200mm f/2 VRI, am I crazy?

Started Jul 23, 2014 | Discussions thread
anotherMike Veteran Member • Posts: 8,947
Re: 200mm f/2 VRI, am I crazy?
4

More clarification since I might actually be awake, and not under the influence of as much gin

1) Yea, let's drop the whole "You should put the money into gold" or whatever stuff - I figure by now you've weighed the purchase and are cool with it, so I will only talk about lens performance.

2) More on the VR-II:

At the time the VR-II came out, IIRC correctly, my lens collection was the 85/1.4 AFD, the 105/2 DC the VR-I zoom, and the 200/2G. Even on the D700, which is not a horribly demanding body in terms of lenses like, say, the 800E/810 are, I saw moderate to significant image quality improvements in all areas over the VR-I. First we have to discuss that we have to get realistic about discussing differences. There are very few "blow this away" things any more and I am guilty of using this phrase at times when I should be more tempered. I'd say for this discussion I'll use a scale from very subtle to subtle to moderate to definite to strong difference in terms of magnitude of difference. For this discussion, let's also agree to use the 200/2 as the reference standard - a '10' on a scale from 1-10.

I'm a skeptic at heart - I tend not to believe hype and want to see for myself - I'm a combination semi-pro photographer with 30+ years and a lot of lenses under my belt plus a hardware/software tester by profession, so for me, I tend to trust well done, properly controlled tests over "I went into the camera store and shot a few frames and this lens X blows away lens Y". So when the VR-II came out, I wasn't excited. I knew the VR-1 had some issues on FX at 200mm, but it was other aspects of the VR-II that got me thinking I needed to try one. First was seeing some test shots from Bjorn Rorslett before he married himself to strongly to nikongear (disclaimer: I don't like that forum and I really don't like it's owner, so I've disclosed my bias openly), and secondly, at the time I subscribed to Lloyd Chambers pay-site too, and say what you want about him (he can get really arrogant, and he often doesn't test fully and completely), he provides test images that are generally well crafted technically. The images from the VR-II had qualities, even in smaller jpegs, that the VR-I simply did not. It's not so much about ultimate sharpness, but rather the ability of the lens to have a more dimensional, realistic rendering with bite. The contrast characteristics of the VR-II are actually what I think are what makes the lens better than the VR-I across the board with magnitude I'd say lies from definite to strong. The lens, as far as I have researched, is designed for excellence in short to moderate distances (although it performs well long), and for focus speed/accuracy - and the breathing issue is the known tradeoff (all lenses involve tradeoffs) for this. So beyond the obvious of the VR-II being better at 200mm on FX (better corners, strong difference), it was this close to moderate range distance zone where it was at least definite if not strong to considerably strong in terms of being better than the VR-I. At any focal length, any aperture. I ended up doing stringent testing in the closer range and the VR-II was noticeably (meaning definite at least) sharper than the 85/1.4 AFD, and was slightly sharper than the 105/2DC, both fairly well regarded primes. And this was on a D700 - not a demanding body. Difference is much greater on modern bodies. At distance (moderate far to infinity), the VR-II completely schooled the 85/1.4 - this was where I might actually say "blow away" was close to accurate, and was also better - grade "definite" than the 105/2 DC. It's better than the 180/2.8 as well (cleaner color, better contrast). While it's true the VR-I was nice at the short end of the range, I honestly don't shoot this lens at 70mm much, so I didn't test it much there. By 85mm, the new lens was better. Honestly, while the VR-I was a nice lens on a DX body, on an FX body to me it's a no brainer, the VR-II is simply better, in a definite to strong sense of difference, across almost every possible comparison.

Now talking about the VR-II against the reference standard 200/2G

Close/moderate distances (studio, event, portrait): obviously at F/2.8 the big prime is going to win in a definite sense. By F/4 it's subtle, by F/5.6 it gets really interesting, because sharpness wise the two lenses are very close, and the zoom might actually have MORE contrast, but the 200/2 is perhaps more realistic in terms of rendering.  Global contrast vs micro contrast here. I was beyond shocked at how good the VR-II was in the close range for studio fashion at F/9 compared to the 200/2 - the VR-I was NEVER this close, not by a long shot. "Strong" difference for sure. I'd say if the 200/2 is a "10", the VR-II at 200mm and F/9 is a very solid 8.5 to 9 - it's THAT good.

At distance of course, the big prime outclasses everything, Even at F/9, it still maintains a moderate level of improvement over the zoom (and frankly, anything else). Grade it a 7.5 against a 10.

So I think the VR-II has to be considered at some point. It's not a shiny new lens as it's been out for a while, but don't discount it's optical performance. I have a lot of very nice glass these days, but if I ran into trouble and had to cut back, the VR-II is one of the last lenses I'd sell.

-m

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