Compared to Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR
First up, here’s the performance at 16mm on both the 14-30mm f/4 and the F-mount 16-35mm f/4:
As you can see, the Z lens handily beats the F-mount lens when both are at 16mm. It’s far better at f/4 and f/5.6, and similar from f/8 onward. Overall – whether the center, corner, or midframe – it’s really no contest. The Z lens kicks butt.
Let’s take a look at 24mm:
Here, the center performance has improved slightly on the 16-35mm f/4, but the corners have gotten worse. The 14-30mm f/4 clearly outclasses the 16-35mm f/4 in every way until f/11, when the two lenses become closer to even. To be frank – the 16-35mm f/4 would only look competitive here if I used the decentered copy of the 14-30mm!
Now let’s take a look at each lens’s longest focal length:
Here, despite 30mm being one of its “weaker” focal lengths, the 14-30mm f/4 manages to take an even stronger lead. There is no longer a single aperture or portion of the frame where the F-mount lens wins out, however slightly. At the wide apertures in particular, the Z lens just dominates; its corner sharpness at f/4 is not far behind the 16-35mm f/4’s center sharpness. All that, and the 16-35mm f/4 is not even a bad lens compared to many others!
Next up, let’s see how the 14-30mm f/4 stacks up against the venerable Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 F-mount lens, long considered one of the best ultra-wides on the market.
Compared to Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
First, here’s how each lens looks at 14mm:
The 14-24mm f/2.8 puts up a very impressive performance here. After all, it’s sharpest at its widest angles, while the Nikon Z lens is weakest in the same range. At f/4, the two lenses are equal in the center, but the F-mount option is noticeably sharper in the midframe and corners. Stopping down to f/5.6 improves the 14-30mm f/4’s midframe, but the 14-24mm f/2.8 is still clearly ahead in the corners. No matter how far you stop down, the F-mount lens is the winner in the corners – though, granted, never by a drastic margin except arguably at f/4. Congratulations to the 14-24mm f/2.8 for such a great performance!
Now let’s take a look at 16mm on both lenses:
Here, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is leaving its “sweet spot,” while the 14-30mm f/4 is starting to get sharper. Even then, at f/4, the two lenses put up a pretty even fight. The Z lens is a bit sharper in the center, while the F-mount is slightly ahead in the midframe. Both are essentially the same in the corners. Fair fight.
The same holds true at f/5.6 and beyond. The two lenses are essentially neck and neck, with small differences leaning one way or the other, but neither pulling ahead. For all intents and purposes, 16mm is a draw.
What about 24mm?
Here, the 14-24mm f/2.8 has its weakest performance, and it loses out to the 14-30mm f/4 in both the midframe and especially the corners. This is most obvious at f/5.6 and f/8, where the 14-24mm f/2.8’s corner performance is a clear notch below that of the 14-30mm f/4. In many ways, this is the opposite of how each lens performed at 14mm.
The Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S is far and away sharper than the 16-35mm f/4 F-mount lens, which never catches up until at least f/8 at any focal length.
Against the 14-24mm f/2.8, it’s a surprisingly fair matchup. At 14mm, the F-mount lens wins, while the Z-mount lens is ahead by a similar margin at 24mm. In between, they’re pretty darn similar.
On one hand, I’m very impressed that the Z version – an ultra-light lens which takes filters and zooms to 30mm – can hold its own against one of the best wide angles ever released. Still, I can’t help but feel the 14-24mm f/2.8 is the true winner in this matchup, given that it goes all the way to f/2.8. And was released 12 years ago.
Don’t get me wrong – the 14-30mm f/4 is still the better lens overall in most ways. Unless you need f/2.8, it’s the way to go – half the weight and far less flare, with similarly excellent sharpness overall. I’d even go so far as to say that the new Z lens is optically the best ultra-wide zoom Nikon has ever made, assuming you get a good copy and don’t mind correcting the distortion.
At the same time, for Nikon F-mount users reading this review, you can rest assured that not all the new Z lenses are handily going to beat Nikon’s top F-mount efforts. The 14-24mm f/2.8 is still the champ in many ways. It’s also selling at a discount for $1600 at the time of this review’s publication – a price that almost singlehandedly convinces me that the “DSLRs are better value” crowd is right.
The next page goes back over the pros and cons of the 14-30mm f/4, plus my final recommendations for who should get this lens: