Today, it’s a battle of Nikon’s two f/4, S-line, midrange zooms! In one corner we have the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S, and in the other corner, the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S. I’ve used both of these lenses extensively – in fact, I got the 24-70mm f/4 S on day one of the Nikon Z system (it was my first ever Nikon Z lens). But which lens is better? That’s what I’ll answer below!
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the biggest difference between these two lenses is their focal length. One stops at 70mm, one stops at 120mm. That’s a pretty big difference and should be the first thing you take to heart when considering these lenses – more than anything performance related.
Obviously, zooming to 120mm is a benefit of the 24-120mm f/4 S. But what costs are you paying to achieve that longer focal length? Actually, less than you would think.
In terms of weight, the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S weighs 500 grams (1.1 pounds), while the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S weighs 630 grams (1.4 pounds) – yes, the 24-70mm f/4 S wins, but it’s not a dramatic difference. The 24-70mm f/4 S is a bit more portable, but the size difference is only about 2 cm (3/4 inch). Not anything to worry about for most photographers.
Then there’s price. The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S costs $1000, and the 24-120mm f/4 S costs $1100. Again, not a major difference. Things are looking pretty good for the 24-120mm f/4 S at this point… at least if you pay full price for both lenses.
I mention that last point because the real difference in price between these two lenses is bigger than it seems at first glance. That’s because the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S is the main kit lens for full-frame Nikon Z cameras! You can find it for several hundred dollars less than MSRP in camera+lens bundles. And because so many people bought it as a kit lens, used prices of the 24-70mm f/4 S are extremely good – much lower than those of the 24-120mm f/4 S. It’s more like a $300-400 difference between them in practice.
What about build quality and handling features? Although build quality is very similar (both are externally-zooming lenses made from high-quality plastics), handling favors the Z 24-120mm f/4 S. It has a function button on the lens (no such luck on the 24-70mm f/4) as well as an extra control ring for adjusting aperture, ISO, or exposure compensation. Both lenses have a single A-M switch. The 24-70mm f/4 S does have the advantage of a collapsible design to make the lens more portable when traveling.
Both lenses have some pretty substantial distortion. Although this is correctible in post-processing software, I still prefer lenses with low distortion – it makes the files easier to work with in obscure software, and it also means less “stretching” in the corners of the frame when fixing distortion. That can have a minor, but visible effect on lens sharpness.
In any case, the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S has a hair more distortion at 24mm, with 5.01% barrel distortion. In the range from 35-70mm, however, the Z 24-70mm f/4 S has more distortion – maxing out at 4.43% pincushion distortion, compared to 3.85% pincushion distortion on the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S. I would rate both lenses as “equally bad” in terms of distortion! Thankfully it’s still the easiest lens issue to fix in post.
In the shared range of focal lengths, the two lenses both have pretty high levels of vignetting. The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S performs a bit worse, maxing out at 2.01 stops of vignetting at 24mm, compared to 1.81 stops of vignetting at 24mm on the Z 24-120mm f/4 S. Both results are in the same ballpark – and high enough to warrant correction most of the time. But I do give a slight nod to the 24-120mm f/4 S here.
3. Lateral Chromatic Aberration
The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S and Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S are well-controlled for chromatic aberration. The 24-70mm f/4 S has slightly better performance of the two, never reaching above 1.22 pixels of CA, while the 24-120mm f/4 S maxes out at 1.76 pixels – still not bad for a zoom lens at all.
For context, anything under 2.5 pixels of CA by our measurements can be corrected pretty easily in post-processing. Anything under about 1.5 pixels of CA generally does not need to be corrected in post-processing. And under 1 pixel is almost completely negligible.
Now the moment of truth! Which lens is sharper in the shared zoom range from 24mm to 70mm? I’ve heard the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S described as “the same as the Z 24-70mm f/4 S, just with more reach.” Let’s see if that description holds true in terms of sharpness. Here are both lenses at 24mm:
At the widest focal lengths of 24mm, the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S is stronger in the center and midframe, whereas the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S is stronger in the corners. The differences get pretty slim as you stop down, however.
The story is basically the same. I prefer the 24-120mm f/4 S in the center and midframes, while the 24-70mm f/4 S has an advantage in the corners. Both lenses are quite sharp throughout, though, and by f/11, the differences have basically vanished.
At 50mm, the story changes a bit. Here, the two lenses are well-matched in center sharpness at 50mm. If anything, the 24-70mm has a slight advantage in that respect. But the 24-70mm f/4 S’s corner sharpness has dipped a bit at this focal length, giving the Z 24-120mm f/4 S a clear advantage at f/4 in the corners. By f/5.6, the differences even out.
Finally, at 70mm, the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S looks better than the 24-70mm f/4 S, especially at f/4 and f/5.6. That’s because this is the weakest focal length for the 24-70mm f/4 S, whereas the 24-120mm f/4 S is extremely consistent in sharpness at every focal length (including the longer focal lengths that aren’t shown here, which you can see in my Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S review).
Maybe that description from earlier was pretty accurate! The two lenses are pretty evenly-matched in terms of sharpness overall. I’d give the 24-120mm f/4 S higher marks in the center overall. Meanwhile, the 24-70mm f/4 S is better in the corners at the wide focal lengths, while the 24-120mm f/4 S is better in the corners at the long focal lengths.
On balance, I’d give a slight overall sharpness advantage to the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S. I should emphasize – slight. It also depends on what focal lengths and apertures you use the most.
Value and Recommendations
If both of these lenses were exactly the same price, the easy choice would be to get the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S. The two lenses are on roughly the same level of image quality, and the focal lengths of the 24-120mm f/4 S are definitely more versatile.
Even considering the price differences that I mentioned earlier, which certainly favor the 24-70mm f/4 S, the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S is still the better choice for most photographers. You’re not giving up much when you pick the 24-120mm f/4 S – mainly just a little bit of weight and size – and you’re gaining a lot of reach on the long end.
There are three reasons why you might get the 24-70mm f/4 S anyway. One is price, of course. If you find a good deal on the 24-70mm f/4 S used, it can be literally half the price of the Z 24-120mm f/4 S. At that point, the decision is definitely more of a tossup.
The other reason is that you already have a telephoto lens to cover the over-70mm focal lengths (something like the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3), so the 24-120mm f/4 S is redundant to you. If this is your situation, I still think you should consider the 24-120mm f/4 S in case you ever want to travel light and just bring one lens. But if a 70-200mm or 70-300mm is always going to be in your bag anyway, maybe you just save the money and size/weight by going with the 24-70mm f/4 instead.
The third reason is that you already have the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S because you bought it as a kit! Nothing wrong with keeping it if that’s the case. As I showed, you won’t gain much performance by switching to the 24-120mm f/4 S – you’ll mainly gain the longer focal lengths. Cheap eBay prices cut both ways. You won’t get much money when selling your 24-70mm f/4 S, so it’s totally reasonable to keep it and find a different lens instead for your longer focal length needs.
What did I do? Well, I switched to a different lens altogether – the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR! For my needs as a landscape photographer who shoots at f/8 through f/16 most of the time, all these lenses are good performers anyway. (Although for critical sharpness, both the Z 24-70mm f/4 S and Z 24-120mm f/4 S clearly beat the 24-200mm superzoom.)
I hope this gives you a better idea of which lens to pick between the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S and the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S. Considering that both lenses have similar optical performance, the 24-120mm f/4 S gets my recommendation for most photographers. But it also depends on the prices you find, since the 24-70mm f/4 S is so cheap on the used market.
You can check the current prices, and support my testing efforts at Photography Life, at the following B&H affiliate links:
- Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S at B&H – Check prices and current sales
As for used prices, the same thing applies! However, the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 generally has cheaper used prices than the Z 24-120mm f/4 S.
Let me know in the comment section if you have any questions about these two lenses. I’ve used them both in the field extensively and would be happy to help.