Lens review

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200–500 mm f/5.6E ED VR

30 October 2018
Arkadiusz Olech

4. Image resolution

The resolution test of the Nikkor AF-S 200-500 mm f/5.6E ED VR was based on RAW files from the Nikon D3x. In that case the decency level was situated near 30-32 lpmm. High quality fixed-focal lenses can reach values of 47-49 lpmm and the record belongs to the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 which, by f/4.0, managed to exceed slightly 50 lpmm.

Let’s check how the tested lens compares here – its results in the frame centre at 200, 350 and 500 mm shows a graph below.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200–500 mm f/5.6E ED VR - Image resolution

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It is clear that the beginning and the middle of the focal range are very similar. At the maximum relative aperture you get results on a very good level, reaching 36-37 lpmm, and on stopping down MTFs noticeably exceed 40 lpmm. The maximum focal length lags behind distinctly but it doesn’t mean the performance of the lens is weak. Already at the maximum relative aperture you see values of almost 34 lpmm so well above the decency level and a slight stopping down makes the lens reach almost 36 lpmm.

Is it a good or bad result? Compared to high-end fixed-focal lenses such value doesn’t seem impressive. For example the Nikkor AF-S 500 mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, tested by us not so long ago, could achieve 42-43 lpmm. Still the Nikkor tested now should be rather compared to other zoom lenses, not to primes, and here it fares quite well. The Nikkor AF-S 80–400 mm f/4.5–5.6G ED VR at the maximum focal length had very similar results, about 36-37 lpmm. The Tamron SP 150–600 mm f/5–6.3 Di VC USD, in the 450–600 mm range fared, within the margin of error, the same. Even the so much praised Sigma S 150–600 mm f/5–6.3 DG OS HSM, physically big and heavy, is just slightly better than the Nikkor and its advantage sometimes doesn’t exceed the margin of error.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200–500 mm f/5.6E ED VR - Image resolution

Once again shorter focal lengths are very much alike and the 500 mm sticks out a bit. The most important thing is the fact that the tested lens doesn’t have any weak points. Even at the maximum focal length and by f/5.6 the result is slightly above 30 lpmm so the lens provides useful images. It is an important message because this lens is going to cooperate with APS-C/DX sensors very often and it should be able to provide good image quality up to the very edge of the frame.

What’s happening on the edge of full frame detector? The graph below is going to answer that question.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200–500 mm f/5.6E ED VR - Image resolution

Once again the results in the 200-350 mm range are almost identical. In their case you don’t have to worry as you deal with a fully useful image already from the maximum relative aperture and on stopping down the aperture the MTFs are reaching over 35 lpmm. The 500 mm focal length is a different story. Here you might encounter serious problems with calling images useful; in order to approach that level you have to stop down the aperture to near f/11. Still none of zoom lenses perform brilliantly on the very demanding edge of full frame. The Nikkor 80–400 mm VR at 400 mm fared actually worse, the same can be said about the Tamron 150–600 mm. Even the Sigma S 150–600 mm had some serious problems and, e.g. at 300 mm performed noticeably worse than the lens tested here.

The summary of this chapter can only be positive. In the frame centre, no matter what focal length you apply, you are able to reach images of very good quality, with the lens being completely useful up from f/5.6. There are no weak points when it comes to the edge of the smaller APS-C/DX sensor; they appear only at the maximum focal length and on the very demanding edge of full frame detector. Still it’s only to be expected: such problems are typical for the whole class of zoom lenses which focal length range ends about 400-600 mm.

At the end of this chapter traditionally we present crops taken from images of our resolution testing chart saved as JPEG files.

Nikon D3x, JPEG, 200 mm, f/8.0
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200–500 mm f/5.6E ED VR - Image resolution
Nikon D3x, JPEG, 500 mm, f/5.6
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 200–500 mm f/5.6E ED VR - Image resolution