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We all have favorites; colors, cars, movies, and dogs. For one reason or another, they grow on you and the more you’re exposed to it, the more partial you become.
When it comes to photographers, we have favorites too. Brands, camera bodies, software, and of course, lenses. I’m no different.
Over the years many lenses have passed through my hands. I have also had experience with a slew of other lenses through newspaper jobs and loaners from friends; everything from fisheyes to 400mm, Sigma to Zeiss.
Each new lens gets to be a favorite for a time – I call it the honeymoon phase. But to really work its way into your heart and truly be that solid go-to favorite, you have to have the lens for an extended period of time. You also need the opportunity to put it through its paces under a multitude of conditions.
The lens that fits the bill for me is the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR2.
Now, I am fully aware that the quality of this lens has never been in question. It is, after all, Nikon’s flagship fast telephoto zoom – with a price tag to match. Let’s start with the bad news: it costs a pension, it’s the size of a small tree, it weighs as much as a newborn baby, and its minimum focusing distance is about a mile away.
For some photographers any or all of these reasons can easily make this lens a deal-breaker. The price is a non-issue if you are a pro. I paid over $2000 for mine more than four years ago and I wouldn’t flinch to do it again. The resale value stays fairly high as well, which may help enthusiasts justify it to themselves.
The size and weight (3.4 pounds); well, you have to pay to play. I’m a bigger guy so I don’t often have the same complaints about the size and weight of a pro body and lens setup, and actually find smaller cameras a bit awkward to use for extended periods of time.
One reason I don’t mind the size of the 70-200mm is because I find the long barrel gives me ample space to get a solid grip. This provides stability for hand-held shots as well as providing a good pivot point for panning shots.
The minimum focusing distance is 4.6 feet which, in contrast to the 10.8 inches of my second go-to lens – the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 – seems absurd. Would I trade any of the 70-200’s other features for closer focusing? Not a chance.
Those are my justifications for tolerating this lens’ shortcomings.
So why is this the lens that spends most of its life hanging off the front of my camera? Performance is definitely a factor. This is the sharpest lens corner to corner, throughout the aperture and zoom range I’ve ever used. While capturing dangerously sharp images, it maintains very impressive contrast, color rendition, and saturation under any conditions.
Even compared to the tried and true Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 (which I have used extensively) that many still stand by and the subsequent VR1 model (which I have also owned), the VR2 with Nano coating blows them out of the water. Backlighting, cross lighting, or shooting right at the sun don’t even phase it.
Some maintain that with camera bodies’ ever-increasing high ISO performance, optical stabilization isn’t as necessary as it once was. Perhaps. However, even compared to the previous iteration of this lens, the VR feature makes a very noticeable difference. I have scored sharp images shooting at quarter-second exposures hand held. Paired with its ability to focus in pitch darkness, it almost feels like cheating.
Since I don’t get any commission for selling Nikon products, and performance is reason enough for anybody to use this lens, let me explain why this is the lens for me.
For photojournalism assignments it is imperative to carry at least a couple lenses. I can almost guarantee that no photojournalist in the last 10 years has walked out the door in the morning without a 70-200mm on one camera and probably something like a 24-70mm or a wide fixed lens on another body. If I had to head out into the unknown and could only bring one lens it would be the 70-200mm.
The 70-200mm is a no-brainer for sports. Although it is nice to have a second body with a wide lens, that camera spends 98% of the event unused, while the workhorse does its thing.
Another handy feature of this lens is its ability to be matched to a teleconverter. Dedicated career sports shooters mortgage their houses to buy a fast 300mm or 400mm lens. For the somewhat rare occasions where I can’t get as close to the action as I would like, I can compromise and use a 2x teleconverter. Yes, this leaves me with a f/5.6 maximum aperture and less overall sharpness, but it is a much smaller price to pay.
Personally, I love this lens for portrait-type work as well. While 85mm and 105mm lenses are favorite focal lengths for portrait work, the 70-200mm has both of these lenses built-in essentially. Maybe not at a super fast aperture but I much prefer to have the added versatility.
Even getting up close I will keep this lens mounted. I find 70mm to be wide enough that you don’t have stay too far from the action, while being able to get those tightly-cropped detail shots with creamy bokeh.
Another reason why I stick with a longer lens is that depending on what I’m shooting, I often prefer to stay away from the action. We have all heard someone say something like, “who needs a zoom lens when you have feet”. I have found that if you have to get too close to the action, you inevitably become part of it. My feeling is that in many cases a photographer’s responsibility is to capture an event unfolding and not distract or divert attention from it. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but one I adhere to as often as possible to maintain the fly-on-the-wall philosophy.
Everyone has an opinion, with reasons to support it, and those are mine. Anyone agree? Anyone think I’m full of it? If this is your go-to lens as well, what are your reasons?
Interested in this lens? Get a price on the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR2 here.