Nikon 70-200mm F4 vs F2.8 – Lens comparison

December 9, 2012

One of the lenses that made the biggest impression on me was the new AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR lens. I am an enthusiast photographer. My first ‘professional’ lens was the Canon EF 70-200mm F4L IS. I bought this lens because I was impressed with its optical performance, image stabilization, AF speed and relatively compact body (compare to the F2.8 version). I bought this lens for my birthday.  If I could have afforded the 70-200mm F2.8L IS II, I would probably would have gotten it instead of the F4 model.

Nikon 70-200mm F4 G VR lens

Nikon 70-200mm F4 G VR lens

The Nikon 70-200mm F4 ED VR will be a very popular lens as the 70-200mm F4L IS is in the Canon’s side. There are many enthusiast photographers out there that really want to get the 70-200 F2.8 but cannot afford it. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor zoom lens costs around $2400 (as for the time of writing this article) compare to ‘only’ around $1450 for the Nikon 70-200 f/4G ED VR AF-S Nikkor Zoom lens. Almost a $1K difference in order to enjoy a F2.8 aperture.

The Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VR II is an amazing lens (note that there are two model 70-200mm VR models, an older model and a new updated model). The F2.8 model is used widely by both enthusiast and professional photographers alike. It’s among the best telephoto zoom lens out there. Professional pick it for its ultra high optical performance, weather sealing and fast AF speed.

The 70-200mm f/4G VR is a new telephoto zoom lens that was designed for FX-format DSLR cameras, but of course it’s compatible with Nikon’s DX-format DSLR cameras as well. The lens features Nikon’s latest Vibration Reduction technology, claiming up to 5-stop stabilization.  The price point should be in reach for enthusiast photographers, those who cannot afford getting the F2.8, but still won’t a professional grade performance and don’t mind shooting with a slower aperture. It’s great to see that Nikon worked to improve the image stabilization technology with this lens, because this should help when shooting low-light static subjects with F4.

Of course when we are talking about F/4, it means a constant F4 lens. It means that you can shoot at 200mm at F4 aperture. You will enjoy a beautiful out-of-focus background due to the 9-blade diaphragm. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR comes at the right time after the Nikon D600 was announced. If you are planning to get the D600 and you haven’t got the budget for the F2.8 lens, the F4 will certainly be an excellent alternative. The D600 is Nikon’s latest most affordable full-frame SLR camera.

The Nikon 70-200mm F4 G VR will appeal to both enthusiast and professional photographers alike, whether its for sports, portrait or wildlife shooting.  The F4 model weights 850 g/30.0 oz. and it ‘s 78.0 x 178.5 mm/3.1 x 7.0 in. in size. The F2.8 VR II weights 1540 g/3.4 lb. and it’s 87 x 205.5 mm/3.4 x 8.1 in. in size. So that’s 690 g difference in weight and the F4 is also smaller in size.  The F4 has a 67mm filter size versus 77mm of the F2.8 version.


70-200mm F2.8 VR II vs F4 VR

Let’s take a look at a specs comparison table, comparing the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II vs AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR:

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If you compare the MFT charts of both the 70-200 F2.8 and F4 you can see that the has very high contrast and sharpness, especially in the tele end The Tele sharpness is excellent from the center of the frame to corners. That’s is not the same result on the F2.8 model, where we can see better center contrast in the center of the frame in the wide angle, but it falls more drastically towards the corners of the frame.  It terms of sharpness, the F2.8 performs excellent in the center but less in the corners. The F4 seems to have an excellent sharpness at the tele end all across the frame, at the wide angle it also result in an excellent performance, falling a bit in the corners. Overall the F4 shows constant sharpness and contrast performance across the frame – no doubt, impressive results.

The F4 can also focus closer to the subject from 1.0m compare to 1.4m on the F2.8 model.

dpreview has some images of a woman holding the D600 + the F4G lens so you can see how relatively small this lens is and it’s about the same size as the Canon F4 model. I had the Canon F4L and I was surprised to see how small it is. When you look at photos on the web you expect something much bigger, and it’s relatively small, more than you expect.


Aperture F2.8 vs F4

Regarding exposure, with today’s new digital camera and excellent high ISO performance, this is less of a problem.  You can still shoot at low light conditions and the VRIII can certainly help when shooting static subjects and also useful when shooting videos (don’t forget that if you intend to shoot lots of videos). Fast action shooters will also prefer getting the F2.8 because they can use faster shutter speeds (f4 = 1/60 vs f2.8 = 1/125, an example for a given scene. You get twice more f light with F2.8 compare to F4). In general, higher ISO means more noise and that’s something that professional photographers want to avoid, unless it’s absolutely impossible to get a specific shot otherwise. But again, just take a look at some Nikon full frame DSLR sample images and you can see that the limit is quite high. You can shoot usable images with relatively low noise even at ISO3200 and ISO6400 (the D3s is probably the king when it comes to low light performance). With DX format DSLRs you are more limited, but still have a good ISO range to shoot with and get usable clean shots.

The biggest advantage is in the depth of field, being able to get more blurred background while keeping the subject tack sharp.  This subject isolation is used by many photographers to achieve more pleasing results, whether its for portraits, nature or any other type of subject that needs clean separation from distracting background (and foreground). I think that this is probably the main reason why many will pay extra in order to get the F2.8 model. Another advantage would be faster autofocus because more light is available for the autofocus sensor.  So in general, you should expect better af performance with the F2.8 when shooting in low light. Others will prefer the F4 due to its smaller size and less weight.

I’ve did spend time reading some professional photographer’s opinion and that’s stood quite well with the MFT charts of both lenses, with the F4 being sharper than the F2.8. This is not a scientific test, but it seems that F4 lenses are sharper than F2.8 ones (do you agree?). This is usually true for many lenses, is that you get sharper results when stopping down one to two stops. So F2.8 would be sharper at F4 than it is at F2.8.

With a F2.8 you can also use a x1.4 or x2 teleconverters. With the x1.4 you get F4 but it will multiply the focal length by 1.4, so you get longer reach but still can use a relatively fast aperture.


70-200 mm F4G VR Sample Images

Here are some sample images via Flickr..

140mm 200mm
raindrops and farmhouse 大橋に遊ぶ


On Nikon website.


Should I Buy a Second Hand F2.8?

There is always an option to buy a second hand 70-200 F2.8 for a lower price. If you can get a well reserved lens for a relatively much lower price, I would certainly consider it.  Many photographers will certainly would like to have the F2.8 because of the shallower depth of field at F2.8 compare to F4. For some photographers this is crucial like sports, weddings, portraits and concert photographers. I personally not that guy who will buy a second hand lens from a stranger, but might be from a reliable second hand shop, that I might do. You can also check the older F2.8 VR lens (not the VRII moel) which there is a better chance to find this model for a much lower price as a new model was introduced to the market.



The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR will be a very popular lens, like the Canon EF 70-200mm F4 for Canon photographers. It certainly has a niche market and aimed towards enthusiast photographer who want a fast telephoto zoom lens but cannot afford to get the more expensive F2.8 model. Some will choose the F4 because of its excellent optical performance, smaller size and much lower weight compare to the F2.8. The new 5-stop image stabilization is a welcomed feature.  The 70–200 F4 doesn’t come with a tripod collar and you need to buy it separately which can be quite expensive (SRP $223.95).  All in all, a premium grade lens for an attractive price.

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