New 70-200-zooms from Nikon and Canon and a superior 120-300mm f/2.8

Canon and Nikon are churning out new lenses for their mirrorless camera quickly now. All lenses for the new mounts have proven to be excellent, no surprises so far. Now we finally see the introduction of the respective 70-200mm f/2.8s. These lenses are very interesting because they are the most difficult to develop – in decent quality, that is. Telezooms have originally been a specialty for Nikon. The 80-200mm f/4.5 was the first zoom lens that was as good as primes, ‘the zoom that ends all other zooms’. The 85-250mm f/4-4.5 (1959) was even the first tele zoom lens in the world. By the time Nikon introduced the first 80-200mm f/2.8 Canon joined Nikon and has been able to offer the same quality.

But when Nikon introduced the 70-200mm f/2.8 FL, the third generation of 70-200mm f/2.8s, Canon didn’t really follow. They just reintroduced the second generation and changed the coating somewhat. So Nikon’s 70-200mm became the best 70-200mm you could buy.

Now we see both brands introducing a 70-200mm f/2.8 for mirrorless. And for the first time, we see a completely different approach. Canon designed a lens that used a feature we saw only in amateur lenses so far, a lens with an extending barrel. This construction was considered unfit for pro lenses, since if you bump against something with the lens, it might get misaligned because the barrel or the cams get damaged.

But apparently Canon gave this construction a real good thought and was able to make it quite sturdy. Lens Rentals writes: ‘The Canon RF 70-200mm has about the most robust extending barrel mechanism I’ve ever seen. There aren’t the usual three cams sliding about to move this barrel, there are three pairs of them, and each is very large and robust.’ When collapsed, the lens is also less than  2/3 of previous and comparable lenses and the new Nikon: 1070 g and 146 mm vs. 1440 g and 220 mm.

But of course, weight and size are only two parameters. The most important one is the optical quality and the second most important one is the price. Price-wise both lenses are in the same region as their precessors, the Canon a little more expensive, the Nikon even a little less. As for the optical quality: I wasn’t able to test either lens yet, but we do have the MTFs already. Manufacturer MTF’s can’t be compared directly, but in this case, we can find a way around this conundrum. We do have the MTFs of the previous version of the lenses of both Nikon and Canon and I have my own test results of those lenses. If you combine them, you can say a lot of those lenses, assuming that Canon and Nikon didn’t change the way they calculate MTFs in the last year.

So based on that the conclusion will be that both manufacturers did a great job – but a different job. Canon concentrated on making the smallest and lightest 70-200mm f/2.8 on the market, even with stabilization. Based on the MTF, the optical quality will be better than the previous one; somewhat – but not much – less than the previous Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, the FL version.

Nikon did something completely different. Their 70-200 f/2.8 is almost exactly the same size and weight as the previous one and has stabilization too. So it should be better than that one, but… that lens already was the best in the market and is not even four years old. As unlikely as it may seem, Nikon succeeded in developing a lens that is a whole class above the previous 70-200. The MTF at 200mm looks better than the one of the 180mm f/2.8 prime, and at least equal to the MTFs of both 300mms f/4s, both of which are known to be very good lenses. Based on the MTF one would expect the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S to be the first 70-200mm that also delivers excellent results with converters. That would make the lens even more attractive.

On the other hand, you can’t use the F-converters on this lens. If a hypothetical Z-converter uses the same built principle as the Sony one, it will be very asymmetrical which isn’t good. So we’ll have to wait and see. There are not even converters on the Z roadmap yet. But then again Nikon also introduced a 120-300mm f/2.8 in the F mount. Of course, you can use that lens without any penalty on the Z cameras as well. The MTF at 300mm looks superior, better than the 300mm f/4s and at the level of the 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8. So this lens will very likely be an excellent 160-420mm f/4, 185-510mm f/4,8 and a 200-600mm f/5.6 as well. It’s not cheap though. But there’s also a 200-600mm Z lens on the road map. It looks like Nikon owners soon have too many excellent lenses to choose from.

As for Canon: really nice to see a lens a compact and light 70-200mm f/2.8 of high quality. In the last couple of years, we’re seeing more and more lenses that only 10 years ago would have sounded like science fiction. Great times to be a photographer!

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