Nikon has been cooking this one for quite a while, and it’s about time! If you are one of those DSLR nerds who follows Nikonrumors.com then you know when Nikon files patents for various new lenses. Some of the lens designs never see the light of day, (or not yet) …while others show up as physical lenses within a year or so.
The idea of a Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR is something that I am personally very excited about. Why? Don’t all pros just bite the bullet and lug three or more massive f/2.8 zooms to every single job they shoot? If you think that, clearly you don’t “lug” 30+ pounds of equipment around very much. Personally, I love any opportunity to save weight without sacrificing sharpness or rugged build quality. And I shoot plenty of jobs, including commercial product / architectural jobs, where the entire job is accomplished at f/16. I’m also an avid landscape photographer. All I care about in those situations is sharpness. And that is exactly the quality that lenses like a 70-200 f/4 VR can provide.
First and foremost, I use the Canon 70-200 f/4 L’s as a reference point. Both of those Canon lenses have exhibited incredible sharpness, in fact most copies of the lens are downright flawless from center to corner. They are even sharper wide open at f/4 than the 70-200 f/2.8 mk1’s are when stopped down to f/4. (The new Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS mk2 just *barely* matches / beats the 70-200 f/4 L IS, by the way. Don’t hate the messenger, all you aperture junkies, I’m just reporting what most lab tests say…)
If a Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR can achieve sharpness and “L” build quality like the Canon, then in my opinion it will be a huge winner, in fact it will probably sell faster than Nikon can stock it for quite a while after it hits shelves, which (allegedly) will be by the end of November.
I still haven’t answered my original question- Why would a professional low-light shooter like myself even consider using an f/4 zoom? The answer is simple:
- It is probably going to be more than $1,000 cheaper than the f/2.8 VR2 version.
“It’s just a business expense”, some pros would say, or the hobbyist mantra- “camera bodies come and go, but lenses are forever” …While this is true, money is still money, and I could take that $1000 and put it towards a nice 85mm prime or even a new 135 f/2 prime if it ever comes out, (another on my Nikon tele-wishlist!)
- Yes, I am a prime guy.
I only rely on zooms when I absolutely need the versatility; otherwise I’d rather use primes. It may not save my wallet if I’m investing in both an f/4 pro zoom and a nice sharp prime, but it will at least save my shoulders. And of course, primes always seem to force creative thinking.
- ISO on camera bodies is just getting better and better.
I remember when we used to barely be able to use ISO 800 and 1600 on digital cameras. Back then, everybody talked about just how necessary their f/2.8 zooms were. Then ISO 3200 and 6400 became commonplace. The flagships are turning out clean ISO 12800! Yet people keep on talking about how necessary their precious f/2.8 was. The bottom line is, these days it just depends on your shooting style. And my shooting style is, I only shoot on zooms when absolutely necessary, or when light levels make it convenient. Whenever people used to bicker about f/2.8 versus f/4, I would simply point out that if you’re really an aperture / low-light junkie, even f/2.8 is pathetic compared to f/1.4. And with megapixels on the rise, a camera like the D800 with an 85 f/1.4 gives me a ~127mm f/1.4 in DX crop mode, or an equivalent ~200mm f/2 if Nikon would get around to making a new 135mm f/2 with today’s AFS-G autofocus technology. (If they don’t, the current Nikon 135 f/2 DC is still an incredible performer, I just don’t care for AF-D autofocus…)
- My hobby is also shooting landscapes.
Landscape photography is where you will most frequently hear even the most respected say “I don’t care about aperture, only about sharpness and rugged build quality.” When I’m testing a lens for landscape photography, I go straight to f/8-16. And I pay attention to things like weather sealing, and metal VS plastic construction. And of course, weight. For an adventure photographer who may have to pack a lens on their back for many miles, every extra ounce hurts.
So, there you have it. I say, bring on the Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR. In today’s age of ever-increasing ISO’s, (and in today’s age of many empty wallets :-( …I think Nikon will have a huge winner on their hands. It may not be for you, but I guarantee that for every one photographer who scoffs at an f/4, another 2-4 will eagerly scoop up a copy and put it to good use. At least, that’s my opinion. What say you?