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Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VRII lens review

I am continuing with the tradition to have a brief hands-on for every new Nikon lens. Next in line is the Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VRII lens which I got for few days from Borrowlenses. The lens was announced on September 15th, 2010 and is an update (VRII) of the previous version.

Size, controls and ergonomics

This lens is massive - it has almost the same length as the 70-200 f/2.8 VRII but twice the diameter and weight:

Nikkor 200 f/2 VRII compared to 70-200 f/2.8 VRII

Nikkor 200 f/2 VRII compared to 70-200 f/2.8 VRII

Nikon actually recommends not to pick up/hold the camera body itself when this lens is attached because you can damage the mount. You have to hold the lens and the camera with both hands. You will get a better balance if you use this lens with a D3/s/x or D700 with an external battery pack.

The lens comes with a slip-on lens hood (HK-31):

Nikkor 200 f/2 VRII compared to 70-200 f/2.8 VRII (with hoods)

Nikkor 200 f/2 VRII compared to 70-200 f/2.8 VRII (with hoods)

The Nikkor 200mm f/2G will probably not fit in your regular photo gear bag, which is why Nikon includes a very solid built bag (CL-L1) with the lens:

Nikkor 200 f/2 VRII bag (CL-L1)

Nikkor 200 f/2 VRII bag (CL-L1)

You also get a front cap (LC-52), rear lens cap (LF-4), 52mm screw-on NC filter and a lens shoulder strap.

The Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VRII lens has some extra controls that you don't see on a regular lens:

The switches from top to bottom are: Auto/Manual focus selection, range of focus selection, VR selection, AF memory recall lock (ON and LOCK options) and memory recall sound on/off switch. The VR on/of switch is actually a ring and can be easily accessed without having to look for the specific button on the side.

There is also a memory recall button, four focus operation buttons (located ion the front of the lens) that are used in conjunction with the memory recall function:

Depth-of-field indicator:

The lens is difficult to hold because of its width, weight and close proximity of the focus ring and the four focus operation buttons - for me the best way to hold it was by the tripod collar ring.

Light falloff (vignetting)

The light falloff is minimal when the lens is wide open and is almost completely gone at f/4:

Test charts

This is why this lens costs $6000: from aperture f/2 to f/8 it is hard to see any difference in the test charts... this thing is sharp (update: I removed the f/16 and f/22 tests since there was visible motion blur because the images were taken at a lower speed, unfortunately I returned the lens and cannot redo the test):

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/2

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/2

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/2.8

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/2.8

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/4

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/4

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/5.6

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/5.6

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/8

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/8

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/11

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/11

Compared with Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Most of you probably already own the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G lens and are wondering if the extra aperture stop is worth the $4000 price difference. Here is a quick comparison of both lenses at 200mm. The Nikkor 200mm f/2 VRII is definitely sharper across the board and also provides memory recall - pay attention  to the small font numbers on the test chart:

f/2.8

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/2.8

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/2.8

Nikkor 70-200mm VRII at f/2.8

Nikkor 70-200mm VRII at f/2.8

f/4

Nikkor 70-200mm VRII at f/4

Nikkor 70-200mm VRII at f/4

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/4

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/4

f/5.6

Nikkor 70-200mm VRII at f/5.6

Nikkor 70-200mm VRII at f/5.6

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/5.6

Nikkor 200mm VRII at f/5.6

The results for the rest of the apertures are similar. Of course there is a margin of error in those test chart comparisons.

The full resolution test images are available on flickr. In the slide shows below you can also get a feeling of the bokeh of both lenses at different aperture levels (first slideshow is the 200mm f/2, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is second):

Samples

To test this lens, I needed low light,  something fast and big to fill the frame - horse racing seems to fit all that. All pictures were taken with a Nikon D700. The photos were not post-processed in any way. I wanted to show the images the way they came out of the camera. I used Lightroom 3 to convert and resize the original NEF to JPG files. All pictures were taken handheld at f/2, ISO 1600:

Here are 100% crops from two of the above photos (click on image for the actual 100% crop):

Bokeh

The bokeh of the Nikon 200mm f/2  lens is smooth and creamy. Here are some examples from different environments:

Bokeh comparison of the 200mm f/2 lens (left) with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (right):

More samples with higher resolution are available on flickr.

And finally, three photos that were slightly post-processed in Lightroom (click on images for larger view):

Other Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VRII lens info

  • Main features:
    • Nano coating (N)
    • Manual/Autofocus mode switch (M/A)
    • Internal focus (IF)
    • Integrated Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
    • Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC)
    • Distance window
    • Rounded 9-blade diaphragm
    • 52mm filter size
    • 13 elements in 9 groups
    • 3 ED glass and 1 Super ED glass elements
    • Compatible with all Nikon teleconverters
    • Minimum aperture is f/22
    • Angle of view in full frame: 12°20’
    • Reproduction Ratio: 0.12x
    • Minimum focusing distance: 1.9 m/6.2 ft
    • Product number 2188
    • Weight: 2,930 g|103.4 oz
    • Dimensions: 124 x 203.5 mm|4.9 x 8.0 in
    • Rotating tripod collar (360°)
  • MTF chart:

  • Lens construction:

Conclusion

The Nikkor AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VRII is probably the sharpest Nikon lens. Big, heavy and expensive but worth every penny in my opinion.

I would like to thank BorrowLenses for the lens rental.

This entry was posted in Nikon Lenses, [NR] Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • http://www.AlmondButterscotch.com/home Almond Butterscotch

    $6k of b.e.a.u.tiful glass.

    • http://joelc.com.au Joel C

      Excellent review admin.

  • http://www.arthurnava.com Arthur Nava

    Is it me, or does it look really sharp? This lens is awesome. First?

    • http://www.arthurnava.com Arthur Nava

      guess not.

    • http://mattharrisphotography.co.uk/ Matt Harris

      The 100% crop is ridiculously good.
      But considering how much it costs, you’d kinda be expecting that quality.

    • http://verbeelden.com Freddy Hurkmans

      Except for the f/16 and f/22 samples: they have so much motion blur that my eyes hurt when looking at them.

  • http://sdickinson.com Sam

    A guy at work has just bought one. It’s a beautiful lens to hold (even without a body attached). I nearly had to wipe the drool off it! The photos he’s taken with it are extremely sharp and look absolutely fantastic!

  • PJ

    What about a comparison to the 200 f2 VR version? What’s the dif?

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      as far as I know, it’s only a VRII upgrade, nothing else

      • David

        +Nano coating

        • D40-owner

          And the new A/M mode.

          • Diego

            an one step more of VR. nothing more.

            • Dave S

              And currently up to £1600 in the UK!

  • mshi

    It looks like VR2 still comes with the same pathetic lens foot that comes with the VR version. Nikon’s brillient inability to fix that is just beyond me.

    • sirin

      some people’s inability to check their spelling is even more frustrating.

      • Mock Kenwell

        More frustrating still is a lack of capitalization.

        • John Swan

          What’s with people who just have to obsess about people’s spelling/grammar anyways?

  • http://www.seanmolin.com Sean Molin

    Ughhh… If they were $3k, I’d already have one.

    • Nir.E

      If they were $3k you’d say “If they were $2k, I’d already have one”..
      a lens like this is difficult to make but YGWYPF no question about it.
      On top of that, if you’ve needed a copy for making a leaving, I’m sure you would have find a way to use this fine stat of the art glass

      • James Duffy

        I found a mint condition VR1 for $3500. and have seen others around. Stunning lens in every way.

        • http://www.seanmolin.com Sean Molin

          Hmmm…..

          If I could pick one up for under $3500, I’d sell my 70-200 in a heartbeat.

  • http://LeicaGlow.com Axel

    I’m a bit surprised that the IQ goes all to heck at f/11.

    • http://joelc.com.au Joel C

      Thats camera shake init? VR doesn’t work all the time at all shutter speeds..

      • PHB

        No, that is diffraction kicking in.

        Diffraction is going to be a bigger issue as resolutions increase. Once you get to 24MP it starts to be an issue from approx f/8 on. Which means that f/5.6 is pretty much the narrowest aperture that you can use at 50MP.

        This is one of the reasons why smaller sensors and EVIL format are going to have an advantage in certain applications. If you are not too worried about ISO response, a smaller sensor means you can have faster f/stop numbers with a smaller physical lens.

        You hit limiting effects on the sensor pitch as well, but the smaller EVIL format could potentially support 50MP for landscapes pretty well. If you can cope shooting at ISO 100-400, that is.

        Of course, it is likely to be quite a while before the lenses you would need are available. And DSLR is going to remain the format of choice for most purposes.

        • http://micahmedia.com Micah

          No, diffraction is an even Gauss distribution, which this is not. Definitely shake. Look at the f16 shot and you can see clearly the vertical motion. The f11 shot is at 1/60th and the f22 at 1/15th. Either not on a tripod, on an inadequate tripod, VR left on on a tripod and not happy, or just hand held. It’s possible to take sharp shots of static subject hand held with VR at these speeds, but it’s random chance and takes a few shots. I appreciate the admin’s effort, but this comes out as more of a VR test than an objective sharpness @aperture test. From experience I know the older 200/2 is still quite sharp at f22 on a d700/d3.

        • Jabs

          @PHB.
          The test images of the 200mm F2.0 show image blur clearly and not diffraction to me.
          There is an old formula used in the past that said – never shoot below the reciprocal of your focal length in shutter speed.
          A 200mm lens then would be equated with not shooting below 1/200 sec.
          VR, VR2 or IS does not create ‘miracles’ as those images clearly show, so one does indeed have to watch one’s shutter speeds for best results even with VR or IS.
          Diffraction would not be reduced by either sensor size or lens size as it is an optical property based upon the length of the light rays as they pass through an object and how they ‘bounce around’ or diffract as in losing focus or clarity. The greater problem is actually equipment getting so good that humans are now more to blame. Greater resolution in sensors and greater resolving power in a lens now magnifies your inabilities, your mistakes and not the opposite.
          A sturdy tripod with a fluid head might cure more now, especially when people are using cameras for video.
          The example files clearly show almost a subtle double image above F8.0 and hence image blur or equipment movement and not an image diffraction.
          I also do not see how a smaller sensor and a smaller lens circle would give us less diffraction, as now the image is greater magnified. Maybe the opposite should be true – perhaps. There is a clear misunderstanding of sensor size and magnification all over the Internet.
          Using your examples, then a Leica M series film camera should have less diffraction than other film cameras even though you are speaking about digital, the Leica has a smaller image circle compared to SLR’s often.

          • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

            I updated the post, unfortunately I returned the lens and cannot redo the test :(

            • http://micahmedia.com Micah

              No worries! There are other tests online of this lens’ sharpness. You have some good real world illustrations of it’s capabilities.

    • daniel

      It’s motion blur, when they closed the aperture, the speed went slower, crap photographer.

  • Nau

    the 1st thing that comes to mind whn I see it
    where are the wheels to roll this thing around?

  • Ben

    I took a look at the eBay link to the test chart you used. Why are there individual test charts per lens? They’re not all the same?

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      yes, they are all the same

  • http://vudie.com khoa vu

    on my wish list…for sure, after the much affordable 85mm f1.4g :)

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnwf2RShNV0 cndlpwr

    I really hope the new one isn’t that much better optically than the VRI version cause if it is I’d have to see it to believe it and would be tempted to pawn my VRI for the VRII. But the price difference doesn’t justify it. I mean, how much better can it be?

    I know that the VRII is markedly better than the original vibration reduction system so THAT would be nice to have..

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      The difference between the VR and VRII is $1500 – that’s a lot!

      • http://micahmedia.com Micah

        that’s precisely the difference. And the N designation, so maybe a bit better flare resistance. If flare isn’t losing you money with the current one, I wouldn’t bother replacing it. I think there are even the same VR mech. VRII just means a newer iteration of this lens, not a different VR system.

        • Jabs

          @Micah.
          I have heard it reported by many users of the new 200mm F2 that the autofocus speed or response is superior to the older one and thus maybe Nikon used new ‘micro-motors’ and better electronics in the new model also.
          I have not used one myself, but that is what I hear.

          • fetzie

            I’ve got the old one and it really can’t get faster/sharper. The only things that changed are the newer vr plus nano coating. it doesnt make sense to pay that much more since you can get the old one second hand for like 3000€

            • http://micahmedia.com Micah

              That’s my experience too. Sorta the difference between two models of Bugatti Veyron. If price is the issue, decide on price. You really won’t get sub-par performance with either version.

              I haven’t used the new one yet. When I buy one it’ll probably be the older ver, since it’s good enough and it’ll be on my dime.

        • http://www.aperture2000.com Colin Carter

          I can confirm that the new lens does actually have a new more efficient VR unit, like the new 300VRII, 400VR, 500VR and 600Vr lenses.

  • jerl

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think that the f/16 and f/22 shots are soft more due to mirror slap than diffraction. I can definitely see ghosted images of the numbers on both of those which I get with mirror slap, whereas with diffraction, everything is universally soft.

    • http://www.lgphotoart.com Nukeon

      Agreed. It looks more like vertical camera shake.

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      could be, I should have bumped the ISO

      • http://micahmedia.com Micah

        Nope. Shoulda been on a tripod. Were you not? Not locked down tight? Not in the right tripod hole for the body weight? Something is up here if these weren’t hand held…

        • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

          The lens was on a tripod (Gitzo Traveler). Unfortunately I cannot reproduce the test because I returned the lens already.

          • http://micahmedia.com Micah

            What head?

  • http://www.brandonburtner.com/ Brandon B

    Brilliant lens and great shots. Definitely don’t agree with the dog racing though, no thank you.

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      just for the record – I do not agree with it either

    • John Swan

      Lighten up Francis.

  • disco

    is it just me or is your 70-200 soft wide open?

    • fetzie

      its really sharp wide open but not compared to supertele like the 200/300/400/500/600

  • preston

    Thanks for the review admin! That 100% crop is amazing.

    • aetas

      I was amazed by the sharpness of that crop myself. I can not believe that.

  • Phil

    >>All pictures were taken handheld…<>Bokeh comparison of the 200mm f/2 lens (left) with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G…<<

    At least one lens in the Nikon line maintains a decent bokeh. You can clearly see the miserable bokeh on that utter disgrace to portrait photography, the new 85mm f1.4.

    • Phil

      I forgot these blog sites take brackets as HTML. The reply to the first quote is that you’re a braver man than I. I would’ve used a monopod with an anchor like that.

  • http://thaksa.multiply.com Thaksa

    Need to touch it 1 time for my life.

  • Matt

    D7000 + 135 F/2 DC or D700 + 200 F/2 VR?

  • http://products.plantae.sk miso

    hey, f11-22 it is not diffraction, your pictures are simply blured by movement. just see (and use better tripod :) ).

    • http://products.plantae.sk miso

      no reaction?

      • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

        I guess I need a new tripod – any suggestions?

        • http://products.plantae.sk miso

          for this lens take a Sachtler eng 2 cf (or its HD version if money are not a problem). if you would like to cheaper version, take Libec T98C. Burzynski head,…

  • D40-owner

    I once used the Mk1 200 f/2 lens for 5 minutes, at a Nikon event in London, in Dec 2008.
    I was baffled by the size and weight, but the shots were amazing!!!! Very clear image through the viewfinder, great subject isolation, creamy bokeh and really sharp.
    The camera? A D40!!!! That’s right, I used a D40 with the 200 f/2.

  • http://www.truphotos.com gnohz

    Nice review Admin!
    The comparison photo with the 70-200 was a little misleading. Since the 70-200 has filter size of 77mm, it looked as though the 200 f/2 is 100mm lol :o

    • http://www.truphotos.com gnohz

      Or is that the actual size of both lens? The diameter of the 200 f/2 is that big? :o

      • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

        yes, it is that big – almost twice the diameter of the 70-200

        the 200 f/2 lens diameter is 4.9in. / 124mm.

        • aetas

          Did it come with a filter when you rented/got the lens. 124mm Would be huge.

    • Chris Lilley

      Very nice review, comparison with the 70-200 was especially illuminating – even at f/4 and f/5.6 the f/2 prime is clearly superior.

    • Chris Lilley

      The focal length is 200mm. The aperture is f/2, focal length/2 which means the entrance pupil is 200/2 = 100mm. So yes, the front lens will need to be at least that big, no lol about it.

  • Peter

    Yep, my D80 fits through the lens hood. ;) Postponed body upgrade to distant future with this.

    I got the VR1 version, a real bargain and while the price does narrow audience, I have noticed less availability every passing week.

    For those considering 135/1.8 or waiting the update and using crop body, FF+200 is seriously heavy, worth a thought.

  • Mik

    I continue to prefer the canon version that’s quite a bit sharper and much more confortable in hands

    • David

      I prefer that canon trolls stick to their own sites.

      • genotypewriter

        Not sure why comparing the 200 VR II to the Canon of the same spec makes him a troll when the original article itself is a comparative review.

        Looks like the Canon version is indeed sharper…

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/genotypewriter/5080867269/

        GTW

        • Stan Chung

          Because Canon sharpens their stuff with processing. Don’t have to believe me, just go to the comparometer link below and spot all the halos going on in small text.
          The Nikon D600 pic makes the Canon 5DMKIII ones look rubbish.
          Especially the colour. Yellows & gold are gone. Even the 5DMKII looks better than the 5DMKIII
          For some self inflicted pain, compare it with the D800e.

          http://www.imaging-resource.com/IMCOMP/COMPS01.HTM

      • Stan Chung

        Yeah, they really should.
        D600vs5D3. The Canon is sharper. I like how halos are forming round the text. I imagine this is how my vision would be like when I’m 60. [sic]

        Helloooo unsharp mask.

        http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2831/9421890254_577db3f2f6_o.png

  • Robert

    first thing I did when I had the opportunity to test the VR II vs. a VR I 20/2G AF-S Nikkor, I set up a field test with a sturdy Gitzo. No difference that I could see, even upon close inspection. Detail fantastic, geometric distortion practically absent, color aberrations likewise. same slight slight vignetting wide open.

    You pay for what you get – outstanding optical quality, unrivalled.

  • ZoetMB

    I’ve seen photos taken with this lens on other forums and they are really unbelievable. I have the 70-200 2.8 (old version) and I love it, but the 200mm kills it – photos taken with this lens take my breath away. But unless I win a lottery, I’m not spending $6K on a lens and even if I did, I’d be unhappy carrying it around, although I suppose if I won the lottery, I could hire a beautiful (but strong and energetic) assistant. (I was unhappy yesterday carrying only a bag with one body, a 105 macro, a 28-70 2.8, a flash, a bracket and a bunch of accessories.)

    • Dan

      I hate carrying my 70-200 2.8, 24-70 2.8, 85 1.4, 14-24 2.8 and tripod. It’s when I download everything to my computer that I realize it was all worth it :D

  • pj

    One thing to note with the 200 f/2 (old version and assume this is true with VII) . . . put a TC14e on it and it is still an amazingly sharp lens.

  • http://eleventhphotograph.com elph

    Damn, nice lense!

    Wondering what the setting were for the horse race though. Seems really sharp with no blur and almost no noise.

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ [NR] admin

      ISO 1600, f/2, speeds between 1/400 and 1/1000, handheld, VR on, D700, regular AF (for some I used AF-C), no flash

  • faterikcartman

    Do you have any idea how much sweet talking and arse kissing I’ll have to give my wife to get one? Well do you?

    I would love to see someone do a pro-con comparo with the AF-S 300 F2.8 VRII. I know my wife is going to get all Highlander on me — “there can be only one!”

  • norman

    The sharpness shots in this test are pretty deficient, and no conclusion can or should be made from them. The f/4 shot is to me less sharp than both 2.8 and 5.6, leading to suspect AF/camera shake error, and there is clear camera shake/mirror slap from f/11 to f/22. Was mirror lock-up mode used?

    The sharpness comparison shots from the 70-200/2.8 and the 200/2 don’t seem valid either as the f/2.8 example is clearly superior to the f/4 and f/5.6. It appears the 70-200 was mis-focused. It does not perform that badly at 5.6 as the example shows. Did you use LiveView and manual focus to verify that each lens was properly focused every time?

    The rest of the review is fine, to assess lens characteristics, but I would not recommend anyone put any stock in the sharpness conclusions of this review.

  • Todd

    A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to add a 200mm f2 VR to my collection of lenses. It is truly wonderful to use, especially when shooting sports in tough lighting conditions like, like swimming and volleyball. If you ever get a chance to shot with one of these lens, do it!

  • Edmund Ronald

    I believe that your comparison might be flawed by a bad sample or bad focus in the 70-200.

    Disclaimer, I own N and C equipment, and have the old competitor of this lens in the C system – you know what I mean :)

    Edmund

  • Jim Felt

    I’m just simply thrilled, thrilled I say, that this weight training required hunk of glass is “Made in Japan”! By the way how much of the exterior lens barrel is metal vs. plastic? Just curious…

  • decemberlight

    Thanks for the review.
    Sounds like I should keep my “old” 200/2.0, take it out of the packaging and actually start using it.
    The “import” version of the “old” model is getting cheaper at B&H. Might be a reasonable alternative.
    Is it just me or do the new pro lenses coming now from Nikon seem to have more front/back
    focus issues than the older versions ?

    • decemberlight

      Sorry, I just checked and its actually gone back up to the $39xx. area. Was down, I believe, in the $37xx. area within the last week. Give the VR2 some distribution time and the import will probably come back in.

  • Darkness

    Lightroom RAW converter sucks…

  • chuck

    I got the orginal version recently, this lens just rocks. I’m sure the new one is better, but not 2.5K better than what I paid :D

    • Doug Laurent

      got the new vr2 3 days ago, and it’s excellent! but of course nobody will make a mistake with the old version. the difference in vr performance, sharpness etc. is not extreme – no wonder looking at the high level of the vr1 model!

  • Eric Pepin

    our school equipment room has one for students to borrow, and it tends to sit in its space on the shelf. Being able to move around and get a shot is much more important then a lens thats a bit sharper then a lens thats already amazingly sharp.
    For special applications though, certain sports (indoor ones come to mind) this lens could be a gem.

  • aetas

    I want one! Does anyone here have one to give to me? I wont send money to nigeria but i will say thank you. Maybe my wife has one under the christmas tree. I dont have a need for it now, but i might be able to find some if i had it=)

  • http://latoyabridges.co.cc/ Latoya Bridges

    I believe that your comparison might be flawed by a bad sample or bad focus in the 70-200. Disclaimer, I own N and C equipment, and have the old competitor of this lens in the C system – you know what I mean :) Edmund

  • Proffski

    A magnificent review indeed, for when only the very best is good enough. Go NIKON go!

  • mrcontinental

    I love mine above all others, including my 300 f2.8vr. Plus it’s the best workout around!

  • Doug

    I own many of Nikon’s finest lenses, yet; must say that my 200 f2 VRII is the sharpest of the lot !

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