Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR review: An enlightened 70-200mm lens choice

By David Newton - Monday January 07 2013

Lens Review
Introduction | Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens performance | Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR versus competition | Conclusion

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR mounted on Nikon D3x vs Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED mounted on Nikon D3x vs Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM mounted on Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

The 70-200mm focal range is a hotly contested area, so it makes sense to compare this lens to others of the same length. Here we’ll compare it to another Nikon lens, this time the faster f/2.8 version as well as a Canon lens, the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.

Looking first at sharpness, the Nikon f/4G and the Canon lens both perform very well at all apertures, with the Nikon lens just having the edge overall. Though this could easily be explained by camera choice as well. In essence, there is little to split them. Looking at the Nikon f/2.8 lens it matches the other two at 70mm and 80mm but there is a loss of sharpness in the corners between 100mm and 200mm that accounts for its lower score. If we were only to compare the centre of the frame, there would be very little to choose between the three lenses.

In terms of distortion, there is little to choose between them. All three lenses exhibit minor barrel distortion at the wide end and minor pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. Through the mid focal ranges though, they all perform well with no noticeable distortion.

Looking at the transmission scores, it’s no surprise that the two faster lenses, the Nikon f/2.8 and Canon f/2.8, score higher than the AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR – in fact, it would be very odd if they were to perform worse given their wider maximum apertures. While the Nikon f/4 lens loses out here though, it’s worth bearing in mind that it is the cheapest of the three and generally as price goes up, so does the maximum aperture of the lens.

The story is the same when looking at the chromatic aberration scores – none of the lenses exhibit noticeable CA although if we have to pick a loser, the Nikon AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED does show a fraction more than the other two lenses in the corners when shooting at 70mm.

It’s basically the same with the vignetting tests – the Canon lens and the Nikon f/4 lens are very closely matched, with the Nikon f/2.8 model fairly slightly less well. In this case, there is a loss of around 1/2stop in the corners, which may be an issue depending on what subjects you shoot – landscapes for example may show this vignetting in areas of even toned sky, but with sports or wildlife, where the toning of the background is less likely to be even, it is unlikely to detract unduly from the final results.

Beyond the lens testing metrics, the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR not only performs as well as, or better than the other two lenses here, but it is also around half the weight of the other two and at least $500USD cheaper at list prices. The choice between the two Nikon lenses comes down budget and how much the faster maximum aperture is worth to you. The Canon lens shows what is possible with an f/2.8 lens, but it is so closely matched in performance by the Nikon f/4, it does not offer a compelling reason to choose one system over the other.