This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens that was released back in August of 2007 together with the 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens. I have owned a number of different copies of the Nikon 24-70mm for many years, pretty much from the day the lens was announced and I have probably spent the most amount of time in the field shooting with this lens. Since it is a workhorse pro-level lens, I have used it for many different types of photography – from portraiture to landscapes. I have used it in hot summer days and freezing sub-zero temperatures; carried it from wet and humid climates to dry and dusty environments. Throughout many years of use and abuse, the 24-70mm f/2.8G ED has never let me down, so overtime, it became one of my most used Nikkor zoom lenses in my arsenal.
1) Lens Overview
The AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens is a truly versatile lens that can be used for many different kinds of photography needs – from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. With its constant aperture of f/2.8 (meaning the aperture does not change while zooming) and state of the art optics, the lens is targeted towards enthusiasts and professionals, who work in various conditions and need exceptional sharpness, color and contrast in their images – something the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is made to deliver. It replaced the older Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8D lens and its optics were completely redesigned for superior performance and extra coverage on the wide-end. Featuring 15 lens elements in 11 groups, 3 out of which are ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements that reduce chromatic aberration and increase sharpness, the lens is a heavyweight monster weighing a whopping 31.7 oz. (900 grams), which is heavier than many Nikon DSLRs! In addition to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM/AF-S) that provides fast, accurate and quiet auto focus, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G also features Nano Crystal Coating technology, which helps reduce ghosting and flare. When it comes to weather sealing, the 24-70mm f/2.8G is designed to be well-protected against dust, moisture and tough weather conditions.
Along with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G was specifically made for earlier FX (full-frame) DSLR camera bodies like Nikon D700/D3/D3s/D3x, but it also works quite well on most modern high-resolution DSLR cameras such as the Nikon D750 and D810. Along with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, it used to represent Nikon’s “Trinity” of lenses, until it got replaced by the image-stabilized Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. Just like other Nikon full-frame lens, the 24-70mm works well on any DX camera, although with a crop factor of 1.5x (which makes it equivalent to 36-105mm in field of view), it might feel a bit too long on the wide end.
As I have pointed out earlier, throughout the years of owning a number of different copies of the lens, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G used to be my #1 workhorse lens for my photography needs. Whether I shot weddings, events or landscapes, I would not leave my house without it. Although I have used a wide array of different lenses, no other lens saw as much use as the 24-70mm. The primary reason is its versatility. Thanks to its very useful focal length range, along with a large maximum aperture of f/2.8, it worked out great for photographing many different types of subjects. Zoomed into 50-70mm, it also served me well as a portrait lens, thanks to its ability to beautifully render out of focus areas. So besides being my top travel and landscape photography lens, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G saved me a few times during various photo sessions both in studio and outdoors environments.
In terms of optical performance, the Nikon 24-70mm is a superb performer, providing sharp and contrasty images, especially once stopped down. It has its issues for sure, whether it comes to significant levels of distortion and vignetting, or poor corner performance at large apertures, thanks to the rather heavy field curvature issues (as explained in the next sections of the review). It is a big and heavy lens, which can make it challenging to handle, particularly for those, who have problems with their hands, shoulders or backs. It is primarily because of my carpal tunnel that I decided to sell my copies of the 24-70mm f/2.8G and move down to the lighter and slightly more versatile (in terms of focal length) 24-120mm f/4G VR. However, thanks to its amazing build quality, the lens is made to last a lifetime – it can take a lot of beating in the field and it can survive all kinds of weather and environmental conditions.
2) Lens Specifications
- Fast, wide-angle to medium Telephoto AF-S zoom lens optimized for edge-to-edge sharpness on both the Nikon FX (23.9 x 36mm) and DX format image sensors.
- Two Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements and PGM aspherical lenses control chromatic aberrations while enhancing sharpness and contrast, even at the widest aperture settings.
- Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables ultra high-speed auto focusing with exceptional accuracy and powerful, super-quiet operation.
- Focus as close as 14.9 inches.
- M/A focus mode switch enables quick response to changing situations between manual and auto focus operation.
- Enhanced optical formulas engineered to produce exceptional sharpness, contrast and color, rendering outstanding image integrity.
- Exclusive Nano Crystal Coat further reduces ghosting and flare for even greater image clarity.
- Internal Focus (IF) provides fast and quiet auto focusing without changing the length of the lens, retaining subject-working distance through the focus range.
- Rugged construction with professional-grade dust and moisture resistance.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length Range: 24-70mm
- Zoom Ratio: 2.9x
- Maximum Aperture: 2.8
- Minimum Aperture: 22
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 61°
- Minimum Angle of View (DX-format): 22° 50′
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 84°
- Minimum Angle of View (FX-format): 34° 20′
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.27x
- Lens (Elements): 15
- Lens (Groups): 11
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- ED Glass (Elements): 3
- Aspherical (Elements): 3
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 1.2ft.(0.38m)
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual, Manual/Auto
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.3×5.2 in. (Diameter x Length), 83x133mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 31.7 oz. (900g)
- Lens Case: CL-M3
- Lens Hood: HB-40
- Supplied Accessories: LC-77 77m snap-on front lens cap, LF-1 rear lens cap, HB-40 Bayonet Hood, CL-M3 Semi-soft Case
3) Lens Handling
Just like the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G lens is made of metal and built like a tank. Unlike the 14-24mm though, it can easily take 77mm filters and due to internal focus, the front of the lens does not rotate, which makes it a lens of choice for photographers that frequently use both rectangular filters and filter holder systems. It is also 70 grams lighter than the 14-24mm and longer in size when zoomed out at 24mm, without a hood. When it comes to weather sealing, I have used it in cold conditions way below freezing at -20 °F (-29 °C) and in extremely hot conditions above 110 °F (43 °C), as well as 100% humid and very dry conditions. I used it rain and snow and it never let me down, no matter where I was.
It feels very solid in hands and the focus ring is conveniently located at the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. You don’t need to change any switches on the lens for manual focus – you can override autofocus any time by simply moving the focus ring while the lens is in M/A position. When you move the focus ring and reach the focus limit, the ring continues rotation with a little more resistance, instead of an abrupt stop, just like in most other modern Nikon lenses. Zooming in and out is smooth, but a little stiffer when zooming out to 24mm. Overtime, the zoom ring got much smoother and unlike the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, does not suffer from lens creep when pointed up or down vertically. However, if zoomed out to 24mm and put down with the front element on a flat surface without the hood, the weight of the lens will bring the lens down until it gets to around 50mm (that’s when the lens is at its shortest physical length). While storing or transporting the lens, I highly recommend to keep the zoom ring at 50mm to prevent dust from getting into the lens through the front area of the lens.
Although the lens is heavy, it balances quite well on heavier pro-level bodies. The same is not true on entry-level cameras – it certainly feels off-balance towards the front of the lens and awkward, due to its sheer size and weight. While it works great on any DX camera, I would not recommend to use it on one, unless you like working in 36-105mm range. Cheaper and lighter alternatives like Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4E VR would be more useful in terms of focal length.
The HB-40 bayonet lens hood is very large and makes the lens looks enormous in size, almost like a telephoto lens. Despite its size, I highly recommend to keep it on the lens at all times, because it does help in dealing with lens flare and it certainly does a great job at protecting the front element. The HB-40 has a lock mechanism and therefore holds tightly and securely on the 24-70mm, unlike other hoods that come off by rotating the hood. While storing or transporting the lens, you can conveniently reverse the hood and it won’t take up any additional space. My only gripe with the large hood is that it can make it painful to rotate a mounted polarizing filter – I often end up temporarily detaching the hood to rotate the filter.
4) Focus Speed and Accuracy
As I have pointed out above, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is equipped with a Silent Wave Motor (SWM), which drives the AF performance to its limits. The lens snaps into focus instantly and silently, and its autofocus accuracy is excellent, even on high-resolution cameras like the Nikon D810. Although many lenses start to hunt when focusing in low-light conditions, the 24-70mm f/2.8G performs exceptionally well in such situations, especially when used on the latest-generation Nikon DSLRs with much more sophisticated and sensitive autofocus systems.
I have used the 24-70mm on many different camera bodies, from the Nikon D700 all the way to Nikon D5. All three of the copies of the lens I have used in the past worked very well on every Nikon DSLR I mounted them to and unlike a number of other lenses, never required any AF Fine Tuning.
In short, few lenses are this reliable when it comes to autofocus performance…
5) Lens Sharpness and Contrast
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is quite a sharp lens in the center of the frame throughout the zoom and aperture range, even wide open. Corner and mid-frame performance is not as great by comparison though, especially at the wide end at 24mm and near maximum aperture of f/2.8. This behavior is the result of donut-shaped field curvature – an optical effect seen in some ultra-wide angle lenses, where the focus plane is spherically bent rather than flat (parts of the frame rolling out of the focus plane). When large apertures such as f/2.8 are used, the center frame appears sharp (assuming center focus), mid-frame looks softer, then sharpness returns and is lost again in the extreme corners. Unfortunately, there is no cure to this problem and the only way to minimize field curvature is to stop down the lens to f/5.6 and smaller, where the increased depth of field decreases the effect.
Here is how the lens measured in our lab using Imatest software at each focal length:
At 24mm, the lens shows superb sharpness in the center of the frame, with its sharpest aperture being f/4. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about its mid-frame and corner performance. As you can see from the graph, anything outside the center frame starts to suffer, especially towards the edges of the frame.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G takes a hit once you start zooming in when it comes to center sharpness. As you can see, the wide open performance is diminished at 35mm @ f/2.8, however, stopping down a little to f/4 again improves the performance dramatically. By f/8 the lens gets quite good across the frame, yielding the best overall performance.
The performance of the lens continues to diminish towards the longer focal lengths and at 50mm, we can see that the lens certainly does get worse compared to 35mm. However, again, once stopped down to f/4-f/5.6 range, the lens gets quite good across the frame.
And lastly, the optical design of the lens shows that the lens suffers further in the center at 70mm, but the corner performance seems to recover and look quite good by f/5.6 and best by f/8.0.
Despite the corner softness issues at large apertures, the Nikon 24-70mm has one major advantage – its performance is pretty consistent across all focal lengths once stopped down to the f/5.6-f/11 range, something many other mid-range lenses often struggle with. That is why it has such a great reputation and popularity among landscape and architectural photographers – we rarely shoot at large apertures; and maximum sharpness, resolution and depth of field are what we are usually after. Speaking of resolution, the Nikon 24-70mm resolves quite a bit of detail on FX bodies, even on high-resolution cameras such as the Nikon D800/D810. In terms of contrast and colors, the 24-70mm f/2.8G is a top class performer. Images rendered by the lens are vivid and beautiful, definitely the signature of pro-level lenses.
The bokeh on the Nikon 24-70mm looks surprisingly smooth and good at f/2.8, so you could use it to isolate subjects at longer focal lengths. However, keep in mind that the 24-70mm was never really designed to be a portrait lens. While the out of focus areas look good wide open, the bokeh circles have a visible outlining in them due to aspherical elements in the lens. If you are looking for a dedicated portrait lens that will render the background beautifully, try the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G or its smaller cousin, the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G instead.
For situations where you don’t intend to show off bokeh highlights though, the 24-70mm f/2.8 can work quite well for photographing people. I have used the 24-70mm f/2.8G many times for shooting portraits in various events, weddings and styled shoots.
Vignetting is moderate and quite visible at 24mm, as seen in many other wide angle lenses. I would say that it is very comparable to the amount of vignetting many other 24-70mm and 24-120mm lenses exhibit when shooting wide open at shortest focal lengths. Take a look at the following two images:
The image on the left is how it came out of the camera and the image on the right is after correcting vignetting in Lightroom. Vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in post-processing software, so it is not a big problem. In Lightroom for example, there is an option to “Enable Profile Corrections” under “Lens Corrections”, which almost completely removes vignetting and distortion problems on images taken with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G.
Personally, I find vignetting produced by most pro-level lenses to be actually pleasing to see in images, as it wraps around the subject and gives depth. In fact, I rarely ever remove vignetting from images using post-processing software, unless I have a flat image I want to showcase. In many cases, photographers actually end up putting more vignetting on their images, as it helps draw the viewer’s eye on the subject:
So why bother removing beautiful vignetting in the first place?
8) Ghosting and Flare
The Nikon 24-70mm is equipped with Nano Crystal Coat, which certainly helps in reducing ghosting and flare. Shooting against the sun at crazy angles almost always results in some flare and ghosting and the 24-70mm is no exception, so you have to decide whether you want to include the sun in the frame or not. The nice thing about the HB-40 hood, is that it does a great job at blocking the sun when you do not want to include it in the frame, so you will rarely see ghosting in your images. Here is an extreme example of shooting directly at the sun:
Keep in mind that the position of the bright light source in your frame plays a huge role in how the lens does in terms of ghosting and flare. Typically, the closer the light source is towards the edges of the frame, the more issues you will see in images. See my article on how to eliminate ghosting and flare to learn some very effective techniques on how you can address such problems in the field. Always keep in mind that using filters in front of your lens increases chances of adding ghosting and flare to your images, especially when filters are of low quality or have a lot of dust/dirt/oil and other debris on them.
Barrel distortion is rather heavy at 24mm, which then transforms to pincushion distortion at 35mm and stays that way till 70mm. I personally do not worry much about distortion problems on my lenses (unless they are severe), because they are rather easy to fix in Photoshop and Lightroom. While distortion at 24mm is definitely strong, it can be addressed by lens correction modules present in software such as Lightroom. For example, in Lightroom, all you have to do is check “Enable Profile Corrections” under “Lens Corrections” and most of the distortion issues will be automatically fixed in your images, as pointed out in my Lightroom Lens Correction article. Take a look at the following image and move your mouse over and out to see the original distorted image versus a fixed image in Lightroom:
As you can see, Lightroom does a pretty decent job with fixing barrel distortion on the 24-70mm f/2.8G and if you use other tools such as DxO Optics Pro, you will also be able to correct distortion quite easily, perhaps even more accurately than Lightroom.
Here is how Imatest measured distortion at focal lengths from 24mm to 70mm:
The negative number at 24mm in the above chart represents barrel distortion, while the positive numbers represent pincushion distortion.
10) Chromatic Aberrations
Lateral chromatic aberrations are non-existent in the center and well-controlled near the edges. Here is the worst case scenario, 100% crop taken from the left edge of the image:
Let’s take a look at the levels of lateral chromatic aberration measured by Imatest at different focal lengths:
It appears that CA levels are pretty high from 24mm to 50mm, but at 70mm, CA practically disappears. Again, chromatic aberrations are easy to fix in post-production and Lightroom can easily take care of it in via the Lens Corrections sub-module.
Let’s move on to lens comparisons.
11) Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED vs Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC
Let’s take a look at how the lens compares to the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC lens at various focal lengths from 24mm to 70mm. Here is 24mm:
As you can see, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is sharper in the center of the frame at 24mm and a bit weaker in mid-frame and the corners starting out. Once stopped down to f/4 and smaller, the Nikon picks up in the mid-frame and the corners, surpassing the Tamron 24-70mm VC. By f/5.6, both lenses perform very similarly, with the Tamron edging the Nikon out a little outside the center frame.
Let’s take a look at what happens when both lenses are zoomed in to 35mm:
Once again, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G starts out better than the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC, but this time, we can clearly see that the mid-frame and the corner performance of the Nikon is much better in comparison, especially once stopped down a little.
Now let’s see what happens when we zoom further to the 50mm focal length on both lenses:
Both lenses definitely lose their sharpness at longer focal lengths. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G definitely shines once stopped down, particularly in the corners when compared to the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC. Stopped down to the f/8 range, both lenses do fairly well, with the edge advantage on behalf of the Nikon.
Lastly, here are both lenses at 70mm:
The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC produces different results across the frame depending on the target distance. At close distances, it seems to produce more or less even performance from the center to the corners, showing decent numbers. However, at long distances, especially closer to infinity, the lens shows rather poor performance from mid-frame to the edges of the frame (I noticed this behavior on multiple lens samples). As you can see from the above chart, it definitely starts out worse than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 at 70mm, especially in the center and towards the edges of the frame. It regains quite a bit of sharpness when stopped down to f/5.6, but it is still not enough to yield sharp corners. Only at f/8 its corner performance gets marginally better – at the expense of the center frame. You can get sharper center performance by using live view with manual focusing, but the sharper the center, the worse the corners. Field curvature is very strong at the longest focal length on this lens, and sadly, it hurts the lens pretty much at all apertures.
It looks like the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC is optimized to yield the best performance at shorter focal lengths. Once zoomed in above the 50mm range, its performance decreases sharply, with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G producing much more consistent results.
12) Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G vs Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR
Let’s take a look at how Nikon’s pro-grade 24-70mm f/2.8G compares to its cheaper and lighter brother, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR. Below is the comparison of the two lenses at 24mm:
Surprisingly, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR is a very sharp lens wide open. As you can see, it is practically as sharp as the 24-70mm at f/4 in the center and its mid-frame and corner performance are quite good in comparison. Both lenses do very similarly when stopped down.
Let’s see what happens as we zoom both lenses to 35mm:
The lenses start out with about the same performance at f/4, with the Nikon 24-70mm being a tad sharper in the corners. However, once stopped down to f/8.0, the 24-120mm f/4G VR shows better corner performance, as seen in the graph above.
What about 50mm?
The lenses certainly get worse at 50mm optically, but the 24-120mm f/4G VR still shows pretty impressive performance overall. It starts out better wide open and once stopped down, actually slightly surpasses its bigger brother in the extreme edges of the frame.
The 24-120mm f/4G VR is known to suffer at longer focal lengths and it really shows here. Zoomed in to 70mm, its center performance takes a major hit at f/4. It certainly does get better when stopped down though – by f/5.6 it actually reaches solid resolution levels, surpassing the 24-70mm in the mid-frame. Stopped down to f/8, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G delivers better overall performance, thanks to slightly sharper corners.
Overall, despite its cheaper build and slower maximum aperture, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR delivers very impressive results when compared to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. Being a newer lens, it was built to perform quite well with high-resolution cameras, which really shows here.
Despite having corner softness, vignetting and distortion issues, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is still one of my favorite landscape photography lenses – mainly because of the following reasons:
- The mid-range focal length of 24-70mm is extremely useful for landscape photography.
- The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G works great with circular filters and filter systems.
- When stopped down to f/8.0, the lens produces sharp images and the corner sharpness is also quite good. Vignetting and distortion also have minimum impact beyond f/5.6.
- Contrast and color are superb.
- Autofocus is very reliable and dead-on under almost any lighting conditions.
- Solid build and pro-grade weather sealing against extreme temperatures and weather conditions.
Overall, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G has served me well and I have been happy with its performance. I took it with me to dusty Sand Dunes, to Florida during 90 degree rainy days and 100% humidity, to the peaks of Colorado Rockies where the temperatures went below 20 degrees, and it has survived it all, still delivering results. I sure wish that corner softness, vignetting and distortion at large apertures were not so evident, but I also understand that it is unrealistic to design zoom lenses that would perform perfectly at all apertures/focal lengths that would not cost an arm and a leg or weigh a ton. One feature that the 24-70mm f/2.8G has been lacking compared to lenses like the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC is image stabilization / vibration reduction (VR), which can be incredibly useful when shooting hand-held. If you try out a wide-angle lens with image stabilization, you will quickly realize that VR definitely helps to get sharper images at very slow shutter speeds, even at shortest focal lengths. Thankfully, Nikon has addressed this particular concern on the new Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR, although it surely added more weight and bulk to the already big lens. In addition, Nikon decided to change the optical formula on the lens, which resulted in its own list of pros and cons (to be revealed in our upcoming review later this week).
14) Where to Buy
You can order your copy of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens at B&H for $1,796.95 (as of 11/18/2016) – they frequently have it in stock.
15) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating