This is not an image quality comparison, rather a few practical thoughts. Both lenses are more than sufficiently sharp for most uses, with the f/2.8 having a slight edge on ‘usability’ in certain situations simply because it is 1 stop faster.
I took this recently and got thinking about which lens I use the most.
I purchased my first 70-200 in 2012 – it was a second-hand f/2.8 VR l model and it served me well, for CiRCa and for the Cri’Art concerts, as both were environments where the range of lighting was vast – from almost total darkness to daylight.
The f/4 version came out after later in the same year, but didn’t particularly interest me, as I already owned the f/2.8.
A couple of years later, I had a chance to try the f/4 version and I was impressed by the quality of the lens – it was considerably lighter (840 over 1480 grammes) and quite a lot less imposing (178mm versus 215mm) – but what impressed me the most was the quality of the optics. So I bought a new one.
This lens is sold without the tripod foot. Apparently Nikons thinking behind this is that it’s such a light lens that it’s unlikely that people will ever have to mount it on a tripod, so the tripod foot is extra – and a very expensive extra too at over 200€. As it happens, our Chinese cousins got their hands on this and now produce very respectable copies for 35€ – delivered!
This is in my current ‘kit’ – the fact that it is a stop slower doesn’t really change a lot for me – if I feel I really need a fast lens and I’m in a situation where a heavy lens isn’t problematic, I’ll use the f/2.8 – but frankly, the f/4 does pretty much all I need.
To make the shot above I traveled by bike – I packed my backpack with a camera body, two lenses and a few odds and sods, and it was still easy to carry while I was riding.
Horses for courses….