Comparing Nikon Zoom Lenses: 80-200mm f2.8D vs. 70-200mm f2.8 G VRII


The other day I received an email from a reader, we’ll call him “Larry,” who had a question about Nikon lenses. Larry is currently in the market for a telephoto lens, and, being a smart shopper, he did some research and somehow ended up landing on my blog.

He’s read that I use a Nikon AF 80-200mm f2.8D ED lens for my work. Seeing some of the imagery that I’ve captured with that particular lens, he figured that it might be a good choice for him as well.

However, he’s also read that the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f2.8G ED VRII is also a great lens, and since it’s a more up to date model with Vibration Reduction technology, he’s having trouble making up his mind. Normally, a decision like that would be a no brainer- you get the newer model, the 70-200mm.

In this case, though, the 70-200mm costs twice as much as the 80-200mm. Current street price is $2169.00, whereas the 80-200mm doesn’t even break the thousand dollar mark. Current street price on that lens is $999.00.

Larry wanted to know why I use the 80-200mm and not the 70-200mm, and if I had to shop for a new telephoto today if I’d make the same choice. I told him my answer, but then it occurred to me that Larry is probably not the only photographer out there trying to decide between the two models, so I’ll tell you exactly what I told him.

Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8D ED Telephoto Lens

Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 D ED Lens

The Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8D ED is an outstanding lens. I bought mine fourteen years ago. Back then, that lens didn’t even come with a tripod collar. I have the one with the single push-pull zoom that controls both focal length and manual focus. See a photo of that model here.

Nikon upgraded that lens in 1997. The gave it dual rotating zoom rings, one for focal length and one for focus, and they stuck on a tripod collar. That version has been out ever since then, and as I said, it’s an outstanding lens that produces excellent, professional quality results and tack sharp imagery.

Someday maybe I’ll get around to trading mine in for one of those models. I’d probably make good use of the tripod collar, although for the type of work I do, I mostly shoot hand held with that lens and get great results.

Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8G ED VRII Telephoto Lens

Nikon AF-S Zoom 70-200 f/2.8 G ED VRII

The Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8G ED VRII is also an outstanding lens that produces excellent quality imagery. It has the faster, AF-S autofocus system, which is great for quick action and sports, and it has Vibration Reduction, which is a feature that obviously attracts many potential buyers. A photographer could not do any wrong buying that lens. However, as I said, it costs over twice as much.

So, which one should you buy?

Unless you absolutely need the AF-S for very fast sports and money is no option, then I’d recommend the 80-200mm f2.8, especially if you have one of the high ISO capable bodies like the Nikon D3x or the Nikon D700. It’s a great all around zoom telephoto for a variety of outdoor photography, sports, landscapes and portraits. If I had to choose on today, I’d go that route and here’s why.

As I said, I often hand hold my 80-200mm, and with the high ISO performance of the newer Nikon DSLR bodies, I just don’t see that I’d use the VR often enough to justify the cost. Chances are, most of the time you’d need the VR, your subject is moving anyway, so it wouldn’t really make a difference. If your subject is not moving, then make use of that tripod collar and screw it on to a set of legs. You’ll probably get better results anyway.

Also, the 80-200 lens has a much lower profile tripod collar than the 70-200. You can take off the foot on the 70-200, but the rest of the collar still sticks out pretty far below the lens. That makes the 80-200 that much more compact if you’re packing it in somewhere. Overall, it’s a smaller, lighter lens anyway. And it has an aperture ring, so you can use it on an older SLR body if you’ve got one lying around. You can’t use the G-series Nikon lenses with a manual film body like the FM-2

Finally, there’s the AF-S factor. Sure, I’d love to have AF-S  for some of the subjects that I shoot. However, in real life applications, the Nikon 80-200mm AF focuses about 80% as fast as the AF-S on the 70-200mm. It’s no slouch. I do just fine without AF-S on my newer Nikon bodies, even when shooting things like skiing and kayaking.

So, my real world advice on this matter stands. Buy the 80-200mm f2.8D ED, and use the extra thousand bucks to buy something else, like another lens. Or two more lenses. Or put it towards a second body or a new computer. The 80-200mm is an awesome lens and so is $1,000 cash. I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed with either.

EDIT March 2013: As technology and products evolve, I have a new recommendation. I suggest that you take a serious look at the new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Telephoto Zoom Lens. It’s considerably lighter and less expensive than the AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8G ED VRI, ($1,399) and it has Nikon’s 3rd Generation VR system.

Since I bought this lens last month, it has become my go-to adventure and outdoor telephoto zoom. It’s got full pro specs, with Nano Crystal Coat, ED glass and an AF-S motor, and the image quality is excellent. Your only tradeoff is that you lose a single stop. It’s f/4, but while that would have made a big difference with film, with today’s digital cameras, it’s really not much of a factor.

Read my full review of the new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens here.

Finally, if your lens buying stars align properly and your credit card cooperates, you can show your appreciation for this review by ordering it here at B&H Photo. Doing so will throw a tiny bit of cash my way and it won’t add any additional cost to your order. It can be your way of saying, “Hey Dan, you rock!”


Comments

Comparing Nikon Zoom Lenses: 80-200mm f2.8D vs. 70-200mm f2.8 G VRII — 26 Comments

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  2. “Unless you absolutely need the AF-S for very fast sports and money is no option, then I’d recommend the 80-200mm f2.8″

    For a short period of time there /was/ a 80-200 f/2.8 AF-S. It was the last version of 80-200/2.8. Once in a while they pop up 2nd hand.

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  4. Pingback: Nikon 70-200mm VR II on DX Body(D90)

  5. hai, i am andy from kuching…tq for the info about 70-200 and 80-200 lens. I;m in the market to get one of those lenses. the info really helps me to decide the right lenses for my usage.TQ daniel.

  6. Your comments regarding the relative merits of Nikon’s two versions of their tele-zoom lens were of great interest to me since I have owned the AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8D ED (2-ring version) for about 10 years (originally used on my FM-2 and for the last few years on a D200), but am now considering purchasing the AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8G ED VRII.
    The 80-200mm has superb optics and I am very pleased with the images I’ve obtained with it, both on film and digital. So why would I want to change? Actually, the truth is that I had no intention of changing until a couple of weeks ago when I bought my wife a telephoto-zoom for her D40 (Nikon’s entry level 55-200mm) and was surprised by just how well VR works on this lens when shooting hand-held. Although I use a tripod much of the time when VR would be turned off, on occasion I like to grab a quick hand-held shot, sometimes even at 200mm and for this VR seems to work wonders, better than I had ever imagined possible. It’s this discovery that is making me consider the 70-200mm and certainly not an expectation that any potential improvement of the newer lens’ optics would be discernable in a print (yes, I’m old fashioned and still like prints). You indicated that you often hand-hold your 80-200, so I guess I’m a bit surprised that the availability of VR on the later lens would not sway your choice toward that optic.

  7. Thanks for the great comment, Gerry! My swaying away from VR is mostly about cost. Since my 80-200mm f2.8 still produces excellent imagery, I have a hard time replacing it with something that costs twice as much. I would definitely consider buying a Nikon VR lens in the future, though, and who knows, maybe one day I will upgrade to the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII. My point with this post is simply that you can save a thousand bucks if you get the 80-200 over the 70-200 and you’ll still have an excellent, pro quality lens. Does that mean that the 70-200 is not worth the money? No and that’s an evaluation that each photographer must make.

  8. I put in a bid for a used 80-200mm f2.8 yesterday instead of going for the VR type, having thought carefully about which one to buy. My reasoning was the same as yours, but I did have a moment’s doubt as to whether I had done the right thing. Having just come across your website and read your article I am now convinced that the correct decision has been made.
    Thank you for giving me peace of mind. I am now about to explore the rest of your site.

  9. Oh, I forgot to mention that I can use this lens with both my Nikon F4 which is still going strong and my D300.

  10. You’re welcome Ian. Glad that my advice and insight actually gets used! ;) I’ve had my 80-200mm f/2.8D lens for many years and I’ve used it on the FM2, N90, N90s, F5, F100, D200, D300 and now my D700.

  11. Dan, thanks for the review. I am a D90 shooter have the 18-200 VR. I have been debating for awhile on upgrading to one of the above lenses myself. I had come to the same conclusion about three months ago. I’m saving my pennies and will hopefully have a 80-200 f2.8 sometime this fall.

  12. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the review! I really had a hard time choosing between this two lenses. Now I finally made a choice and will be grabbing the 80-200mm this weekend. Hoping that it will work well with my D300.

    Alvin
    U.A.E.

  13. Nice read and it probably would be exactly what I’ve been going for. I can’t really afford the 70-200 VR II right now, and I’ve been really against all these overpriced gizmos and love the old school optics – I own plenty of AIS lenses. I would have gone for the 80-200 and used the extra cash to buy more lenses as well. But I’m not so sure anymore.

    Your viewpoint is correct for your purposes, but you should also bear in mind the benefits of that 70-200. I own a 70-300 VR and I am impressed by VR. In situations I find myself in, I always need that extra stop or 2 at the telephoto end, plus it helps insane amounts while panning with very low shutter speeds – situations that are common to my usage. You should not discount VR so lightly, but I guess that should be fine for uses where you only try to shoot high shutter speeds anyway in bright sunlight and have time to sit around with a tripod.

    The new 70-200 is also reportedly sharper than the 80-200 at f/2.8, and that is another big thing for me as I crave top IQ at 2.8, which I use a lot.

    Of course, if you are a pro, then the 70-200 is a no-brainer as it does everything a bit better (less distortion, focusses closer etc) but I don’t think you’re aiming at the pros.

    ANYWAY this has been a bit long-winded and maybe I’m a bit naive here, but of course in the end you get what you pay for, but it also comes down to whether you NEED what you pay for. It’s specific for every photographer’s uses. The top-end features are only gimmicks if you don’t end up using them.

  14. Well said, Zaahir. It does come down to those two factors: Honestly evaluating your own needs and budget and realizing that you get what you pay for.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  15. Hi Dan, am Ronald from Manila. Thanks for the very informative write-up/comparo on these two lenses. From your write-up I can see that you are very happy with the Nikkor 80-200 f2.8. I myself is just a hobbyist and cannot justify getting the Nikkor 70-200 f2.8. Am considering the Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 to go with my D7000 to shoot indoor sports (mainly my daughter’s gymnastics activities). Do you think the 80-200 would suffice for my intended use? Am particularly concerned on the AF speed.

  16. Ronald, Yes, the 80-200mm f2.8 on the D7000 would be an excellent combination for shooting inside sports. The AF speed should be adequate, but keep in mind that it’s not an AF-S lens, and the D7000 doesn’t have the same AF CAM sensor system as the pro Nikon bodies. However, those combinations certainly cost more.

  17. Pingback: Comparing Canon Zoom Lenses: 70-200mm f/2.8 vs. 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II | Dan Bailey's Adventure Photography Blog

  18. Hi Dan, my only real comment against buying the 80-200 is that some software manufacturers, namely DXO in this case have problems recognising images taken with a lens that is not a “D”. This certainly was my experience when I had the 80-200 af (non D version). In addition, the 70-200 as it doesn’t rely on the camera de focus for it, achieves focus really quick. As to how much quicker than the 80-200 it is, I can’t say. Having said all of that, if I had to travel and rely on a lens to survive pretty much all conditions, I would go with the 80-200. It is made to last, as your review states and the image quality is comparable with the 70-200. Regards, Andrew

  19. Andrew, thanks for your comment. Another area where the 70-200 might be better is in really cold weather. When shooting in below zero temperatures, AF on my 80-200 can get pretty sluggish, especially when combined with cold weather battery drain. I suspect that the newer 70-200 with the internal motor might perform better in those kinds of conditions.

  20. This is an old thread, but one of great interest to me. I have had the 80-200 single ring for some time and have been thinking of upgrading, but am having a hard time justifying the cost. I have read so many reviews where people state that the 70-200 vr ii is their favorite lens, and I would really like to find out why. Perhaps they like to shoot sports, or candids, but I have rarely, if ever, run across a situation where I needed the vr. Most of my shots are from a tripod, and frankly, mostly with the 24-70 attached. I pull the 80-200 out on rare occasions, but am always amazed at how much I like the images it produces. It is very sharp in the middle where it counts. So, while I am tempted to get a 70-200 vr ii, I would do so merely with the hope that it would expand my shooting. $2200 seems like a lot to spend on speculation. Lastly, I have heard that the colors produced by the 80-200 single ring version are superior to the 70-200 vr ii, and that’s a big deal for someone that primarily shoots landscapes.

  21. Bruce, you’re right, $2,200 is a big chunk of change to spend on speculation. My thought is this- If you’re happy with the performance and imagery from your current 80-200, then why change. Think of upgrading as something you need to do when your current gear no longer gets the job done. If you’re curious about the 70-200 VRII, rent one from BorrowLenses.com or Lensrentals.com and judge for yourself. Shoot side by side with your 80-200 and compare the imagery. After doing this test, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about whether you need to upgrade or not.

    Of course, I didn’t mention anything about “want…” ;) Hope that helps. Thanks for reading! -Dan

  22. Hi Dan,

    I only came across your blog today and found it interesting. I own 70~200 VR and D700 which I love as its very versatile. I found that it came into its own when I took shots from a helicopter banking over White Island volcano in New Zealand. The focus using active VR was spot on despite shooting through the perspex window and the vibration from the helicopter, not a hint of blurring. I agree that it is expensive and a bit heavy but worth it.

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