If you are wondering which 24-70mm lens is the best for the Nikon F mount, we put together a detailed article that compares the sharpness of all currently available options on the market today. The comparison involves both 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses from Nikon, as well as three 24-70mm f/2.8 third party lenses from Tamron, Sigma and Tokina. In this article, we will analyze each focal length in detail and do a direct comparison between all five lenses to figure out which one of these is the ultimate champion.
Below is the list of lenses we are presenting today:
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art
- Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
- Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX
A quick technical note: all lenses were previously tested on the Nikon D810 DSLR that we have been using to test our Nikon F lens reviews. Late last year, we decided to move up our Imatest setup to 45.7 MP sensor and retest all the lenses, so we tested both Nikon D850 and Z7 cameras with a variety of lenses. After detailed comparisons that involved measuring sharpness as well as potential issues with lens decentering, vignetting and other optical aberrations, we concluded that there is no visible difference between the D850 and the Z7 with the FTZ adapter. As a result of this study, we decided to test all future Nikon F and Nikon Z lenses with the same Nikon Z7 camera. The below data represents our first efforts using the Nikon Z7 with the FTZ adapter to test lenses.
Let’s dive right into the sharpness tests! We will start at 24mm and move all the way up to 70mm.
Below are the test results for all five lenses at the focal length of 24mm. We will go with the same order as the above list.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR is a strong lens when it comes to its overall performance. At 24mm, it starts out very good at f/2.8 across the frame and improves further at f/4. This lens demonstrates even and consistent performance across all apertures, which is not something one normally sees on a 24-70mm zoom.
When it comes to sharpness potential, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G shows remarkable performance in the center of the frame. However, this comes at the expense of mid-frame and corner performance – a typical problem for lenses with noticeable field curvature (focusing this lens at the edges of the frame will yield much better corner results, but this time at the expense of center sharpness).
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art isn’t very sharp wide open, but stopped down to f/4 yields solid center and mid-frame performance. Stopping the lens down to f/5.6 and smaller apertures brings the best out of the lens, showing great overall performance.
The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 shows superb wide open performance, with slightly weaker corners that improve dramatically as you stop down. At f/5.6, it does well overall, with the best corners at around the f/8 mark.
Lastly, the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX does particularly well on a high resolution camera, showing superb center performance at f/4 and smaller apertures, and excellent mid-frame and corner sharpness. It is certainly the best of the bunch at 24mm, and has much less field curvature and focus shift.
Let’s see what happens as all lenses are zoomed in to 35mm:
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR continues to impress with its comparably low field curvature and consistent performance across the whole aperture range.
The older Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G once again shines with its excellent center sharpness, but still quite weak corners, especially wide open. However, the lens gets much better when stopped down, especially at f/5.6 and smaller.
As before, the Sigma 24-70mm Art starts out weaker wide open, but once stopped down to f/4, does much better in the center of the frame. The corner performance gets much better at f/5.6 and smaller apertures.
The Tamron 24-70mm G2 is still very strong wide open in the center of the frame, with the sharpness numbers getting much better as you stop down. However, the corner performance suffers at 35mm when compared to other 24-70mm lenses.
Once again, we see very similar behavior on the Tokina 24-70mm FX at 35mm as we have previously seen at 24mm. The lens starts out weaker wide open, but once stopped down to f/4 and smaller, produces excellent center and corner results. It shines as the best overall performer at 35mm among all 24-70mm lenses.
Most 24-70mm lenses start to suffer once you start zooming in past 35mm. Let’s take a look at what happens to these lenses at 50mm:
We can clearly see that the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR shows decreased performance at 50mm when compared to wider focal lengths – its center performance is now noticeably weaker wide open. It also shows signs of “wavy” (sombrero) field curvature at f/2.8. Stopped down to f/5.6, however, the lens continues to impress with its performance across the frame.
The older Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G does quite well in the center frame. Once stopped down to f/4, it demonstrates superb performance across the frame.
When compared to results at 35mm, the Sigma 24-70mm Art shows very similar performance pattern at 50mm, with decreased sharpness wide open, but quite good results at f/5.6 and smaller apertures.
Tamron takes a small hit in the center frame at 50mm, but does much better at f/4 and smaller, showing the best overall performance at f/5.6.
The Tokina 24-70mm FX certainly does suffer at 50mm, especially in the mid-frame and the corners, which is unfortunate. Although its sharpness comes back at f/5.6, the corners continue to suffer. Only at f/8 and smaller do the corners finally get better.
Lastly, let’s take a look at how all these lenses do when zoomed in all the way to 70mm:
It is clear that the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR is the weakest at 70mm, especially wide open. Although the center performance stays good at f/5.6, the corners don’t resolve as much detail as other focal lengths.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is even worse in the corners, although it performs better in the center frame.
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art takes a huge hit wide open. It does much better when stopped down to f/4 in the center frame, but its corners are quite bad until the lens is stopped down to f/8.
The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 is the best in the group in the center at f/2.8, but once again shows quite weak corner performance until stopped down to f/8.
Lastly, the Tokina 24-70mm f/2.8 FX also shows decreased overall performance at 70mm, although it does very well when stopped down to f/5.6. Just like all other lenses, it suffers in the corners the most, producing the best results at f/8 and smaller apertures.
5. Distortion Performance Comparison
What about lens distortion? Many lenses in the 24-70mm exhibit pronounced barrel and pincushion distortion depending on the focal length. Let’s take a look at the distortion performance comparison between all of the 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses presented in this article:
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR shows very pronounced barrel distortion at 24mm, which quickly switches to pincushion distortion as you zoom in towards 35mm.
The older Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is not much better, showing similar results, although its pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths is less pronounced.
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art shows has visibly lower barrel distortion at 24mm, but its pincushion distortion at 70mm is comparable to that of the 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 is a bit worse at 24mm than the Sigma, with noticeably better results at 70mm.
In comparison to all others, the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX has the least amount of barrel distortion at 24mm, which stays somewhat pronounced at 35mm. At 50mm and longer, it switches to pincushion distortion.
I would say between all the 24-70mm lenses, the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX has the least amount of distortion.
6. Chromatic Aberration Comparison
Another comparison we will take a look at, is the lateral chromatic aberration comparison between the 24-70mm lenses:
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR shows pronounced levels of lateral chromatic aberration at all focal lengths, but the worst ones are at 35mm and 50mm.
The older Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G does a bit better at 35mm and 50mm focal lengths and at 70mm shows practically no CA.
In comparison, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art is much better at all focal lengths with the exception of 70mm.
The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 shows quite good CA performance, with the worst results at 35mm.
Tokina also does reasonably well, although it is definitely worse than the Tamron.
7. Vignetting Comparison
Lastly, let’s take a look at the vignetting performance of all 24-70mm lenses:
Unfortunately, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR shows quite a bit of vignetting at f/2.8, for both close focus (CF) and infinity focus (IF). Things get better at f/4, but still beyond the 1.5 EV mark, which is a bit excessive.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G does noticeably better at all focal lengths and apertures, showing impressive results, especially stopped down.
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art is a bit worse than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, but definitely better than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 starts out a bit worse than the Sigma. Once stopped down, it has comparable performance.
The second best in the group after the 24-70mm f/2.8G is the Tokina 24-70mm FX.
If you are looking for the sharpest 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on the market for the Nikon F mount, you will need to decide on your priorities, as it all depends on what type of shooting you are planning to do. If you need the sharpest 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at its wide open aperture for portraiture, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 lenses are hard to beat. However, if you need a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for landscape or architecture photography where you will most likely be shooting at f/5.6 and smaller apertures, then my top picks would be the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX followed by the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
My biggest concern with third party lenses is their poor sample variance. It took 3 samples of the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX to yield superb results without much lens decentering issues (the first two were very noticeable). The first copy of the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 had all kinds of focusing problems and I had to get another sample to get decent results from it. The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art was the worst of the three and showed very high sample variance at all focal lengths, to the point where it rendered most of my tests inconclusive – I had to pick the better sample of the three I tested for each focal length, which is not good. Nikon’s quality control is much better when compared to third party lens manufacturers. Although I ended up testing three samples of Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR and two samples of Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G (all were brand new), only one lens showed signs of decentering and the lenses performed quite consistently across different apertures and focal lengths. The best of the group in this regard was the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, which showed more consistent results.