Among Nikon’s many midrange zooms, two of the most popular lenses are the Z 24-70mm f/4 S and the Z 28-75mm f/2.8. Both lenses are what I’d call “middle-end,” and both cost about the same (in the $1000-1200 range, although you can find them for less depending on various sales). Which one is the better choice for you? That’s what I’ll answer today.
These two lenses may occupy a similar spot in Nikon’s lineup, but some of the differences between them are immediately apparent! One of them is an f/2.8 zoom, and one of them is an f/4 zoom. They also have slightly different focal lengths. Personally, I find the 24-70mm range more useful than the 28-75mm range – those extra millimeters on the wide end can be a big deal, while the difference between 70mm and 75mm is pretty much irrelevant.
Then there’s the question of the “S” designation on the Z 24-70mm f/4 S. This is meant to signify Nikon’s higher-end line of lenses. Even though the 24-70mm f/4 S is less expensive than the 28-75mm f/2.8 (and even though it’s f/4 instead of f/2.8), Nikon still counts it as part of the S-line. The same cannot be said of the Z 28-75mm f/2.8. What gives?
I think most of it is just marketing. The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S is Nikon’s main kit lens, and it’s one of the first three lenses they ever released for the Z system. It would be a pretty bad business decision to label it anything other than “S.” Meanwhile, the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 is actually based off of a Tamron optical design, so Nikon can’t really put it in the “S” line without looking a bit silly! So, I wouldn’t read too much into the “S” designation here.
In terms of build quality, both lenses are very sparsely built with very few handling features – just a zoom ring and a focusing ring, plus (only on the 24-70mm f/4 S) an A-M switch. Not much to discuss here.
I will say, if portability is important to you, the Z 24-70mm f/4 S has a slight advantage. It’s the lighter lens by a very small amount (just 65 grams / 2.3 ounces lighter), and it has a collapsible barrel that lets you make the lens very short when not in use. For traveling, that could be a minor advantage in its favor.
Otherwise, it all comes down to image quality.
Even though the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S has a narrower maximum aperture, it actually has more vignetting than the 28-75mm f/2.8! That goes against expectations, and it’s actually pretty disappointing to see from the 24-70mm f/4 S. It’s one of my only big complaints with that lens – too much vignetting, especially wide open at 24mm. Yes, vignetting is correctible in post-processing, but you end up with more noise in the corners of your image upon correcting it.
As with vignetting, the winner here is the Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8! The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S has high distortion overall, especially at 24mm and 70mm. Meanwhile, the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 is pretty well-controlled in this department. It’s not perfect, but it’s easy to correct without stretching the corners excessively and losing resolution.
3. Lateral Chromatic Aberration
Neither lens has bad chromatic aberration by any means, but this is one area where the Z 24-70mm f/4 S takes the win. It has less than 1 pixel of CA at almost every focal length and aperture value. Meanwhile, the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 stays in the range from about 1.2 to 1.6 pixels pretty consistently throughout the zoom range. Again, that’s still not enough to notice most of the time (even with CA corrections turned off), but if there are high-contrast lines in the corners of your photos, you might notice some unwanted fringing on the Z 28-75mm f/2.8.
Now the fun part! Which one of these lenses is sharper?
Before I show you the results, let me emphasize something: Make sure that you’re comparing the same apertures against each other, since the lenses have different maximum apertures!
First, here’s their performance at the widest end of the zoom range.
This is the Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8’s strongest focal length, and it shows. The two lenses aren’t far apart from one another, but the 28-75mm f/2.8 is slightly sharper on balance here. That’s true at f/4; the differences disappear as you stop down.
Does the story change at 35mm?
This time, the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S has the lead in the corners at every aperture. The differences are especially clear at f/5.6. However, the Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8 is the sharper lens in both the midframes and the center. So, the “winner” depends on your priorities.
Next up is 50mm:
At 50mm, central sharpness is very similar between these two lenses. Meanwhile, midframe sharpness definitely favors the 24-70mm f/4 S. As for the corners, the Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8 is very weak at 50mm and f/2.8. Things are closer in the shared aperture range from f/4 to f/16, but the Z 24-70mm f/4 S still has the advantage here.
Last is the long end of the zoom range, which is arguably the worst focal length of both lenses:
Both lenses have lost some sharpness here, making for an interesting comparison. The 28-75mm f/2.8 is the sharper option at f/4, no matter where in the frame you look. However, the situation changes at f/5.6, where the 24-70mm f/4 S suddenly looks better in both the midframe and the corners. At f/8, f/11, and even f/16, the Z 24-70mm f/4 S is sharper across the frame.
So, which lens is better overall? I’d rate the 24-70mm f/4 S as the better landscape lens, since it has stronger corner-to-corner sharpness. Central sharpness, however, is pretty equal or even favors the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 slightly. If you’re doing something like event photography, where central sharpness is a lot more important than corner sharpness, the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 could be the way to go. Especially considering that it can reach f/2.8.
Value and Recommendations
I said at the start of this article that both of these lenses were similarly priced, but that was a bit of a lie. Yes, the list price of the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S is $1000, and the list price of the Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8 is $1200. But because the Z 24-70mm f/4 S is Nikon’s main kit lens for the Z system, it’s very easy to find it for a much lower price than $1000.
On the used market, for example, the Z 24-70mm f/4 S frequently sells for around $450. And of course, if you’re buying a Nikon Z body, you can get the Z 24-70mm f/4 S thrown in for some great prices. (Maybe you already have the 24-70mm f/4 S for that reason, and you’re reading this article to see if you should switch!)
To be fair to the Z 28-75mm f/2.8, you can find it under the $1200 MSRP very easily, too. It’s often on sale for $1000 or less, and on the used market, I’ve seen it go for about $750-800 depending on condition.
If the pricing differences are confusing, the good news is that my recommendation has very little to do with price! Simply put, you should get the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 if you expect that the f/2.8 maximum aperture will be useful for your work. Otherwise, get the Z 24-70mm f/4 S because of its 24mm wide end and slightly better corner-to-corner sharpness. It’s as easy as that.
If the higher price of the Z 28-75mm f/2.8 is bugging you, wait for some good deals on the used market – but don’t compromise on the f/2.8 maximum aperture if your work demands it. On the flip side, if your work doesn’t require f/2.8, you can get the wider focal length of 24mm as well as slightly crisper corners by sticking with the 24-70mm f/4 S. That’s exactly what I did for my landscape photography, and I don’t regret it!
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 S at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8 at B&H – Check prices and current sales
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.