PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux


AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF… oh my

Nikkor 70-200/2.8, powerful and good-looking.

A lot of characters have been typed about this Nikkor lens in the last week, thanks to DpReview’s somewhat scalding review. Even the apologists are out now, chanting “all that matters are real world pictures”. Oh no, that means the lens must _suck_.

Truth is, very few people knew how this lens performed on the FX frame because everyone’s been stuck with DX since before the lens hit shelves. Everyone knew the lens is a stellar performer on DX, so at minimum it must be stellar over 45% of the FX frame. If that’s any comfort.

The ugly findings were these, as seen on a D3:

Red: terrible, blue: outstanding. 200mm f/4.

If this were a consumer lens, everyone would be singing praises to this lens. Amazing performance over most of the frame!, they would say. The reality is that this isn’t a consumer lens, it’s a heavy/expensive professional lens. So the expectations are one-word simple: perfection.

The charts do re-affirm that the Nikkor at any focal-length out-resolves all DX cameras ever made, and probably a bunch not made yet. On FX it performs well from 70mm to 105mm but at 135mm and beyond performance takes a very sharp drop past the DX corners. It jumps off a cliff we could say.

Looking back at the Nikon website, I'm not sure why everybody is so surprised. The publicly-available MTF data says the same thing. Notice how the meridional resolution dives to ~15% after it clears the corner of the DX frame:

MTF-50, 200mm @ f/2.8.

I’m not neutral here. I join the ranks of the disappointed given that I’ve spent what I think is a lot of money on this lens, but I’m taking the glass-half-full angle over the sky-is-falling angle. The lens is still well above its competition over most of the frame. So how could we use this?

Bjorn Rorslett, Norway’s ambassador to photography, offers a rather simple solution:

If you add a TC-14E to the 70-200 VR, there will be no corner issues on the D3.

Simply put, if you optically stretch the stellar DX performance over the FX frame, you’re going to reap an excellent (if no longer stellar) performance all-over. And of course you’ll lose 1 stop of aperture, putting peak at f/8 now. Okay, that has its uses.

Finally, consider when the corners will actually matter on this type of lens. Not for portraiture and not for events/weddings… that leaves nature or tele-centric landscape photography where the corners matter. In this case you’re going to have a tripod with you anyway (right?), so losing one stop of aperture to the TC isn’t a big deal.

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