Why Every Photographer Needs a 70-200mm Lens

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As photographers, some pieces of advice are universal; the same can also be said for some camera gear. The 70-200mm lens is a staple for a reason, found in pretty much every pro’s camera bag around the world, they are trusted on location from portrait studios to the heart of the Amazon.

So here is why you need one in your kit.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review must have

Optical Performance

Let’s start with the big reason, optical performance. The 70-200mm is a professional lens and features the latest in optical design and quality.

Perfected over the last 30 years they have an excellent edge to edge sharpness, both wide open and stopped down. Featuring the ED elements and the latest lens coatings, they fend off chromatic aberrations and flare very well and produce stunning sharp, contrasty images shoot after shoot.

Focal Length

Short telephotos and wide-angle lenses are fantastic for getting up close into the action or taking the wider view, however, they can often be problematic. If you are trying to photograph wildlife, candid portraits, or anything that you can’t get close to, the 70-200mm lens will come in handy.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review environmental portraits

The reach of the 70-200mm is perfect for so many situations, allowing you to focus in on key subject areas, crop out distracting areas or elements in your frame and just get closer to the action.

The focal length allows you to also give your subject space to move without you having to be right up in their face, while still giving you the scope for those tight shots. It also allows you to be creative in new ways, giving you options to focus on small details within a composition or landscape, all the while not needing to move your feet.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review details

Large Maximum Aperture

The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a fast lens, with the wide aperture being a key reason why so many pros love it. This gives you a number of benefits for shooting on location, once again making this a top quality lens in which to invest.

Benefits

The first benefit is the bokeh (or out of focus areas). The fast f/2.8 aperture means depth of field wide open is very limited. This results in much of the background and foreground dropping into mushy out of focus goodness, helping to keep the viewer’s attention on your main subject.

The large aperture, combined with the telephoto reach of the lens, really allows for the rendering of wonderful out of focus elements. This gives a truly dreamy quality and feeling to the images produced with the 70-200mm lens.

A second benefit of the wide open aperture is that of the low light performance. Having a fast f/2.8 aperture means the lens lets in far more light than slower alternatives. This, in turn, means the camera has more light to work with. So, when the light starts to fade you can still get sharp shots with reasonable shutter speeds without the need to stretch your ISO capabilities.

Another benefit of the fast aperture is the brightness it brings to the viewfinder. If you haven’t used fast lenses before you’ll soon fall in love with the brighter viewfinder experience that comes with the 70-200mm f/2.8. This might not sound like a big deal, but being able to see your composition better allows you to be more focused on selecting what you want in and out of the frame, helping you to hone your compositional skills for better images.

Speed

When working with fast paced action, speed is imperative, and the 70-200mm lens doesn’t disappoint. As a pro spec lens, the 70-200mm offers brilliant AF speed that is a huge benefit when working with erratic subjects on fast paced shoots.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review blazing fast focus

The autofocus, aided by the fast aperture, locks onto subjects quickly and focuses through the range in the blink of an eye (something that certainly can’t be said for all telephoto lenses). The speed of the focus reduces frustration when trying to pick up moving subjects, helping you to focus on composing your shots rather than the frustration of your lens not focusing.

Size and Weight

Some people think the 70-200mm is a large lens, however, that weight and size also have their advantages. The physical length of the lens itself, being around 25cm, provides for good placement of the controls, with the large zoom and focus rings being well spaced on the lens’s barrel.

The length also allows for the inclusion of a tripod mount (collar). This is handy for working with a tripod for better balance and for lowering the stress on the bayonet mount between the camera and lens.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review 01

The size also lends itself to being comfortable for handholding. The wider barrel fits well in the hand, with the weight of the lens balancing well with medium to large camera bodies. The lens is also a little front heavy that means when attached to the camera it helps equal out the balance to a comfortable feel.

Of course, modern versions of the 70-200mm f/2.8 also include the implementation of image stabilization (VR, IS, or OS) helping to once again improve the abilities of this lens when working handheld. The optical stabilization systems help to reduce camera shake by up to 4-stops, meaning even when the light gets low you can work handheld with sharp results. That is something that can really come into its own when on location on a fast moving shoot.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review Close focusing

Build Quality

The 70-200mmm f/2.8 is designed to be used by pros, and it’s constructed like a tank. Metal construction and weather sealing mean it’s built to last while being taken out and abused day in and day out.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review compressing landscapes

My 70-200mm has been everywhere with me and is built to withstand the elements.

The 70-200mm lens is also a fantastic addition to the kit bag for those nature photographers who also have a passion for landscape photography. The focal length is excellent for giving you the reach to pick out sections of a landscape, details within a scene or for compressing layers for flattering images. The 70-200mm offers flexibility for composing, with the telephoto reach helping to compress a scene for flattering perspectives that might not work with a wider focal length.

I’ve had my 70-200mm lens for many years and worked with it in the rain, snow, freezing conditions, as well as the jungle and it’s never skipped a beat. Rugged and reliable, just as you want a working tool to be!

Teleconverters

This lens was also designed with the ability to work with teleconverters in mind. These small optical devices fit between the camera and lens, helping to magnify the image for a greater telephoto effect.

That means that the 70-200mm, when paired with a 1.4x teleconverter, becomes a 105-300mm equivalent or a 140-400mm when paired with a 2.0x converter. This can be very handy if you need some extra reach but don’t want to invest in a super telephoto or you just can’t fit it into your bag.

Nikon 70-200mm lens review reach portraits

Shot at about 280mm using the 1.4x teleconverter.

Going the other way you can also add extension tubes to the 70-200mm to reduce the minimum focusing distance. That results in the ability to get ultra close for some semi-macro images, once again showing the scope for the versatility of this stable lens.

Conclusion

The 70-200mm lens is truly a worthy lens to be part of every photographer’s kit bag. Offering top optics, a fast aperture, excellent speed, ergonomics, and weatherproofing. They are built to last and perform day in, day out.

They are expensive, but as a long-term investment, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is certainly one that every keen photographer should think about making. You certainly won’t regret it.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Tom Mason

is a professional nature photographer and content creator from the UK. Passionate about the natural world, he aims to document and share stories from the wild. A professional lecturer Tom loves engaging and enthusing others about wildlife photography and helping them to achieve their own goals. Check out his website here.

  • Diana Maria

    Amazing lens, I definitely will be adding it to my collection once I save up for this!

    My Lovelier Days

  • Albin

    Agree its a staple lense. My daughter started her pro career with the Canon f/4L and got the f2.8L a few years later – the remarkably increased weight can become uncomfortable, and where she has good or studio control of lighting, will often choose the old lens. Apart from wildlife, it’s a great lens for fashion and live events.

  • Guyah2011

    The one featured here in the photo is Tamron. Is that the one you’re recommending or is Nikon’s version the same?

  • vicsottofanakosincebirth

    my dream lens. I only manage to get the 24-70mm f/2.8L. im on my way to getting one but…. things suddenly changed tho when i purchased my first car…. priorities changed lol

  • Michael Turk

    Great idea. However, I enjoy using my Sony e mount 70-200mm f/4 G. It is light, compact, fantastic glass and at the right price for a prosumer. The Pro level, Sony f/2.8 GM is way outside my budget.

  • James Hind

    The one featured looks like the older tamron which is good. The newer version the g2 model (025) is much better and considered better than the Nikon which is double the price.

  • zoltar_speaks

    While I fully agree with this article and my first L/Professional Series lens was the Canon 70-200mm 2.8, it really depends on the focus of your photography. In the past three years I’ve gotten deep into antique/classic car photography so my go-to lens is the Tamron 15-30mm 2.8. There is too much going on at car shows to be able to use a telephoto lens, especially in some of the very tight spaces and smaller venues these cars are presented in.

  • Tom Wingarde

    Isn’t a single 200mm/2,0 more preferable? Do I really need the zoom that often. Besides I got a 105mm/2,0 so inbetween there is not so much use. Or do I see it wrong?

  • taylormade

    Any reason not to just go with the Nikon 70-300 lens and not have to mess with a teleconverter? I’ve enjoyed mine a lot.

  • Anand

    I have 2 glasses 24-70, 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 ED – Both are great lenses…planning to go for 14-24 to complete the trinity …on a d800E body the are icing on the cake

    great article

  • JOHN

    I have all the Nikon lenses in your pic at the top plus a few more! Okay, I don’t do portraits, mainly landscape, birds, interesting objects, but I use my 70-200 more than 85% of the time. My advice would be to go for a top level 2,8 VR 70-200mm lens before anything else and then take it from there. I would have saved a bomb if I’d known this before I found it out! But all is not lost because some of the fancier stuff I bought has been more than a good investment especially as I reside in South Africa which is a weak currency country.

  • Jim Singler

    I have both lenses plus a TC. I rarely use the 70-300 unless I want to travel super light. And, a TC on the 70-300 has to be aftermarket and will put you at f/8. The lens is not that sharp at 300 to begin with…. If you can’t justify the 70-200 2.8, the f/4 model comes close for half the price.

  • JOHN

    The 200mm/2,0 is a great lens if you can afford it and have good arm muscles. But I think for a more specific purpose, ie when you need some low light reach and speed with sublime sharpness. The 70-200mm is a more flexible everyday “go to” lens. It also helps when you don’t need all 200mm. For example, when there is no space to move further away from your subject or when you want to use all your available pixels to frame your subject.

  • Guido Bee

    No arguments on the 70-200’s in general. I don’t think there is a bad one out there (meaning from any manufacturer). I have not chosen to go that route yet, as my old 80-200 2.8 has been doing well for me. No VR, and a screw driven AF, but overall good results and available at an attractive price, new or used (Nikon still makes one new).

  • Zulu cowboy

    I have the tamron g2. I agree it should have been the 1st lens I bought. I have paired it with a 2x teleconverter and its still reasonably sharp at 400mm. Used it for video for video last night and the sharpness blew me away. Will use it more for video.

  • Paddy

    Well a lot of people need this I think it depends on what you shoot. I don’t need it because I use only primes.

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