Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Review | The Most Anticipated Lens Of 2020?
A 70-200mm f/2.8 is one of the most important flagship lenses in any camera system’s entire lineup. It is a workhorse; you might use it to capture almost all of your best photos, maybe even to pay your bills as a full-time professional photographer.
In fact, a good 70-200mm f/2.8 might even make the difference between choosing one system or another! This is not something that can be said about most lenses, indeed; nobody is switching from one system to another because they made an awesome 50mm f/1.8, or a slightly better walk-around lens. A 70-200mm f/2.8 is the cornerstone of a lineup.
Without any further introduction, let’s make one thing clear: The Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S is pretty much the best 70-200mm lens we have ever reviewed. It really is that good.
It offers essentially perfect sharpness, and every other aspect of image quality is stunning, plus, it is built to be a solid workhorse of a lens that stands the test of time. There are only one or two obscure nit-picks that are barely worth mentioning, mere quibbles that honestly won’t affect your buying decision. So, if a 70-200mm f/2.8 is important to your photography, then out of literally all the full-frame systems around, mirrorless or DSLR, this Nikkor should be one of your top candidates.
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S | Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 70-200mm, (full-frame) 34° 20′ to 12° 20′
- LENS MOUNT(S): Nikon Z (full-frame & APS-C mirrorless)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/2.8 to f/22, rounded 9-blade
- STABILIZATION: Yes, CIPA rating 5 stops
- AUTOFOCUS: Yes, two stepper motor (virtually silent)
- MANUAL FOCUS: Yes, electronically controlled, behind zoom ring
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 21 elements in 18 groups, 2 aspherical, 6 ED, 1 short-wave refractive index, ARNEO, Nano Crystal, & Super Integrated coatings
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal, high-grade plastic, fully weather-sealed
- OPTIONS: OLED info panel, customizable control ring, AF/MF switch, focus distance limiter switch, Fn1, and Fn2 buttons, detachable, non-Arca-Swiss tripod foot.
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.2x, 1.64 ft (50 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 77mm filters, mechanical locking hood
- SIZE: 3.5 x 8.66 in (89 x 220 mm)
- WEIGHT: 2.99 lb (1360 g)
- PRICE: $2,596 (B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Review | Who Should Buy It?
[Related Reading: Nikon Z5 Review | The Best Value Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera]
A full-frame telephoto f/2.8 zoom is a very popular zoom, for very serious photographers of all types. Portraits, events, low-light action sports, wildlife, landscapes, and nightscapes….virtually every subject in the entire world of photography might consider this lens.
We could leave it at that, but let’s talk briefly about a few individual genres of photography, and break down WHY you’ll find this particular lens useful.
For low-light wedding photojournalism, as well as wedding portraits, a 70-200mm f/2.8 is the lens that pays many photographer’s bills. There is no disputing this, however, let’s consider a few other factors. Namely, if you’re a wedding photographer who really likes primes instead of zooms, then it’s possible you might want to invest as much as possible in a good 85mm, 105mm, or 135mm prime lens instead.
So, just ask yourself: do you already know if you love primes more than zooms, or vice-versa? If you almost always use prime lenses, and rarely grab a 70-200mm, then there’s a chance you could be happy to continue working with a DSLR-era 70-200mm f/2.8. As of this review, Nikon does have an S-line 85mm on their roadmap, presumably with an f/1.2 or f/1.4 aperture.
Personally? I love both primes and zooms, however, when it comes to wedding photography I usually prefer to have a high-quality flagship 70-200mm f/2.8, and when I reach for a prime lens, I want it to be a lightweight and portable option so that I can give my shoulders and wrists a rest. Thus, I’d pair this Z/S Nikkor lens with the Z/S 85mm f/1.8, and that would be the ultimate setup for me!
Portrait photography itself is different from wedding photography in that you are almost always in control of the scene. This might allow you to opt for a good prime lens a lot more often, and maybe an 85mm or 105mm lens would suit your portrait needs better. Having said that, many portrait photographers still turn to the 70-200mm f/2.8 because it is just so versatile a lens, even when you can control your subject distance.
Plus, the greater variety of portraiture you do, from families to newborns or kids or even pets, the more you’ll appreciate being able to zoom in many situations.
Fashion & Editorial Photography
High-end types of portraits (or any portrait of just one subject) often use the focal ranges from 105mm or 135mm all the way to 200mm, so a 70-20mm f/2.8 lens is going to be even more well-suited for the job. The compression that is possible with such a lens is a classic tool in many types of high-end portraiture, and the shallow depth of longer telephoto focal lengths and the aperture of f/2.8 is an iconic way to make a subject stand out.
Candid, Event, & Street Photography
Events and candids and journalism are great with a 70-200mm. You can get group photos of 2-4 people at 70mm one second, and then the next second you can zoom to 200mm and capture some candid action of much more distant subjects.
Some types of street photography might make you want a more compact, incognito lens, in which case you might prefer to reach for a “tiny” 85mm f/1.8 lens instead. However, there’s just no comparing an 85mm prime and a 70-200mm when it comes to versatility in candid and street/event photography
Action Sports Photography
If you think candid and event photography could use a 70-200mm f/2.8, you should try action sports photography! Not only are you often in low light, but you also need as fast of shutter speeds as possible to stop action. Simply put, a 70-200mm f/2.8 is just as much a workhorse, a bread-and-butter lens, for action sports as it is with wedding or portrait photography, maybe even more.
Furthermore, you really, really need the absolute latest and greatest autofocus performance for grabbing fast-moving subjects, which means you should really consider this Nikkor first and foremost.
Wildlife photography is a lot like action sports, however, you may often find that even 200mm is not enough. You might want to save up for a much longer telephoto lens instead, such as a 100-400mm or a 200-500mm/200-600mm. They might be f/5.6 or f/6.3 at the long end of the zoom, however, reach is often more important than sheer speed. (That is, if you’re on a budget, you could always buy the Nikon 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR, if you have $9,4970!)
Still, a good 70-200mm can be essential for what some wildlife situations might consider “the wider angles” as far as telephoto work is concerned, and once again, if you’re tracking moving subjects in low light, you want the latest and greatest (and fully native) autofocus experience.
If you don’t photograph wildlife in extremely low light, however, then you might want to also check out the slower aperture options, from the ~$600 Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR, to the ~$1,400 Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR.
Landscape photographers hardly ever need fast apertures, and usually want a lens that is lightweight, and provides the best zoom range possible without compromising any sharpness at f/8 or f/11.
As such, we might be just as happy to recommend a lens like the Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E , which weighs half as much (1.5 lbs lighter!) and cost about $600 instead of $2,600, while offering more reach on the long end. Simply put, if you’re not going to use f/2.8, then there are better ways to spend your money!
Nightscape & Astrophotography
If you’re photographing landscapes at night, or deep-sky objects, then f/2.8 will indeed become very useful! In fact, astrophotography is one of the most optically challenging subjects, because it tests for those most obscure types of aberration, such as coma, sagittal astigmatism, color fringing/blooming, and of course, vignetting.
With that said, if you want the best image quality at 200mm, this is up there at the top.
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Review | Pros & Cons
[Related Reading: Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S Review | A Near-Flagship Lens in an f/1.8 Package]
The Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S could have probably been made as a compact and lightweight lens, thanks to the significantly wider and shorter mount size. A lot of mirrorless users really care about portability!
However, it is clear that Nikon had an objective with this lens, and they did not compromise–they wanted to make the sharpest, best 70-200mm f/2.8 possible. They achieved this goal, indeed, with some of the sharpest images we’ve ever seen, and truly impressive image quality in other respects.
Bokeh is beautifully smooth, thanks to all that glass and the wide, wide mount diameter. Colors and contrast are just gorgeous; in fact, un-processed RAW images look as good as, or better than, out-of-camera JPGs. (This also has to do with Adobe’s improved attempts at reading .NEF files, of course, but still!)
Vignetting & Distortion are both low or nonexistent, depending on if you have the in-camera profile corrections turned on.
Flare & Sunstars are another delightful (though, highly subjective) aspect of image quality that we were pleasantly surprised to see looking “classic” on this modern marvel of a lens. Specifically, in just the right light, you can create a beautiful flare effect that is very rare. (See below!)
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
Aside from sharpness, there are a handful of obscure aspects of image quality that are often overlooked. However, this is what you get when you pay the premium for name-brand flagship lenses–perfection extends even to the aspects of image quality that only matter to specialty genres of photography and hardcore pixel-peepers.
Macro & Close-Up Photography, Focus Breathing
The Z-mount 70-200mm can focus quite close-up and doesn’t lose any of its sharpness when set to its minimum focus distance.
When zoomed to 200mm and focused on a close-up subject, the lens does seem to widen its effective angle of view, however, the closeness the lens can focus with still allows plenty of magnification, thus, it is one of the best 70-200mm lenses we can recommend for doing close-up (though maybe not dedicated macro) photography work.
Design & Durability
There is a lot to like about the design of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, especially compared to the slightly controversial design of the other new name-brand 70-200mm f/2.8, Canon’s RF-mount flagship lens. The Canon, simply put, uses a controversial externally moving design, with a zoom ring that requires significantly more movement in order to zoom from one end of its range to the other. We were not the biggest fans of that design, so we’re happy to report that the Nikon Z-mount 70-200mm’s zoom design is the familiar internal-zooming, short-throw design…
Third-party lenses are offering some weather-sealing and sturdy build quality these days, but name-brand flagship lenses are still the ones with the least (zero, in most cases) cut corners. If you plan to use your gear in truly nasty weather, the name-brand option is always the most likely to stand the test of time.
Metal & Plastic Construction
This particular Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 is not made in Japan, and includes some high-grade plastic parts. Should you worry about any of these aspects of construction? No, not at all. In our experience, high-grade plastic is just as impervious to serious damage, if not more so. It might even survive a few impacts on concrete, though we don’t recommend performing any scientific tests on purpose, of course!
Autofocus & Manual Focus Performance
One of the best things about many of the latest high-end mirrorless lenses that we are seeing these days, from all manufacturers, is an impressive improvement in autofocus performance. With two stepper motors that are fast and precise, the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S is the most snappy, “grabby” lens we have used on a Nikon system. With the latest autofocus system on the Nikon Z6II, you can expect incredible acquisition and tracking performance, which will likely only get better and better with time as Nikon updates the camera body’s firmware.
Alright, let’s talk about the price of this lens and whether or not what you get is worth the price. Because, yes, it is expensive, however, it is the only option available at present, and it is also perfect in quite a few ways.
I hesitate to categorize “Value” as either a “Pro” or a “Con”, because it’s the only lens of its kind, but let’s put it this way: It’s worth every penny. If you can come even close to affording it, it’s worth saving up for. But, not everybody can afford nearly $2,600, and the third-party options that cost about half as much are also very good, although seamless compatibility might always be guaranteed.
We can say with the utmost confidence that the only significant drawback about this lens is that, although it is worth the price, it’s still a huge investment, and there are still other good values out there that cost more than a thousand dollars less.
What this means is, if you can afford it, there’s nothing we can say here about drawbacks that could deter you.
If you’re a stickler for little details, here’s one that might annoy you: the tripod foot that is included with the Nikon 70-200 Z/S does not have an Arca-Swiss dovetail built-in, like Tamron and Sigma (DSLR) lenses now both have. How do I solve this problem? See above–instead of adding a plate to the already substantial stock tripod foot, I just remove the stock foot as much as possible, and then I bolt a smooth, slim tripod foot directly to the rotating, permanent portion of the lens itself. Works like a charm!
Other than that, there’s not much else to nit-pick about. Personally, I do miss the full-time focus window, and physical focus ring control, but that’s not the end of the world.
I’m also just a little bit annoyed that there is no VR on/off switch on the lens itself; I think it’s a more convenient location for switching stabilization on and off; so you can always have a physical switch you can feel and never have to check a menu setting while you’re trying to take pictures of critical moments in a dark church.
Having said this, maybe that’s what you could the L-Fn2 button for? Nope, I hunted through the menu options and didn’t see VR on/off control as an option, though maybe that can change with a camera body firmware update?
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Review | Compared To The Competition
There are no other native Z-mount f/2.8 telephoto lenses to choose from at this time, period. So, if you’re looking for an alternative, it is going to have to be a DSLR lens on an FTZ adapter!
Or, if you don’t care much about autofocus performance, you could use the TechArt adapter and mount a Sony E-mount lens, either the 700-200mm f/2.8 GM or maybe the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, if you’re looking for by far the most affordable and lightweight option.
First and foremost, for now, we have to say to stay away from the TechArt adapter, especially if you value optimal autofocus performance. The Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM costs about the same and yet is optically not as impressive, while the Tamron, although impressive, is likely to arrive in Z-mount sooner or later.
Honestly, the strongest competition will come from the two or three other DSLR flagship 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses you might already own, or be considering. There’s the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, which is on sale for $1,897 these days. Usually, it’s $2,347, but at that point, if you don’t already own it, (the “E” FL DSLR lens) then you should just save up for the Z-mount lens.
If you are hoping to keep your budget under $1,500, though, then neither of those current-generation flagship lenses are realistically within reach. Instead, you’ll have to consider a used Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, which can be found for around $1,000 to $1,300 used and is an extremely sharp, reliable lens that you can trust to stand the test of time just as well as the latest-and-greatest options.
Sigma and Tamron both make flagship-grade 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses now, and both are impressive performers: There’s the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports, ($1,379-1499) …and the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. ($1,299)
Both of these third-party lenses are a great value, and they have a few minor perks such as an Arca-Swiss tripod foot, and a physical focus distance window and a mechanically coupled manual focus ring.
Having said that, third-party lenses are still a toss-up with the latest-and-greatest Nikon Z-mount mirrorless bodies, unfortunately, so we can’t yet guarantee perfect autofocus performance or perfect vignetting correction, so, buyer beware!
What’s the bottom line? It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. There are, however, alternatives out there that cost about half as much, and yet offer more than, say, ~75% of the actual performance.
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Review | Conclusion
Whether you’re a wedding photographer, a portrait photographer of any kind, or literally any other type of serious or professional photographer who uses a telephoto lens and needs fast apertures, having a 70-200mm f/2.8 is likely going to be crucial.
Check Pricing & Availability
The Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S can be found on B&H, Adorama, and Amazon. It’s going to cost you about $2,600, if it’s not on sale. Also, it’s in high demand right now, so if you need this workhorse of a lens any time soon, don’t wait! Find out where it’s in stock, and get your order in!