70-200 VR I and VR II optics: What we know so far

Started Dec 3, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Marianne Oelund
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70-200 VR I and VR II optics: What we know so far
Dec 3, 2009

In the 70-200 VR II, Nikon have delivered to the user community a Gordian knot. The new lens departs from its predecessors in so many significant characteristics, that we've been scattered as fragments from an explosion. Some herald it as the greatest optic they've used, while others are mired in disappointment and utterly unable to see how to apply it to their photography. What should be disquieting to us, is that all of the attitudes expressed so far are based on truth (but in each case, only a portion of it).

Sizing up the Problem

Any complete study will need to include many variables, because of the number of areas in which the new VR II differs from the original 70-200 VR. As a minimum, I propose including:

  • Both FX (D3x) and DX (12Mpix) crops

  • Center and edge performance

  • At least four focal lengths (70, 200 and two intermediate)

  • At least three apertures (wide open, one stop down, two stops down)

  • TC combinations (no TC, TC-14 and TC-17)

  • Subject distances (infinity, 2m, 5m and 10m, at least)

That is a total of 576 data points - each of which needs two images - a daunting task, to say the least! My own tests so far have only covered a few dozen of those data points, and they have taken hours to complete. Merely collecting the data will take considerable time, and then there is the problem of how to present the results in a concise, useful and understandable manner.

Confusion to Consensus: Moving Forward

Probably the most critical question facing users at the moment is, "Which lens is best for my own photography?" Taking the large volume of data points, and dividing them into two zones, showing where each lens model has the advantage, would be a huge step forward. For each focal length and aperture, knowing at which subject distance the two lenses reach parity (what I call the "crossover point"), would be very telling, and this is the direction in which I would like to take the investigation.

This thread will serve to publish my test results, as they accumulate. To start, I will complete the testing needed at 200mm, at least for FX. Other users with appropriate gear are invited to share their comparisons here, but please be careful to use proper long lens technique and manual focusing with Live View at high magnification (no AF, please!). In the subject line of your post, mention the crop size, focal length, and subject distance which apply to your samples, to assist users in locating pertinent data on the thread.

What We Know so Far

Relative performance of the VR I and VR II depends greatly on subject distance, aperture, position within the frame, and probably focal length (zoom ring setting). There are few blanket statements which can be made, but one important one that has emerged, is that at 200mm and when wide open, the VR II produces image quality at least as good as the VR I (at long distance), and considerably better at closer subject distances. The improvement offered by the VR II at the closest distances, is enough to overcome the ability of the VR I to sharpen up when stopped down. At moderate distances, results will depend on the chosen aperture. [All of these observations apply to 200mm.]

The VR I exhibits very low "focus breathing" (focal length change with subject distance) at 200mm, whereas the VR II has become somewhat notorious for its focal length shortening, and the consequences of that, at closer subject distances:
Dist.; Focal length
1.27m (closest); 128mm
1.4m; 132mm
2m; 147mm
3m; 164mm
5m; 176mm
10m; 186mm

The new coatings used in the VR II have improved its image brightness wide open by about 1/6 stop. Further, color accuracy is improved; early results show that it has only about half as much red cast as the VR I.

Performance for distant subjects, at 200mm, has been documented fairly well for my first copy of the VR II:
http://forums.dpreview.com/...forums/read.asp?forum=1030&message=33838051

I now have a second copy, which is a bit better at f/2.8, and some new test images which I will add to that thread soon.

More to come, as the picture begins to fill in . . .

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