Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 Focus Speed and Performance
The Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 autofocuses pretty quickly, but unlike most Nikon Z lenses, it’s not silent. The front barrel of the lens makes an audible squeaking noise as it focuses. Videographers with on-camera shotgun mics may catch some of this noise in their footage.
I found the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 to focus a bit more slowly than most Nikon Z lenses, although the accuracy was as high as ever. Because of the maximum aperture of f/2.8, the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 can continue to autofocus in pretty low-light conditions. It gathers twice as much light as an f/4 lens, for example.
In terms of close-focusing capabilities, the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 has a reasonable maximum magnification of 0.19× (or 1:5.3). It’s not enough for genuine macro photography, but wide-angle close-ups of subjects like flowers are within the purview of this lens.
The Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 has a high amount of barrel distortion, measured at 4.98% in our lab. This is the highest figure we’ve measured so far on a prime lens (excluding fisheyes) and not just among Nikon lenses. Here’s a simulation of 4.98% barrel distortion:
By comparison, the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 has 2.39% barrel distortion, which is more in line with a typical wide-angle prime. A few zoom lenses do exhibit more distortion than the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8, including the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S (7.89% at 14mm) and the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 (5.82% at 24mm).
For years now, mirrorless lenses have been trending toward optical designs with high levels of distortion, yet high levels of sharpness, under the theory that distortion is easy to correct in post-production without compromising image quality. Although this is true, major distortion corrections can still contribute to softness in the image, especially in the corners, since the photo must be stretched significantly in order to look rectilinear.
I should point out that many photographers will never see distortion in the first place on the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8, even when photographing subjects like architecture. That’s because popular post-processing software, including Adobe Lightroom, tends to apply distortion correction automatically. Even so, I consider the high distortion of the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 to be a drawback of this lens.
In uncorrected images, the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 has high levels of vignetting wide open, though it depends on your focusing distance. It’s worse at infinity focus. Here’s a full chart of vignetting levels:
The maximum of 2.45 stops of vignetting is rather high. By comparison, the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 reaches 2.20 stops of vignetting, which is also on the high side. The S-line Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 has 1.94 stops at the most, and that’s at f/1.8 – once you stop down to f/2.8, it’s only at 1.07 stops.
I consider any amount of vignetting over 2 stops to need correction on most photos. Anything over 1.5 stops is still relatively high, while anything under about 1 stop of vignetting is pretty negligible to me. At infinity focus, the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 never reaches that mark. You’ll probably want to keep vignetting corrections turned on when using this lens.
If you’re an Adobe Lightroom user, keep in mind that Lightroom directly reads information from your in-camera vignetting reduction setting with this lens. If you want your photos from the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 to have full corrections by default, you need to turn the vignetting correction to “High” in-camera. This is true even if you’re shooting .NEF files. It’s not a big deal because you can always add or remove vignetting manually, but I recommend turning the in-camera corrections to “Medium” or “High” to minimize your post-production work.
There is a relatively low amount of lateral chromatic aberration on the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8, although it changes slightly based on your aperture. Here’s the chart:
Anything under about one pixel is almost impossible to notice in real-world images, even with chromatic aberration corrections turned off. I measure 0.99 pixels of chromatic aberration wide open, although it increases somewhat to 1.62 pixels as you stop down.
By comparison, the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 reaches 1.94 pixels of chromatic aberration at the highest. The real winner is the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8, which never exhibits more than 0.65 pixels of CA in our tests.
In any case, the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8’s chromatic aberration is not something to worry about. I only see it in real-world subjects with extremely high contrast, and even then, it’s minimal.
The moment you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s how the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 performs in terms of sharpness:
It’s a good, but not great result overall. Central sharpness is fairly high throughout the aperture range, even wide open at f/2.8. Midframe sharpness is a good bit weaker, whereas the corners on this lens are unfortunately not very sharp, even at their best aperture of f/5.6. It isn’t in the territory of the worst lenses we’ve ever tested, but among Nikon Z lenses specifically, everything we’ve tested beats that 1628 corner figure at least once.
This isn’t only something I notice in the lab. Here’s a photo with everything near infinity focus and an aperture of f/5.6, followed by crops to show this sharpness in the real world:
The central region of the photo is quite sharp. The following are 100% crops from the Nikon Z7 (a 960-pixel excerpt) with Lightroom’s default sharpening and noise reduction:
Midframe sharpness is still good, though weaker:
Corner sharpness is worse (brightened to show better):
Note that field curvature is contributing to this lack of sharpness – the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 has noticeable field curvature. If you’re using this lens, I have a simple recommendation for you: At overlooks where everything is near infinity focus, don’t autofocus in the center of the frame! This only exaggerates the effect of field curvature in the corners. Instead, move your focusing box to the midframe or edge of the composition, and then focus. You may find that the central region gets a bit less sharp when you do so, but the corners get more sharp, which is a better balance for most landscape photography.
Also, I noticed significant focus shift on the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8. When you’re taking pictures with this lens, make sure to set your aperture first, then focus second, rather than the other way around.
Finally, keep in mind that most of taking sharp photos isn’t about the lens, it’s about the photographer. You can still make large, high-quality prints from the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 so long as you use good technique in the field, post-processing, and printing.
Related to sharpness is coma, a lens aberration that can make dots of light in the corner of a photo look like smears. Coma isn’t usually visible in everyday photography, but for something like Milky Way or nighttime cityscape photography, it can be a big factor. Although I would prefer a wider or brighter lens – like a 14mm f/2.8 or 20mm f/1.8 – a 26mm f/2.8 isn’t bad for nighttime photography. So, I wanted to put its coma performance to the test.
The image shown below is a direct crops from the top-right corner of the Nikon Z7 with the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8, using no sharpening or noise correction. As before, it’s a 960-pixel excerpt.
This is a relatively high amount of coma, but it’s not unusable. Keep in mind that you’re looking at a very extreme crop above. In real photos, you need to zoom into the photo in order to see coma. The Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 still would not be my top choice for Milky Way photography, but it definitely works in a pinch.
Bokeh is another word for the qualities of the background blur in a photo. “Good” bokeh is completely subjective, since different photographers have their own preferences for how the background blur looks. That said, photographers commonly want their background blur to be soft, not distracting. Out-of-focus highlights that are round, uniform, and soft-edged are usually considered favorable.
The Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 doesn’t seem like a bokeh machine at first glance. Usually, longer prime lenses with a maximum aperture of at least f/1.8 are preferred. But the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 can focus pretty closely, and at f/2.8, you can certainly get out-of-focus backgrounds with this lens.
To my eye, the bokeh is surprisingly pleasant. It’s round and uniform, making for soft backgrounds most of the time. Specular highlights that are only slightly out-of-focus look busier, with a harsher edge, but that’s hardly uncommon in a lens like this.
Here are a few examples:
Note that while the background looks good in the photos above, the regions that are only slightly out of focus are harsher, with a bit of longitudinal chromatic aberration (AKA green and magenta color fringing):
In short, it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, either. For a 26mm lens, that’s all I was hoping for.
Sunstars and Flare
I was happy to see that the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 exhibits very low levels of flare even when the sun is in the frame. It retains a high level of contrast even in backlit situations like this:
That’s very good performance – better than most wide-angle zooms can manage. Even though the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 does not have most of Nikon’s advanced lens coatings, the relatively simple lens design is probably saving it here.
Still, in the sunstar example below, you can see that there is occasionally a blue or purple blob of flare when the sun is in the frame – nothing particularly concerning to my eye.
The Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 can produce good sunstars when you stop down to narrow apertures like f/16. In this respect, it’s better than the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8, which has pretty high flare and never produces any good sunstars.
Spencer: Well, I’m impressed by the flare control, how about that? Not a lot else strikes me as unusually good.
Nasim: Yeah, this lens isn’t great optically. You could make a case that it’s the worst Z lens we’ve tested in the lab, even though other non-Z lenses we’ve tested are still worse.
Spencer: In the lens’s defense, the crops in this review are like pressing your nose against a six-foot print. If you’re seeing these issues in an 11×14″ print, it’s not the lens’s fault.
Nasim: It rarely is, but these days, that’s a low bar.
The next page of this review dives into the sharpness numbers a bit more, with some comparisons against other lenses that Nikon users may be considering. So, click the menu below to go to “Sharpness Comparisons”:
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