Making a zoom lens that covers focal lengths from wide to telephoto is no easy task for an optical engineer. We have seen a number of attempts from different manufacturers to make a solid 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom over the years, but most of those lenses disappoint when it comes to consistent sharpness across the focal length range, high levels of vignetting, distortion and lateral chromatic aberration. We have already published our assessment of the best 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses on the market for the Nikon F mount and our conclusion was that all 24-70mm had their own strengths and weaknesses, with some being better at some focal lengths compared to others. Nikon started from scratch with its Nikon Z mount and highlighted its advantages over the F mount, stating that the Z mount lenses will be superior thanks to shorter flange distance and large throat size. And as we have seen so far from our reviews, the Z mount lenses indeed offer superb performance when compared to the F mount equivalents. We have just completed our assessment of the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens in our lab and the results are simply astonishing – it looks like Nikon has managed to make world’s best 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
I am not going to bore you with a lot of different comparisons between 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses, as you can do that yourself by comparing the below graphs with those from this article. However, I do want to show what the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S looks like when compared to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. Let’s take a quick peek at 24mm:
We can clearly see that the new Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is significantly better compared to its F mount version in terms of not only center sharpness at most apertures, but also when it comes to extreme corners. In fact, at 24mm, the new 24-70mm f/2.8 S in the corners is optically superior to every Nikon F wide-angle prime lens I have tested so far!
The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S sample I tested had a bit of “wavy” field curvature at 35mm (you can see that its corners are a bit better than mid-frame at f/5.6-f/8 range), but once again, the center and corner performance look better than any other wide-angle lens I have tested before.
The widen open performance of the lens does diminish a little bit when zoomed in to 50mm, but once stopped down to f/4, the sharpness comes right back. Corners get a little bit weaker, but still substantially better than those of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
Lastly at 70mm, the lens once again demonstrates superb center sharpness at f/4 and smaller apertures in the center of the frame, and although the corners get a little bit weaker compared to other focal lengths, they are still significantly better than those of the 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
Chromatic Aberration Performance
What about lateral chromatic aberration? Let’s take a look:
The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S does a far better job in handling lateral CA when compared to its F mount sibling. At its worst, it manages just over a pixel of CA at 24mm, whereas CA on the 24-70mm f/2.8E VR can spread to almost 4 pixels at longer focal lengths, which is rather excessive.
In terms of lens distortion, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR exhibits very pronounced barrel distortion at 24mm and it switches to pincushion distortion at 50mm. Let’s take a look at how the new Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S performs in comparison:
We can see that the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S has noticeably less barrel distortion on the wide end, but a bit more pincushion distortion on the long end. In comparison, the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX manages distortion better across its focal length range.
Lastly, let’s take a look at how both lenses do in terms of vignetting:
As expected, the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S exhibits much less overall vignetting at every focal length, no matter if you have a subject at the closest focusing distance (CF) or at infinity (IF). The 24-70mm f/2.8E VR is a bit better when stopped down beyond f/4, but those differences are negligible.
As you can see from the above charts, the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S sample I have tested so far is stunning. I am planning to test at least one more sample before we publish our upcoming review, but I can already tell that the lens will not disappoint. So far, I have tested most 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses on the market, including Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, and I can tell you that no other lens has shown this level of performance yet. The only lens that might potentially outperform the Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM, but Canon has not yet released a high resolution mirrorless camera yet for me to be able to properly test it. So based on all the tests I have done so far, I can say with confidence that the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is the world’s best 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on the market today.
If this is what Nikon is going to do with all of its upcoming Z mount lenses, then we are looking at a very promising future for the Nikon Z system.