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AF Zoom–Nikkor ED 80–200mm f/2.8D lens review

Introduction

Many refer to this lens as "legendary". Its family has a considerably long history with three predecessors and three successors. Three successors... so why bother with this lens? Because while its descendants do offer additional features such as AF–S focusing and, in case of the two latest models (AF–S 70–200mm f/2.8G IF–ED VR I & II), Vibration Reduction as well as an extra 10mm of focal length at the wide end, these benefits come at a steep price. Due to this, this lens can serve as an alternative to those who cannot (or do not want to) afford the newer models.

AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D

Released in 1996, the zoom has sixteen elements (three are ED glass) in eleven groups and dimensions of 87mm by 187mm; it focuses down to 150cm, weighs 1300g and takes 77mm filters. If necessary, you can find simple explanations of the terms below here.

The lens was tested on a 12MP Nikon D700 camera. FX format cameras of higher resolution will put a further emphasis on some of the performance deficiencies reported in the review. At the same time, corner sharpness, vignetting and distorion will be less problematic when the lens is used on a DX format camera.

Handling and autofocus

The lens is pretty heavy and certainly not the best choice to take on a casual promenade. Nevertheless, it balances quite nicely on the Nikon D700 or any camera of similar calibre. Built quality is truly superb—I wish many newer Nikkors were built as solidly as this zoom. A couple of times I had it absolutely unprotected under heavy wet snow with no consequences of any kind. Operation of the zoom and focus ring is very silky. Aperture ring and filter threads are made of plastic but this is highly unlikely to cause any problems. Tripod collar is not the best possible design in this day and age but, nonetheless, it is adequate for tripod use and can be locked at the two o'clock position for hand–held shooting.

Autofocus speed and accuracy will to a certain degree depend on the camera that you use the lens with. On the Nikon D700, autofocus is fairly snappy and accurate for a screw–driven lens, albeit quite audible. It is fast enough for most usual applications but shooting sports or tracking fast moving subjects with it will most likely be problematic; you are likely to witness quite a bit of autofocus hunting, too, especially in low light. Indeed, even the D700 seems to use all the muscle power that it has to move all that glass around while focusing; autofocus on lesser cameras is likely to be even more strenuous. Also note that since the lens uses camera body's AF motor for focusing, on Nikon's lesser DX format cameras that do not have a lens drive (D40, D40x, D60, D3000 and D5000) it can be used in manual focus only.

Sharpness

80mm: in the centre the lens is slightly soft at f/2.8; sharpness, however, improves at f/4 and to all intents and purposes the lens is equally sharp from f/5.6 through to f/11. Diffraction becomes visible at f/16 and, because of it, sharpness further deteriorates at f/22. Furthest corners are quite soft at f/2.8 and become critically sharp only by f/8.

105mm: the lens is a touch soft at f/2.8 (a tiny bit more so than at the same aperture at 80mm) and sharpness gradually improves as the lens is being stopped down. In the centre, the lens becomes critically sharp by f/5.6; in the corners, however, that occurs only by f/8. As expected, diffraction kicks in at f/16 and sharpness starts degrading again from hereon.

135mm: at f/2.8 the lens is already quite sharp in the centre but visibly soft in the furthest corners; it becomes critically sharp by f/4 in the centre and by f/5.6 in the furthest corners. Again, diffraction takes its toll at f/16. Quite interestingly, its effect is more obvious at this focal length than at shorter settings.

200mm: the lens is noticeably soft at f/2.8 in the centre and becomes critically sharp by f/5.6, where sharpness peaks. Diffraction shows up at f/11 and does what it is expected to do from hereon. As far as corners are concerned, sharpness improves gradually as the lens is being stopped down until it peaks at f/8.

To put things into perspective, I compared the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D lens with the subject of this review set at approximately 85mm as well as the Hasselblad / Carl Zeiss CFi 4/150 lens mounted on the Nikon D700 via an adaptor with the zoom set at about 150mm. Compared with the 85mm lens, the zoom is noticeably softer at f/2.8, which is not unexpected as the prime lens is a faster optic and already stopped down at this aperture; at f/8, however, their performance is quite comparable in both the centre and the corners—the prime lens is still a little bit sharper at 100% magnification but we are splitting hairs here, really. At 150mm and f/4, the zoom and the CFi 4/150 lens are equally sharp; at f/8, the CFi 4/150 is a tiny bit sharper but, again, the differences are really negligible. Very impressive, if you ask me.

All things considered, the lens is a very, very decent performer in terms of sharpness. It is not the sharpest lens that I have ever used but, given how it is normally used, it does not show any unacceptable deficiencies across the entire range of focal length and aperture settings either.

Vignetting

As can be seen in the test shots below, vignetting gets worse as you go from 80mm to 200mm, and does so quite rapidly (note that all test shots were taken at the same exposure value). As always, vignetting can be easily dealt with in post processing if you shoot RAW format.


80mm

AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 80mm and f/2.8   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 80mm and f/4   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 80mm and f/5.6  
 

f/2.8

 

f/4

 

f/5.6

 

105mm

AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 105mm and f/2.8   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 105mm and f/4   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 105mm and f/5.6  
 

f/2.8

 

f/4

 

f/5.6

 

135mm

AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 135mm and f/2.8   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 135mm and f/4   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 135mm and f/5.6  
 

f/2.8

 

f/4

 

f/5.6

 

200mm

AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 200mm and f/2.8   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 200mm and f/4   AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D light fall-off at 200mm and f/5.6  
 

f/2.8

 

f/4

 

f/5.6

 

At 80mm, vignetting is visible at f/2.8 but largely insignificant for real–life applications (compared with the other focal length settings, it is relatively gradual, too). The aberration is virtually gone by f/4.

At 105mm, vignetting gets worse—it is visible at f/2.8, f/4 and, to a lesser degree, f/5.6. At the last aperture it is visible only in the furthest corners, though, so one can consider it gone at this aperture. If you need vignetting free images at this focal length, use the lens from f/6.7 on.

At 135mm, vignetting gets further worse. It is very obvious at f/2.8 and f/4, clearly visible but maybe acceptable for some applications at f/5.6; it is still existent in the furthest corners at f/8. If you need vignetting free images at this focal length, use the lens from f/9.5 on.

At 200mm, vignetting is plainly bad. At f/2.8 it looks like an overall underexposure rather than vignetting; it is pretty bad and will be visible in most images at f/4 and f/5.6, too. At f/8 it is still visible but maybe acceptable for some applications. If you need vignetting free images at this focal length, use the lens from f/11 on.

Distortion

The lens exhibits a slight and acceptable for most purposes barrel distortion at 80mm and is free from distortion at about 93mm (i.e. in the middle of the 80mm – 105mm range). After that it starts showing pincushion distortion that gradually gets worse as you move towards 200mm. It is acceptable for most applications in the 105mm – 120mm range; however, between 135mm and 200mm the aberration is very visible and obvious and I would not recommend photographing anything with long straight lines in this range. Very unusually, distortion is less pronounced at closer distances. The good news, however, is that the aberration has a simple signature at all focal length settings and thus can be easily corrected in post processing.

Chromatic aberration

Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and its signature is as follows: almost imperceptible at all apertures at 80mm, indiscernible at all apertures at 105mm, slightly noticeable but perfectly acceptable from f/5.6 on at 135mm and quite noticeable but not too atrocious starting from about f/5.6 at 200mm.

Flare

For a zoom lens that boasts 16 glass elements flare is very, very well controlled and I have never had any problems with it in real–life shooting. It is possible to induce ghosting by having very bright sources of light in an image but it is normally minimal in both amount and size. Quite interestingly, many reports as well as my experience actually suggest that flare and ghosting are much better controlled in this lens than in its successor!

Bokeh

My overall impression has been that the lens generally produces neutral to good bokeh, which is not too bad at all for a zoom lens that is now three generations old. Below is an example photograph taken with the lens.


 
AF Zoom-Nikkor ED 80-200mm f/2.8D: bokeh
 

Conclusions

The AF Zoom–Nikkor ED 80–200mm f/2.8D is a great general purpose telephoto zoom lens if you do not intend to take it to the extremes in terms of autofocus performance and can live without Vibration Reduction. The fact that it does not boast all the latest technologies, from a certain perspective, might actually be a good thing—it is the lack of these features that makes very, very descent optical performance that is packed in a superb lens barrel available at a very reasonable price. Indeed, the lens represents a great value for the money and I highly recommend it to demanding photo enthusiasts who are on a budget.