After two weeks and more than 2600 photos taken with Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 S, I wanted to share my initial impressions with this new Z-mount lens. Just in case you are impatient and want to hear my short verdict here: this is the best zoom lens I have ever used. Here is why.
Why I Bought It in the First Place
Until recently, I preferred to shoot with 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm primes (all f/1.8 G) when photographing events and people. But since I do more and more reportage-style of coverage of different events where I need to be very quick – be it coverage of press conferences or photoshoots with kids – I realized I need a fast, basic zoom lens to compliment my trusted 70-200mm VR II telephoto zoom.
Sure, I could go with the 24-70mm f/2.8 G lens. Both the VR and the non-VR versions are very solid performers. However, I always found them very heavy and pricy. The non-VR version was sharper for my uses, but I realized that I’ve missed a number of photos with other lenses in the past because of their lack of VR (vibration reduction). Hence, neither of the F-mount 24-70mm lenses seemed to be future-proof enough for the upcoming bodies.
So, I got quite excited about the new Z mount Nikkor S 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, which, in its specifications (MTF-curves), seemed to be flawless. On top of that, the combination with the IBIS of the Z bodies was exactly what I wanted to get. Well, except for the price, and except for the fact that I did not own any Z body back then. This lens made me buy the Z6! I wanted to test the Z system anyway, and this lens was the last straw that swayed me. And so I emptied my account… but I have no regrets.
Starting to Use the Lens
My newly-bought Z6 could not arrive in the promised delivery date, so I got a loan of the Z7 body instead. That is why some photos in this article are taken with Z7, which obviously is much more demanding to the lens in terms of its optical performance. After three days with Z7, my Z6 finally arrived, so I had to give back the leased Z7 body. I have shot on only the Z6 ever since. I can compare the f/2.8 version also with the 24-70mm f/4 lens that I bought in the Z6 kit set.
I made quite a bold plunge from DSLR into MILC system: After only a couple days of testing the Z7 with the new 24-70mm lens, I used it for a big assignment (photographing an international political delegation in Prague for a whole day). At the end of the day, I could also take several cityscape photos of Prague during the sunset and blue hour. In the next days, I took pictures in various situations – mostly outdoor, photographing insects (bees in flight), portraits, family photos, products, flowers in my garden, and landscapes.
The Z cameras and 24-70mm f/2.8 S combo have not disappointed me a single time so far. Frankly, I was never worried about sharpness, but I did wonder about autofocus at first (more due to the Z body than the lens). I was also curious to know how it feels to have a quite bulky lens on a Z body with a rather small grip in my hand for the whole day. Here I can say that it feels very balanced, and my hands did not get too tired.
During the big assignment with the political delegation, the vast majority of the shots with this lens were keepers. I was glad the lens (and the Z7 with 2.0 firmware) could focus in low-light. It could acquire focus even when people were sitting in front of a window and their eyes were hardly visible (people were mostly silhouettes). I used the lens wide open all the time (at f/2.8). The shots taken at 24mm were visibly sharp at 100% magnification. The other focal lengths seemed very good as well, albeit a tiny bit less sharp. Nasim has a full article comparing 24-70mm lens sharpness, and this lens is the sharpest of all. In total, I was very happy how the assignment panned out with the new lens. I do not think I missed the focus more than 5% of the time, which is excellent given that most of the time I was shooting in difficult light conditions (indoors during a rainy day).
It was only the end of the day, however, that the moment of joy came. I ended my assignment in the centre of Prague at 9pm when the sun was setting down. I decided to go to Oldtown square and for the first time I was able to photograph outdoors with this lens. It was getting dark, and I needed to use shutter speed of around 1/30 to 1/15 second with the wide open aperture of f/2.8. Yet, all the shots I took were razor sharp at 100% magnification.
I could take hand-held photos of Prague even some 40 minutes after sunset without raising ISO beyond 400. I was excited!
In Combination with Eye-AF
The other “wow moment” came when I was testing the new autofocus feature of the 2.0 firmware of the Z bodies. It can pick both in the single servo (AF-S) and the continuous mode (AF-C) any human face (even with dark sunglasses) and pick the eye as long as the face fills roughly 10% of the frame.
If you have very lively kids who do not enjoy being photographed, you probably know how hard it can be to take good photos of them. My 2 year old nephew is such a case. As soon as he sees a camera in my hands, he does anything so that I cannot really photograph him. I usually fail to take any good candid shots of him with my D750 and different lenses.
Now I picked the Z6 body and the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, put the AF-C auto-area autofocus and used the screen (not the viewfinder) to frame and focus (often in “stealth” mode, by pretending that I was not photographing). And just the fact that I our eye-contact could be kept and not disturbed by a gadget in between us made a difference. But the real magic came when I realized that the camera did a great job in focusing on the face – and, in roughly 75% of the photos, picking the eyes and focusing on them accurately. Here and there, some nitty-gritty pixel-peepers could argue that perhaps eyelashes were sharper then the iris of the eye. But hey, I could never get nearly as good photos with my trusted DSLR.
Disclaimer: I do not argue that this is better or worse than how other brands (such as Sony) would fare. I just compare this with my D750 performance. And again, I know how to nail focus with DSLR when people are not moving or are moving predictably.
Ever since, I’ve used this functionality with this lens while photographing moving people, and it works great for me. You could argue that the credit should largely go to the Z6 body with its new firmware, but I really think it is the native Z-mount fast lens that makes this feature really perform well.
Nikon is bragging about the exceptional corner to corner performance of the 24-70mm f/2.8 S. While I knew after a couple of shootings that this certainly holds for sharpness, I was really curious about the coma, aberration performance, and vignetting.
For night photography, I used the lens 90% of the time wide open, and I noticed that there is noticeable vignetting, even though some correction is automatically applied in the Lightroom in the RAW files. Still, I could see it.
The first night shots confirmed this impression, and I could see the light fall-of in the night images. Nasim provides exact details on this in his tests.
On the other hand, the lens deals very well with coma correction – i.e., circles in the corners remain their regular shape, with only a slight hint of transforming circles into a cross shape. It is definitely an improvement over the G version (F-mount) lens.
Does this lens have any drawbacks? There are a few issues where I would rate the performance as mediocre rather than superb.
The bokeh is decent – and not bad given this is a zoom lens – but it is not on par with fixed primes.
I also think that this lens has some flare and ghosting issues. Again, it is not very bad, but you will see very colourful reflections of the sun in the photos from time to time. The good thing is, however, that the contrast does not decrease by much in such situations. I would rate this lens similar to 20mm f/1.8 AF-S lens, which also has some ghosting issues.
Subjectively, I find the zoom ring traction a bit too tight. I am not able to re-zoom from 24mm all the way to 70mm with a single hand movement, which is surprising to me. This is caused not only by the tightness of the zoom (which prevents the creep of the lens while hanging perpendicular, i.e. one can also say it is a good thing), but also by the size of the lens. It is a bit bulky (though not heavy).
And although I do I like the aesthetic design of the lens, I have some doubts whether the deep indenting of the function rings will keep out dust and other dirt (given that I do shoot in rough conditions).
All these things are minor issues for me and are outweighed by the positives listed above.
The first conclusion shouldn’t be a surprise for you by now: This lens is very sharp wide open, actually insanely sharp at 24mm. But this is not the main reason why I am excited about the 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens.
Before buying new gear, I always ask myself: Will I be able to get some shots that I would otherwise not have been able to get? And yes, this is the case with the new f/2.8 lens and the IBIS technology in the Z bodies. When photographing in cities, I really hesitate whether to take tripod, as it not only burdens my back, but it also slows down my workflow during the short period of the blue hour. Now I can take tack-sharp photos of night Prague without any significant ISO increase. I knew immediately that this is going to be my go-to street photo lens.
And just as importantly, I can now photograph people with a reliable face-detection (and eye detection as well) from very low perspectives while using display rather than the viewfinder. This gives me a completely new range of options for photographing tricky portrait subjects.
So, that’s why I love this lens. It is now my go-to lens for street photo, events (such as weddings), and family portraits.
Have you used this lens or are thinking about getting it? Let us know your impressions and experience below.