My Favorite Lens – the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR2

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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.

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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.

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The longer barrel of the 70-200mm has space to get a solid grip which can help obtain sharper 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.

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The front lens element coating reduces ghosting and flaring, and produces great contrast and saturation in challenging lighting 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.

Photojournalism, sports and weddings are what I primarily shoot.

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.

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A wider lens would have resulted in the planes looking tiny in the far distance. Being able to quickly zoom in and compress the scene can be very advantageous.

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.

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The 70-200mm is a mainstay for sports photography. Being able to quickly zoom out to 70mm allowed me to grab this shot.

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.

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Although image quality and aperture suffers, a 2x teleconverter turns the 70-200mm into a 140-400mm opening up a new range of possibilities.

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.

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Although some may not consider it a dedicated portrait lens, the 70-200mm delivers creamy backgrounds and its focal length doesn’t distort facial features.

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.

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Sometimes you can’t, or don’t want to, get too close to the action.

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.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Jeremie Schatz

is a freelance photographer, photojournalist, journalist, copyeditor and videographer for a variety of clients and companies in the United States and Thailand. Find his portfolio of colorful images and more of his writing at Exposed World Photography and on Facebook.

  • Keith R. Starkey

    What a great lens to have (I don’t have it…sigh!)

  • Andy Whiteman

    Brilliant article and great photos – it’s funny because whilst I can afford the lens you are using right now I use a Sigma 18 – 250mm and an old Nikon 70-300mm (on a cropped sensor) and this enables me to have great flexibility – I also, like you, have another body with a 10-20mm….I can’t zoom with my feet when I’m zooming in on a sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Thanks for a very thought provoking article.

  • Jeremie

    Maybe one day! You could always rent one for a few days to check it out.

  • Jeremie

    Thanks Andy, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Superzoom lenses can be extraordinarily convenient and I have used them as well. I used to have a 24-120mm but once I started using the 70-200, it was hard to use anything else!

  • RP

    I recently (a couple of months now) picked up a 70-200 f2.8 and it really is “that” amazing. I’ve used it (in a teaching environment, where I’m a student) for weddings, fashion, and general “everyday” shooting. It took me years to get to being able to afford this lens, and I know it was money well spent. The funny thing, if you will, is that I have since had the chance to use a 12-24 a bit and my gawd to I love that lens too. 🙂
    Love the F1 shot… I used to shoot a lot of F1 but haven’t been to a GP in too long now.

  • Lenise Calleja

    I have rented this lens while on safari in South Africa and it is truly a great lens. I took some great shots of wildlife with it as you can see! I really wish I could afford to buy it hehe 🙂 Go to my Facebook page for more shots with this incredible lens – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.978732085478071.1073741836.912333702117910&type=3

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  • Jeremie

    Yes, that is the lens I would want on a safari as well. If optimal image quality isn’t always necessary and you don’t need a lens built like a tank, renting is a great option for those special occasions. Nice shot, great expression.

  • Jeremie

    I see you have “drank the kool aid” now too. More of this lens’ potential was revealed to me when I started using a Nikon D800 a couple of years ago – talk about sharp images! F1 can be quite a challenge to shoot, it’s hard to frame your subject when it’s going 200mph.

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  • Jim Singler

    While my 24-70 gets the lion’s share of the work, the 70-200 VRII is also my favorite lens for the reasons you list.

  • Jeremie

    The 24-70 is of course a wonderful lens which is many people’s favorite. I personally get a little bored with that focal length though.

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  • Joe M

    Excellent article! I have the 70-200 VR11 and it is remarkable! For an amateur like me, I was shocked (in a nice way) when I saw the image quality not to mention the super fast focusing! The following pics are with this lens on a D800

  • Jeremie

    Thanks Joe. I imagine that the quality of this lens would be quite noticeable on any camera body, but due to the high resolution of the D800, it is especially apparent. A good point which I didn’t mention in the article is the lens’ lightning fast focusing.

  • Neil

    Thanks for a great article Jeremie. I love my 70-200 and I was amused to see your second ‘Go to’ was the 17-35 – my other favorite!
    Both these have been around the world with me many times. My wife thinks
    I love them more than her!

  • RP

    Indeed, renting is a great way to use a lens… and you can surely rent a 70-200 many times before spending as much as you would buying the lens.

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  • Jeremie

    Great Neil, I’m glad you enjoyed it. My 17-35 has also seen its fair share of time spent on my camera-especially if I’m using two bodies. The new iteration, 14-24, is a great lens and I have considered upgrading but the 17-35 has almost double the zoom range. If it was just nano coated, it would be that much sweeter!

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    Nice article, thank you.

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  • Jeremie

    Great, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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  • Melvin Waldon

    I am defiantly saving up for this lens. Great article.

  • Jim Wolff

    I wish I had the 70-200 F2.8 throughout, but unfortunately, my wallet cannot afford it. But, I have a Tamron 28-75 F2.8 throughout and I absolutely love it. It is my favorite lens because as an FX lens, I can use it for portraiture, as well as most anything else, and it delivers great crisp pictures. I do have a Nikon 18-200, but it is a slower 3.5-5.6.

  • Gabriel Rojas

    Well-written article Jeremie. Thanks for sharing it.

    I’ve owned this lens now for about two months and, although some of the settings on the lens take a few sessions to get used to, once I did, I’ve gotten some decent photojournalism trial shots with it. I have not been able to shoot with it extensively yet but I can already see the difference between it and my old AF Nikkor 70-210mm 4-5.6D (manual zoom). With the D750 and this lens I’m getting some incredible images. I’m really looking forward to shooting with it more. After shooting for a week in Cuba in Oct 2015 with the older lens I may just go back to try to get those locations again! The size and weight will definitely be an issue with some people but it is worth it for the superior images and the great construction of this lens.

    Next lens will be the 24-70mm 2.8 and I’ll use my older 28-70 3.5-4.5D until then as it’s a brighter light/daytime lens for me anyway. I’m looking forward to working with that one too!

  • Russ Gifford

    Analyzing my LR Catalog for the past 10 years of (primarily sports) photos (530k +), 240k have been taken with the 70-200 2.8 VRII and 252k have been taken with the 300 2.8. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

    The biggest change that I’ve made in using those two lenses is that in the past few years I’ve shot primarily at 2.8 unless I specifically want the greater depth of field. When I first started shooting with these lenses I used to shoot at 3.2 or 3.5 to help nail focus point.

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