70-200mm f2.8 VR vs 85mm f1.4

The Nikor 70-200mm f/2.8G AFS VR has been reviewed on numerous occasions by professional photographers and enthusiasts alike, and the overall consensus is that it is one of the best lenses in Nikon’s lens lineup, regardless of category. Pundits hail its sharpness, focusing speed, bokeh, and build construction among its biggest strengths.

Meanwhile, the Nikor 85mm f/1.4 is Nikon’s fastest telephoto, praised for its exceptional bokeh and low-light capability.

Both lenses occupy the apex in their respective focal ranges so I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison based on a very limited scope. The purpose of the comparison is not to determine which lens is better, as that would not make sense since they are meant for different uses, but rather, to find out which lens is sharper and provides better color and contrast at the 85mm focal range. The traditional view is that prime lenses are better than zoom lenses at a specific focal length, but the 70-200mm VR has, at least on studio-based MTF curve tests, generated results that are simply off-the-charts.

I’m not geared to do any scientific lens evaluation and frankly, I don’t have any interest to do so. Furthermore, this comparison will focus exclusively on image quality and ignores other lens characteristics such as autofocus speed and accuracy, build quality, and handling. I will just leave it to the site visitors to come to their own conclusions based on how they see the output.

Test setup: handheld, f/5.6, 70-200mm VR on, auto-tone curve in lightroom

Camera: D70s

Test Results:

The subject of the test is a stop sign about 50 meters from my balcony. It was about half an hour from sunset and was a good time to test the VR feature of the 70-200mm.


70-200mm Test 1 Stop Sign


85mm Test 1 Stop Sign-6550


The two lenses are very similar in terms of sharpness but the 70-200mm seems to achieve better color rendition. White balance was kept constant and the gap between the two shots was a matter of seconds so the setting sun could not have been a factor.

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