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

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII
In this review Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at Nikon's latest 200mm prime.

This new 200mm f/2 lens from Nikon costs a fair amount of cash at around £4995. This may seem like a lot, but for that you get a professional spec, weather sealed lens with the latest Vibration Reduction system, Nano Crystal lens coatings to help reduce ghosting and flare and a ring-type focusing motor.

Alternatives currently include the old version of this lens, which lacks the Nano Crystal coatings and has the original version of Nikon's Vibration reduction system, but costs a mere £3070. If it's more that you're after a prime lens in this focal range, then Nikon's venerable 180mm f/2.8D IF ED lens is still available at around £620. As well as being a full stop slower, this lens is a much older design and lacks many of the refinements of the 200mm lenses, such as Vibration Reduction and a Silent Wave motor.

There are currently no comparable alternatives from third party manufacturers, so if you're after a fast prime in this range for Nikon, your choice is a marque lens, or a zoom.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII: Handling and features
Lenses of this level in Nikon's line up are built to withstand the rigours of daily professional use. This 200mm feels incredibly solid, and the weight of nearly three kilos will mean you'll certainly notice its presence when carrying it around, or using hand held. Unless you are used to using a lens of this weight, I'd exercise care before planning to hand hold the lens for long periods. If you're worried, then maybe a few sessions at the gym will pay dividends.

Due to the fast maximum aperture of f/2, the barrel is very wide at 124mm diameter. Due to this, the lens feels fat and can be quite difficult to handle when changing lenses. The magnesium barrel is weather sealed and a meniscus filter comes fitted to protect the front element from damage, without reducing image quality.

A large focus control is provided around the area where the lens narrows, which should allow those with smaller hands to still find a good grip of the focus ring. A non-removable tripod collar is also provided and is located around the widest part of the lens barrel. I prefer to set this over to the right hand side when hand holding, so that it doesn't get in the way. As the lens barrel is so wide, it is quite easy to position the foot out of harms way, so I don't think a removable one would improve the design much, except to maybe save a few grams when you know the lens will be hand held.

Focus is powered by a ring-type silent wave motor that is incredibly quick to attain focus. Tracking fast moving and even very erratic subjects poses no issue for this lens. Three focus priority modes can be selected on the lens barrel. Instant manual focus override prioritises movements of the focus ring over AF and AF priority gives preference to autofocus. Finally manual does exactly as it says on the tin.

All the latest of Nikons lens technologies have been employed, including Nano Crystal lens coatings to reduce ghosting and flare and the latest generation of Vibration Reduction, that promises to allow shooting of sharp shots at shutter speed up to four stops slower than would be possible without. I found I could get sharp hand held shots of static subjects over half of the time at shutters speeds as low as 1/6sec, which is roughly five stops slower than the 1/200sec the usual rule of thumb would recommend.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII: Performance
This new 200mm f/2 VR is a superb performer with regard to sharpness. At maximum aperture images already have good sharpness across the frame. Stopping down improves the quality as far as f/5.6, where the sharpness in the centre is excellent and very good towards the edges. I was quite surprised to see how well the lens holds up at smaller apertures too. Even at f/22 the resolution across the frame is good, where I would normally expect the effects of diffraction to have softened results much more.

Resolution at 200mm How to read our graphs
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D700 using Imatest.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII resolution @ 200mm

Chromatic aberrations are often the bane of wide aperture and telephoto lenses, but in this case Nikon have done a great job of keeping any fringing to an absolute minimum. At its worst, fringing can cover an area up to 0.39 pixel widths, which will be very difficult to spot, even in very large prints.

Chromatic Aberrations at 200mm How to read out charts
Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D700 using Imatest.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII Chromatic Aberrations at 200mm

Falloff of illumination towards the corners is very well controlled for a wide aperture lens. At f/2 the corners are 1.42 stops darker than the image centre and stopping down to f/4 results in visual uniformity across the image.

Distortion is well controlled, as you'd expect for a fixed focal lens. There is a little pincushion distortion present as Imatest recorded a level of 0.953%, which should pose few problems. If you're a stickler for straight lines, you'll be please to know that the distortion pattern is uniform, so it should be easy to correct in image editing software afterwards.

Click on the thumbnails for a high resolution image.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII fine details   Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII contrast
Images with excellent sharpness and delineation of fine details are possible with this lens.   Images taken with this lens display biting levels of contrast.

As with Nikon's other lenses that employ their new Nano Crystal coatings, this lens is very resistant to flare and ghosting, and maintains good contrast, even when shooting directly into the light. A deep circular hood is provided with the lens which does an excellent job of shielding the front element from unwanted light from outside the frame, that may cause issues.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm F2G ED VRII: Verdict
This updated 200mm f/2 is a superb lens without a doubt. It produces images with excellent contrast, sharpness, low distortion and minimal levels of chromatic fringing. Whether dropping nearly £5000 on this lens is good value will be up to you, and what you intend to do with it. If you often find yourself using this focal length in the dark, or need faster shutter speeds in less than ideal lighting, such as for indoor sports, then having this lens in your armoury will most certainly pay dividends. It's a specialist lens, which comes at a specialist price.

The refinements made in this model are welcome. The new VR system works incredibly well and the new focus priority modes are handy too.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm F2G ED VRII: Pros
Superb optical performance
Excellent build quality
Fast focusing
Negligible CA levels

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm F2G ED VRII: Cons
Size and weight can make it cumbersome to use


Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VRII: Lens specification
Price £4,995.00
Filter size 52mm (drop in type)
Format Full-frame
Construction 13 elements in 9 groups
Angle-of-view 12°20’
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 300mm
Internal focusing Yes
Image stabilisation Yes
Minimum focus 1.9m
Maximum aperture f/2
Minimum aperture f/22
Weight 2930g
Size 124 x 203.5mm
In the box Lens Case CL-L1, Lens Hood LK 31, Strap LN-1, Sock-type lens cap

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm F2G ED VRII costs around £4995 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm F2G ED VRII

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