NIKON 70-200MM F/4G VS NIKON 70-200MM F/2.8G COMPARED REVIEW

The Nikon 70-200 f/4G ED VR and the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8G ED VR

70-200MM IS “THE” CLASSIC TELE ZOOM RANGE. SEE IN THIS NIKON 70-200MM F/4G ED VR VS NIKON 70-200MM F/2.8G ED VR II COMPARED REVIEW WHICH ONE IS THE BEST!

Let’s start this Nikon 70-200mm f/4G vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G compared review with a bit of history. Since the advent of professional grade zoom lenses, the 70mm or 80mm to 200mm f/2.8 has been a must-have lens. This classic Tele zoom has been a favourite for all kind of photographers, be they PJ, sport, nature, travel or landscape shooters. Leaving prototypes aside, Nikon in particular is producing an 80-200mm f/2.8 since 1982. Now on the 8th iteration of this design, the last two of a long series of Nikkor professional, f/2.8 tele zooms cover a slightly extended 70 to 200mm range and include VR (Nikon’s image stabilisation system).

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But what about a slower, constant aperture, professional grade 70-200mm? One that would be smaller, lighter and less expensive than the classic f/2.8, while still offering great image quality? In short, a lens that would be ideal for travel and landscape photography?

Once upon a time, Nikon offered the capable Nikon 70-210mm f/4 (1986-1988). After discontinuing that lens, Nikon decided that the Pros would only need the constant f/2.8 version. Everyone else would have to do with lenses that were prosumer at best, such as the Nikon 70-210mm f/4-5.6 (1987-2000), Nikon 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 (1989-1998), Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 or Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR (2006).

In the meantime, Canon offered a 70-200 f/4 since 1999, a lens available today in the form of both the 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM and the 70-200mm f/4L USM (respectively with or without image stabilisation). Both these lenses have always been much loved by Canon shooters and much envied by Nikon users, forced to always carry around their 70-200mm f/2.8.

Until 2012, when Nikon finally released the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, a professional grade lens featuring all of Nikon’s most advanced wizardries to date. A full specification list is available on Nikon’s website. Let me just point out here the most significant technologies featured in this lens:

– Nano Crystal Coating & Super Integrated Coating;

– 3 ED elements, 1 Super Refractive element;

– VR III (the first lens to feature it) for a claimed 5-stops advantage;

– 9-blade diaphragm;

– AF-S silent autofocus with instant manual override;
 
– Internal Zoom and Internal Focus (barrel length never changes, and the front of the lens doesn’t rotate);
 

– Minimum focus distance of 3.28ft (1m).

Curious to make a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review, I ordered the new lens as soon as possible.

Luckily, the lens arrived in time for my trip to Death Valley in late January. I immediately adjusted focus for my Nikon D800E and brought it with me to put it through its paces in the field, which is the only thing that really matters to me when I evaluate equipment to create images for my VIERI BOTTAZZINI FINE ART PRINTS business. So, does the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR keep up with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8’s legend? Read on to find out!

Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Nikon in any way. I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.

ERGONOMICS, BUILD AND IN-USE
Ergonomically, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is nearly perfect. Much lighter and quite a bit narrower than the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, it sits perfectly in my hand and can be used for hours without fatigue (I am 6’1″ or 185cm tall and have quite large hands).

The focus ring is well dampened and has a shorter throw compared to the f/2.8 version. The zoom ring is also well dampened, offering slightly less resistance than the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8’s. With the lens hood reversed on the lens, however, you cannot reach the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR’s focus ring, while on the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II you can operate it, sort of, by reaching through the scalloped petals of the hood.

Build quality is very good, the lens feels solidly built and operates smoothly. However, it doesn’t feel like it would be able to take the same amount of abuse the f/2.8 version would.

On the lens barrel you’ll find the familiar Nikon control cluster:

– A/M-M, to switch between AF with instant manual override and manual focus only;

– Full / Infinity-3m, to limit the focus range to 3m (the 70-200mm f/2.8 has a slightly more useful 5m);

– VR On-Off and Normal-Active, to set VR to your liking.

All my AF-S lenses are set up with the first control on A/M. Unless you are dead set on using MF only, this setup offers you the best of both worlds, and even more so if you set “AF-ON only” for focus activation on camera bodies that support this feature.

This way you’ll get total control over focus, with your AF activated separately from the shutter and instant manual focus override at your fingertips when you need it.

On the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, I normally leave the focus limiter on “Full” for general travel and landscape photography. The speed difference between the two modes is negligible, and Murphy’s law will ensure you that when you’ll encounter a situation where you might need the full range, you’ll have the limiter on.

On the other hand, I would definitely move it to “Infinity-3m” when you know for sure that your subjects will never get closer than 3m (i.e. for sports or wildlife), since AF locks more resolutely and hunts a bit less in this configuration.

Nikon claims that the new AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR III will give you an extra 5 stops shutter speed. In use, I’d say that you’ll gain an average of about 4 stops, 5 at the wider end and if your technique is good to start with. This is very impressive indeed, allowing you to get handheld shots that you wouldn’t be able to bag without VR. According to Nikon, you can leave VR on even when the camera is on a tripod, but I’d not recommend it for critical work.

One note on the very different claims of 3, 4, 5 or whatever f-stop gains that you see online. Reviewers, I included, tend to measure the effectiveness of VR subjectively. Basically, we shoot something while handholding the camera at different shutter speeds. This is possibly the only approach that makes sense if you want to know how a lens behaves in the real world.

However, how someone else’s results will apply to you obviously depends on how steady or shaky your hands are to begin with and, especially, on your hand-shaking’s movement pattern and range. My hands are pretty steady, and I spent years working on my technique. Your hands might be steadier or shakier and your technique might be better or worse than mine, and therefore your results may vary accordingly.

Just to give you an idea of what the new AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR III can do, see the uninspiring sample image below for a hand-held shot at 200mm, 1/20 sec. and a 100% crop (click on the images to enlarge):

As you can see, VR works indeed very well. Being able to get such a sharp image at 1/20 sec. at 200mm is remarkable.

THE LENS COLLAR ISSUE
If you shoot your AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR III with your camera on a tripod or a monopod, I’d recommend using a tripod collar. With it:

– Your camera/lens combination will be better balanced on your tripod, and a steadier camera/lens combo means less vibration and thus higher image quality. This is even truer if you use lighter, non-pro camera bodies;

– You’ll put less strain on the camera’s lens mount, which is important especially for non-pro bodies with a less solid lens mount assembly;

– You’ll be much faster in turning your camera/lens from landscape to portrait orientation.

Unfortunately, Nikon got stingy and didn’t include a tripod collar with the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR. While you can order one extra from Nikon, called the RT-1, I decided to skip the Nikon collar and ordered the Kirk NC-70-200 instead. Click on IMPROVING THE NIKON 70-200 F/4: KIRK NC-70-200 COLLAR REVIEW to see my Kirk NC-70-200 review. Really Right Stuff is also in the process of making a collar for the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, but they are asking more money for it and they are still in the pre-order phase at the time of writing.

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A personal note. When I bought the lens, I couldn’t buy a collar for it, either Nikon or third-party. That caused me to lose a lot of good images taken in Death Valley with the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR on a tripod to camera/lens vibration. Even using mirror lock-up and a remote release, the Nikon D800E’s shutter slap proved strong enough to generate micro motion blur. This was most evident in the central section of images shot in portrait orientation at speeds between 1/4 and 1/15 sec. So, if this sounds close to the way you’d use this lens or the way you plan to use your images, follow my advice and get a tripod collar, you’ll be glad you did.

Let’s jump into this compared review now, and see how sharp these two lenses are. 

SHARPNESS
For this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review, I used the very uninspiring building across the street from where I live as a test scene. Test conditions were as follows: my Nikon D800E was on a sturdy Series 5 Gitzo tripod; camera position wasn’t changed during lens swapping; 3 sets of images were shot for each frame, refocussing each time, and the best shot of the three has been chosen for the comparison; all files were shot in aperture mode with a remote cable and processed in Nikon Capture NX 2; the same WB was applied on all files in the same set; landscape picture control was used; all software corrections were set to off; capture’s sharpening was set to off, and files were all equally sharpened slightly using my usual routine.

For your convenience, I then created 900 x 600px, 100% crops, taken both from the center and lower left corner as shown by the red rectangles in the full-size images below. Let’s see the test scene first (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s have a look at the center crops first, starting with the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (click on the images to enlarge):

Both lenses are excellent performers here, showing amazing sharpness wide-open and very good micro-contrast. Performance is consistent stopping down, until some softening due to diffraction kicks in at f/8 and is definitely visible at f/11.

Let’s now have a look at the 100% lower left corner crops, starting with the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (click on the images to enlarge):

In the corners, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II takes very clearly the lead. Slightly soft wide-open at f/2.8, it becomes already very good at f/4 and shows an amazing performance from f/5.6 through f/11 where diffraction starts taking its toll. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, on the other hand, is quite soft at f/4 and while it improves a bit at f/5.6 through f/11 it never gets really sharp at any aperture.

Relative performances stay the same at intermediate steps of the zoom range. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR improves its performance in the corners a little bit, but its corners never get quite as sharp as the excellent centre-frame at any focal length.

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Let’s now see in this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review how both lenses perform at 200mm, starting with the usual uninspiring image shown below with both lenses. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR goes first, followed by the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. As you can see, at this distance the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II “focus breaths” a bit, meaning that is a bit wider than its declared 200mm (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s have a look at the center crops first, starting with the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (click on the images to enlarge):

As you can see, the new AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is at its best wide-open, where is indeed very sharp. Stopping down, performance degrades slowly until, at f/11, diffraction definitely renders the image too soft for critical use. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II is already quite impressive wide open and is at its best at f/4 and f/8. At first, I couldn’t explain why the lens was slightly softer at f/5.6 than both f/4 and f/8, so I re-did the test three times to rule out user error. However, the results didn’t change, and after examining the corner crops as well, I concluded that field curvature could be the culprit for this behaviour.

Let’s now have a look at the 100% lower left corner crops, starting with the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (click on the images to enlarge):

At 200mm, confirming the trend seen in this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review over the whole zoom range, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR never gets really sharp in the far corners. Best performance is at f/8, before diffraction starts to kick in at f/11. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, on the other hand, is already pretty sharp wide open and is at its best at f/5.6 which in the corners is better than both f/4 and f/8. As I said above, this could be a sign of field curvature. Why it is so evident only at f/5.6, only Nikon engineers know.

VIGNETTING
As expected, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR has quite a bit of vignetting wide-open. Stopping down, it cleans up very quickly and while still visible at f/5.6, vignetting is completely gone at f/8. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, on the other hand, shows about the same amount of vignette at f/2.8 as the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR does at f/4. However, vignette cleans up slower on the faster lens, with traces of it still visible at f/8. This behaviour is consistent at all focal lengths.

DISTORTION
To put it bluntly, the new AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR’s images show a lot of distortion, much more so than the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II’s, especially at the wide end where the f/2.8 version is basically neutral. At telephoto, both lenses show pincushion distortion, with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II being a bit better corrected.

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As a result of this test, I definitely wouldn’t use the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR uncorrected for architecture or for any other application where keeping straight lines straight is important, i.e. seascapes featuring the horizon prominently in the frame. At 70mm barrel distortion is very evident, as is pincushion distortion at 200mm. As it always happens, mid-focal lengths are better, but the lens is never perfectly neutral.

CHROMATIC ABERRATIONS AND FLARE
Both lenses suffer of “bokeh CA”, showing magenta cast in the foreground and green cast in the background, with the faster Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II being more prone to this effect. Stopping down cures it easily, and the effect is gone on both lenses by f/5.6.

Both lenses use Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coating, which should take care of flare and haze. Indeed, both lenses behave very well with the sun in the frame. With the sun just outside the frame, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR can show some haze (loss of contrast) on the opposite side of the sun.

USE OF FILTERS
Luckily for us landscape photographers, using filters is extremely easy with both lenses in this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review. I’d recommend using a 100mm square filter system like I do, and in particular the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest filter holder which comes with 67mm and 77mm rings for either one of these lenses. Of course, I’d recommend Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra filters.

If you haven’t got your filters yet, get your kit on FORMATT-HITECH or FORMATT-HITECH USA at a 10% discount using code

VIERIB10

at checkout. Disclaimer: I am a Formatt-Hitech Signature Artist and Brand Ambassador.

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NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8G ED VR II VS AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/4G ED VR COMPARED REVIEW: DIFFERENCES
So, after examining them in detail, what are the main differences between the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR and the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II?

1. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is one stop slower than the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, offering slightly less DOF control;

2. Weight and bulk: the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is narrower, shorter and 690 gr lighter than the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. As a landscape and Fine Art photographer, I travel a lot and do a lot of walking, trekking and hiking to get where I need to be, carrying all my equipment. For what I shoot, f/4 is plenty fast, but 850 gr vs 1540 gr can make quite a difference after 3-4 hours of carrying a camera bag around. Just to give you an idea about what 690 gr means, all new Nikon AF-S primes in the 24 to 85mm range are under 660 gr, and even the heavy 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S is “just” 969 gr;

3. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 focuses as close as 3.28 ft or 1m vs. 4.6 ft or 1.4m for the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8;

4. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 is a 200mm at all distances, while the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 suffers of “focus breathing”, meaning that its actual focal lens changes with the distance you focus the lens at. My measurements tell me that the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 at minimum focussing distance is really a 70-135mm, while at infinity is a 72-192mm. In the full images linked in my sharpness test above, you can clearly how the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 is a bit “wider” at the 200mm than the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4;

5. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 has a lot more distortion than the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 at both ends of its range, with a generous amount of barrel distortion at 70mm and pincushion distortion at 200mm. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 is almost neutral at 70mm and has just a bit of pincushion distortion at 200mm;

6. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4’s VR III is about one stop more effective than the older VR II featured in the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8;

7. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 uses smaller 67mm filters, vs. the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8’s 77mm;

8. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 doesn’t come with a lens collar, while the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 has one. This will set you back another $160-170 US, but on the other hand will allow you to skip the Nikon RT-1 if you desire, and choose a different solution like the Kirk NC-70-200 with its built-in Arca-Swiss style release clamp;

9. The AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 is exactly $1.000 US cheaper than the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, lens only. Even adding an extra lens collar, getting the slower lens will still save you $830 US (B&H prices, April 27, 2013).

CONCLUSIONS
I used both versions of the legendary AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR for years, my only complains having been focus breathing, weight & bulk. When the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR was announced, I was among those who rejoiced at the news. Finally, Nikon gave us a 70-200mm designed around the needs of travel and landscape photographers. Small, light, professional-grade build & features, together with the promise of extra-high image quality: I was ecstatic.

As a result of this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review, the new lens proved a joy to use, outputting sharp and pleasant images at all focal lengths. Except for a healthy amount of distortion and some softness in the corners at larger apertures, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR proved very difficult to fault optically on the Nikon D800E, which is a very demanding camera when it comes to lens quality.

The closest competitor to the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is of course Nikon’s own Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II: a tall order for sure, but one that the new AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR met for the most part. Now, which lens to get?

RECOMMENDATIONS
I generally avoid recommending a lens over another without knowing what you’ll photograph with it. After this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review, however, I’d recommend both the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR without hesitation. Which lens to choose will depend on what you need and value the most, and on how much the difference in price, weight, lens speed, close range performance, distortion and so on are worth to you. Finally, it’ll depends on which lens better suits your shooting requirements. Only you can answer that, but the good news is that Nikon now offers us a viable choice in this very important range. Once you make up your mind on which lens is the one for you, basically you can’t go wrong with either lens.

IN SHORT:
– Those who either need f/2.8, need tack sharp corners or need the least possible amount of distortion and use a Nikon D800 or Nikon D800E, should get the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II;

– Everyone else, especially DX users, can get the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR without losing anything and spend the extra $1.000 US on a trip to put their new lens to a good use!

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Thanks for reading this Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR compared review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?

Have a great day, and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER!

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JOIN THE DISCUSSION

12 thoughts on “NIKON 70-200MM F/4G VS NIKON 70-200MM F/2.8G COMPARED REVIEW”

  1. Your style is so unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this blog.

    Reply
  2. Hi, I do think this is an excellent website. I stumbledupon it ;) I will come back once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.

    Reply
    • Hello again! Well, thank you very much for your good wishes – may they become true real soon ;) Thank you for following the blog – I hope you’ll keep enjoying it for a long time!

      Reply
    • Hello Nikyta,

      thank you for your comment, I am glad hat you enjoyed my article. The f/4 is a very good lens, I am sure you’ll enjoy it. What do you photograph, mainly?

      Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
    • Agha,

      even if the light is not an issue, f/2.8 allows you to blur the background slightly more, and the 70-200mm f/2.8 has a better rendition of out of focus areas. So, if this is what you need, I’d go for the f/2.8. If, on the other hand, you don’t care about isolating the subject, then I’d go for the f/4.

      Hope this helps, best

      Vieri

      Reply
  3. Great review! I like that you tell both sides of the story, and offer the pros and cons for different users! Thank you!

    Reply

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