There are very few lenses in a professional wedding or portrait photographer’s bag as venerable as a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. When Nikon initially launched the Z6 and Z7, the photography community reacted with a decided ho-hum of disappointment. With Sony and Canon locked in a tit-for-tat battle, loyal Nikonians were expecting more. Much more.
The introduction of the Z5, Z6 II and Z7 II definitely improved things. Many of us who weren’t enthralled with the first generation of Z cameras were much more open and accepting of the Mark ii products. I too made the jump from DSLR to Mirrorless and bought two Z6 II’s for my wedding and portrait work. As nice as the Mark II models are, the target audience was clearly loyal Nikon users. Because there is nothing about the Mark II cameras that differentiate themselves enough to compel a Sony user to make the switch to Nikon.
That all changed with the introduction and initial set of reviews for the Nikon Z9. Nikon almost left for dead was back with a vengeance with the Z9! The Z9 has brought a sense of renewed interest in Nikon products. This leads us to today’s review.
- “Best of the bunch” image quality
- Fast accurate autofocus
- Outstanding, weather sealed build
- Price, it’s expensive
- Gimmicky LED light panel for focus distance
- Though lighter than Nikons DSLR 70-200mm versions, it’s notably heavier than the latest mirrorless 70-200mm lenses from Canon and Sony
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S — Technical specifications
- Focal length: 70-200mm
- Aperture range: f/2.8—22
- Aperture blades: 9, rounded
- Elements/Groups: 21/18
- Dimensions: 3.5 x 8.66″ / 89 x 220 mm
- Weight: 2.99 lb / 1360 g
- Angle of View: 34° 20′ to 12° 20′
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S — Ergonomics and build quality
A 70-200mm f/2.8 has never been known to be a dainty lens. Because they are aimed at professionals, build quality is usually top-notch, robust, weather-sealed and heavy. The Nikon 70-200mm S checks all of these boxes. Tipping the scale at 2.99 lbs., the Nikon is notably heavier than the Canon RF 70-200mm (2.35 lbs.) and the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 II (2.3 lbs.).
The focus and zoom rings of the Nikon are firm and rotate with a quality level of resistance. To my hand, the focus ring, though better dampened, it’s also a bit too thin for my liking. Also called a control ring, the focus ring can be customized to control aperture or exposure compensation. Nikon has added this gimmicky OLED display that shows focus distance, I don’t use it and view it as a waste. I’ve always loved the collar design of most 70-200mm lenses which allow me to rotate between portrait and landscape orientation without having to take the lens off the tripod. It’s a nice touch and the Nikon works perfectly!
The barrel has several custom function buttons on the lens that can be customized. I have mine set to AF and 100% zoom. I like to punch in sometimes to validate focus. All in, the build and ergonomics inspire confidence, this is a well-built and ergonomically excellent lens!
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S — In the field
Being in the field for me with the 70-200mm means being at a wedding venue or a portrait session. At a wedding, I usually have the 70-200mm and 24-70mm attached to my holdfast moneymaker. That means a combined heft of 10 extra pounds strapped to my back. At the end of a long wedding day, my sore arms are a reminder of the 70-200mm, but that sin is quickly forgiven because the Nikon always rewards me with amazing imagery!
In a portrait session, I’m a bit more fortunate as I have the luxury of placing the hefty 70-200mm on a tripod most of the time. With the tripod, I can focus more on the subject and not be distracted by the 70-200mm’s size and weight.
Most professionals know what they’re getting into when they buy a 70-200mm. They’re usually looking for image quality and versatility first. Size and weight, though important attributes, won’t make or break a buying decision. That said, I do wish Nikon had followed Canon and Sony’s lead and made the 70-200mm S of lighter weight materials. However, where it counts in the image quality and versatility departments, the 70-200mm delivers!
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S — Autofocus performance
With the latest face and eye detection capabilities of the Nikon Z cameras, combined with the dual-motor AF system, autofocus performance is brisk, silent and crazy accurate. With one caveat. Occasionally, my 70-200mm S will get stuck at infinity focus. It’ll happen even if there’s a subject standing in the middle of the frame. The AF will simply not react until I give the focus ring a little nudge, then it kicks back into working normally. I
‘m going to assume this is a known issue because it seems to happen with all my Nikon Z bodies. I am now able to recognize this when it happens and I can rectify the situation quickly. Hopefully, Nikon will address this with a future camera or lens firmware update.
Otherwise, tracking moving subjects with the face and eye detect AF is top-notch and super accurate. It’s the kind of performance every wedding and event photographers needs. It just doesn’t get any better than this!
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S — Image quality
Is there anything more overused than superlatives to describe a lens’ image quality? Especially when it’s really, really good? These days, camera and image quality are universally very good across the board. I am a writer here on Photofocus and I run a YouTube channel that covers all manufacturer’s lenses and camera systems. I have to say that in my experience with all of the latest 70-200mm lenses, they are all very, very good!
However, to my eye, the best is the Nikon. I have the Sony 70-200mm II, and it’s amazing! The Sony is lighter, the autofocus performance is slightly better, but when it comes down to image quality, I prefer the Nikon.
Maybe it’s the razor-sharp optics, the awesome color rendition, the smoothness of the transition to the out-of-focus areas or the quality of the bokeh. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, to my eye, the best performer image quality-wise is hands down the Nikon. I could bloviate about the 70-200mm S’s image quality, but examine the sample images for yourself and you can decide.
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 “S” final thoughts
If there’s a reason to consider making a switch from Sony or Canon to Nikon, I would base it on the quality of the lenses. I know the latest Nikon bodies — Z9 aside — aren’t quite as capable as the latest from Sony and Canon. But the disparities between the systems are paper thin.
For me, lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S are the difference between the systems, and for me in my professional work, I’m going with Nikon. The 70-200mm S bolsters that position for me. It’s the best over 70-200mm in terms of results, and results in my humble opinion are the most important thing.