Originally posted 2015-12-25 16:43:09.
I have the Nikon 200mm F2.0 VR on loan from Nikon for a week, one of the benefits of being an NPS member. The purpose was to shoot a Christmas production but I decided to take advantage of it to shoot one of my favorite models around town and will be using it for an upcoming portrait shoot later in the week.
If you read nothing else: The Nikon 200mm F2.0 VR is one of those lenses you can’t help but fall in love with. It snaps into tack sharp focus immediately, produces beautiful bokeh balls, and melts backgrounds. It has the uncanny ability to separate your subject from any background better than any other portrait lens I have used and I have used a few!
For this shoot I was inspired by Neil van Niekerk’s review of this lens and decided to do something similar. He shot in Times Square which is unfortunately on the other side of the world for me so I had to look for somewhere similar in Kuala Lumpur. The Pavillion was an ideal location, as they always have fantastic lights at Christmas and even have areas set up for people to take photos with their selfie sticks which also meant the place was going to be insanely crowded.
I decided to contact one of my favorite models (Ding Xiao) whom I partnered with when testing the Fujifilm 56mm 1.2 APD for a local photography magazine. That shoot is available here. When she met me her eyes nearly popped at the size of the 200 F2.0 as it is many times larger than the diminutive X-T1 and 56mm 1.2 APD. After finding a suitable spot we got down to business and did a quick 10-15 minute shoot.
All photos were shot hand held at F2.0, using available light. Enhancements in lightroom were my standard “Nikon” import actions, with a little tweaking of vibrance and contrast and to the models skin. I prefer photojournalistic photography so usually do not mess with “photoshopping” however this lenses only real fault is that it can be too sharp. It is merciless on any blemishes and while Ding has porcelain like skin she was mortified by this thing’s bite so I softened her skin somewhat. Incidentally, it is better to have a lens too sharp than too soft. Softness can be added in post, sharpness can’t.
In order to avoid people in the backgrounds I got down low and shot upwards. Believe me it was crowded! That said the size of the lens gave me a lot of “street cred” and people stood back and watched. The only real issue we had was the inability for Ding to hear the shutter over the hustle and bustle of the Christmas crowd. She usually changes pose every shot and we usually go through a series of photos very quickly. In this case I had to keep vocalizing each shot..”yes…great…ok..again…look left….beautiful…” etc etc. You get the idea.
Handling Size and Weight: There is no getting away from it. The Nikon 200mm F2.0 VR is BIG. For these portraits I attached a D750 to it. Note you attach the camera to this lens, not the other way around! A lot of reviewers comment on this things weight. Don’t let those comments be a full-on turn off, just let it be a consideration on whether you can live with it or not. If you live in the USA renting it is a viable option so you know what you are getting yourself into. I am 6’2″ and didn’t find the weight off putting at all. I have used it for several hours at a stretch at weddings and concerts along side another body with a standard 24-70 zoom and was able to manage without any issues. In fact at a recent concert I also had a third body (Fuji X-T1 with 56mm and 90mm lenses) and was able to juggle all 3 at once. That said, in both of these above scenarios I would have found it more versatile and less tiring to have a 70-200 instead.
For the portraits on this page it was very easy to use, one body (D750) and one lens. And this is the way I would prefer to shoot with this lens if i did so on a regular basis.
One advantage of its size is that its obviously a pro lens. People saw it, saw the model, and stayed back out of the way and enjoyed watching us breeze through the photo set. I will contrast that experience with the Christmas concert. The first day I used it and no one questioned me. The second night I left it at home and opted for the more versatile “small” white Canon 70-200mm 2.8L on a 5DMk3 and during the performance I was asked by one of the ushers to stop shooting as they didn’t know I was the official photographer. Tsk Tsk…I guess Canon 70-200 2.8 Ls are a dime a dozen these day. Heheheh. So size MATTERS! That said, at the concert the additional loss of a stop meant I had to trash more photos due to unacceptably slower shutter speeds and higher ISO’s with Canons horrible Hi-ISO noise patterns creeping in. The shutter speed is an issue not because I don’t know how to hold a lens steady, it’s because people move and no amount of IS or VR will prevent their motion blur.
Regarding the competition, over the years I have tried out or owned quite a few portrait lenses including Nikons 85mm 1.4G, 105mm DC and 135mm DC, along with Canons 85mm F1.2L (ver 1 & 2), 135mm F2.0L, and both of Fujis 56mm F1.2mm R and APD versions along with their 90mm F2.0. All of these lenses produce excellent results, some of them are challenging to get an in focus photo wide open. I am looking at you Canon 85mm 1.2! Out of all of these fantastic lenses I believe the 200mm F2.0 is the easiest to get spectacular looking photos.
If you are deciding between the VR and VR2 versions the differences between them (other than USD1,200 price increase) are minimal. Both have nearly identical lens and body construction. Same dimensions, very minimal weight change with the newer lens featuring a Super ED glass element to help cut flare. Oh yes…also that whopping price difference. I know of one photographer on dpreview who purchased the VR2 as he was very happy with the original VR1 and was hoping for more goodness on top, but ended up returning the new one as the differences were so minimal that he couldn’t justify the upgrade. He mentioned that the new lens flares even though it has a new Super ED element, however the VR1’s flare was more pleasing to the eye.
If I was buying one it would be the original VR.
I will leave you with a few more images from the shoot below including some full length ones. Again people were respectul and stood back and watched us at work.
OK that’s it. It’s Christmas day. I am going back to enjoying the day. Wishing you all a good one!