The Nikon 70-200 mm f/4 is a lens many Nikonians must have been praying for. It is a compact and lightweight, FX-format compatible telephoto zoom lens, covering a focal-length range from 70 to 200 mm. Such a lens already existed for many years in the Canon lens line-up, and proved to be a very popular, solid performer. The price of the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens suggests it’s not a consumer lens. But it will appeal a much larger group of photographers. It is a is a great traveling companion: light, compact and less expensive than the 70-200mm f/2.8. The Silent Wave Motor (SWM) realizes quiet AF operation and the latest version of Nikon’s virtually silent Vibration Reduction (VR) supposedly delivers a gain of 5 stops.
FOV Nikon AF-S 70-200mm 4G @ 200 mm
The Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G zoom lens offers a 3x zoom range which, complemented with a either a 16-35 mm or 24-70 mm zoom lens, delivers a universal travelers lens kit. We didn’t have the opportunity for a real Nikon 70-200mm f/4 field test, this time. For nice Nikon 70-200mm f/4 sample images, we refer to Nikon’s website.
The build quality of the lens is excellent. However unlike the pro-grade f/2.8 zoom lenses, the Nikon AF-S 70-200/4 VR is not weather-sealed, except for a rubber sealing on the mount. This Nikon f/4 zoom lens weighs “only” 850 grams (versus 1540 grams for the f2.8 version). It’s not only the smaller lens elements for the f/4 version that cause the lower weight: the f/2.8 lens body is made of metal whereas the f/4 version is constructed by using heavy duty plastics. The focus and zoom rings operate very smoothly and are nicely damped. The length of the lens remains constant, regardless of the focus and zoom settings. The front element does not rotate thanks to an IF (internal focusing) design. The lens barrel carries no less than 4 control switches:
- AF/ MF
- Focus limiter (3m to ∞)
- VR on/off
- VR active / normal
The minimum focus distance is 1 meter. The Silent Wave Motor (SWM) truly realizes quiet and fast AF operation. Two focus modes are available – A/M (autofocus with manual override, with AF priority) and M (manual focus). AF is possible even with 2x teleconverters when attached to f/8-compatible body.
Image stabilization / Vibration reduction
We’ve tested the Image Stabilization at a focal length of 70 mm. This lens delivers incredible hand held images. You actually gain 5 EV stops and still have sharp images! The images shot @ 1/6 second + VR actually were sharper than images shot at 1/200 without VR. Remarkable.
According to Nikon you can shoot images without a tripod with shutter speeds as slow as 1/20 sec at the 200mm telephoto end. Looking at our test results at the 70 mm focal length, we have no reason to doubt that bold statement.To our surprise, the hand held images without VR shot at a 1/200 and 1/100 sec were less sharp than we expected, particularly in one direction. Pushing the shutter release button apparently caused vibration in 1 direction.
At f/4 you will encounter visible vignetting (1 stop) at all focal lengths. Move your mouse over the image to the right for a worst case example.
This lens review has been carried out using the Vignette control setting at Normal for the jpg files. And due to this in-camera correction for vignetting by the Nikon D800E, vignetting is virtually absent in jpg files. Only at f/4, especially at 135mm or 200mm, you might detect a slightly visible vignetting in a clear blue sky. Perhaps setting the vignette control at High might prevent that, but we haven’t tested that.
Nikon 70-200/4 VR Distortion
The Nikon 70-200/4 VR shows no distortion to be worried about; our measurements ranged from -0.39% barrel at 70 mm to 1% pincushion at 200 mm. In the image to the right the RAW file of the worst case (200 mm) has been corrected for distortion using a Lens profile in Lightroom.
Bokeh Nikon 70-200/4 VR
The bokeh, or out of focus (“OOF”) rendering by the 9 rounded diaphragm blades of this lens is fine for an f/4 zoom. Those who aim at a real creamy bokeh shoot f/2.8 or faster lenses. But the difference isn’t that spectacular, as you can see in the comparison below.
The Nano Crystal Coat does a good job to prevent flare. When the lens is aimed close to a bright light source, you will not be bothered by a reduced contrast or ghosts due to flare. But a lens with as much 20 elements in 14 groups will never be completely inert to flare. If you point this lens towards a bright light (night photography and concert photography), you can still encounter flare and, in the darkest parts of the image, some ghosts.
Coupled with a 36 megapixel Nikon D800E camera, this lens delivers a very high resolution over the entire zoom range, at any aperture. Resolution is generally excellent in the image center and almost excellent at the borders and corners.
In terms of resolution it equals the famous Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens. In fact it’s overall rating in our lens test overview is even slightly higher. As Ken Rockwell stated in his Nikon 70-200mm 4 review, this observation matches the MTF diagrams provided by Nikon, where the f/4 lens shows higher MTF’s from center to corner (shown below: the higher a line, the better).As fas as you can speak of a weaker performance, it’s at 70mm and 200 mm @ aperture f/4. But even then the resolution is higher than 2500 LW/PH in the utmost corner. The difference in sharpness is shown above by several 100% crops of an image of a tree.
Chromatic aberration is very low, both in jpg files and in uncorrected RAW files. You will not see any lateral chromatic aberration, red and green fringes at harsh contrasts at the corners of your image, not even in very, very large prints.
Conclusion Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4 G FX VR ED review
- Extremely high optical performance:
- Equal to 70-200mm f/2.8 image quality at half the weight
- Low weight for a FX telephoto lens
- Actual 5 stops gain by VR
- Very well resistant to flare
- Not really:
- High price for a consumer lens.
- ~20% heavier than a Nikon 70-300 mm VR
The Nikon 70-200mm f/4 VR has almost the same optical quality of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, but at half the price, size and weight. And that’s quite an achievement, since the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 VR II is one of the best lenses we’ve tested so far. Since we don’t have to stick to 64 ISO anymore, f/4 is more than fast enough. Even for a normal portrait, you will use f/4 or f/5.6 @ 100 mm FX, in order to keep the nose sharp. But most of all, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 is a great traveling companion: light, compact and less expensive than the 70-200mm f/2.8, yet offering you a very high optical quality.