Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D
Every photographer has one of these, a favorite lens, something that we just love to use and no matter what anyone else has to say, we keep using it. Welcome to the review of my favorite, most used, most abused, most profitable, most…..everything lens that I have ever own.
I am going to say this upfront, I am tired of shooting product photos in a white box, and trying to outsource the photos has turned into a major headache, so I am going to post just normal everyday photos of the lens with the shots that the lens produces, because at the end of the day, most of us are only concerned with the quality of the image the lens produces. My lens is really weathered, beaten down, scratched, and abused for over a period of 9 years of professional use. This lens has gone to war with me and it has survived. This is the toughest lens I have ever had and even though it close to falling apart on me, it still keeps ticking over money making shots that leaves me very reluctant to retire it.
So let’s go over the many reasons why I absolutely love this lens, and the best place to start is with the design of the lens. The building quality of this lens is insane, it is constructed entirely out of metal, and put together in Japan, not outsourced to the cheapest labor market possible, like so many of today’s lens. So how tough is this lens, well I think if you had to hit a tank with the lens, I think the tank would break. I have used this lens for nearly 9 years now, I have been bashed around in a mosh pit with this lens on my camera, I have been arrested twice by being tackled to the ground with this lens on my camera, and this lens just keeps on working. The number of photos I have taken with this lens is insanely large and I have no idea how to calculate the exact number, but I take about 10 thousand photos a month, and I would guess about half of them come from this lens, so about 5 thousand photos a month from this lens. So if my math holds true, then I have shot about 540, 000 photos with this lens. My copy of the lens is so well used that some of the rubber bands on the lens are coming lose now, there is some brassing on the lens, I have gotten a small scratch on the front lens element, thanks to a stupid policeman, but it just keeps going. So far nothing has stopped this lens. As a professional photographer, this is what we want. Gear that works no matter what you throw at it.
If you look at the optical design of this lens, it has a much simpler optical design than today’s modern 70-200 lens. It is composed of 16 elements in 11 groups and it is much more simplified than today’s over-engineered plastic replacements which have 21 elements in 15 groups. Lens today are simply over-engineered and the way they render images tends to be too flat for my liking. I much prefer the images I get of my 80-200 lens than the 70-200 lens.
This lens is completely mechanical, there is no focusing motor, no VR, just pure mechanical engineering at its best and this is great. Almost all my Nikon lens with focus motors in them have burned out after a couple of years, so I love that this lens has nothing to get in its way. But the downside to this is, the auto-focus is driving by your camera, so you need a good camera to get the best out of the auto-focus. If you are shooting with one of the cheaper DX bodies, then this lens will not auto-focus. The lens design itself is good, you got your aperture ring(Thank god, I absolutely hate G lens), another ring in the middle of the lens to set manual or autofocus and you have a limit switch at the front of the lens. Very basic layout and that is why this lens is a tank. There is nothing to weaken the lens.
The lens is well balanced and feels good on all the full framed bodies that I put the lens on, but it did feel front heavy once I put the lens onto a DX camera. Zooming the lens is fantastic, the zoom provides just enough resistant when zooming, but it still nice and smooth. Easy to work with and you can change from 80mm to 200mm very quickly as well. Speaking of 200mm, this is a true 200mm lens, unlike the 70-200 which can really be a 70-180 depending on the focus distance.
So let’s start with the auto-focus. The auto-focus of the lens is largely influenced by the camera you are using. With my D700, the lens focuses well, but it is not a speed demon. When I put the lens on my D3s, then the focus is substantially better. Still, it would lose to a lens with a focus motor built into the lens, but not by much. The good thing about the focus system with this lens is that there is no hunting around. The lens focusing on the focus point so it feels quick. I have never missed a shot because the auto-focus was too slow on this lens.
This lens is definitely good at focusing in low light. It does not hunt around in the dark or get distracted easily but bright lights in the background. So in dark situations, this is my go-to lens. Now you can speed up focusing on this lens using the limit switch at the top of the lens. If you switch on the focus limiter, then the focus will be limited to 9 feet(2.7m) to infinity. This does speed up auto-focus by about 15% but anything within the 9 feet radius will not be able to get a focus lock, so only use this option when you are sure that your subjects will be far away.
Speaking of auto-focus, I have used the lens, on my D300, D700, D3, D3s, and D4 and I thought the lens focuses extremely well and quickly. Maybe not as quickly as a lens with an auto-focus motor, but it was still within the usable range. I never once found myself cursing the auto-focus for being too slow. Of course, these results will vary depending on the body you are using, as the camera body is driving the auto-focus this time. So focus speed is not a problem but noise is a problem if you shoot in a quiet environment. The screw drives on cameras are noisy. There is just no getting around that. A lens with a silent wave motor will make almost no sound when auto-focusing, and in comparison, this lens sounds like a raging bull. The noise though is all generated by your camera though, not the lens.
The image quality from this lens is excellent, it is sharp, has good contrast and just enough sharpness that you will always be happy. Whenever I shoot a show and look at the images, I am never disappointed. The lens is really sharp across the frame, even when being shot wide open. I have never taken a photo and thought, well if only the corners were a little bit sharper. I have absolutely no complaints about this lens sharpness. I have read some people say that this lens is soft, but this is my second copy of this lens and both my copies were very sharp. I would say it is just as sharp as my new Tamron lens, and only my Nikon 50mm 1.2f Lens stopped down at f2.8 is sharper than this lens.
The lens has very little vignetting, and it is almost impossible to spot. The same can be said for chromatic aberrations. There are very little chromatic aberrations in any of my frames that I have shot. I have never shot this lens look for chromatic aberrations though. But in my work, I have never found any. But as good as I think this lens is, there are some shortcomings to it.
The lens can flare a little, especially if you are using the original lens hood. I solved this problem by using a larger 3rd part lens hood, but if you are using the original lens hood, just keep flaring in mind.
I have replaced the lens hood with a third party lens hood which is much bigger and it has completely solved any minor issues I had with flaring. If you buy this lens, I would highly recommend that you purchase a new lens hood, it is much deeper, it provides more protection to your front element from being banged or scratched and it helps to deal with some lens flare.
Another downside to this lens is that it has no weather sealing. So shooting in the rain is not advisable but having said that, I have used this lens multiple times in the rain with no problems. But it is not a weather sealed lens, so you risk your equipment if you shoot in the rain.
The last drawback for some people would be that the lens has no VR. I usually try to keep my shutter speeds about 1/320 when I shoot shows, but if it does get very dark and you got to drop your shutter speeds, for most people, you would have to shoot at 1/200 when shooting at the long end of the zoom range.
If my gushing all over this lens had not convinced you that I love this lens, let me put it this way. If my lens had to be stolen tomorrow, I would immediately go buy another second-hand copy. Unfortunately, Nikon does not manufacture the lens anymore, but there are many copies of the lens available on the second-hand market. These lenses are an absolute steal, and usually, cost about 40% less than a new 70-200 lens. If you can live without the VR and your camera can drive the autofocus, you really need to think long and hard about this lens. I would never go to work without this lens. It is always in my lens bag and it will always be as long as I am shooting with Nikon cameras.
Now you will notice that there is one section missing in my review, I have not talked about bokeh with this lens. And truth be told, I have no images to show for that aspect. When I shoot models or do band portraits, I use prime lens and I prefer a shorter focal range. I like being close to my subject, so I have never used this lens to shoot any portraits. I have read that the bokeh is good at the 200mm end and average under 100mm but I cannot give you my opinion on that.
So who is this lens for at the end of the day? In my personal opinion, this lens is perfect for sports shooters, concert shooters, and event photographers. It focuses fast, even at night. It tracks well with moving subjects and it is built to be used and abused. A true pros lens, at a bargain price. You really could not ask for more than that. If you are a wedding photographer though, I would most likely pass on this lens, purely based on the fact that it uses the screw motor in your camera body and that could be noisy. Like I said previously, this is my most used lens and no other lens that I own has come close to making me as much money as this lens.
So my final rating is
- Image Quality: 5 out of 5
- Focus speed: 4 out of 5
- Build quality: 5 out of 5