The Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S was one of the most hotly anticipated Nikon Z lenses, especially given that it is the first ultra-wide for the new mirrorless system. So far, every Z lens has received near-universal praise for its image quality. However, photographers’ initial impressions of the ($1300) Nikon 14-30mm f/4 were… much more mixed. How does this lens really fare overall, from automatic lens corrections to sample variation? This review explains everything you need to know.
I spent a couple of weeks using the 14-30mm f/4 for landscape photography around the American Southwest to evaluate the lens. Meanwhile, Nasim tested a second copy in New York for architectural and environmental portrait photography. In either case, both the desert and the city are great for ultra-wide zooms – and the 14-30mm f/4 S covers an ideal range of focal lengths for many landscape and travel photographers.
14mm is wide enough for most subjects, and 30mm is actually a bonus compared to 24mm (where typical 14mm zooms stop). The 14-30mm focal lengths fit nicely as part of an “f/4 zoom trio,” if only Nikon had an f/4 trio for the Z system. (There is a 24-70mm f/4 S, but there’s no 70-200mm f/4 S on the roadmap yet, or indeed any lightweight telephoto.)
At the time of publishing this article, the 14-30mm f/4 is one of two native ultra-wide lenses for the Nikon mirrorless system (i.e., wider than 24mm). The other is the 20mm f/1.8 S, which we are reviewing presently. The next one on Nikon’s schedule is the first “pro” ultra-wide Z lens, a 14-24mm f/2.8 S. So, if you want to use your Nikon Z6 or Z7 with an ultra-wide right now, you don’t have many options. It’s pretty much the 14-30mm f/4, the 20mm f/1.8, or adapted lenses.
That said, I’m glad Nikon went this route rather than introducing the 14-24mm f/2.8 first. The 14-30mm f/4 simply has a broader appeal than the upcoming f/2.8 zoom, which will be significantly heavier and more expensive by comparison.
Lens Size and Weight
One of the first things you’ll notice about this lens, especially compared to other ultra-wide zooms, is how tiny it is. It’s essentially the same size as the Nikon Z kit lens (the 24-70mm f/4 S), and even a tad lighter at 485 versus 500 grams.
By comparison, the Nikon F-mount 16-35mm f/4 weighs 680 grams. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 weighs 615 grams. Even the Sony 16-35mm f/4, the lightest of the group, is still more than the Nikon at 518 grams. And those three lenses all stop at 16mm on the wide end – noticeably less wide than 14mm. (Yes, the others go to 35mm rather than 30mm, but that’s not as important to most photographers). Well done by Nikon in this regard.
On top of that, the Nikon is also shorter than all these lenses by quite a bit, at least when collapsed. Only the Sony is close, at 99 mm in length (3.9 inches) versus 85 mm (3.4 inches), meaning the Nikon is about 14% shorter.
However, the Nikon does have an 82mm filter ring, which is the largest of the lot. The Canon and Nikon F 16-35mm f/4 both have 77mm filter rings, while the Sony is the smallest at 72mm. As nice as it would be for the Nikon to have a 72mm front filter as well (matching that of the 24-70mm f/4 S), that’s really just a daydream. Getting any filter to work at 14mm is already very impressive. In fact, Nikon claims this is the “world’s first 14mm filter-attachable lens” for full-frame cameras.
They’re not entirely wrong, either. A handful of lenses covering 14mm do have a slot for rear gel filters, and Voigtlander makes a wild 12mm f/5.6 Leica lens with 67mm front filters – but that’s it, as far as I can tell. Either way, it’s quite an achievement on Nikon’s part.
The Nikon 14-30mm f/4 S, like the 24-70mm f/4, has a locking mechanism to make the lens shorter. To unlock the lens, you need to rotate the zoom ring about 1/10 turn in the “telephoto” direction. This lens is longest at 14mm and most compact at 30mm, aside from the locked position.
One nitpick I have is that it’s very easy to unlock this lens (i.e., un-collapse it) simply in the process of pulling it out of your bag. Unlike the 24-70mm f/4 S – the only other Nikon Z lens at the moment with a locking mechanism – pulling even gently on the top part of the 14-30mm will un-collapse it, when that’s likely not your intention. I don’t think you’d damage the lens by doing this, but it is annoying when you’re trying to remove the lens from your bag quickly.
If you’ve handled any other Nikon Z lens so far, aside from the more ergonomically advanced 24-70mm f/2.8, you’ll be very familiar with the construction and handling of the 14-30mm f/4. It has just a single switch – autofocus vs manual focus – plus a zoom ring and a control ring (which most photographers will likely keep at the default – controlling focus). It’s actually bit too streamlined overall; I would have preferred an extra VR switch – yes, even though the only vibration reduction is sensor-based IBIS – rather than doing a menu dive each time.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the AF-P stepping motor in the Nikon Z lenses, compared to Nikon’s AF-S lenses. It certainly has its benefits: quieter focusing, easier lens design, and programmability of the focus ring. For autofocus, I’ll happily concede that it’s the better option. But taking manual focus into account, the focus-by-wire design just isn’t as ergonomically reassuring. When the camera is off, turning the focus ring does nothing. More importantly, manual focus doesn’t depend solely on how far you turn the focus ring, but also on how fast you do so, making it trickier to pinpoint the focus distance you want. Worst of all, when you turn off and on the camera, focus automatically jumps to (roughly) infinity regardless of where it was previously.
If you’ve used the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S before, most of this is familiar information. The 24-70mm f/4 S looks, feels, and handles almost exactly the same as the 14-30mm f/4 S. That comes with all the associated pros and cons.
The Nikon 14-30mm f/4 is a built to tight tolerances, but that doesn’t mean its construction is heavy-duty. Just the opposite – the 14-30mm is a lightweight, minimalist lens with a lot of plastic components (albeit high-quality plastic). For $1300, the first time you hold the lens, you’d be justified in wondering whether you got your money’s worth.
That said, as you’ll notice over time, it’s a pretty sturdy thing. Like the 24-70mm f/4 S, the 14-30mm f/4 has essentially no wobble whatsoever when its barrel is extended. This is in contrast to many zooms on the market, including certain F-mount lenses. Nikon has said it’s increased the tolerances of Z lens construction relative to F-mount glass, and that appears to be true on the 14-30mm f/4.
In tricky conditions, the 14-30mm f/4 performs well. While testing this lens, I used it for about 20 minutes in a heavy rainstorm without issue, as well as a number of smaller showers for an hour or more. Before that, I tested it in windy, sandy conditions at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes for a day of photography. Neither the zoom nor focus rings had any sand stuck in them the following day.
All that said, an external zoom lens is not going to be as durable as an internal zoom lens. I’m not worried about water getting into the barrel; Nikon’s Z lenses have enough internal seals to likely survive anything but a dunking. But sandy, dusty conditions could eventually cause debris to lodge into the telescoping barrel and make zooming harder.
One nice benefit of Nikon’s Z lenses so far is that they have a fluorine coat on the front element. This is a nice touch that makes it easier to wipe off water, dust, or thumbprints without smearing. The 14-30mm f/4 is no different in that regard, with a front element that repels water quite well and remains fairly easy to clean.
In terms of plastic vs metal, I actually prefer plastic lenses overall. They don’t sap the warmth from your hands in cold weather as quickly, and they’re usually lighter, too. Plus, assuming the plastic is high quality, it doesn’t bring much of a durability penalty; I’d be less worried if I dropped most plastic lenses than most metal ones (in part due to weight).
At the same time, if you’re planning to drive a car over your wide-angle lens, you might want to wait for the upcoming Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S.