Added 05/04/2008: Status on the Tamron website says the final shipping Nikon model will have AF-S. All the better then! No date yet on availability for Nikon.
That’s right, a modern 70-200/2.8 medium-tele zoom lens for $699. Good-looking too. Linked from Dpreview.
The sample images I’m referring to were posted in this Dpreview forum thread. They tell me the lens is very usable wide-open at normal subject distances for this type of lens. A few more samples were taken at “macro range” (loose definition, it’s somewhere around 5:1 reproduction) and those don’t look quite so good. Personally I think someone buying a 70-200/2.8 zoom for the macro experience is running in the wrong direction to begin with.
The same guy also put up a bunch of shots of his Canon 400D + TC2X + the lens, see:
Note that this is Canon’s smallest camera, and ignore the added teleconverter for scale (the lens ends where the tripod’s quick plate clamp ends). Linked from the guy’s site.
Not the best example for scale, I know, but the lens is actually one of the most compact in this category. It is about as slender as the Nikkor, and a hair shorter than the Canon. The sigma is the shortest of the bunch, but isn’t as lean in the hand (and in my experience isn’t as good wide open). See:
Left to right: Canon, Nikon, Tamron, Sigma. Linked from Dpreview.
If you’re in the market for a lens of this class then I think you need to ask yourself how important VR is to you, because it’ll basically cost you $900 more to get it. When I got my Nikkor I felt VR was essential, I had first been disappointed in use by the Sigma because it didn’t have VR, but over time I’ve come to believe that it is most often used as a crutch for poor technique. Oftentimes one relies on VR when a tripod or artificial light should be used, and not using them first is the mistake, but once in a while nothing else will do but speed-pressure relief.