Being a huge fan of the 24-70mm f/2.8G for many years now, I am well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It is a superb lens for landscape and many other photography needs, but its rather weak wide open performance in the corners, heavy weight and lack of image stabilization have been leaving me wondering if there would be a replacement coming out soon from Nikon. Today, Nikon finally revealed such a replacement – the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is finally out and it is a monster of a lens! Looks like Nikon has completely changed the optical design of the new 24-70mm f/2.8E compared to its predecessor. Not only does it look a lot more beefed up, with its huge 88 x 155mm barrel and 1,070 grams of total weight (compare that to 83 x 133mm and 900 grams on the 24-70mm f/2.8G), but it also comes with a large 82mm filter thread diameter, which might present additional expenses for working pros for purchasing new filter holders and filters. Speaking of expenses, the updated 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR will leave a lot of people scratching their heads, since it is one of the most expensive zoom lenses made by Nikon, at $2,399.95 MSRP. Let’s take a closer look at this lens and see what Nikon has changed and why there is such a high price tag attached to this 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
With such bulk and weight, you might be wondering what Nikon has changed in the new 24-70mm f/2.8E optically. Obviously, with the bigger front element, the physical size of glass elements has gotten bigger, but what about the number of elements? Looks like the new 24-70mm f/2.8E has a total of 20 elements in 16 groups, while the old design had only 15 elements in 11 groups – a pretty drastic change in optical design. And this is pretty evident when looking at the lens construction of the two lenses (Top: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, Bottom: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G):
Nikon added another aspherical element right after the first front element and updated the rear of the lens to include another aspherical element, bringing the total to three. While the number of ED glass elements did get reduced to two and those elements got reshuffled a bit, take a note of that new orange lens element present towards the rear of the lens – that’s Nikon’s first ever Aspherical ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) lens element. Nikon says that this lens element is paired with traditional AS, ED and HRI elements for amazing optical precision and performance, which is really exciting, because we should start seeing such elements in future designs of Nikkor lenses.
The “E” designation after the aperture on this lens designates electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism, which basically eliminates the aperture lever on the back of the lens and provides very precise control of the lens diaphragm.
And what about the performance? Let’s take a look at MTF charts from the new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E and its predecessor (Left: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, Right: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G):
If you are good at reading MTF charts, you know that the new 24-70mm f/2.8E VR looks amazing in comparison. Not only does it have a much higher contrast throughout the frame on the wide end, but its sharpness is significantly higher too – and that’s wide open at f/2.8! The corners look significantly better and although there is a noticeable wavy field curvature present just like in the older version, I bet stopping down just a little will significantly reduce it and increase the sharpness to amazing levels. At the f/4 – f/5.6 range, the new 24-70mm f/2.8E should look optically marvelous, probably in line with the best of Nikkor prime lenses.
The lens performance surely drops towards the telephoto range, which is expected, but we can also see very noticeable improvements here – while contrast looks amazing from the center to the corners, take a look at the difference in resolution between these two lenses – the 24-70mm f/2.8E looks very sharp in the corners at 70mm and has little field curvature to worry about. Stopped down to the f/5.6 range, I expect resolution to be superb.
While my lab testing will reveal a bigger picture and the lens performance at various focal lengths and apertures, based on Nikon’s MTF charts, the new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR looks really good, particularly on high-resolution cameras. It looks like working pros will get good benefits from this lens, although landscape photographers will have to evaluate their filter selection and potentially invest in bigger options that will be suitable for the new 82mm diameter. Many Canon shooters had to go through this when Canon announced the 24-70mm f/2.8L II back in 2012.
And let’s not forget one of the most important aspects of the new 24-70mm f/2.8E VR – it comes with a very effective image stabilization system that provides up to 4 stops of shutter speed advantage, which is something any 24-70mm could really use when hand-holding. Although I do mount my 24-70mm f/2.8G on a tripod quite a bit, there are lots of situations where I move to hand-held shooting and that’s where VR could really save the day. Whether I am shooting landscapes in less than ideal conditions, or photographing people in indoor environments, image stabilization is a must-have these days. Since Nikon does not provide in-body image stabilization, I wish more newer Nikkor lenses came with it…
Although it is a bit early to say, the 24-70mm f/2.8E looks like an early sign of preparation for an upcoming high-resolution camera in the 50 MP+ range. I hope Nikon will soon update the classic 14-24mm f/2.8G, along with the 24mm PC-E! Oh, and let’s not forget that the 135mm f/2 DC also desperately needs an update!
You can find beautiful image samples from the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR at Nikon Image, but none of the images are high-resolution. I will update this page with links to high-resolution images once those become available.
Official Press Release
Here is the part of the official press release from Nikon:
Look into the bag of nearly any Nikon-wielding pro and you will find Nikon’s iconic 24-70mm f/2.8, and with good reason; this lens’ versatility and image quality has made it an essential workhorse lens for every type of shooter. The new AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR improves upon its respected predecessor in nearly every aspect, adding the best Nikon lens technologies to create an essential optic. An exciting evolution to come to this lens is the much-anticipated addition of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization technology. With up to four stops of image stabilization*, the new 24-70mm f/2.8 VR is ready to tackle the challenging light of a wedding ceremony or on-the-spot news, while Tripod Mode helps to banish blur for landscape shooters. VR is also a huge benefit to filmmakers shooting handheld or on a rig who already appreciate the lens’ depth-of-field control and precise sharpness.
The new NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 utilizes Nikon’s Electromagnetic Aperture control, which allows for consistent exposures during high speed bursts of shooting. This lens also improves upon image quality with new optical construction to provide clarity and consistently sharp images, and is ideal for capturing portraits, landscapes and weddings. For nearly any assignment in any kind of light, the combination of a fast f/2.8 constant maximum aperture and useful zoom range make this lens the choice of many professionals. A first for NIKKOR lenses, a new Aspherical Extra-Low Dispersion (ASP/ED) element is paired with traditional aspherical, ED and High-Refractive Index (HRI) elements for a thrilling new level of optical precision. Photos and videos take on a beautiful balance of sharpness and subtle blur effects, virtually free of flare, ghosting, coma and chromatic aberration throughout the frame. Nikon’s exclusive Nano Crystal Coat is also employed to further reduce instances of ghosting and flare.
The new lens construction enhances durability and image quality, while retaining the overall balance and handling that made this a favorite of photographers in the first place. The lens is sealed and gasketed against the elements, and now features a fluorine coating on the front and rear element to make it easier to remove dirt, moisture and smudges from the lens surface. The optical formula consists of 20 elements in 16 groups, while a 9-blade diaphragm helps to create a pleasing, natural out of focus area with beautiful bokeh. Additionally, the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR features a new filter diameter of 82mm and will accept the new Nikon CPL2 Circular Polarizer and 82mm NC (Neutral Color) filters.