Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 AF-D versus 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR

Sharpness Test on D700


I was curious to compare these two well regarded lenses. I placed my D700 on a tripod, choose as subject a distant cityscape, set the 70-200 VR to as close to 180mm as I could, and took several shots (NEF files, up to 10 for each combination) with both lenses, at f/2.8 and f/8, using the self-timer with a 2 sec delay, with no mirror lock-up. VR was turned off for the 70-200. ISO 200, shutter speeds 1/125 sec or shorter. I then selected the best shot for each combination of lens and aperture. For each best shot I choose picture control standard, white custom balanced on the same target (the grey wall in crop no.6), set D-lighting to OFF, applied minor exposure correction (up to 0.3 stop, when required) to obtain the same grey in crop no.6, and applied the same moderate capture sharpening. I selected 12 different crops all over the frame, with increasing number roughly corresponding to increasing distance from the center of the frame. Crops are all shown at 100% magnification. Focus was set on the paneled window in Crop 1.


Reference frame (180mm @ f/8)


Crop 1

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 2

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 3

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 4

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 5

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 6

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 7

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 8

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 9

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 10

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 11

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

Crop 12

180mm @ f/2.8 70-200mm @ f/2.8
180mm @ f/8 70-200mm @ f/8

My Conclusions

180mm

70-200mm AF-S VR

Comparison

Bottom line

The comparison above must be placed in perspective. For example, the 180mm is "soft" at f/2.8 compared to f/8, but is still sharper than most lenses (see for example this photo). Overall, both the 180mm and the 70-200mm are excellent lenses, and deliver great results when used appropriately. If the poorest performance (180mm @ f/2.8) is the one linked above, there really is no reason to complain.


Updated: March 16, 2009 - Padova