review: Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II

review: Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II

I’ve been very happy with the older 70-200mm f2.8 VR telephoto zoom.  Even even though the edges are softer than the center, it never bothered me.  With weddings, I am mostly only interested in the center portions of the image being super-crisp.  Similarly, the vignetting didn’t bother me.  I usually add more vignetting in post-processing anyway.

Still, I ordered the new Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (vendor). My first impression – it is a beautiful lens!

Doing a few test shots around the house, and was immediately impressed. It is sharp! I like sharp.  Every thing about this lens is good news.  Focusing is faster, and flare is very well controlled. There has been considerable debate about the shortening of focal length with this lens as you focus closer and closer.  Yet, I would never have noticed it if I hadn’t been told about it. For my work, a total non-issue.

One of the features of this new lens, is that it has even more aggressive vibration reduction / stabilization.  So even though I do take my shutter speeds low at times, my advice is always that if you want sharp images, the first thing you need to do is make your shutter speed much faster.  Now, I’ve never been one to really be able to hold my camera steady without careful control or with steadying myself against a wall. So for me, vibration reduction is an essential feature on long lenses .. especially since I don’t work with a tripod for the style of photography I do.

At a wedding on Saturday, where I was the second shooter for a friend, I was able to see how the VR worked during an actual photo shoot.   During the ceremony I took photos of the guests sitting in the dark temple.  How dark? 1/6 th @ f2.8 @ 2000 ISO kinda dark …

Well, there I was picking off shots, with another camera slung over my right shoulder  – usually a dead certainty for me to start swaying or my right arm starting to shake.

And here’s the 100% crop

Yup, that is 1/6th of a second with the lens zoomed to 200mm, without carefully tucking in my elbows and checking my breathing or my stance, or even steadying myself.
I just stood there, camera to my eye, and let rip.

I have honestly never been able to get images this sharp, this easily before in low light with a telephoto zoom.  I’m truly impressed.

Obviously, at such slow shutter speeds we’re really pushing the limits .. and therefore not all images will be this sharp.  But my success rate was more than 50% and mostly the images that suffered from blur were because people moved during those slow shutter speeds.

This lens, in my opinion, isn’t just a minor upgrade on the previous version, but an important one.

44 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1 says

    That puppy is on my list too. In a normal album even 12×12 your sample shot will look just fine with the right sharpening.
    I’m happy for you Neil.

  2. 2Kwang says

    > How dark? 1/6 th @ f2.8 @ 2000 ISO

    Neil, was there a requirement that you only shoot with the available light? Or was this an example of far you could push the lens in a real world situation?

    P.S. Hope you visit Singapore or Malaysia someday.

  3. 3 says

    Kwang .. it was a little bit of both.

    The officiant was pretty strict, and had made it clear that the two photographers were not to move around during the ceremony. So when I moved to the front, but on the side of the guests, I decided I might have to see if I can get away without using flash .. just to stay unnoticed.

    I’ve read reports about the incredible improvements with the vibration reduction on this lens, and thought I might have to try it there on the spot. I have my D3 bodies set up so that when I press the center button on the rear control, it brings up an enlarged view of the images. So I was able then to see immediately whether my images were sharp enough. And they were … so I continued shooting like that.

    One of the guests was a studio owner, and she commented later on that she saw me shooting without flash for much of the ceremony … and I could hear from her question she was incredulous that I would’ve gotten anything useful that way. So I showed her on the back of my camera. End of that discussion. : )

    Singapore and Malaysia would be interesting to visit. I know from my webstats that there are a large number of photographers there who follow this website.

  4. 4Joost says

    Add a D3s to your bag and you gain yet another stop ;)

    I love this lens for it’s sharpness and bokeh, though I do found it sometimes has trouble focussing in low light conditions (something both the lens and the camera should excell at), any ideas as to why this is?

    Thanks for your blog Neil.
    Still reading it and loving it.

  5. 5 says

    Joost .. I don’t have a D3s, so can’t directly comment. But I’ve noticed threads on the forums where there have been complaints about the D3s not focusing as fast in low light. Really strange.

  6. 8Kwang says


    1. thanks for noticing the interest from Singapore and Malaysia. I am sure you will be pleased to know that Riceball Photography bookstore in S’pore brought in copies of your book, and it sold well. (I am not from Riceball. I bought a copy from them, went back to buy another as a gift, but the remaining copies had been sold. No worries as the second batch has arrived.)

    2. Now that you mentioned the Nikon 70-200mm VR II, are you using both Canon and Nikon systems currently? If so, how do you decide which system to bring for a shoot? Do you get advance information on the locations you will be expected to shoot at?

    Thanks you.

  7. 9 says

    Hi there Kwang .. good to hear the book is so popular there!

    I still keep a small Canon system, but mostly so that I have Canon equipment on hand with workshops and tutoring sessions.

    Also, it helps to have some Canon gear such as speedlights, so I can try to answer the questions I get asked here. I really do try and keep the information on this site system non-specific .. and for that reason too, I need some Canon gear on hand to refer to.

    But mostly I shoot with Nikon.

    Neil vN

  8. 10 says

    I have an issue with my D3 and the old 70-200 where when the camera is in portrait orientation the focus points other than center are terrible for acquiring focus. Have you noticed this? I was thinking about upgrading to the new one to see if it solves the problem.

  9. 11 says

    Mac .. I’ve similarly not been too impressed with the sharpness of the outer focusing areas on my D3 compared to the center AF point. So I mostly just use that when using longer lenses. With wide angle lenses, this can lead to a shift in the plane of focus though. Then I use the outer areas.

    Neil vN

  10. 15Andrew Westran says

    Hi Neil,

    You don’t say what the focal length was for this shot, which really does have a significant bearing in terms of understanding the true impact of the stabilisation.
    Please reveal all;)


  11. 16 says

    Andrew .. you’re right. The focal length is an important bit of data here. I’ve updated the page to show that I used the lens at 200mm for that shot.

    Neil vN

  12. 19 says

    I wanted to refer people to a review by Thom Hogan regarding this lens:

    The most significant change between this new lens and the previous one is the focal length of the lens at close focus. The old lens closed much “tighter” than the new lens at close focus distances. This doesn’t impact most photography, except where you need a close head shot.

  13. 20 says

    Stephen .. for my work, the snappier AF, improved optical performance and amazing VR, all add up to outweigh the ‘breathing’ in focal length. I know this caused some heated discussions on the forums, and I can see how in some applications it would be a snag, but for my work it is negligible.

    Neil vN

  14. 21 says

    The AF is noticeably faster than the previous 70-200 lens, which wasn’t bad at all.

    From the same wedding – snapping off grab shots as people danced past me during the Hora. f2.8 and sharp!

    Obviously there will be images which are out of focus by some amount because, as everyone who has photographed Jewish weddings will know, the Hora is one crazy time!

    But to be able to get the majority of images sharp like this, at full aperture, while people are moving around fast .. wow!

  15. 23 says

    That is impressive – the noise control on the 100% crop is impressive too – is that a Nikon trait, or have you used some good PP noise reduction? I’ve just bought the Canon 70-200IS as the v2 looks to be £1000 more than the v1, so had to get one before they run out!!

  16. 24 says

    Nope .. no noise reduction. I use the default settings in ACR / Lightroom for noise reduction .. but the general consensus is that the noise reduction in ACR / Lightroom isn’t the best. So imagine, if it looks this good without any effort on my part or the software!

    It’s just the image quality that you get from the Nikon D3 and Nikon D700. : )

    Neil vN

  17. 25ed eckels says

    Any particular reason why you didn’t bump up the iso since the D3 is supposed to be great at say 3200 or 6400?


  18. 26 says

    I wouldn’t say that 6400 is exactly ‘great’, so my realistic upper limit in ISO would be 3200 ISO. But there’s no particular reason why I didn’t go higher on my ISO to give me a slight increase in shutter speed. But if these shots hadn’t worked with such a slow shutter speed, I would most certainly have bumped up the ISO.

    Neil vN

  19. 29 says

    I can’t believe you were a 2nd shooter! :)
    It’s fun to have read your posts over the years as you went from Nikon/Fuji, to Canon, back to Nikon again. I’m a dedicated Canon user but I do have some issues with focusing in very low light…and there’s no WAY Canon can achieve noise reduction like that. I shot with a 135m f/2, at 3200 ISO, and the noise was so bad I almost had to refund the clients. I looked into Nik Dfine2 software to reduce the noise, and it worked, but only at the expense of softening the entire image. Never thought I’d look longingly at a Nikon lens but this one may be the first…

  20. 30Neil vN says

    Photographer friends of mine. We swap 2nd shooting dates. So I do 2nd shoot quite often. I enjoy it … there’s non of the pressure of the post-production work. I actually get to enjoy the taking-photos part of photography.

    Re the noise you see there .. that is at the default noise-reduction levels that ACR has. Nothing done to it other than what ACR does.

  21. 31 says

    Now that you mention it, I really did have quite a bit of fun as a 2nd shooter: it was like I got to eat a really good meal, then skip out before the bill came due. I’ve seen a thread where someone modified their EF-S lens to fit a full frame Canon; now if only someone could figure out how to make a Nikon lens work on a Canon body, I’d be set!

  22. 33Sune Bertelsen says

    Hi Neil!

    Thanks for your great website! After reading about your techniques i went out and bought a SB900, and good lord! did that help me out! i’ve got a D700 and 24-70 f2.8G and 70-200 VRll, and it has made a big difference in how i compose my pictures, this flash can lid up a whole living room, i’m impressed with the Nikon system, i went from a Canon EOS 50D, and i’m absolutely impressed! You made me think in a whole new way of controlling the light, and the way you explain how you do, makes it all verry easy to do!
    Thank you!

    Bedst regards
    Sune from Denmark.

  23. 34Neil vN says

    The great vibration reduction abilities of this lens came into play during another recent shoot, where I photographed the model fixing her earrings inbetween shooting. This was shot just with the available light coming through the window.

    1/50 @ f2.8 @ 800 ISO .. lens zoomed to 150mm

  24. 36 says

    I used to own the VRI, sold it last fall for the time being, and just recently picked up the VRII.

    Yes, the VR is amazing, especially when coupled on my D700 with ISO around 1600-2000, you can achieve quite a bit.

    But, it was a quick snap I took of my daughter at f5.6, just walking towards me on the sidewalk, that blew me away. I’ll have to find the photo, but it was sharper than any lens I’ve used, including the 85f1.4, my older 70-200, the 50f1.4d and my 24-70. The clarity of her skin and eyes, while she was moving too, were unbelievable. I was instantly sold that I had made the correct choice.

  25. 37Ross says

    Hi Neil,

    This is an unusual question but I respect your opinion on these matters and would love to hear what your thoughts are. I own an old 80-200 f2.8 and have loved it but am considering upgrading to this new lens. I am shooting with a D700. I also have a D200 and a 17-55 f2.8 DX and have used this combination for weddings and portraits in the past. The dilemma I am facing is should I upgrade my 80- 200 to the new 70-200 or should I upgrade the 17-55 to a 24-70 f2.8? Given that the D700’s high ISO capabilities will be more useful during the reception than for the formal bridal shots does it make more sense to get the 24-70 than to upgrade the 80-200. Which focal length do you find yourself using more during the reception and ceremony?

    Thanks again for your help and for the best photography website on the net.


  26. 39 says

    I’d suggest you get rid of the DX format lens(es), and go to full-frame lenses only.
    You have a great lens in the 80-200 range, even though it lacks VR. (It’s an incredibly useful feature though.)

    As essential as my 70-200mm f2.8 is, my real workhorse lens is the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 and I would suggest that is your next lens.

  27. 40Ron says

    I’m struggling with a similar dilemma for my D700. I can only budget for one zoom at this time and I’m not sure which way to go; 24-70 or 70-200? I do mostly portraits at this time with prime lenses, but want to expand into weddings and Photojournalism. I keep thinking 70-200, but your post to Ross has me reconsidering.
    Terrific site, and thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  28. 42Ross says

    Neil thanks again for all the great advice. I have been leaning in the same direction. The difference in price between what I can get for my 80-200 and what the 70-200 will cost me is basically the cost of a 24-70 so I think that is my best choice but it was great to find out your opinion is consistent with that line of logic and that this is your real workhorse lens.

    Thank you again for your great website and for being so readily accessible and willing to help other photographers out. You’re a real inspiration.


  29. 44 says

    what about Nikkor 70-200 f/4 ? Is it good enough for portaits with Nikon D610 ?
    I have 50 mm f/1,8G, 85mm F/1,8G and thinking about 70-200.

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