CAN Nikon’s update to the classic 70-200mm f/2.8 improve on the original?
There are a few lenses which every Nikon owner always aspires to own — currently, that’s the 14-24mm f/2.8, the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8, all of which cover everything from the extreme wide-angle range to the telephoto.
Of course, being the top of the Nikon line of zoom lenses, the price is equally astronomical — the 14-24mm for example, has a list price of RM6,888 while the 24-70mm f/2.8 lists for RM6,688.
Nevertheless you always get what you pay for and without a doubt, these lenses are pretty high up there in terms of build quality and corner-to-corner sharpness.
Which brings me to the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II — the most recent (and quite major) update to the popular AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED which was released in 2003.
So the question is whether Nikon can improve on an already classic lens design and make a lens even more drool-worthy than its predecessor.
The first thing you’ll notice about the new Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G is that the design is quite radically changed from the original.
Instead of a large front cylinder which tapers as it goes towards the lensmount, the new design is nearly a constant diameter until it reaches the lensmount.
The new 70-200mm is also a tad heavier than its predecessor — at 1,530g compared to the old one which was 1,470g, there’s not a big difference, but hints at the internal changes that have taken place.
Indeed, the internal lens elements have been redesigned and now features 21 elements in 16 groups, of which seven of those are ED (extra-low dispersion) elements and one featuring Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat (both of which mean the new lens is more resistant to chromatic aberrations and flare than ever before).
Just to compare, the older version featured 21 elements in 15 groups with only five ED elements and no Nano Crystal Coat.
The overall length of the lens is now different as well with the new 70-200mm being slightly shorter than its older sibling.
Handling is pretty similar between the old and new versions, despite the differences in width.
There is one major difference between the old and the new lens. The new 70-200mm f/2.8 omits the focus lock buttons near the front element of the lens which served as a quick way to lock focus when you’ve pre-focused at a certain point and don’t want the camera wasting time trying to focus every time you depress the shutter release.
Of course, this is somewhat mitigated these days since nearly all modern pro and semi-pro Nikon DSLRs have a dedicated autofocus button so you can separate the autofocus away from the shutter release in the Custom function settings.
Lastly, the new 70-200mm now focuses slightly closer, at 1.4m throughout the zoom range compared with 1.5m on the older version.
Oh yes, apparently Nikon has also improved the Vibration Reduction (VR) system on the lens, and now claims up to a four-stop improvement when shooting at slow shutter speeds, compared with three-stops on the older model.
Of course, the effectiveness of the image stabilisation technology also depends on how steady you can hold the camera but we generally managed to take shake-free images at as low as 1/10sec even zoomed out all the way to 200mm.
At this price level, the quality and sharpness you get are top-notch in both the new and old versions of the 70-200mm. Any differences are actually quite minor as both versions of this lens are extremely sharp throughout the zoom range, especially when stopped down a little from maximum aperture.
If you’re using a Nikon DSLR with an APS-C size sensor (such as the D300, D300S, D90, etc) you’re not going to see any difference at all in quality between the old and the new 70-200mm even with the aperture wide open at f/2.8.
Having said that, there is a difference when you’re using a full-frame 35mm Nikon like the D3S, D3X and D700 where the larger sensor means that you’re really looking much further into the corners of the image circle than on an APS-C camera.
In our tests using the D700 as the test camera, we found that wide open at f/2.8, the new 70-200mm f/2.8 slightly but noticeably trumps its older sibling in the corners, offering a tad more sharpness in the corners than the older version.
In the centre, there was no difference at all in terms of resolution — both lenses produced extremely sharp results even wide open so there’s no complaints there at all.
Stopped down to f/5.6 and f/8, both lenses are practically neck-and-neck, and any difference in the corners is now gone, with both lenses exhibiting corner-to-corner sharpness.
As usual, if you want to have a look at these shots and compare them yourself, visit bit.ly/25J5c and download the full-sized images to compare for yourself.