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70-200 mm lens choices


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Hi Brian,

I am sure you have discussed this before regarding choices for Nikon 70-200 mm lenses. You mentioned that the f4 is tack sharp at f4. What would be my benefit for going to the f2.8 lens because I thought the rule of thumb was two stops for sharpness.

I know you are a Nikon "snob" but I also see that Sigma is releasing a new version of their Sport f2.8 so I'm looking at that also.

Thanks for any advice or gotchas you can provide.

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Yeah, the Nikon 70-200 f/4 is one of those lenses that doesn't fit within that one / two stops down for sharpness rule. The benefit of going to f/2.8...is f/2.8. LOL!! That one extra stop, subject Isolation, More Shallow DoF, etc. You can really benefit from f/2.8 on a crop body, due to the angle of view change. The "Look" that you get with 2.8 on a DX body is similar to what you would see on a FX body @ f/4. At first, people do not realize just how shallow f/2.8 is. Then they start shooting and realize they will end up shooting at f/4 a lot or f/3.2. Then they ask me why did I recommend f/2.8.

Because...f/2.8 - duh!! LOL!! People seem to go nuts over sharpness. There is more to a lens then sharpness. How it produces color and contrast, how it handles lens flare and chromatic aberration, in addition to sharpness and build quality, ALL matter. Heck, how loud a Autofocus Motor is, that's built into the lens, comes into play. Nikon lenses are usually whisper quiet. I've used Sigma Lenses that sound like a meat grinder when auto-focusing.

The Measurebators will happy cite DxO Scores and this review vs that review, what this person says vs that person and go on-and-on-and-on. Say Nikon is a waste of money and just buy a Sigma or Tamron or whatever. I don't have time for that. I shoot Weddings. I do not want to worry about my gear on a gig. Having f/2.8 in my arsenal is great for when I need it. Yes, f/3.2 is A LOT more forgiving than f/2.8 and I will happily shoot at that Aperture. Yes, I'm normally at f/4 with my 70-200 VR II. I also could be at f/2.8 or f/8 or f/11 or f/5.6. It really depends on WHAT I'm photographing and the look I'm after.

Now for Sigma and Tamron and all the 3rd party lenses. As you pointed out, I'm a Nikon OEM Snob. I like ordering a lens, having it shipped to my door, pulling it out of the box and with almost complete certainty, like 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% certainty, that the lens will work perfectly out of the box. Heck, I've stopped by a Best Buy to replace a lens / flash and go straight to a Wedding Gig and start using the new piece of equipment right away, without having to worry if it's going to work or not. I can't say that with a 3rd Party Lens. I just can't. If you do go the 3rd party route, test it thoroughly.  Now QC has improved, and lenses like the Sigma ART series seem to be well regarded but it's not THAT uncommon to go through 2-3 copies to get a good one from a 3rd party lens. So make sure the return policy from the place you purchase it from is fairly liberal. Does Nikon or Canon or whoever have bad copies? Sure. Nobody is perfect. But I can tell you that I have more confidence with a OEM lens. (With the exception of the original Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens. That lens is crap. Period. Though that is a topic for a different thread, LOL!! )

Don't even get me started on the resale value if I wanted to dump all my gear and go do something else. A high-quality, well regarded OEM lens will always yield more money when you sell it. Sigma and Tamron...heh. Good Luck. You'll pay $1200 for a Sigma lens and you'll be lucky to get $300-$400 for it. Maybe a little more if there is high demand, and if you request more I will almost guarantee you that the reason you can't get more is because it's a "____________" and not a Nikon. "...But the DxO score stated that this is way better than the Nikon Version!! All my FB Photography Group friends say this ___________ lens is 'teh awesome' and amazeballz!!" "Umm...yeah. It's still not a Nikon, or Canon, or Sony, or OEM whatever." 

OK, so let's get to the benefit of shooting with a 70-200 VR II or the newest version at f/4 and shooting with a 70-200 f/4 @ f/4. One word: WEIGHT.  Another word: SIZE. A 70-200 f/2.8 lens is approximately 3 lbs / 1.36078 Kilograms all by itself. The f/4 is 1.87 lb / 850 g. In addition, the f/4 version has a 67mm thread size which means it has a smaller diameter than the 70-200 f/2.8, which has a 77mm thread size. So the f/4 version is "skinnier" than the f/2.8 version. I'm also under the assumption that the 70-200 f/2,8 has a bit better weather sealing, though I'm not 100% sure on that one. Oh, why would one worry about weather sealing? Sometimes you aren't in the best weather conditions...

Funny story: Once I was on a Whale Watching Cruise off Cape May, NJ. I was determined to be up front to get a good shot. I was one of THOSE photographers. (I'm better now and have gotten over myself. LMAO!!) Well, the seas were rough that day; so much that the water in front of the boat dropped about 20 feet or so and formed a very large wave that crashed over the bow which completely soaked me and my camera and 70-200 lens. Salt Water is not good for ANY gear, let alone a fancy lens. I ended up POURING two water bottles directly on  the 70-200 Lens to wash out any salt residue in the nooks and crannies...then shot a wedding with no issues 5 days later. I wouldn't DARE do something like that with a 3rd Party Lens.

OK, what else? Oh, the 70-200 f/4 also does not come with a tripod collar and has to be purchased after the fact. Why use a tripod collar? For your heavier lenses, it's much better to use the center of gravity placed on the lens, as it saves wear-and-tear on your lens mount. Sure it will take years for your lens mount to wear out, and by that time you'll be in another body...but from a stability standpoint, it's better to use a tripod collar and "mount" your camera to a heavy / large lens vs the other way around. Since the f/4 version is lighter and smaller, you can get away with not having one. That said, you could get a Kirk Tripod Collar or a Really Right Stuff version which will be way ahead of Nikon's Tripod Collar design. (Sidenote: I'm getting a RRS Tripod Collar with built in Arca Plate for Christmas to replace the Tripod Foot on my 70-200 VR II. It's starting to wear out and I'm looking to utilize a better design with higher quality metal, so I'm not a 100% Snob. I do use 3rd party stuff from time-to-time. LOL!)

Now we also get down to price. Photography has never been a poor-man's thing. In short, you get what you pay for. A Nikon 70-200 f/2.8E FL ED lens, which is the newest version will set you back $2800. The older 70-200 f/2.8G VR II is $2150 and getting harder to find as it's listed on back-order from B&H. The 70-200 f/4 is $1400. The Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 equivalent seems to be on sale for $1130-ish, until Thanksgiving weekend ends. So which one do you get? I can say that the newest $2800 version is better in almost every possible way than the older "G" version, the only thing people complain about is Nikon swapped the stupid focusing ring and zoom ring. So you end up knocking your focus off if you aren't careful. You can't tuck your arms in tight and be a sniper. You really have to think and improve your technique with the 70-200 E lens. Other than that, the lens is freaking awesome. (It better be for $2800.) The 70-200 f/2.8G VR II Lens is also very, very good. I have a love-affair with mine and her name is Bertha. Bertha gets SH*T DONE. It's cheaper than the E Version and the zoom ring is closest to the camera. The only downside to that lens is when you are really  close to your subject and zoom out to 200mm, it has some focus breathing meaning the "look" is very similar to a 135mm lens. If you have never shot with a 135mm lens, this won't be an issue. I haven't found it to be an issue. I've had her for 5+ years and that's never been an issue. The Measurebators...yep, they will bitch about this issue. LOL! If you have shot with say a AF 80-200mm f/2.8D lens from the 1990's, then you will notice the difference of 200mm at a certain distance is not truly 200mm. Again, I haven't found this to be an issue.

So which one do you buy? It depends on your budget and what you shoot. I can say is that if you do get a f/2.8 version, the chances of you purchasing a f/4 version will be quite low. I can also say with confidence that you will have that lens for 20 years and go through 4-5 camera bodies before you replace your Nikon 70-200 f2.8 Lens. Let that sink in. You buy the lens once and have it for a decade or more. So that $2800 hit isn't that bad as spending $2000 every 2-3 years for a new camera body. Because let's face it, cameras start acting wonky around the 4-5 year mark and technology improves so much that the temptation of buying a new body within 3-5 years is very high. So take 7 years...chances are you'll spend around $4000 or so. Then in another 7 years, another $4000. That's $8000 over a time period of 14-15 years vs a $2800 charge that you spent once and you still will be using that lens.

If you are just a hobbyist and want something light and small to travel with, the Nikon 70-200 f/4 is a fine lens. IF budget is a major issue and you can not afford to spend $2800, I'd get a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 f/4 lens instead of a Sigma. Or Tamron. If you can afford $2800, are a working professional, and want something that is going to last...get the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8E lens and be happy.

Buy it Right-Buy it Once. 

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