1) Lens Overview
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens is a truly versatile lens that can be used for many different kinds of photography needs – from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. With its constant aperture of f/2.8 (meaning the aperture does not change while zooming) and state of the art optics, the lens is targeted towards enthusiasts and professionals, who work in various lighting and weather conditions and need exceptional sharpness, color and contrast in their images – something the Nikon 24-70mm was designed to deliver. It replaced the older Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8D lens and its optics were completely redesigned for superior performance and extra coverage on the wide-end. Featuring 15 lens elements in 11 groups, 3 out of which are ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements that reduce chromatic aberration and increase sharpness, the lens is a heavyweight monster weighing a whopping 31.7 oz. (900 grams), which is heavier than the Nikon D300 DSLR! In addition to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM/AF-S) that provides fast and quiet auto focus, the Nikon 24-70mm also features the Nano Crystal Coating technology, which reduces ghosting and flare. When it comes to weather sealing, the Nikon 24-70mm is designed to be well-protected against dust, moisture and tough weather conditions (read more under Lens Handling below).
Along with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G was specifically made for FX (full-frame) DSLR camera bodies like Nikon D700/D3/D3s/D3x, and is a part of the Nikon professional lens “Trinity” – Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. Just like any other full-frame lens, the 24-70mm works well on any Nikon DX camera, but due to the 1.5x crop factor (equivalent to 36-105mm), it might feel a little “too long”.
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During the last three years, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G has been my #1 workhorse lens for my photography. Out of 32,500 images that I shot in 2009, over 15,000 (almost half) were taken with the 24-70mm lens. I have a wide array of lenses and no other lens was used as heavily as this one – my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 captured a little over 4,000 images and it is the second most used lens in 2009. The primary reason, is that I traveled a lot in 2009 and the 24-70mm was an essential part of every trip. Besides being my top travel and landscape photography lens, the Nikon 24-70mm has also served me well during various local photo sessions both in studio and outdoors environments. So, as you can see, it has seen a lot of abuse from me and knowing it inside out, I can speak of it with confidence.
In terms of optical performance, the Nikon 24-70mm delivers outstanding performance from center to corner above 28mm, especially between 35mm and 70mm. At its widest focal length of 24mm, the lens suffers from vignetting, corner softness and slightly decreased performance when shot at maximum aperture, but most of these problems are gone by f/5.6 and above (more on sharpness on the second page). You also have to be careful with filters, since this lens does not like stacked filters at 24mm – you will see heavy vignetting if more than one regular filter is used.
2) Lens Specifications
- Fast, wide-angle to medium Telephoto AF-S zoom lens optimized for edge-to-edge sharpness on both the Nikon FX (23.9 x 36mm) and DX format image sensors.
- Two Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements and PGM aspherical lenses control chromatic aberrations while enhancing sharpness and contrast, even at the widest aperture settings.
- Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables ultra high-speed auto focusing with exceptional accuracy and powerful, super-quiet operation.
- Focus as close as 14.9 inches.
- M/A focus mode switch enables quick response to changing situations between manual and auto focus operation.
- Enhanced optical formulas engineered to produce exceptional sharpness, contrast and color, rendering outstanding image integrity.
- Exclusive Nano Crystal Coat further reduces ghosting and flare for even greater image clarity.
- Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet auto focusing without changing the length of the lens, retaining subject-working distance through the focus range.
- Rugged construction with professional-grade dust and moisture resistance.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length Range: 24-70mm
- Zoom Ratio: 2.9x
- Maximum Aperture: 2.8
- Minimum Aperture: 22
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 61°
- Minimum Angle of View (DX-format): 22° 50′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 84°
- Minimum Angle of View (FX-format): 34° 20′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.27x
- Lens (Elements): 15
- Lens (Groups): 11
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- ED Glass (Elements): 3
- Aspherical (Elements): 3
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.2ft.(0.38m)
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.3×5.2 in. (Diameter x Length), 83x133mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 31.7 oz. (900g)
- Lens Case: CL-M3
- Lens Hood: HB-40
- Supplied Accessories: LC-77 77m snap-on front lens cap, LF-1 rear lens cap, HB-40 Bayonet Hood, CL-M3 Semi-soft Case
Just like the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G lens is made of metal and built like a tank. Unlike the 14-24mm, it can easily take 77mm filters and due to internal focus, the front of the lens does not rotate, which makes it a lens of choice for photographers that frequently use both rectangular filters and filter holder systems. It is also 70 grams lighter than the 14-24mm and longer in size when zoomed out at 24mm, without a hood. When it comes to weather sealing, I have used it in cold conditions way below freezing at -20 °F (-29 °C) and in extremely hot conditions above 110 °F (43 °C), as well as 100% humid and very dry conditions. I used it rain and snow and it never let me down, no matter where I was.
It feels very solid in hands and the focus ring is conveniently located in the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. You don’t need to change any switches on the lens for manual focus – you can override autofocus any time by simply moving the focus ring while the lens is in M/A position. When you move the focus ring and reach the focus limit, the ring continues rotation with a little more resistance, instead of an abrupt stop, just like in Nikon 14-24mm. Zooming in and out is smooth, but a little stiffer when zooming out to 24mm. Overtime, the zoom ring got much smoother and unlike the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, does not suffer from lens creep when pointed up or down vertically. However, if zoomed out to 24mm and put down with the front element on a flat surface without the hood, the weight of the lens will bring the lens down until it gets to around 50mm (that’s when the lens is at its shortest physical length). While storing or transporting the lens, I highly recommend to keep the zoom ring at 50mm to prevent dust from getting into the lens through the front of the lens.
Although the lens is heavy, it balances quite well on heavier pro bodies like Nikon D700/D3s. The same is not true on entry-level cameras like Nikon D5000 – it certainly feels off-balance towards the front of the lens and awkward, due to its size and weight. While it works great on any DX camera, I would not recommend to use it on one, unless you like working in 36-105mm range. Cheaper and lighter alternatives like Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G DX or Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR would be more useful in terms of focal length.
The HB-40 bayonet lens hood is very large and makes the lens looks enormous in size, almost like a telephoto lens. Despite its size, I highly recommend to keep it on the lens at all times, because it does help in dealing with lens flare and it certainly does a great job at protecting the front element. The HB-40 has a lock mechanism and therefore holds tightly and securely on the 24-70mm, unlike other hoods that come off by rotating the hood. While storing or transporting the lens, you can conveniently reverse the hood and it won’t take up any additional space.
4) Focus acquisition speed and accuracy
As I have pointed out above, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is equipped with Internal Focus (IF), which drives the AF performance to its limits. The lens snaps into focus instantly and silently, thanks to the Silent Wave Motor. It is often difficult to get correct focus in low-light conditions and many lenses start to hunt, but not the 24-70mm – it produces exceptional results at all apertures in challenging lighting conditions.
5) Lens sharpness and contrast
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is a wicked sharp lens in the center of the frame throughout the zoom and aperture range (until f/11, after which diffraction starts to negatively affect the image), even wide open. Corner and mid-frame performance is not as great by comparison though, especially at the wide end at 24mm and near maximum aperture of f/2.8. This behavior is the result of donut-shaped field curvature – an optical effect seen in some ultra-wide angle lenses, where the focus plane is spherically bent rather than staying flat (parts of frame rolling out of the focus plane). When large apertures such as f/2.8 are used, the center frame appears sharp (assuming center focus), mid-frame looks softer, then sharpness returns and lost again in the extreme corners. Unfortunately, there is no cure to this problem and the only way to minimize field curvature is to stop down the lens to f/5.6 and smaller, where the increased depth of field decreases the effect.
But despite the above corner softness issues, the Nikon 24-70mm has one major advantage – it consistently delivers sharp images both in the center and in the corners between apertures of f/5.6 and f/11 at all focal lengths, something no other mid-range lens can even come close to. That is why it has such a high demand and popularity among landscape and architectural photographers – we rarely shoot at large apertures, and maximum sharpness, resolution and depth of field are what we are primarily after. Speaking of resolution, the Nikon 24-70mm resolves lots of details on FX bodies, even on the Nikon D800′s 36 MP sensor. In terms of contrast and colors, the Nikon 24-70mm is a top class performer. The images are vivid and beautiful, definitely the signature of pro-level lenses.
Here are some charts from our Imatest lab tests (tested on Nikon D800):
The bokeh on the Nikon 24-70mm looks surprisingly smooth and good at f/2.8, so you could occasionally use it to isolate subjects at 50-70mm. Why occasionally? Because it is not a strong portrait lens and was never really designed to be one. While the out of focus areas look good wide open, the bokeh circles have a visible outlining in them due to aspherical elements in the lens. If you are looking for a good portrait lens, try the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G instead.
Vignetting is moderate and quite visible at 24mm, as seen in many other wide angle lenses. I would say that it is very comparable to the amount of vignetting the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G produces when shooting wide open at shortest focal lengths. Take a look at the following two images:
The image on the left is how it came out of the camera and the image on the right is after correcting vignetting in Lightroom. Vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, so it is not a big problem. In Lightroom 3.0, there is an option to “Enable Profile Corrections” under “Lens Corrections”, which almost completely removes vignetting and distortion problems on images taken with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G.
8) Ghosting and Flare
The Nikon 24-70mm is equipped with the Nano Crystal Coat, which certainly helps in reducing flares and ghosting. Shooting against the sun almost always results in some flares and ghosting and the 24-70mm is no exception, so you have to decide whether you want to include the sun in the frame or not. The nice thing about the HB-40 hood, is that it does a great job at blocking the sun when you do not want to include it in the frame, so you will rarely see ghosting in your images. Here is an extreme example of shooting directly at the sun:
Barrel distortion is rather heavy at 24mm, which then transforms to pincushion distortion at 35mm and then disappears by 70mm. I personally do not worry about distortion problems on my lenses, because they are very easy to fix in Photoshop and Lightroom. In fact, Lightroom 3 already has a lens profile for the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, which is nice, since all you have to do is check “Enable Profile Corrections” under “Lens Corrections” and all distortion will be automatically removed from your images, as I pointed out in my Lightroom 3 Lens Correction article. Take a look at the following image and move your mouse over and out to see the original distorted image versus a fixed image in Lightroom 3:
10) Chromatic Aberrations
Chromatic aberrations are non-existent in the center and well-controlled near the edges. Here is the worst case scenario, 100% crop taken from the left edge of the image:
Again, chromatic aberrations are very easy to fix in post-production and Lightroom 3 can easily take care of it in via Lens Corrections.
Let’s move on to lens comparison and sharpness tests. Select the next page below.
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Auto
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D3s FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect. After each successful focus acquisition, focus was switched to manual to prevent camera refocusing
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW & JPEG
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted for some images
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 24-70mm @ 24mm Center Frame
Either hover your mouse or click on each image to see the aperture settings. Top left: f/2.8, Top right: f/4.0, Bottom left: f/5.6, Bottom right: f/8.0.
As I have said before, the performance in the center is stellar, even wide open at f/2.8. Take a look at the f/2.8 and f/8.0 and see if you can spot a difference – they look identical. The center is equally sharp at all apertures.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 24-70mm @ 24mm Corner Frame
What about the corners? The situation in the corners, unfortunately, is not the same as in the center. Take a look at the following 100% crops:
At 24mm @ f/2.8, the corners suffer from heavy vignetting, softness and distortion. By f/4.0, the situation gets much better and we can see immediate improvement in sharpness and much less vignetting. When we get to f/5.6 and beyond, vignetting is almost completely gone and the image is sharper. However, there is a slight amount of color fringing present (see left bottom side of numbers 5 and 6).
13) Sharpness Test – Nikon 24-70mm @ 35mm Center Frame
Let’s now take a look at 35mm in the center:
Just like at 24mm, the 24-70mm shows superb performance in the center at 35mm. Every single image is extremely sharp and I cannot see any difference between f/2.8 and f/8.0 – truly remarkable performance.
What about the corners? For my lens sample, the situation in the corners at 35mm is actually worse than at 24mm. Although there is less vignetting, sharpness-wise, the lens suffers the most between 35 to 40mm.
14) Sharpness Test – Nikon 24-70mm @ 50mm Center Frame
How about 50mm and beyond?
Just like I have stated before, this lens delivers consistently sharp results at all focal lengths and apertures in the center! For the sake of saving bandwidth, I am not going to post crops from the corners at different focal lengths, because they all look very similar, with sharpness getting better above 35-40mm.
Compared to Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR
16) Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G vs Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR
So, how does the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G compare with the newly released Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0G VR? Let’s take a look at 24mm and 35mm – the focal lengths I use the most for landscapes.
The lenses both perform extremely well in the center frame, so there is no point to provide sample images. Let’s see how the lenses compare at 24mm in the corners @ f/4.0 (the image on the left is Nikon 24-70mm and the image on the right is Nikon 16-35mm):
With Nikon 24-70mm stopped down to f/4.0, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 still outperforms it in the corners. As we get to f/8.0, sharpness on both lenses increases to an optimum level, but the Nikon 24-70mm still loses:
And here are the corners at 35mm @ f/4.0:
At 35mm, the Nikon 16-35mm has a little more distortion, but still performs better in the corners than the Nikon 24-70mm. Let’s take a look at 35mm @ f/8.0:
Sharpness-wise at f/8.0, both lenses perform equally well, with better distortion on the Nikon 24-70mm.
When compared to the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D, both lenses perform similarly at maximum aperture, but the Nikon 24-70mm has more noticeable vignetting than the 17-35mm.
Compared to Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
17) Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G vs Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
Here is a comparison between 24-70mm and 14-24mm @ 24mm in the extreme corners (24-70mm on the left and 14-24mm on the right):
The Nikon 24-70mm is much softer in the corners @ f/2.8 and suffers from heavy distortion and vignetting.
Even at f/8.0, the Nikon 24-70mm is softer than the 14-24mm at 24mm, so the 14-24mm wins big time here.
Compared to Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
18) Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G vs Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
This one is a totally unfair comparison, because the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is currently the sharpest lens in the market, even sharper than the legendary 14-24mm! Let’s see how the lens compares at 24mm:
I warned you that it was an unfair comparison! The Nikon 24mm f/1.4G rips the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G apart at f/2.8.
At f/8.0, the Nikon 24-70mm looks a little better, but nothing like the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G!
Summary and Image Samples
Despite having corner softness, vignetting and distortion issues, the Nikon 24-70mm is still one of my favorite landscape photography lenses – mainly because of the following reasons:
- The mid-range focal length of 24-70mm is extremely useful for landscape photography.
- The Nikon 24-70mm works great with circular filters and filter systems.
- When stopped down to f/5.6-f/8.0, the lens produces extremely sharp images and the corner sharpness is also very good. Vignetting and distortion also almost disappear beyond f/5.6.
- Minimum aperture of f/22 is great for situations where maximum depth of field is needed.
- Contrast and color are superb.
- Autofocus is very reliable and dead-on under almost any lighting conditions.
- Solid build and pro-grade weather sealing against extreme temperatures and weather conditions.
Overall, the Nikon 24-70mm has been serving me well and I am very happy with its performance. I took it with me to dusty Sand Dunes, to Florida during the 90 degree rainy days and 100% humidity, to the peaks of Colorado Rockies where the temperatures went below 20 degrees, and it has survived it all, still delivering outstanding results. I sure wish that corner softness, vignetting and distortion at large apertures were not so evident, but I also understand that it is unrealistic to design zoom lenses that would perform perfectly at all apertures/focal lengths that would not cost an arm and a leg or weigh a ton. One feature that would certainly be nice to have on this lens though, is Vibration Reduction (VR). If you try out the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR, you will quickly understand that VR definitely helps to get sharper images at very slow shutter speeds, even on ultra-wide angle lenses. It would be nice to be able to shoot images or video on the Nikon 24-70mm hand-held at low ISO levels – that’s another reason why I prefer the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR over the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G for my photography lately.
20) Where to buy and availability
21) More image samples
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format (2.9 MB).
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format (3.9 MB).
Click here to download the full version of the file in JPEG format (1.8 MB).
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.