Nikon Zoom Comparison: 70-300 vs 70-300 VR vs 70-200

Comparing Nikon (Nikkor) Zoom Lenses | Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G vs Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR vs Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II

Choosing a great zoom lens can be quite a difficult decision. The 70-200/2.8 is a legendary lens, and many professionals swear by it. However, as an amateur – which zoom lens do you choose? How exactly do the more expensive lenses compare to the cheaper ones? Well – we realised we own three different types of zooms and decided to pit them against each other.

Broadly, Nikon offers 3 lenses in this segment:

So: the big question. Does cheap mean bad results? Does expensive mean great results? Though it may seem that there are a lot of similarities amidst the 3 lenses, there is a major cost difference between all of them. We know how confusing it can be to decide among lens options, figure out how much to spend and whether it is worth the money.

In this post we will share with you the pros and cons of all 3 lenses, along with a demonstration of images taken in similar test conditions. Our test conditions involved using a Nikon D750, a smiling Buddha statue and a walk to the park in the evening for outdoor conditions.

Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G (Referred as ‘70-300 Non VR’ in test results)

Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G is the predecessor to Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G IF-ED VR. It’s probably the best inexpensive addition to your arsenal beyond a kit lens like the 18 – 55 or the 18 – 70mm lenses. This lens is very lightweight and has a broad zoom range. Though at 200mm – 300mm it’s a little soft at large apertures, which may be great for portraits but bad for landscapes. If using it for landscapes, we suggest putting it on a tripod and stopping down to f/11 at 300mm.

Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR (Referred as ‘70-300 VR’ in test results)

This 70-300mm VR is the very best modern tele zoom lens to get if you prefer a dedicated tele zoom over a do-it-all zoom and want light weight and moderate price. The Nikon 70-300mm VR adds Vibration Reduction (VR) to eliminate the need for a tripod, AFS focusing to allow instant manual focus override. It’s a nice semi-plasticy amateur lens with a metal mount.

Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II (Referred as ‘70-200’ in test results)

The Nikon 70-200mm lens is a professional-grade lens that was introduced by Nikon in the early 80’s in the shape of 80-200mm f/2.8 constant aperture lens. Since then, Nikon has been enhancing and redesigning the lens every 4-5 years, making it faster, sharper and more versatile by enhancing the optics and introducing new features. The latest generation of the 70-200mm lens is no exception. Nikon completely redesigned the lens, adding more “ED” (Extra-Low Dispersion) optical elements, making this lens sharper than the previous version. Nikon also added the new “N” (Nano Crystal Coating) to this lens, which is supposed to minimize ghosting and lens flare. Other new features include a brand new “VR II” vibration reduction system, which provides a four stop benefit over non-VR systems and a new “A/M” focus mode for auto-focus priority.

Lets understand all that in simpler terms:

70-300mm f/4.5-6 G

70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR

70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II

Wow, cheap! 

Moderately Priced

SUPER expensive

Great Zoom Range

Great Zoom Range

Slightly Lesser Zoom Range

Lightest in Weight

Moderate Weight

Hello, backpain! 

Built-in Auto Focus

Built-in Auto Focus

Built-in Auto Focus with new A/M mode (auto-focus priority)

Variable Aperture Throughout Zoom Range

Variable Aperture Throughout Zoom Range

WOW. f/2.8 throughout the zoom range. 

Has VR (Vibration Reduction)

Has latest VR II System

ED Lens with low chromatic aberration

ED Lens with low chromatic aberration with all the bells and whistles. 

Here are the images. We did a open aperture (f/4.5) mid-aperture (f/8) and tiny aperture (f/22). We took these images under ideal conditions (soft evening light) – and shot at various focal lengths (70mm, 135mm and 200m) to see how they did against each other.

Comparison at 70 mm f/4.5



At 100% Zoom,


Rating out of 5

70-300 Non-VR 70-300 VR 70-200
Sharpness 3.5 4 4.5
Bokeh 3 4 5
Exposure 3 4.5 5

Also, magnification from 70-200 is obviously less compared to the other two lens.

Comparison at 135 mm f/4.5



At 100% Zoom,



Comparison at 200 mm f/4.5



At 100% Zoom,


Comparison at 200 mm f/8



At 100% Zoom,


Comparison at 200 mm f/22



At 100% Zoom,


Our Verdict:

Wow. Where do we start? We are amazed by how close the lenses perform. We were expecting the 70-200 f/2.8 to blast the others out of the water, but surprisingly the other two did pretty well for themselves. It’s no surprise that the Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II won, because it’s a professional lens.

The 70-300 non VR – for the price – performs exceedingly well.

The 70-300 VR – being a mid-range lens, demonstrates GREAT value for money.

Bokeh is somewhat similar for given test conditions for all three lenses. Surprisingly, Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR produces slightly higher exposure and that can be a plus point for this one.

What does this mean?

From experience, the 70-200 f/2.8 is a great lens and well worth the money – for a couple of reasons. First, the lens works at f/2.8 throughout the zoom range (this in itself is well worth the money). Second, images are very sharp in all sorts of shooting conditions – low light, contrasty light, harsh light and so on. The 70-200 offers many more features that are useful for difficult shooting conditions – like speed and low light auto-focus as well as being a much more solid & sturdy lens which can survive more than a few bumps. Though the other two lenses perform well in ideal conditions, it’s possible (and it does happen) that their performance degrades in less-than-ideal conditions.

But If you’re tight on budget we’d recommend you to go with Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR before opting for Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II. Though Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II offers a continuous wide aperture throughout its whole focal range but Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IF-ED VR still gives you amazing pictures at a far lesser price.

Have an opinion on these lenses or this article? Leave us your comments below to discuss.

Interested in more gear talk? Stay tuned to the blog for more reviews, comparisons and tutorials. Oh, and if you haven’t signed up for the AKP e-Bootcamp yet, register today.

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