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Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR: Mush In the Corners

Introduction

August 24, 2008 updated October 15, 2008

Some skepticism in online forums about the performance of the Nikon 70-200VR on the full-frame Nikon D3 (see April 17 entry) leads me to post another example comparing it both to itself (f/2.8 and f/8) and the stellar Nikon 200mm f/2 AF-S.

The problem is that at the long end, the 70-200VR cannot “cover” the frame adequately. The problem is acute when the lens is focused near infinity, improving at closer distances. Stopping down, even to f/11, helps only a little. It could be that my sample is “off” a little, but the effect is not confined to one side of the frame; it is symmetric in nature, and clearly a design issue.

For this photographer, the 70-200VR is most applicable at the long end, so my advice stays the same: avoid the 70-200VR on the D3 or D700 full-frame cameras unless awful corners near 200mm are acceptable to you. On DX frame cameras, enjoy.

The test below was conducted with critical precision, including sturdy tripod, mirror lockup with remote release, VR off, camera leveling, RAW, etc. They are the wooden shingles on a rooftop. The crops are not the extreme corner, just near the corner, and the edges are also troubled by “yuck”.

Setting the 70-200VR to f/2.8, nothing is crisp anywhere in the frame (not shown). This is not a focusing error; the subject was chosen to reveal any such error; it’s just crappy performance. The corner areas decline very badly from there. The crops below are near the corner (around the 1.1X crop area), but not the extreme corner. Perhaps there are samples of the 70-200VR that perform better, but what’s seen here isn’t a bad sample of the 70-200VR.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR near corner, f/2.8 @ 200mm

At f/8 sharpness over most of the frame improves considerably, but performance actually seems to worsen in the really bad areas.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR near corner, f/8 @ 200mm

Below is what you’d like to see: crisp detail. Taken with the outstanding Nikon 200mm f/2 VR at f/2.8. We don’t expect zooms to match primes (fixed focal length) lenses, but the 70-200VR is marketed as a pro-caliber lens, and Canon’s 70-200mm offerings have no such nastiness.

Nikon 200mm f/2 VR near corner, f/2.8

Conclusions

If you don’t want garbage in the corners of your full-frame Nikon camera, don’t even think about using the 70-200VR (original version) near the 200mm mark near infinity focus, at any aperture.

That said, the 70-200VR can produce some lovely imagery at closer focusing distances and/or shorter focal lengths.

Looking for outstanding image quality in the 200mm range? Get the Nikon 200mm f/2 AF-S VR at BH Photo or Adorama.

See also Focus Accuracy, Brand-new Blur and free-article index.

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