The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR ($1,399.95 direct) is the low-cost alternative to Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. It only captures half the light at its maximum aperture, but it costs $1,000 less. There’s no compromise in terms of build or optical quality—the lens is sharp throughout its zoom range, though edge performance is a bit lacking at 70mm. It sharpens up as you close the aperture, and delivers similar performance to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens. It’s compatible with full-frame Nikon cameras, as well as APS-C bodies, where it covers a 105-300mm field of view due to the smaller sensor.
The lens features a flat black finish with gold trim. It measures 7 by 3.1 inches (HD) and weighs 1.9 pounds. A hood and protective case are included. It supports the use of 67mm threaded front filters, and there’s no rotation of the front element so using a polarizing filter is feasible. An optional tripod collar is available, but it’s expensive at $232.95. The minimum focus distance is about 3.3 feet, which is by no means macro, but it does allow for 1:3.7 magnification. Both the zoom ring and manual focus ring are large and comfortable to adjust; the zoom ring is closer to the base lens mount, while the focus ring is situated towards the front element of the lens.
There are a few toggle switches on the lens—one to switch between manual and autofocus, one to set the distance over which the autofocus will search for a lock, another to enable or disable the vibration reduction system, and one to choose standard or active vibration reduction. Standard VR detects panning and does not compensate for it, but active does not differentiate between panning and camera shake.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness and distortion characteristics of the 70-200mm when paired with the 36-megapixel Nikon D800. At its widest angle the lens manages 2,914 lines per picture height using a center-weighted test, much better than the 1,800 lines we require for a sharp photo. Edge performance is a little weak at f/4, only 1,643 lines, but it improves noticeably when you stop down to f/5.6. At that aperture the overall score is 3,265 lines with edges that are 1,834 lines. Things are even better at f/8 where the lens averages 3,490 lines with edges that approach 2,600 lines. Distortion is slightly noticeable—about 1.4 percent barrel, which makes straight lines curve outward, but can easily be corrected in software.
Zooming to 105mm improves performance and reduces distortion. At f/4 the lens manages 2,848 lines, with sharp edges that approach 1,900 lines. Stopping down improves performance a bit; it peaks at f/8 at 3,484 lines with edges that close in on 2,900 lines. Distortion is 0.7 percent, but it’s the pincushion variety that makes straight lines curve inward. At 135mm the lens maintains its solid performance, notching 2,899 lines at f/4 with excellent edge-to-edge performance. It peaks at f/8 again, with 3,408 lines. Distortion increases a bit here; the lens shows 1.4 percent pincushion distortion.
At 200mm it’s a little softer, 2,181 lines at f/4 with even sharpness across the frame. The best performance is at f/8 where it tops 3,100 lines. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM delivers similar performance, but its edges are at their best at 70mm and softest at 200mm.
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is a solid option for shooters who don’t need the light-gathering capabilities of an f/2.8 zoom. If you shoot indoor sports or weddings, you’ll likely want to go with the f/2.8 lens—if you’re making money from shooting it will pay for itself in time. But for enthusiasts in need of a quality walkaround telezoom, this is a solid option at a price that won’t break the bank.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc