For many photographers, the70-200mm F2.8 is a staple lens. This is one lens I take on every assignment, most workshops, and anytime I am doing a personal trip. The 70-200mm F2.8 is perfect for portraits, landscapes, travel…you name it. I love the razor sharpness of this lens, the ability to isolate subjects with beautiful bokeh, and the fast aperture that allows this lens to focus super fast even in low light situations. I am currently using the latest Nikon version, the 70-200mm F2.8 E FL VR. It has set the sharpness benchmark for this style of lens, and allows very close focus for great headshots with little focus breathing.
Since we are shooting both DSLR and Z systems, I was very excited to receive the 70-200mm F2.8 S lens for the Nikon Z system. With the new S line optical design, most of the new S line lenses have been sharp as the DSLR counterparts, and generally the mirrorless versions have been sharper, especially in the corners and edges. With the new lens attached to my Z7, and the DSLR version attached to my D850, I went ahead and did some side by side shooting.
Physically you can see the size difference above. The new S line mirrorless version is slightly longer and a little bit lighter in weight, but when attached the lenses basically are the same size. The z7/70-200mm weighs about 3/4 of a pound lighter than the D850/70-200mm F2.8. Overall I would call these two setups about equal in terms of size/weight. Both lenses are built like tanks, ready for the long haul of daily use. One thing I did find interesting. The new S line mirrorless version seemed to balance nicer when shooting, due to the new arrangement of lens elements in the lens design. Minimum focus distance is 3.6 feet on the DSLR verison, while the new mirrorless version minimus focus distance is 1.6 feet. This is significant; the new lens allows you to focus two feet closer for portraits, i.e. tighter headshots.
We all want to know about sharpness, myself included, so I shot both lenses at a brick wall at different focal lengths and at different apertures. I shoot my 70-200mm E FL at 2.8 all the time, this is a very important aperture for portraits. Comparing the two images side by side on the computer, center sharpness was excellent with both lenses, with a slightly sharper center on the new S line 70-200mm. But these are both super sharp, enough so that I wouldn’t worry about it. But similar to previous side by side comparisons, the new S line 70-200mm F2.8 was sharper on the edges and corners. As Nikon has stated, this new mirrorless design with large inner diameter and short flange distance allows the mirrorless lens to be sharper than their DSLR counterparts. Next I shot both lenses at 105mm at F2.8 with about the same results. These lenses are both super sharp, with the mirrorless version sharper in the corners. The other aperture I shoot my 70-200mm F2.8 at is F5.6..I rarely am shooting at anything past this aperture with the lens, and the performance at F5.6 is stellar. Once again the results were similar…the new 70-200mm S mirrorless version was sharper on the edges and corners, while both lenses were very sharp in the center.
To put this sharpness performance in context, the DSLR 70-200mm F2.8 FL E version was highly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, 70-200mm in the market. What the performance of the new S 70-200mm F2.8 shows is this lens is absolutely stunning in terms of acuity, and most likely the sharpest 70-200mm F2.8 on the market. I honestly couldn’t believe the detail in tiny distant trees when viewed at 100 percent on a 5K monitor…the acuity is remarkable. If is obvious Nikon is bringing their A game to these S line lenses. Bottom line is both of these lenses are excellent, and will give you years of reliable, stunning performance. We shoot many assignments using the B850 with 70-200mm FL E, and don’t plan on parting with this lens for a long time. Now we have a mirrorless option as well, and a lens that is setting the bar extremely high in performance. Way to go Nikon!