I am currently in Death Valley NP, shooting with a bunch of new gear including the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, so I wanted to provide my early thoughts on this lens. Some of our readers sent me concerned emails, asking what I think about the 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, since apparently some others were quite unimpressed with this lens, even putting it into the category of “one of the worst lens releases of 2015”. I am not sure where these statements come from (sadly, my Internet connection here is really bad), but based on two samples of the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR that I currently have access to, the new updated version seems to be an absolute gem. Based on my limited time pixel-peeping some of the images I have captured so far, it seems like Nikon has optimized the new 24-70mm differently when compared to its predecessor.
Optically, it is certainly superior for landscapes than its predecessor. The previous generation 24-70mm f/2.8G is a wonderful lens overall, but it has an interesting optical design that makes the center frame extremely sharp, but the sharpness quickly degrades away from the center, particularly in the corners. Because of this “feature”, many of us that own the 24-70mm f/2.8G usually shoot it at f/8 and smaller, since wider apertures produce rather soft corners. And that’s kind of unfortunate, since the 24-70mm f/2.8G really shines at wider apertures like f/4 and f/5.6, where it produces the most amount of detail. It seems like Nikon reshuffled the optical design in a way that achieves much more even sharpness across the frame on the new 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. While it does not appear to be insanely sharp in the center, it is far better in the mid-frame and the corners. So it almost seems like Nikon “transferred” some of that sharpness away from the center towards the rest of the frame. In my opinion, that’s a very welcome change, since now you can shoot the lens at wider apertures and not worry about having fuzzy corner details.
If one is shooting a distant subject at infinity, this opens up some opportunities, since you could shoot at wider apertures and thus increase the shutter speed, which can be particularly useful when shooting in windy conditions. It also works great at closer distances, when subject isolation is needed. However, if one wants to get as much in focus as possible and needs a wide depth of field, stopping down would be required to the normal f/5.6-f/11 range – the lens at those apertures obviously does remarkably well, as the sample images in this article demonstrate.
But the biggest plus of the new 24-70mm f/2.8E VR design is image stabilization. Boy, having a stabilized 24-70mm is something I have been wanting for years! So far, most of what I have captured has been done hand-held and not having to constantly depend on a tripod is quite liberating, particularly when light changes fast and I need to move quickly. VR on the 24-70mm works really well – some of the best implementations I have seen to date. Interestingly, and I am not sure if that’s something by design, I completely forgot about turning VR off when I had the lens mounted on a tripod a few times (too used to the old 24-70mm I guess!) and the images came out sharp. Either the lens is somehow detecting tripod use, or perhaps it is still somehow compensating for slight movements? I will have to test more to see what’s going on, but that was a bit surprising to see…
The additional weight and size of the 24-70mm f/2.8E VR compared to its predecessor is not something that is very noticeable to be honest. Having shot with the 24-70mm f/2.8G for years, I really can’t say that the latest one is that much bigger to carry – both of them are pretty huge lenses to handle!
The obvious disadvantage is the larger 82mm filter, which for some folks might seem like a deal breaker. I bought a couple of 82mm B+W Kaesemann MRC polarizing filters from B&H when they were on sale and I’m actually glad that I did, because they are far thinner and better than the old thick ones I have been shooting with for years. No more vignetting problems to worry about – I guess it was time for a filter upgrade! Now that I have had these, I will be replacing my 77mm filters as well. 82mm filters are obviously pricier than 77mm filters, but not by much – the above-mentioned CPL is only $20 more expensive than its 77mm counterpart. The only bummer is filter holder…will have to get a new ring or a new setup to hold my 6×4 GND filters. So far I have been hand-holding those.
We also cannot ignore the $600 price difference between these lenses. At $2,400, the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR is a tough buy, particularly when there are so many great alternatives covering a similar range. Hopefully Nikon will bring the price down a bit to make it more attractive to buy. Hoping to get those $200-$300 cuts sooner than later.
Overall, the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR appears to be a superb lens based on shooting with it. Both lens samples turned out to be optically excellent and I don’t see much sample variation – these are made in Japan and they seem to have gone through extensive QA processes. When I get back to Denver in two weeks, I will perform my lab testing and see what results it yields when compared to other lenses. Might be a different story when shooting a test target at close distances.
P.S. The new Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G also looks amazing. More to come!