking over to that side simply because I directed her to open her body and her gaze towards the light from the billboards.

    As such, for variety, I should’ve mixed it up a little and shot from different directions, so she doesn’t constantly look into the one direction only. My mistake. Or .. I should’ve posted fewer images. ; )

    Neil vN

  20. 23Sune says

    Hi Neil

    First of all thanks for all the tips and tec answers you give up here, you’ve helped me become a better photographer!
    I would like to ask you if you have tryed the new version of this lens out, and if you have, is the difference like on the old/new 85mm f1.4?
    I have one of the “old” versions at hand and would like to buy, but if the new version is worth the extra bucks, i will drop them.



  21. 24 says

    I haven’t tried the ver II of the Nikon 200mm f2 at all, so can’t really comment about the comparison.

    If you have the cash spare, then by all means get the version II of the Nikon 200mm f2 VR, but I can’t see anyone being unhappy with the first version. It is razor sharp.

    Neil vN

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