There’s always going to be a debate about which is the best 70-200mm zoom for the Nikon platform. Some will bet their life and all their worldly possessions on Nikon’s own versions, but third-party 70-200mm lenses also have their supporters. Nikon’s 70-200mm zooms are in no doubt great lenses, but they are also expensive.
For the working professional, expenses are usually not a problem, but for those working to a budget that still need top-quality, third party lenses offer some amazing variety. For the most discerning, you could argue that third-party 70-200mm lenses for Nikon don’t have the ultimate autofocus speed as the same-brand types. But in every other respect, they offer similar features with pro-level standards of optics.
1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports provides a surprising amount of quality for its asking price. The lens works equally well on APS-C models, providing a 105-300mm point of view.
Wrapped around the 1.8kg magnesium alloy lens barrel, there are weatherproof seals in all the pertinent areas along with a water and oil repellent coating on the front element.
Internally, the lens comprises of a substantial amount of glass arranged with 24 elements in 22 groups. The arrangement includes one Special Low Dispersion, nine F Low Dispersion elements, and a Super Multi-Layer Coating applied to each for reducing the likes of ghosting and lens flare.
A higher than normal 11-blade rounded diaphragm produces wonderfully smooth bokeh, while the optical stabilization system is a much-needed asset at the longer focal lengths. There are other pro-level features on the lens which include an AF function switch with preset AF modes, focus limiter, and an ‘MO’ option on the AF/MF switch for manual focusing override in continuous AF mode.
There’s a lot that has already been said about this lens and its fine optical qualities, but suffice to say this lens is very sharp and fast with the aperture wide open, with bokeh in abundance. There are some complaints about the edges of the frame not being as sharp as Nikon’s own version of this lens, but in the real world with a well calibrated copy, the Sigma is every bit a professional solution, providing incredible quality for the price point.
2. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
Another highly efficient and great-for-the-money third-party zoom is the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. Coming in at roughly the same price as the Sigma above, the Tamron features all the niceties you would expect in a professional 70-200mm package.
Equally useful on DX-models with a 105-300mm equivalent focal length, the Tamron features a constant f/2.8 aperture, with a standard nine-blade rounded diaphragm. Optically, one XLD and five low dispersion elements reduce the likes of chromatic aberration, while also improving overall clarity. eBAND and BBAR coatings are applied to all elements for improved contrast.
The image stabilization system is one of the best around, with up to five stops of compensation and three modes of operation. The different modes cover stabilization for general use, panning shots, and at the point of exposure. The lens has also been dust and weather-sealed with the addition of a fluorine coating on the front element for extra protection.
This lens is exceptionally sharp throughout the focal range, with a good rendition of color and contrast. The optical stabilization system is fantastic at achieving very low shutter speeds, which works great for low-light photography.
I have a friend who uses this Tamron exclusively for shooting theater performances and it’s never let him down in the field. In essence, this is a great zoom lens for the money and you’ll be hard pushed to pick holes in the final images.
3. Sigma APO 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM
If you need a lens for landscape, wedding, wildlife, or sports photography, the Sigma APO 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM is a cost-effective solution. This is an older-style lens than the examples above, but it still has all the goodies you need in a 70-200mm package.
This lens features the ever-useful f/2.8 aperture, including two F Low Dispersion, three Special Low Dispersion elements, and Multi-layer coatings for good measure. A Hyper Sonic motor handles autofocusing duties, with full-time manual override and an accurate optical stabilization system for handheld shooting.
Just like the other offerings on this list, the Sigma APO 70-200mm isn’t exactly lightweight at 1430g, but in exchange for slight bicep strain, the lens can provide highly accurate image renditions with a good deal of smooth and creamy bokeh where it counts. It may not have the ultimate accuracy of the two lenses above. But it’s still a very worthwhile inclusion on this list.
4. Tokina AT-X 70-200mm f/4 FX VCM-S (Budget Winner)
The Tokina AT-X 70-200mm f/4 FX VCM-S doesn’t have the build quality or weather-proofing as the examples above, but what the lens does offer is extremely good value for the money with surprisingly good optics. Just like the other offerings on this list, the AT-X 70-200mm f/4 is just as useful on the DX-format, providing a 105-300mm focal range.
Three Super-Low dispersion and Multi-layer lens coatings have been incorporated for increased image definition, while an ultrasonic AF motor with full-time manual override works extremely well, even in low-light conditions. A three-stops-of-reduction image stabilization system helps maintain sharp images, while all focusing is done internally to maintain the length of the lens.
As the aperture on the Tokina is f/4, it can’t venture into low-light scenarios as well as the lenses above, but the consideration here is what the lens can provide for the price point. In this regard, the Tokina has a good level of sharpness and very respectable results if you can’t quite stretch to the cost of the examples above.
Rounding Out the Best Third-Party 70-200mm Lenses for Nikon
As the top two third-party 70-200mm lenses for Nikon above show, you won’t be left wanting with a third-party version of a 70-200mm lens. Those two are the latest and greatest models, which not only have all the features as the Nikon version but also keep up in the optical stakes.
Generally, a 70-200mm zoom is aimed at the professional-level photographer, which means it needs to be a great performer in a wide range of scenarios. However, if you don’t need the low-light capabilities of an f/2.8 aperture or the sealed like a submarine weather-proofing, the Tokina can still provide great results for those on a more limited budget.