Nikon’s AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8D ED-IF has a longstanding reputation for excellence, and its fine qualities are evident when comparing it directly with the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED. For this test, Live View was used to match focus , and the VR function of the 70-200 was disabled (always a good idea on a tripod).
Whereas the 180/2.8 exhibits excellent results across the frame wide open at f/2.8, the 70-200VR at f/2.8 exhibits low contrast across the frame, along with smeared detail outside a central 2/3 area. Stopping the 70-200VR down to f/4 improves contrast considerably and it then matches the 180/2.8ED very closely across the central 2/3 of the frame, but the smearing lingers at the edges and corners, corresponding to approximately a 32mm in diameter image circle where quality is very high. Unfortunately, the diagonal of a 36X24mm frame is 43mm, so that leaves a significant chunk of marginal area in which the 70-200VR fails to deliver.
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70-200VR: the area of high image quality at 180mm, any aperture