For wildlife photography, telephoto lenses between 400mm to 600mm are the absolute standard in the vast majority of cases. Most animals are rather shy towards humans and have to be brought close with large and heavy lenses. But what if an animal does get close for once?
The Nikon Z 70-200mm 2.8 is the ideal lens for situations where animals get very close. The zoom gives you the flexibility to quickly switch between portraits and wide-angle images while the constant open aperture of 2.8 guarantees soft backgrounds.
I had the opportunity to test the lens for 2 weeks in various situations. Among other things, I went into the mountains for 4 days to look for ibex.
The Nikon Z9 + Z 70-200mm 2.8 combination is relatively compact for wildlife photography.
I was allowed to borrow the lens from Nikon Switzerland for the 2 weeks. I'm incredibly thankful for the opporunity but I would also like to say that this did not influence my review in any way.
As with all Z lenses I have tested so far, the 70-200 leaves nothing to be desired in terms of image quality. Whether at 70mm or at 200mm, the lens remains extremely sharp throughout the zoom range and image defects such as chromatic aberrations are virtually undetectable.
To get the best possible image quality, I have so far mainly used fixed focal lengths. The 70-200 offers the quality of a fixed focal length but also the flexibility of a zoom. With rather large and more trusting animals, this means that without changing lenses, you can switch between close-ups, full-body portraits, and even wide-angle shots in the blink of an eye.
At 70mm, the lens is so wide-angle that a large portion of the surrounding area is also imaged. Such photos are a stark contrast to usual supertele photos, but can work just as well, if not better.
At 200mm, the image is already quite compressed in perspective. The background is soft but remains quite textured, which can be helpful in conveying a story.
If the subject is close enough, relatively classic photos can also be taken with the lens.
The autofocus is of course also very fast and precise. Unlike the 400mm 2.8 though, Nikon has not yet built in the new Silent Wave Motors (SWM) here. Is that a problem?
No, because the autofocus does its job as it is. In all the tests I did with the lens, the autofocus easily kept up. Only when I lost focus against the sky, the lens was sometimes a bit slow in getting the focus back. However, when there is enough contrast in the image, the combo of Z9 and 70-200 is extremely fast and focusing happens seemingly instantaneously.
Regarding focus, the low closest focusing distance should also be mentioned. With 0.5m at 70mm and 1m at 200mm, the lens is very well suited for close-ups. For these kind of images, normal superteles are less suitable. The new Z 400mm 2.8 does quite a good job with close-ups because of the built-in teleconverter but for example my 500mm f4 is not the ideal lens for close-ups.
Due to the close-up limit of only 0.5 to 1 m, beautiful close-ups can be created with this lens.
I found the VR particularly remarkable with this lens. Especially in combination with the IBIS of the Z9, the VR is extremely effective. This also made handheld videos possible, and in some cases even "slider-like" handheld shots. Unfortunately, I was only able to purchase a video gimbal a few weeks later. In combination with a DJI RS2, however, the 70-200 will most likely be extremely interesting for wildlife filmmakers.
What also falls into the "interesting for video" area: like the 400mm 2.8, the VR is virtually silent. So an annoying buzzing of the VR in the audio track is history. Of course, this also plays into the cards of a wildlife photographer. In combination with the Nikon Z9, you can be completely silent. On the other hand, with my 500mm f4 FL ED, there was still quite a loud buzz from the image stabilizer. This made sound recording via microphone from the camera hotshoe virtually impossible.
Weight and handling
The lens is very light by wildlife photography standards, weighing in at just under 1.4 kg. The lens is also rather compact in terms of size. In my f-stop Shinn, the lens easily fits next to the 500mm f/4 and various other lenses.
In terms of handling, the lens is the same as the other Z lenses. Behind the zoom ring, there are four buttons around the lens. You can assign various functions to these, such as AF-ON or Focus Recall. A little behind these four buttons is another one on the left side. This button can also be assigned various functions. I deactivated this button because I have my hand further in front of the lens and can't really reach it. But better one button too many than too few. I think in the long run I would have found a function for this button as well.
What is rather superfluous from my point of view is the display on the top. This can display the focus distance, focal length or aperture, among other things. Since everything I need to know is also shown in the viewfinder, I don't really have any use for the display.
Apart from this small detail, I like the lens very much. Together with the Z9, the lens makes an extremely robust impression. The center of gravity of the lens is very close to the camera, which made shooting quite comfortable for me.
The DISP button can be used to select what exactly should be shown on the display. For me personally, however, this display had no real use.
The lens has two Fn buttons which can be assigned with various functions. There are a total of 4 of the L-Fn2 around the lens barrel.
Overall, the 70-200mm f/ 2.8 for the Z mount performed extremely well in my tests. To be honest, anything else would have been a surprise and the image quality should be excellent for 3,000 francs. What rather surprised me were the results I could achieve with the lens. Especially in the mountains with the ibexes the 70-200mm was ideal and I had the lens a lot more often on the Z9 than I would have thought. The look you can create with focal lengths between 70 and 200mm is very different from the usual supertele images. The perspective is completely different and I find this variety exciting. So the lens in no way replaces my 500mm f/4, but would be quite an interesting addition to my equipment in the future.
This is actually my final conclusion. As a lens for wildlife photography, the Nikon Z 70-200mm 2.8 VR S would certainly not be my first choice or recommendation. As a companion to a super tele, however, the lens is a very valid option for wildlife. So if you already own a good telephoto and are looking for options to develop your imaging style in new directions, the 70-200mm is the perfect choice.
Buy the Nikon Z 70-200mm 2.8 VR S
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