on December 20, 2009
Speaking as a professional photographer - I have been using the original 70-200mm VR 2.8 for a while now and loved every moment of it. It doesn't matter how familiar I am with this lens, it still feels magical at times to be able to separate subject and background while pulling the background in as smooth bokeh. As most pros will tell you, the 70-200mm VR 2.8 "is" the bread and butter wedding portrait lens and more. That was then. This is now - as soon as I saw the announcement of this "new version", I pre-ordered it. While reading colleague Cliff Mautner's blog, I simply couldn't wait!! It finally arrived early this month(12/2009), I did some quick in-home test and was extremely impressed!! Not to reiterate on the amazing optical quality, the new version VR allows me to get a sharp image down to 1/5th!! and consistently at 1/15th. (The best $2400 I've ever spent!!). I packed up the original version and was getting ready to eBay it the following week!
I then took the lens for a real-world test few days later on my last wedding of the year. To give you some background - I always use this lens during ceremonies and in churches while knowing my movements are limited. I usually capture journalistic ceremonial actions as well as the reactions at either end of the pews at about 10-20 feet distance to produce intimate images. Something struck me as odd this day. I initially felt the reach was somehow inadequate, especially at 200mm, but, knowing that I should just love this lens, I quickly attributed this to the large church I was shooting in. However, after reading some reviews and complaints, I reluctantly compared this new version to my original 70-200mm VR 2.8 and then the 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 ED (as a second opinion) and found out that at 200mm, this lens indeed comes in shorter. It's like a 65mm-155mm equivalent at about 7 feet distance comparing to the other two lenses. The original 70-200mm VR 2.8 and the 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 ED was about the same at 200mm which the latter zooms in just a tiny bit closer. Unfortunately for those who doesn't owned the original 70-200mm VR 2.8, it would be hard to compare. But if you have the original on hand, please try it for yourself. Use a tripod and shoot a fix subject with all these lenses. It's easy to compare the older and the newer versions, simply turn both to 200mm and shoot it. As for the 70-300, dial the ring to 200 and align the middle zero to the indicator dot on your focal ring, you should get a solid 200mm reading from your EXIF data. The difference should be obvious. I am well aware that there's going to be variations between lenses, but as for the same manufacturer and essentially the same lens, the difference is simply too great. I will wait for the New Canon 70-200mm which I doubt would have this issue (Update 4/24/10 - The new Canon 70-200mm IS II is simply amazing - without the Nikon magnification shrink issue).
With the exception of a flimsier hood and the magnification shrink issue, this lens is overall slightly better in just about every other aspect than the Original (since the original is already a "CLASSIC", it's hard to do much better). Nonetheless, there's definitely improvements in color, vignette control, CA, distortion, and the VR is simply "incredible". Also, this lens is just a tiny bit shorter and it doesn't look like a "Bamboo" stick as the original:)
(It breaks my heart to rate this "new version" 4 stars not because it's performance and construction but simply because that it does not "replace" the lens that it's "supposed to" replace. The focal length changes with the distance so the 65-155mm is a rough average while shooting within 30 feet. The closer you are to your subject, the worse it gets. For instance, at minimum focusing distance, the new 200mm is about the equivalent of 130mm on the original!! And more unfortunate for me, I shoot most of my subjects within 30 feet distance. Here's the full comparison at under 30 feet distance(added 1/10/10) - I did the test personally using Manfrotto 190 CXPRO3 and a tape measure:
New 70-200 VR II........Original 70-200 VR
30ft. 200mm.....................190mm (even at 30 feet, it's still not a 200mm comparing to the original)
So picture this, if you are in a tight church 10 feet away from your subjects and crouched between a rock and a hard place, would you say that it's okay when you want to use a "200mm" lens for close-ups of a ring exchange(for instance) but realize that you only have a "170mm"?!! Sure you can crop, but that means you are going to lose 3-5 megapixels of resolution! This is exactly why I felt the reach was "inadequate" during my initial real-world test. Yes, if you move away far enough from your subject the effective focal length will eventually equate to the original but then again, it simply isn't the same application anymore.
Some has brought up the issue of magnification ratio (in comment, thanks to ATK!!) - everyone knows that one can get the same 1:1 ratio from a 50mm vs 60mm vs a 105mm etc.. But that's not really the issue "here". With macro applications, one can simply change the mag ratio/distance by moving a few inches to and fro the subject but with real human subjects, a few inches becomes a few feet!
Hence, if one normally use this lens at various distances within 30 feet, you will notice a huge change. The closer you get, the more severe it will be. While capturing moments as it unfolds in a fraction of a second, this lens' focal length just isn't as effective comparing to the original version. I love all my Nikons gears and this is perhaps the first real disappointment that I had to encounter for a while. (Perhaps another is the SB-900's overheating problem.) This focal length issue may not be too serious to many people but as far as my personal applications specifically assigned to this lens, and perhaps to many others like me, it is quite irksome.
One last thing, to capture normal human movement(not fast action), 1/100th of a second is a good start. I usually opt between 1/80th -1/160th as minimum - depending of the speed of the movement. So for this application, the VR will only keep your lens steady but it will not stop action. You will undoubtedly get a motion blur at 1/10th, 1/15th, 1/30th, 1/40th, etc.
Thanks - Sean Marshall Lin