The Nikon Z-mount trinity is comprised of three professional-level lenses: Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, and Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S. Sometimes referred to as the “holy trinity”, this group of lenses covers a wide focal length range of 14-200mm, and it is meant to serve as a complete kit for most photography needs. In this article, we will take a quick look at these mirrorless lenses and explore their performance potential when compared to the Nikon F mount, as well as other mirrorless systems on the market.
Nikon has always had a vast selection of top-notch lenses for its F-mount. With the birth of the Z-mount, the company had to push as many lenses as possible in a relatively short period of time. Designing lenses from scratch from a brand new mount is not easy, and yet we can see that Nikon engineers put their best efforts into making every Z-mount lens shine. While at launch Nikon concentrated on slower and lighter lenses for the mirrorless mount (mainly slower f/1.8 prime and f/4 zoom lenses), we knew that a pro-grade f/2.8 trinity kit was on its way, thanks to Nikon’s Z lens roadmap.
This past couple of weeks, I have been working hard on testing many samples of the Z lens trinity, as well as a few other recently-released zoom lenses. I am happy to report that my lab testing has been completed, and I will soon be embarking on a photography journey to do a much more thorough field test of these lenses. Without further ado, let’s take a look at what I have been able to discover about these lenses so far.
Please note that I am not going to provide comparisons to other Z-mount lenses in this article, as that would make it way too long of a read, but you can quickly jump to the referenced reviews on our lens reviews page and compare charts side-by-side.
Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S Performance
Having tested the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S lens when it was launched, I loved that lens so much that I immediately bought one for my needs. It was light, and its performance was outstanding for its price, providing tremendous value.
With the launch of the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S I knew that Nikon engineers would take ultra-wide-angle performance to the next level. And this is certainly the case with this lens. Just take a look at its MTF performance at different focal lengths:
To say that these numbers are impressive would be an understatement. If you compare these charts to the Z 14-30mm f/4 S, you will see that the f/2.8 version is significantly sharper at every aperture, especially outside the center frame.
The performance of the lens continues to impress at longer focal lengths. From 14 to 18mm, the sharpness performance actually increases in the center frame, at a slight cost of corner performance. Still, it is almost as sharp as the 14-30mm f/4 S in the corners wide open, and when stopped down to f/5.6, the difference is night and day.
Those who own the Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S (which is another excellent lens, by the way) might be wondering how it compares to the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S. As you can see from the above chart, the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S actually managed to beat the lighter prime at the f/4-5.6 range in the center frame. However, the prime is still a bit sharper in the corners when stopped down, which is expected. Still, seeing a zoom lens perform almost on the level of a prime lens is very impressive!
The Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 starts to shift its performance towards the center at 24mm, and as you can see from the above chart, the center sharpness figures are simply exceptional. If we compare these numbers to those of the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S, you can see a similar pattern as with the Z 20mm f/1.8 S, where the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S is stunning in the center, beating the prime hands down in center sharpness. However, the corners are the weak point at 24mm on the zoom, where it tends to be inferior.
I wondered if the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S simply has more field curvature at longer focal lengths, so I tried to focus in the extreme corners to see if I could derive better numbers. That was certainly not the case, as it turned out that the lens suffers from minimal field curvature when compared to other similar lenses, including the older F-mount Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. Speaking of which, I am not even going to bother comparing these charts to those of Nikon’s F-mount lenses, because the Z-mount versions mop the floor with them.
The focusing distance, however, does seem to impact corner performance. I tried to take a sample shot of a landscape at infinity at 24mm, and the corners looked very sharp to me, even in the extreme edges. More field testing needs to be done, however, which is why I will be saving the rest of my thoughts in the upcoming Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S review. For now, I am just going to say that the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S is the best ultra-wide-angle zoom lens I have ever tested.
Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Performance
If you have already seen my Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S review, you already know that I am a huge fan of this lens. Designing a 24-70mm zoom lens with good edge-to-edge performance is very difficult.
Having tested so many different 24-70mm zooms in the past, I have always been impressed by Nikon’s F-mount versions of this lens – they seemed to offer the most consistent performance. The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S takes it to the next level, demonstrating exceptionally good overall sharpness.
Similar to the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, the Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S starts out very strong already at 24mm with excellent center, mid-frame, and corner sharpness.
As you zoom in towards 35mm, the performance remains excellent, with the best overall sharpness achieved by f/5.6.
At 50mm, the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S takes a hit at f/2.8, but stopping it down a little brings it right back. Once again, the lens shines at the f/4-f/5.6 range.
Lastly, we see a very similar pattern on the long end with this lens, where the corners seem to take a hit. However, that’s expected, given that basically all other 24-70mm zooms typically do worse towards 70mm.
I am going to save my commentary in regards to the above numbers since I have already done that in my detailed Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S review. In short, once again, this is the best 24-70mm zoom I have ever tested.
Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S Performance
I patiently waited for many months before I was able to finally obtain the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S. Nikon had many problems with the release of this lens. First, it had production issues that delayed the lens, then other events including COVID-19 made it challenging to bring the lens to the US market.
Was it worth the wait? Heck yes! Just take a look at these charts for yourself:
When I first took a sample shot at 70mm with this lens, I was stunned – I had never previously seen a 70-200mm lens this sharp wide open. My lab tests confirmed my thoughts. As you can see, the lens is a stunner at every aperture, even in the extreme corners.
The lens continues to perform at the same level at 105mm, showing absolutely amazing results. And at f/5.6, it is even better in the corners.
Once again, the consistency of sharpness is what makes the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S stunning. As you can see, center and mid-frame sharpness stay at the same level, although the extreme corners do get a bit weaker in comparison.
As expected, the lens gets a little weaker at 200mm. Center sharpness stays very high at f/2.8, but at the expense of weaker corner performance.
If you are wondering how this lens compares to the F-mount 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, just take a look at the lens comparisons page of my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR review. If the latest F-mount version set new bars for the optical performance of 70-200mm lenses, the Z-mount takes that to the new levels. It is consistently sharper at every focal length, every aperture compared to anything Nikon has done in the past. Heck, I would dare to say that this is the best 70-200mm lens on the market, period. And I can say that after my experience shooting with many other 70-200mm lenses, including the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.
As you can see from this article, Nikon has done one hell of a job with its pro-grade zooms for the Z mount. Nikon’s trinity is complete, and it is more impressive than it has ever been. And not just optically! In the case of the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, the mere fact that one can use screw-on filters with this lens, while also shedding 1/3 of the weight from their camera bag when compared to its predecessor, makes it an instant buy for many landscape and architecture photographers. The Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is also sharper, lighter, and smaller than its predecessor, which is another huge win for the Z mount. While it would have been great to be able to get the same weight and space savings with the 70-200mm f/2.8 S, it would clearly compromise the optical potential of the lens. Nikon wanted to deliver its best 70-200mm f/2.8 ever, and it has certainly managed to do so…
note that the hood of the 14-24 which takes filters can also be used with the entire trinity. I use the Kase Wolverine Magnetic Circular 112mm filters – they’re awesome
I prefer a zoom trinity that has higher MTF resolution at f8 where I use lenses for landscape photography. It appears that Nikon designed the lenses more for portraiture.
I can’t get over the difference between 70mm 2.8 between the two lenses. I thought the 24-70 was sharp (I own it). But the 70-200 (I want it) takes it to another level!
Nasim, are the figures correct in chart one for the 14-24 @14 mm mid and corner?
Good catch John! It looks like the cache got messed up and had the older version of the chart that had wrong mid-frame values. Please refresh your browser – it should work now. Thanks for letting me know!
I think every photographer has their own “Trinity” of lenses for event shooting. My choices are the 16-35mm f/4, 50mm f/1.4, 70-200 f/2.8E lenses. Between 35mm and 70mm the “fast 50” gives me the right focal length for wider portraits plus it’s low light capability. No need to tote those heavy 14-24mm and 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses around all day. 30 years shooting ENG taught me that weight is my enemy standing on my feet for 8-10 hours. The “short version” of all these lenses? The wonderful 24-120mm f/4. My newest favorite.
I have an aging Nikon D750 with a good collection of Nikon lenses. I am considering jumping ship to acquire the Z7 camera and a suitable lens for my needs. The mirrorless cameras are certainly lighter and will come in handy rather than lug a hefty camera and lenses. As always I congratulate Nasim for his excellent site. Keep it up Nasim and kudos to your excellent work!
Probably a great set of expensive lenses but I opted for the 14-24mm f4 and the newish 24-200mm which have proved absolute amazing at a fraction of the cost and weight. The latter is particularly useful as it’s become my go-to landscape lens. Have learnt from experience that you don’t always need the f2.8 versions but I’m sure other will disagree with me.
As an early adopter who bought into the Z system when most DSLR users were still struggling to understand a concept without a mirror and “fighting till the last breath” for their beloved DSLRs, I do not understand your celebration mood, Nasim.
How long did it take Nikon to complete the trinity? How long the 70-200 was delayed due to quality issues? What is NIkon telling it’s users and customers now? Right, “more delays are to be expected due to CoVid situation”. Of Thailand? And what else of necessary lenses are avaiblable? Macro? On the roadmap. Which has changed pretty often. Something in the 300-600 mm range? Again, roadmap. Or use a converter to get a 140-400/5,6. And given the deceasing results towards the longer end I doubt there would be happiness everywhere someone just spend 8.000 bucks for three zooms and a converter. A non-pro body goes extra and will have to be replaced if a pro body ever sees the light of day.
Coming out with a new system, and then a gap of two years to offer the range of the 3 standard, bread and butter lenses? Has any other manufacturer been focusing on rather lame f/1.8 primes and cheapo f/4 zooms depending highly on software correction of strong distortions? Sure, in µ 4/3 land there have been manufacturers “inventing” software corrections and often getting slapped verbally by – right – Nikon customers.
It might be celebration time for Nikon customers. It might be as well time to reconsider the mirrorless system going into coming out of a DSLR environment. I doubt I would have started with the Z system if I had known two years ago what I knew today. I did trust Nikon a bit too much.
That’s a bit uncalled for. While Nikon was fleshing out the Z lenses, there were perfectly capable F mount lenses to tide people over. The 1.8 lenses are far from lame. Certainly better than any other 1st party or 3rd party F mount equivelents. The first brand to go FF mirrorless took a lot longer to get their trinity out. 13 FF lenses in just over two years…. I don’t know what else you’d expect to be deemed a reasonable release schedule. No one, even upto mid 2019, saw a pandemic coming.
Wow, that 70-200 is sharpest in the centre when wide-open at all focal lenghts! Essentially, it’s a 70-200 F2, stopped down! Time to test a 200mm F2 to see if it’s still The King?