Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II is one of those lenses that I’ve often thought, “What’s the big fuss?” about. I mean, why could I just not use my 70-200mm at 200mm? However. There is a huge difference. The 200mm is by far the sharpest lens I have ever laid hands on. Right out the box, onto my D750 there was no calibration required. It did, however, take a different kind of adjusting to!
The lens and my camera together weighed 8 lbs 9oz, and that was my biggest obstacle to even looking into and possibly becoming vested in a lens of this caliber. With a weight like this, I really wondered how it would function as a portrait lens with lively young children as the subject!
Once it was on my camera, I couldn’t wait to test it, so I went outside where my kids were playing, in our very “typical” neighborhood that, while very pretty, certainly doesn’t have to-die-for portrait backgrounds. Without being too picky or choosy about direction etc, and without even indicating to the kids, I snapped off a few frames.
This one is on the grass, in front of the red brick pathway with ugly cracks and grass growing through. The incredible bokeh of this lens hides the “ugly”, the compression separates the subject beautifully, and we can focus on those blue eyes, drops of sweat, and peanut butter mouth. The essence of childhood I wasn’t thinking about “light” with these quick test shots, so the light in this image is not amazing. However, I still think because of the unique quality of the lens, it still manages to add something special to an otherwise very ordinary image.
The kids were running around, and I was running around after them, barely noticing the weight of the lens. Part of that, I think, is that when I’m taking photos, I’m really not aware of any discomfort. If I start a session with a headache, it’s soon forgotten. If I have an achy muscle, that’s forgotten too. The difference this time was afterwards. After I was done with about 30 minutes of taking photos, my arm was pretty darn tired. That had me worried. What was an hour long session going to be like?
I was really looking forward to using the lens for a whole hour, as well as adjusting to being so much further away from my subjects, and experiencing that in a session, so I used it for my next maternity session. In the end, I have nothing but good to say about this incredible piece of equipment!
1) Yes, I was quite a distance from my subjects. I instructed them, and explained a few hand gestures I might use in advance, but then moved away, and let them do their thing on the beach. They didn’t take as long as subjects usually do to relax and they were a lot more natural without having the camera as close to them as it normally would be with a shorter focal length lens. Since I prefer natural, documentary type photography over posed portraits, I really enjoyed the result of their being free to interact with each other as if I wasn’t there.
I was also able to catch some super-natural, in between moments:
(This was just them being them…they didn’t know I was shooting… how cute are they!?)
2) The compression really does make a huge difference. The separation between the subject and the background is gorgeous.
3) The fixed aperture at f2 is perfect. The shallow depth of field, the extra stops of light (compared to the f4 or many other lenses available) and the incredible sharpness make this the perfect portraiture lens. This is my client’s skin at 100% from about 20 feet away.
4) It really wasn’t too heavy. I didn’t notice it as being a hinderance or cumbersome during the session, nor was my arm stiff or sore afterwards. The only adjustment to me was having to mentally adjust to the focal length forcing me away from my clients. And it really wasn’t a problem. I was aware of how different I felt, but at the same time could see the effect being so far from my subject was having on their being able to relax, and interact naturally with each other, without feeling like they were “on show.” If this were a family, or a toddler session, I’m not sure I would be able to be successful without an assistant. I foresee that you would need someone to run point for you, because running backwards and forwards between the family and the spot you would shoot from would be time consuming and exhausting!
In the end, I decided that the 200mm needs to be a permanent part of my happy equipment family. As a prime lens, the qualities and benefits are just out of this world, and perfect for the look that defines me as a photographer. Love, love, love it!
Caryn Scanlan is a maternity, birth and newborn photographer located in Boston and the South Shore, MA area and has been specializing in Newborns at her studio in Bridgewater, MA since 2009.