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

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

Post by bgorum »

AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D ED, (with comments about the use of achromatic diopters for herp work)

I started writing this on black Friday, a ritual that I must admit I do not participate in. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good bargain when I can get one and so I decided to write up a review of a lens I no longer own, but which served me very well for many years, and which definitely qualifies as a bargain. (I’ve also included a discussion about using two-element diopters, which may be of benefit to anyone considering using these devises with similar lenses). The Nikon 80-200 f2.8D is still available new and sells for under $1100 at retailers like B and H. Compare that to $2400 for the 70-200 f2.8VR, or $1400 (plus an addition $200 for the tripod collar) for the newly announced 70-200 f4VR. A quick check of completed listings on eBay show the lens selling used for between $600 and $800 dollars. That’s really pretty darn cheap for what you get with this lens.

At this point it might be a good idea to clarify exactly which lens I am talking about since there have been three different versions of the Nikon 80-200 f2.8D. The first was a one-touch, push-pull type zoom that lacked a tripod collar and was originally produced as a non-D lens and later updated to the D version. (Basically D lenses communicate subject distance to the camera and that information is used when determining exposure). The one-touch version can be found for even less than the $600 amount quoted above. It is said to be excellent optically, but I would not buy one unless it included one of the aftermarket tripod collars made by companies like Kirk Enterprises. The lens is just too big and heavy to hang out unsupported on the end of a camera! The original version was replaced by a two-touch design that includes a built in tripod collar, and that is the one that is still in Nikon’s line and about which I am writing this review. Finally there was an AF-S version that of course included an in-lens (AF-S) motor, but it was discontinued when Nikon brought out the 70-200 VR.

The 80-200 f2.8D is 7.4 inches long, (both focus and zoom are internal so the length of the lens never changes). This is one of those little features that might not seem very important, but really does make the lens more pleasant to work with. On a flash bracket or tripod the balance remains the same regardless of focal length or distance. The lens weighs 46 oz. Size and weight for this lens is right in between Nikon’s current 70-200’s (f2.8 and F4). The 80-200 f2.8D will take 77mm filters and the filter ring does not rotate with either focus or zoom. It also takes a bayonet mount lens hood and with the new center-pinch design lens caps you can leave the hood in place while shooting and easily put on or take off the cap. The hood can be mounted in reverse to save space when stowing the lens away in your camera bag. The lens does have a focus range limit switch, but I never used it. It also has an aperture ring, so it will work with older film Nikon’s and manual focus accessories such as Nikon’s older teleconverters and extension tubes.

Aperture range is from f2.8 to f22. For normal, (not close-up) shooting all but f22 give sharp results. Optimum range seems to be f4-8. The lens does have one slightly weak spot optically and that is when you combine focal lengths near 200mm and focusing distances near the minimum distance of 1.5 meters. In that case the pictures are noticeably less sharp than at other settings. They are not terrible, and compared to most consumer grade tele-zooms they look fine. They just lack the punch that pictures taken at slightly shorter focal lengths or slightly greater distances have. The lens does not seem too inclined to flare and ghosting, though I rarely pointed it directly at the sun. It also only rarely displayed any lateral color fringing, though it was not completely immune from this. High contrast edges could sometimes have some color fringing, but you really have to pixel peep to see it. Distortion, as with most telephotos, was a non-issue.

Of course there is no such thing as a free lunch and you do give up a couple things in return for the money you save. The 80-200 f2.8D lacks both VR and an in-lens focusing motor. It also will not take any of Nikon’s AF teleconverters, though you can use Nikon’s older manual focus converters and I found the lens to give respectable results with the TC14b. The lack of VR was never significant for my way of working, though I realize many other people consider VR to be pretty important. The lack of an AF-S motor means the lens will not auto-focus on recent entry level Nikons and, I think more importantly, it means you do not have full time manual focus override when the lens is set to AF. If you want to switch from auto-focus to manual you must stop and move the MF/AF switch on the lens, (though you can leave the camera always set to AF).

Kemp’s Ridley Turtle hatchlings being release on Padre Island National Seashore. Nikon 80-200 f2.8D plus Nikon TC14b teleconverter (280mm equivalent)

Despite the lack of an AF-S motor I found the lens to focus quite quickly on my D200. I often used it to photograph my daughter playing basketball and the lens had no problem keeping up. As I mentioned earlier the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 1.5 meters. At 200mm this results in a magnification of ¼ life size, but the lens is not at its best optically in this case, as discussed above. I often needed more magnification and closer working distances so I often used it with achromatic diopters. At this point it might be a good idea to talk about what an achromatic diopter is. If you, like me, use reading glasses you are familiar with diopters. Essentially diopters are positive (convex) lenses that reduce the focusing distance of a lens they are placed in front of, whether it’s a camera lens or the lens in our eyes. In photography they are also known as close-up lenses, but I prefer to use the term achromatic diopter to separate the high quality, two-element ones from the cheap single element close-ups that are often sold in sets of three. Diopters will typically have a number on them, (such as +2), that is the diopter rating of the lens. Alternately they may have a focal length given. For example the Canon 500D diopter gets its name because it has a focal length of 500mm. To get the diopter rating when given the focal length you just divide 1000mm by the focal length, therefore the Canon 500D has a diopter rating of +2. If you want to know what the focusing distance of a lens will be with the diopter added it is easy to calculate, (at least when the lens on the camera is set to infinity). The new focusing distance will be 1 meter, divided by the power of the diopter, from the front of the lens. So if you add a +2 diopter to a lens set at infinity it will now be focused at ½ meter from the front of the lens. You can also easily calculate the magnification, (again assuming the camera lens is set to infinity). The magnification is: (Diopter x lens focal length) / 1000. So if you put that same +2 diopter on a 200mm lens set to infinity the magnification would be (2 x 200)/1000 or .4x. (Yes I know I left the units off in that equation, just don’t tell my students)!

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Ojito Wilderness, New Mexico. Nikon 80-200 f2.8D plus Pentax T132 diopter.

So that’s how diopters work, but what’s different between an achromat and a cheap close-up lens? I’ll leave the technical explanation to the experts, but from a practical point of view achromats use two-lenses to correct for chromatic and spherical aberrations. Chromatic aberration is where different wavelengths of light come to focus at different points behind the lens and it results in a loss of sharpness with single element diopters, especially in the corners. Spherical aberration is where light rays passing through different parts of a spherical lens come to focus at different points, (i.e. those rays passing through the center of the lens are focused at a different point than those passing through the edges). This can lead to a loss of image clarity and, even more frustratingly, to a phenomena known as focus-shift. Again I’ll leave the technical explanation to experts, but basically as you stop down a lens, less and less of the margin of the lens is used to form the image and this causes focus to move back. The result is that when we focus wide-open, which we all do since that’s how our cameras are designed, but shoot at some smaller aperture the plane of sharpest focus will now be behind where we originally placed it! Because single element close-up lenses are not corrected for these aberrations they really do not produce very sharp close-ups, whereas the two-element achromats can produce extremely sharp close-ups.

Calling California Chorus Frog, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California. Nikon 80-200 f2.8D plus Nikon 5t diopter

I used a combination of three different diopters on my 80-200 f2.8D. Those were the Pentax T132 (.76 diopters), the Nikon 5t (1.5 diopters), and the Nikon 6t (2.9 diopters). Using those three diopters gave me a pretty respectable range of magnifications and focusing distances. Basically I had a continuous range from close to the lenses minimum focusing distance when used alone (1.3 meters from the front of the lens with the T132) down to closer than .34 meters and higher than ½ life size with the 6t, (in reality a lot closer with the 6t, magnifications approached life size, but there is no easy way to calculate this once you focus the lens closer than infinity). Unfortunately none of these diopters is available any more new, but the Canon 500D ($145 from B and H) is still manufactured and at +2 diopters it would make a good compromise between the three I used. Working distance with the diopters was pretty respectable too. I think I got just slightly more working distance with the 80-200 f2.8D and diopters than I get now with my 70-180 micro. Optically the lens performed very well with the diopters with a couple caveats. The first was that previously mentioned softness when you combine maximum focal length and minimum focusing distance. With the combination of diopters I used there was an easy work around for this though. For example, lets say I needed to photograph a fence lizard in situ. The lens at minimum focusing distance and 200mm would yield ¼ life size at 1.5 meters away, perfect for the situation, but the results would be softer than I wanted. The solution was to add the T132. With the T132 and the lens set to infinity my working distance and magnification would be almost identical to what I had with no diopter and the lens at MFD, but the resulting pictures were much sharper. That’s right; at 200mm the lens produces noticeably better pictures with a diopter and focus pulled back away from minimum than it does on its own at MFD! The same would be true if I had a situation where I needed to use the T132 and the lens at 200mm and MFD. If I switched to the more powerful Nikon 5t, then pulled back on the focus distance I’d achieve similar magnification and working distance, but sharper pictures. Same deal for the 5t-MFD vs. 6t-close to infinity situation.

Juvenile Tucson Banded Gecko, Tucson Mountain Park, Arizona. Nikon 80-200 f2.8D plus Nikon 6t diopter.

The second caveat has to do with focus shift. As mentioned above focus shift is caused by the spherical aberration of a lens and causes the plane of focus to shift back when a lens is stopped down. Most people notice it when using high-speed lenses (f1.2 or f1.4 for example) at one or two stops down from maximum aperture, but I find it also happens fairly commonly when using non-macro lenses for close-up work. Basically when you use a lens like the 80-200 f2.8D for close-ups you are asking it to do something it was never designed to do. The 80-200 f2.8D is no doubt very well corrected for spherical aberration when used in the way that it was intended for. I never saw focus shift at normal focusing distances with this lens. However, when used for close-ups it has a little at f4 and f5.6. Focus shift is gone or masked by the depth of field by f8. What this means is that if you focus carefully on a herp’s eye and shoot at f4 or f5.6 the eye will be slightly out of focus and the area behind the eye will be the sharpest point in the photo. There are two possible solutions to this. The first is to use a camera with live-view and focus at the aperture you are going to shoot at. The second, and the one I used, was just to never shoot close-ups at f4 or f5.6. I also avoided f2.8 because while that aperture was quite sharp for normal distances it was pretty bad when using diopters. So that leaves f8-16 for good quality close-ups, (f22 is usable, but noticeably softer do to diffraction, I’ve yet to use a lens that is really sharp at f22 or smaller). Considering the need for depth of field in close-up work f8-16 is really about what you want anyway.

Mule Deer Doe, Sandia Mountains, New Mexico. 80-200 f2.8D @ 200mm

So why bother using a lens like the 80-200 f2.8D for herps in the first place if you have to be mindful of what aperture and focus distance you use? Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy a macro lens? The problem with almost all macro lenses in my opinion is that they are fixed focal length lenses. I personally really prefer the framing flexibility I get with zooms. Nikon did make a 70-180 macro, which is what I use now, but it is long discontinued and hard to find. The bottom line is that at its best the 80-200 f2.8D plus diopters can take photos that are indistinguishable from what you would get from a macro lens. Not only that but a fast 80-200 zoom is a dam nice lens to have for larger wildlife, sports, landscapes, etc. If your going to be carrying a lens like that around anyhow, why not get it to serve double duty? And, especially if you buy used, it’s a hell of a bargain!

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

Post by chrish »

Yet another great review, bgorum.

Thanks for taking the time. I have linked to to the sticky.

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