I discovered that the Nikon 70-200 VR offers awful performance on the full-frame Nikon D3 when focused near infinity towards the long end of the zoom range (200mm). I reported this to Bjørn Rørslett (naturfotograf.com), who subsequently confirmed my findings.
Nikon D3 + 70-200/2.8 VR, 200mm, 1/500 @ f/8
(click to see actual pixels crop)
The problem is so severe that stopping down to f/8 or f/11 (or even f/16) is insufficient to overcome it; it appears that the 70-200VR simply cannot “cover” the 36 X 24mm frame adequately. Its optical performance is without a doubt the very worst I’ve yet to see on the D3 from any lens, Nikon or otherwise. And because I see symmetric results over the frame, optical alignment issues cannot be blamed. Rather, it is fair to conclude that it is under-engineered for a full-frame camera, or at least the D3’s sensor. Truly, this is a pathetic result for a pro-level zoom.
The foregoing applies to the long end (200mm) when focused near infinity. At other settings, the 70-200VR is very sharp over most of the frame (eg at closer distances and/or shorter focal lengths), and is otherwise a very fine lens. It remains an excellent choice for DX cameras, but this optical defect leaves a huge “hole” in the lens lineup for Nikon D3 shooters.
For rapid action and certain other uses, a 70-200 autofocus zoom is the only viable option. However, for other purposes, the Zeiss ZF 85/1.4 Planar and 100/2 Makro-Planar not only offer across-the-frame sharpness wide-open, but superior contrast and color as well. Why not read Zeiss ZF Lenses and consider exploiting your D3’s sensor fully? Regrettably, the ZF line currently includes nothing longer than 100mm. Get Zeiss ZF lenses at B&H Photo.