Nikon matching Canon with 70-200mm f4 lens

As full-frame SLRs spread, high-end but not top-end lenses become more important. Nikon just announced a promising new telephoto -- and it's got next-gen vibration reduction, too.

Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Nikon

When photo enthusiasts entering the digital SLR market ask me whether they should go for Canon or Nikon, one of the points I often raise is Canon's appealing choice of high-end but not top-end lenses.

Well, Nikon just undermined that potential selling point. At the Photo Plus Expo show today, it announced its AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR, a telephoto zoom lens that provides a competitive answer to Canon's superb EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM.

Let's be clear here. These are still professional-grade lenses, and they aren't cheap. Canon's costs about $1,200 these days, and Nikon says its rival will cost about $1,400 when it ships in late November. But for enthusiasts looking to move to high-quality, fast-focusing, durable, and weather-sealed lenses, those prices are still much more affordable than the two alternatives, Canon's EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, which each cost about $2,400.

The top-end models can shoot at faster shutter speeds by virtue of their wider aperture that enables shooting at f2.8, so for example you could shoot at 1/200 sec. in the same light with the high-end models compared to 1/100 sec. with the f4 lenses. But the top-end models are not only more expensive, they're also bulkier and weigh a lot more.

I expect these not-quite-top-end lenses to be of greater interest as full-frame cameras get a bit cheaper, most notably with Nikon's new D600 and Canon's new EOS 6D.

Nikon still doesn't have as affordable an answer to Canon's $840 EF 17-40mm f/4L USM ultrawide zoom -- its AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR costs about $1,250, although that model has vibration reduction that Canon's lacks. In the middle of the zoom range, Nikon added the $1,300 AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR to the range in 2010 that competes with Canon's $950 EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

Another notable feature of the new Nikon lens: it's the first to use Nikon's third-generation vibration reduction (VR) technology, which counteracts camera shake. The second-generation technology could stabilize the lens with a four-stop improvement, meaning that a person who could shoot at 1/200 sec. without VR could shoot at 1/15 sec. with VR.

The third-generation technology gives a five-stop improvement, Nikon said, which would bring that down to 1/8 sec. Most reviewers take the camera makers' promises of stability improvement with a big grain of salt. But even so, it's a very useful technology and it's good to see it improving.

Nikon's new 70-200mm f4 lens has 20 optical elements and a close-focus distance of 1 meter.

Featured Video

Your Black Friday shopping survival guide

Ready to battle for deals? Bridget Carey helps you plan your strategy with tips on smartphone apps, where to find the best deals, and when to avoid the stores.

by Bridget Carey