Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nikon 70-200 VR II update

I have previously commented on the 70-200mm VR I and compared it to the 70-300mm VR. I did not have favorable view of the 70-200mm at the time and I sold the lens shortly thereafter. It turned out to be a good decision because Nikon soon released the VR II version of the lens. This lens is absolutely amazing and it is definite improvement over the previous version. But there are some caveats, so read on.

First the changes, physically it is about an inch shorter but stouter, nothing to be significantly noticeable. There are some minor changes irrelevant to normal use so I am skipping them. The focus limiter now has full and infinity-5m instead of the 2.5m in the previous lens. It does not affect my style of shooting but if you routinely use focus limiter, this must be noted. There is a reason Nikon changed this, read on.

Next the lens parameters, please note my experience is mostly FX and only limited DX use. The new lens is better in every parameter including vignetting, flare, distortion and chromatic aberration. This does not mean that they do not exist but they are very well controlled.

This is the most important parameter of any lens. I am breaking this into sharpness and resolution.
Sharpness: The new lens trounces the old lens in sharpness especially the corners. The new lens is sharp corner to corner and is as good as it gets in a zoom lens. It is the sharpest zoom lens in this range from any manufacturer (the only lens I am not familiar is the Olympus 4/3 f/2 zoom lens) including Canon. Center sharpness is amazing wide open and improves to stunning levels from 5.6 to 8.

Resolution: Nikon is not a very forward thinking company if you know their history but here they have given considerable thought for the future. The newer DSLRs are going to have smaller and smaller pixels and this is going to limit resolution. The D3X is already testing the limits of resolution of most lenses. The VR II is very much improved in this regard in that it has outstanding resolution. The resolution from f/4 to f/11 is at stunning levels. I am eagerly waiting for one of the websites to release the resolution numbers for this lens, I am sure it is going to be one of the best.

This also applies to and very important to DX users, especially since the upcoming D300s replacement is going have more megapixels.

So far the new version of the lens clearly betters the old one and I do not have any hesitation in recommending this over the old one except for one caveat.

There have been numerous issues after this lens since it's release. Most relate to shining a flashlight into the lens. Rings and flecks of some metallic filings were described.
Nikon has officially stated that these are normal and nothing to worry about. The rings are reflections of rough areas of optical elements, so do not worry. If you see flecks they may be dust but I have never seen any issue with image quality so far so do not worry. I have looked at 5 samples at a photo meet and I could see no issue in any of them, 4 had some internal reflections with flash light, I do not know what they are but even if they are dust they are very minimal and none had any issues as far as photos are concerned.
So these are non issues, but I am surprised nobody talks about one real issue with this lens.
It is a fact that any Zoom lens will have approximate focal length which changes with focussing distance. For example, 70-200mm lens may be really 75-180 in the closest focus distance and 72-195 in infinity focus. This is normal with any zoom and the manufacturers approximately round these numbers to 70-200mm as the lens range. But the new lens is way limited in the near focussing range. The lens is probable 70-135mm in the close focussing distance. At infinity focus or anything more than say 12 feet the range goes to probably 75-190mm. This does not affect a lot of photographers who mostly use the longer focal lengths to capture distant objects but say a wedding or event photographer trying tight shots at close range will be surprised that this does not zoom enough, in fact I have never known any top line zoom lens from any manufacturer have this amount of variation. Now suddenly the change in focus limiter from 2.5m in previous version of the lens to 5m makes sense. This has not bothered me much in my style of shooting but one should be aware of this issue.

Apart from this issue the lens is exceedingly good and produces remarkable images.

Compared to the 70-300mm VR. The version 2 of 70-200mm is better in sharpness and resolution in the 70-200mm range of course but still the 70-300mm gives a run for it's money by offering 90% of the 70-200 VR II and offering an additional range of focal length to 300mm. I am keeping the lens as it is ideal for travel. Again for DX users the 70-300mm VR is one amazing deal as it gives superb image quality in a relatively small package.

So my recommendations,
DX users not planning for FX in future, who already own 70-200 VR I, may not benefit upgrade as you will not find any difference unless you compare images side by side.
But all others including FX users and DX users planning on going full frame will definitely benefit getting the VR II. Of course you should carefully weigh in your shooting style since the new lens has significant issue with near focus focal length zoom range as discussed above.

For any user, the 70-300mm is a very good alternative and if you have this lens and do not have the 70-200 VR II, do not worry, you still have a great lens which trades only a small amount of sharpness for a significant improvement in zoom range, provided you are willing to accept the 1-2 stop aperture loss and for a lot of users this is a great travel lens.

I will be adding images by the new lens in a couple of days.

As always appreciate comments.

Next update will be detailed comparison of teleconverters, 1.4 vs 1.7 vs 2.0 with 100% crops so stay tuned.