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Nikon 200mm f/2 VR: Examples at the Zoo

Get Nikon 200mm f/2 VR at B&H Photo.

Nikon 200mm f/2. VR II
(newest version as of 2016)

A reader wrote to comment on his luck in finding a cosmetically beat-up Nikon 200mm f/2 VR at a low price, with excitement about the imaging quality.

Indeed, the 200/2 VR was always a lens with appeal (I owned it for several years). There is now an 200mm f/2 VR II, which I have not tested, but the inquiry prompted me to ask B&H Photo for it for testing, and I should have it in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I went back and reprocessed my 2009 images that were shot with the Nikon D3x. Aside from noise, the image quality is very high from the Nikon D3x, which itself is an interesting perspective (reprocessing 2009 images with my current techniques in ACR).

Nikon 200mm f/2 VR: At the Zoo with the 200 f/2

Images presented at sizes up to full camera resolution (24 megapixels). For best viewing enjoyment, use an iMac 5K.

While f/2 is greatly rewarding, a 200/2 is a big 'carry' commitment— I often wonder why vendors insist on f/2: how about a substantially smaller and lighter f/2.8 lens with superior image quality? Most of the time, f/2.8 would be ample and still provide attractive blur, and I can carry a 200mm f/2.8 far more easily. But instead we get lenses with inferior performance when the speed drops (Canon 200mm f/2.8L II comes to mind; I don’t want “pretty good”, I want “amazing”).

f2 @ 1/640 sec, ISO 400; 2008-12-29 13:15:52
NIKON D3X + 200.0 mm f/2.0

[low-res image for bot]
f2 @ 1/320 sec, ISO 200; 2008-12-29 16:18:34
NIKON D3X + 200.0 mm f/2.0

[low-res image for bot]

James P writes:

I'm so pleased you posted about the 200mm f/2 again. I've been eyeing up 200mm f/2 lenses (the other being the Canon 200mm f/2L IS of course) and have been extremely tempted to pick one up, but I'm dismayed by the lack of quality reviews on modern bodies since they're relatively old optics; I hear the second iteration of the Nikon lens is optically identical to the first which was introduced in 2004.

I'm struck by the lack of colour artefacts in your photographs and have to wonder how the optical quality of these lenses fares in comparison to the very best APO designs such as the Zeiss 135mm f/2. I'm hoping when you pick up the Nikon again you'll be able to shed some light on where the optical compromises, if any, might be found. The reason I'm interested is because I wonder whether Nikon might intend to update the design, or whether there's little to improve upon even if they did.

I was thinking about using the Nikon as a manual-focus-only lens on my a7rii with an adapter that allows manual aperture control. I much prefer manual focus and find AF a distraction much of the time for my shooting, and I expect that the lens/body size mismatch would be a non-issue (it would be ridiculous to try to lever the lens by the camera body regardless of model). The EVF and high performance sensor on the a7rii makes this combination particularly appealing to me. Would you be able to advise on whether it might be a viable option - not least because I haven't been able to find out whether MF mode on the Nikon 200mm is fly-by-wire or engages the focus ring by mechanical coupling? Does it compare to a dedicated MF lens?

DIGLLOYD: As far as I know, the optical formula of the Nikon 200mm f/2 VR II is the same as v1. The 200/2 does need some stopping down for peak performance, but at least on 24 megapixels as shown in the above examples, it delivers some outstanding results wide open as well. But 36MP is more demanding and revealing of course. At this point my intent is to test it natively on Nikon.

As for the 200/2 VR, it is a “G” lens so it lacks an aperture ring, so this hugely restricts the choice of lens adapters) e.g., the Novoflex Adapter for Nikon F Lens to Sony E-Mount Camera is not usable since the aperture control is missing). I’m not clear on whether the Metabones Nikon G Lens to Sony NEX Camera Lens Mount Adapter works for full frame or not or whether its internal blackening is of adequate quality.

I there is sufficient interest (meaning ROI, meaning subscriber activity), then I may also take up the Canon 200mm f/2.L IS.

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