The Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S was released together with the 35mm f/1.8 S and 50mm f/1.8 S as one of the first Z-series Nikon lenses. To see exactly how the lens measures up, we tested four different samples of the 24-70mm f/4. After all, this is one of the most important lenses Nikon has announced in recent years.
Although the retail price of the 24-70mm f/4 is $1000, most photographers will buy it as part of a kit with the Nikon Z6 or Z7 instead. That brings the price down to a much more reasonable $600. That price – along with the limited number of other Z lenses so far – means that most people who buy a Z6 or Z7 will end up with the 24-70mm f/4 S in their bag from day one.
Note that this lens cannot mount on any camera aside from the Nikon Z series, even with any of today’s adapters. The flange distance on the Z6 and Z7 is a record-thin 16.0mm, placing the back of this lens very close to the camera sensor. See lens mounts explained for more details.
So, how does the 24-70mm f/4 S hold up? Does it take advantage of the Nikon Z7’s 45-megapixel resolution, or fall short? Let’s take a look.
I wouldn’t say that the Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S is built like a tank. It is actually quite the opposite – slim, minimalist, and made largely of (seemingly high-quality) plastic. This is not a heavy-duty metal beast and it is not meant to be. Its construction will remind you more of Sigma’s and Tamron’s newest lenses, if you have used one of those before, minus the weight.
Of course, that says very little one way or the other about the lens’s durability. Plastic is not inherently worse than metal as a lens design material, and some photographers even prefer it, including me. Plastic lenses don’t feel as sleek, but they often function better in adverse conditions – not freezing in the cold, weighing less, and (if high-quality plastic) often allowing harsher bumps and bruises in the field.
By that standard, the 24-70mm f/4 S is well-built. It fits snugly on the Nikon Z6 / Z7 cameras, with absolutely no detectable wobble on the mount. The lens does extend when zooming from 24mm to 70mm, using a two-stage telescoping barrel. Zoom lenses of this design frequently wobble at their longest setting, and I was worried the 24-70mm f/4 S would be the same. However, up to about 60mm, the lens cannot be wobbled at all, and 70mm only allows the slightest amount – not anything objectionable, and better than expected.
The 24-70mm f/4 S is thoroughly weather-sealed. Nikon’s promotional images in its NIKKOR Z Brochure show six separate rubber rings, covering the front element, rear mount, telescoping barrel, zoom ring, and focus ring. There is also a separate weather seal underneath the A/M switch. In short, all the moving parts on this lens have weather sealing.
That said, the telescoping barrel still is not ideal. I am not too concerned about the rain; even though droplets can fall on the barrel and then retract into the lens, Nikon’s extensive weather sealing will likely prevent them from reaching anything important. However, sand and dirt can potentially get stuck in the retracting barrel, leading to harsher zooming over time. More moving parts means more things to go wrong if the lens is dropped or bumped. Even my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens, which only has a moving front element (within a nonmoving lens hood), has locked up before in winter conditions because a ring of ice formed around it, preventing me from zooming out. All else equal, I prefer lenses with an internal zoom.
The ergonomics of this lens are interesting, and unfamiliar in some important ways to Nikon F-mount users. The biggest point to note is that the 24-70mm f/4 S has a locking mechanism. The lens can be retracted just by turning the zoom ring “wider” than 24mm, making it more compact for travel. You can’t take pictures when the lens is retracted; the Z cameras do not allow it (nor would you want to). Here’s a comparison of the locked lens versus at 24mm:
However, an interesting note is that you can very slightly retract the lens before the camera locks up, letting you turn this into into something like a 23.5-70mm f/4 lens. However, image quality in the corners at this fake 23.5mm setting diminishes somewhat, and vignetting increases, so I recommend against using it.
Although I will cover more about it on the next page of this review, there are certain aspects of the AF-P stepping motor design – i.e. “focus by wire” – that I don’t like as much as the focus rings on Nikon’s AF-S lenses. Since this is the Ergonomics section, I’ll simply mention that it is a bit disconcerting that you can turn the ring without knowing exactly how much focus has changed (since it depends on the speed with which you turn it). It is equally strange to turn the ring when the camera is off and realize that it hasn’t changed focus at all. Maybe I just haven’t gotten used to it yet. But my gut preference, ergonomically, is for a focus ring that manually changes focus when turned – whether the camera is on or off, no matter how fast it’s turned, etc.
Lastly, Nikon DSLR users may be surprised to see that this lens has no Vibration Reduction switch. That’s because the 24-70mm f/4 does not actually have VR lens elements (which helps keep the size small and reduce weight); only the Z cameras themselves have in-body image stabilization (IBIS). To turn VR on or off with the Z cameras, you need to enter the menu or assign a custom button. Personally, I would have liked to see a VR On/Off switch on the 24-70mm f/4 S, even though it would only control IBIS in the camera body itself. It is worth mentioning that future Z-series lenses, especially longer telephotos, may indeed have VR lens elements, since there are some advantages of lens-based stabilization when compared to IBIS.