Opinion: VR is a good thing in Nikon’s new 24-70mm

I’d take an extra stop in maximum aperture over two in stabilization.

– Professional Photographer

How many times have you heard a photographer say that? The correct answer is a million times. You’ve heard that sentence, or a version of it, repeated over and over again by any photographer worth his or her salt. We balked at variable-aperture kit zooms advertising multiple stops of shake-reducing stabilization, thinking we were so smart as we quipped, “What about your subject motion? Ehhh? VR can’t stop that!” We looked at fast apertures and stabilization as being different tools to achieve the same goal, failing to recognize that they can solve entirely different problems. We also, for some reason, assumed the two technologies were mutually exclusive, which they are not. As President Obama once said, “We reject as false the choice between speed and image stabilization.”*

Perhaps, though, you’ve noticed photographers haven’t been talking about this issue as frequently in the past couple of years. The reason for this isn’t just that image stabilization has achieved a level of ubiquity that’s rendered moot any debate, but that those who used to make that claim (myself included) have realized that we were kind of wrong. Look what happened when Canon updated their own 24-70mm f/2.8 to version 2 and neglected to include IS: photographers were left scratching their heads. They wanted IS. Weird, right? Canon produced an incredibly sharp, exceptionally well-made lens, but all anyone wanted to talk about was the lack of IS (and the fact that it zoomed the wrong way so the lens hood was less efficient, but I digress.)

But here’s the thing: stabilization isn’t just about being able to shoot at lower shutter speeds. It’s about being able to comfortably frame a photograph through the viewfinder after three cups of coffee; it’s about recording smooth, hand-held video (something no still photographer was thinking about when IS/VR first showed up); and finally, it’s about being able to shoot at a smaller aperture, owing to the fact that just because you’re in a low light situation doesn’t mean you want a shallow depth of field. It’s that last point that really gets me, because, what were we thinking? I’ll take a fast aperture over stabilization any day—as if somehow we felt that a shallow depth of field would always be an acceptable trade-off for a faster shutter speed. Granted, I think most of us would still prefer a fast aperture over VR if choosing VR meant being stuck with a slower lens, but at least now we recognize that VR has real value. It’s a feature we want in addition to speed.

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Source: Nikon

Of course, a legitimate concern about adding VR to a lens that may not need it, is price. In this case, though, I don’t think we have to worry. Nikon’s new 24-70mm is coming in at about $500 above the old one, which, if you’ve been keeping track, was announced eight years ago. That’s the same price hike we saw when Canon first announced their replacement 24-70mm (again, without IS). Furthermore, it’s not like VR is the only new technology that Nikon has put into this optic. New elements, construction, and specialized coatings provide for a sturdier, sharper, and easier-to-clean lens than the previous model, according to Nikon.

It remains to be seen how this lens performs in the real world, but I have a feeling this is going to be one of the most popular professional-level Nikon lenses in a long time; and for a long time to come.

*President Obama never actually said this.

Images: Nikon.

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