Nikon 70-200mm F/2.8 VR II

Today we're looking at a staple of the wedding photography lenses, the Nikon 70-200mm F/2.8 VRII!

The 70-200mm F/2.8 VR was a phenomenal lens.  It was sharp, fast, and offered great compression, but the VRII was a whole new ballgame. With the newer 70-200mm F/2.8E VR II now on store shelves, how does the non-E lens hold up?  Let's dive in and take a look!

 
 

Single Sentence Summary

Absolutely a must-have lens.

Why I bought it

I needed something that offered the compression of a 200mm, but offered the versatility of being able to zoom out.  It needed to be able to offer a fixed wide aperture across the range, and it needed to have some serious VR considering I shoot often in military and high-speed event contexts.

What I Like

It's SHARP.  Like nearly-prime sharp.  I love knowing that when it's focused and calibrated perfectly that the images will really pop.  When you're trying to isolate a subject really effectively with depth of field and compression, this lens will definitely do the trick.

F/2.8 is fantastic for weddings, events and military contexts.  Sometimes I find that people get a little too carried away with their primes and they use even wider apertures than they should.  The problem is that it gets to be a bit too distracting when you're constantly at F/1.4, etc., and you lose too much of the background.  This lens' F/2.8 gives the perfect amount of detail in the out of focus (see "bokeh") areas, so you get enough context of the surroundings with super sharp focus on the subject.

The Vibration Reduction (VR) is extraordinary!  I've pulled off tack-sharp shots at 1/40 of a second with this lens and not even blinked an eye.   Using the reciprocal rule with practice I've had no problem slowly walking and shooting to track motion, it's that good.

This lens allows me to keep a reasonable distance from the action, and when it comes to not being disruptive at a wedding, this lens is the king.  I can easily keep my movement confined to the sides and back and still get all of the precious moments as if I were right there.  It also helps with the photojournalistic approaches, in that I'm able to take shots of people from such a distance that they more often than not don't even realize I'm shooting them.  That helps when it comes to getting natural expressions and reactions. 

THE BUILD QUALITY.  Man this thing can take a hit.  I have hit this lens pretty hard on some pretty hard objects, and even once had it fall from a fast moving helicopter (in an awesome camera backpack), and it just laughs it off.  I love how tough and solid the build of this lens is.  From the first second you pick one of these up, you can feel the weight and solidity of this lens, it's absolutely hands-down the most robust lens I own, which is also why it's a staple of my military photography.

The layout is much better.  It took me some time to become accustomed to their newer model, the 70-200mm F/2.8E VRII.  On the newer one the zoom and focus dials are swapped, and it's not natural to me.  But with this lens they're right where they should be, much like every other Nikon zoom I use.

I'd like to say that the price is something that I don't like, but the quality build, sharpness, versatility, and features of the lens are all valid counter-arguments to that point.  I only bring up the price in this because it's an expensive lens.  I personally don't think that given how incredible this lens is that the price point is unreasonable at all.  In fact, with the newer model out you could probably grab one of these used for a real deal.

What I Don't

Let's start with focus breathing.  I don't like how due to focus breathing it doesn't really get to 200mm at all, especially when the focus makes it seem much more like a 135mm.  That's annoying.  Keep in mind that I jumped from Canon to Nikon, and that I was very comfortable with the Canon 70-200, which doesn't have the focus breathing issue, and shoots at a proper 200mm.  Thankfully the next generation, the 70-200mm F/2.8E VRII, resolves that problem, so if you're looking to buy a 70-200mm perhaps you should look at that one.

It gets a bit heavy at points.  It's not as heavy as the 80-400mm, or the 200mm F/2, but as a guy who generally prefers prime lenses, this one is a bit of a sore point on the back and neck sometimes.  I recognize though that it's built like that for a reason, and it is absolutely a tank of a lens, but I mention it as fair warning.

Why oh why can't Nikon give me some better lens hoods?  I rely on this lens so often that I even use it when it's raining, but though the lens hood is relatively longer, I actually wish they offered wider and longer ones to help me out in blocking the rain.  What's the point of weather sealing a lens if you're going to expose the glass to rain so easily?

Also, where are the focus buttons from the older and newer models?  Those buttons made life much easier at points, and I'm not sure why they ditched them for this one.  I liked being able to lock focus points so I can quickly nail focus back and forth.  It's not like I'm always shooting on a D5 or something, tracking fast moving subjects can be hard.  Sometimes need to mark the points to shoot at, and unfortunately this one doesn't cut it.

Bottom Line

If you don't already own one, get one.

Score

9/10

I love this lens.  But I'm not sponsored, nor do I offer any links to buy it, so you know that I'm just giving you my honest opinion.  This is a lens you should have if you're a serious wedding, military, or event photographer. 

 
 

-Wes.