Review Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E @ DX
Nikon spent eight years on the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, and they made good use of that time. The previous model was already good, but the new one is better. The sharpness is higher and more evenly spread across the whole image. You see that not only on a full-frame camera, but also on a DX-camera like the D500 or D7200.
Fast telephoto zoom: AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR
A 70-200mm works on a DX camera like a 105-300mm. The shortest zoom setting, 105mm, is still quite usable for making portraits. On a DX, the 70-200mm the longest zoom setting has the same field of view as a 300mm on full frame. That makes the lens better suited for sport and nature photography where range is very important. On a DX, football players or cyclists are larger in the frame, and you do not have to crop as much to get a shot-filling bird. The brightness, of course, remains the same, whether you are using the lens on FX or DX. In both cases, thanks to the large aperture of f/2.8, you are assured of short shutter times. As far as focal depth is concerned, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR corresponds on DX with f/4. The background blur is thus not quite as nice as it is on full frame, but at the same aperture (and shutter time), you do get a bit more focal depth. That can be a plus with fast-moving subjects. You are not as quick to lose focus on your subject that way.
Build and auto focus
The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR is a bit more compact and just a bit lighter than the previous model. That runs somewhat counter to the current trend of increasingly big and heavy, but it is a welcome development. At 203mm, it is half a centimeter shorter. You won’t soon notice that. The weight, thanks to the use of magnesium alloys, is reduced by 120 grams to 1430 grams. That means this 70-200mm is still no lightweight, but at the end of the day it still makes a difference. The design logic has been changed relative to the previous model. The focus ring and zoom ring have switched places. The zoom ring is now at the front, and the focus ring at the back. That will take some getting used to for photographers who are familiar with the previous version. The lens is very solidly built and well-sealed against the elements. Of course it is provided with Nikon’s famous Nano Crystal Coat, which should counter reflections and glitter. As an extra, the front and back lens elements are also treated with fluorine coatings that prevent grease, dirt and moisture from sticking to the glass. This keeps the lens clean longer and makes it easier to clean. The filter size is the old, familiar 77mm, and the lens has 9 rounded aperture lamellae for a nice blur at full aperture.
Better image stabilization
On paper, the image stabilization looks the same as that on the previous model. For both, Nikon claims a profit of four stops. Even so, the Vibration Reduction, or VR as Nikon calls the image stabilization, is improved. Image stabilization does not help at short shutter times and can even cause some blur then. For that reason, many sports photographers often turn the system off. The new AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR has a special sport mode in which the system can stay on for sports photography without any negative effects. It provides a stabilized, quiet viewfinder image without reducing the response time of the camera.
The optical performances of the new AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR are very good. Nikon currently has 36-megapixel sensors in FX and 24 megapixels in DX. The pixels on the DX cameras are smaller and sit closer together than those on the FX models. DX cameras make higher demands in this respect on lenses than FX cameras do. We were already very impressed with the results on FX, and the scores on DX are no less stellar. The sharpness is extraordinarily high, and there is little difference between the center and the edges and the corners. The lens is quite sharp from full aperture, and that sharpness increases a bit more with stopping down. At f/5.6 and f/8, you get the highest quality, although the difference from full aperture is not very great. From f/11, the sharpness decreases again a bit due to diffraction. As is the case with practically all telephoto zooms, this 70-200 mm achieves the best values at the shorter zoom settings, and there is a small drop-off in sharpness as you zoom in further. But even the results at the most extreme zoom setting are good. The distortion is extremely limited. The lens gets some help here, of course, because on DX you only use the center part of the image circle. In both RAW and jpeg, it ranges from about 0.5% barrel-shaped to 0.5% pincushion-shaped in the extremes of the range, and the lens is free of distortion at around 90mm. Those are values that are practically negligible in practice. The same applies for vignetting. It is also not worth mentioning in practice.
The shortest distance setting of the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8E FL ED VR is shorter than that of its predecessors. For the first generation 70-200s with VR, that was still 150 cm; for the second, 140 cm. This new lens can focus on subjects up to 110 cm. In combination with the crop factor of DX cameras, that means that you can easily get very tightly framed portraits and that you can even use this 70-200 for lightweight macro work. The maximum enlargement on full-frame is 0.21x. For DX, you can expect due to the smaller sensor that you can multiply that by 1.5, giving you 0.315x. That is quite respectable. The 70-200mm is thus well suited for photographing, for example, larger insects, because you will always stay at least a meter away.
Use the Lens Comparison or look in our list of reviewed lenses to compare this lens with other lenses.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".