Sometimes, a lens that’s enjoyable to use will find a permanent place in your bag, even if it has some optical flaws. That’s how I feel about the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8, which is one of Nikon’s smallest and lightest lenses ever. I carried the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 around the world to Iceland, Zion National Park, and Yosemite National Park for months of field testing at Photography Life. The lens was so small and portable that I hardly noticed it at all. In today’s review, I’ll dive into everything I discovered about the Z 28mm f/2.8 so that you can decide if it’s the right lens for you.
Nikon released the 28mm f/2.8 in June 2021. Technically, it was the “SE” or “Special Edition” of the 28mm f/2.8 that was announced in June, while the normal version of the lens was announced later that year in November. The only difference between the two lenses is that the 28mm f/2.8 SE has a retro-styled exterior, while the standard 28mm f/2.8 does not. The optical design is exactly the same. Note that the Special Edition costs a whopping $10 more than the regular version ($310 vs $300, although seasonal sales can change things).
Even considering the Special Edition, the 28mm f/2.8 was released rather late. Lightweight mirrorless cameras need lightweight lenses to pair with them, or else they lose a big selling point. Yet for about three years, Nikon didn’t have any true pancake lenses (or “muffin” lenses like this one) to pair with their Z-series cameras, aside from the underwhelming 24-50mm f/4-6.3.
Thankfully, the 28mm f/2.8 righted the ship. The 40mm f/2 that came along soon afterwards (September 2021) added another good lightweight option, and the 26mm true pancake lens on Nikon’s roadmap also looks interesting. Ideally Nikon would also release an ultra-wide muffin lens like a 20mm f/4, and a moderate telephoto along the same lines, like a 70mm f/2.8. Personally, I hope that the 28mm f/2.8 and 40mm f/2 sell well enough to convince Nikon this is a good idea!
Speaking of selling well, with a price of $300, I expect this lens to do just that. It’s one of Nikon’s least expensive Z-series lenses so far, and it has a versatile focal length that pairs well both with FX cameras and DX cameras (where it’s approximately equivalent to a 40mm lens). The 28mm f/2.8 is the optimal size and price to use as a travel photography lens, or as a body-cap replacement to keep on your camera by default. When Nikon first announced it, I felt like it had a lot of potential.
However, in order to realize that potential, the lens needs to perform well and have the right features. Lots of lenses trade image quality for portability, and that’s not a tradeoff that everyone wants to make. How does the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 perform, then? In general, it’s a solid lens, but it isn’t perfect.
That impression starts with its specifications. Here’s the full list:
Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 Specifications
- Mount Type: Nikon Z Mount
- Focal Length: 28mm prime
- Angle of View (DX): 53°
- Angle of View (FX): 75°
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Aperture Blades: 7, rounded
- Filter Size: 52mm
- Lens Elements: 9
- Lens Groups: 8
- Special Elements: 2 aspherical
- ARNEO Coating: No
- Nano Crystal Coating: No
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Fluorine Coated Front Element: No
- Electronic Diaphragm: Yes
- Vibration Reduction: No
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Control Rings: One (generally used for manual focus)
- Function Buttons: None
- Focus Motor: 2 STM
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.19 m (7.6 inches)
- Maximum Magnification: 0.2× (1:5)
- Mount Material: Plastic
- Dimensions (Length × Diameter): 43 × 70 mm (1.7 × 2.8 inches)
- Weight: 155 g (5.5 oz)
- MSRP: $300
- Lowest Sale Seen: $280 (check current price)
We’re not looking at cream-of-the-crop specifications here. The Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 lacks most of Nikon’s anti-flare coatings, and it loses some points for water resistance with the lack of a fluorine-coated front element and rear rubber gasket. The plastic lens mount and simplistic design show that Nikon is using some of its cheaper components to make the 28mm f/2.8.
Here’s the lens element diagram of the Z 28mm f/2.8:
Interestingly, in the diagram above, the front of the lens is on the left. In other words, the smallest lens elements are at the front, and the largest elements are at the back. That’s really unusual for a wide-angle lens – not good or bad, just different. It’s probably because Nikon had different design goals for the 28mm f/2.8 in order to make it as small and light as possible.
Speaking of size and weight, the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 certainly is a small lens. At 155 grams, it’s the lightest full-frame Nikon Z lens yet, although the 26mm pancake on the roadmap is sure to be lighter. If portability is your top concern, you can’t do much better than the Z 28mm f/2.8. Only the Nikon Z 40mm f/2 and Nikon Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 are in the same ballpark among Nikon’s full-frame lenses, at 170 g and 195 g respectively. Everything else is double the weight or more.
As expected of a lightweight lens, the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 is mostly made of plastic. I don’t find that to be much of a concern; it saves weight compared to metal, and it’s really no less durable. There’s only one area of the lens were the plastic construction gives me pause, and that’s the lens mount.
Nikon’s choice of a plastic lens mount rather than metal is surely their most controversial decision on the Z 28mm f/2.8. I’ve long considered metal to be the better, more durable material for lens mounts over years of usage. However, in the interest of fairness, I should point out that plastic lens mounts have supporters of their own in the comments section of my Nikon Z 40mm f/2 review. One argument is that the plastic-metal interface is more waterproof than metal-metal interface of most lenses. Another is that the lens mount doesn’t easily degrade over time, even if they’re plastic.
I leave the decision in your hands, but I recommend checking out the full discussion in the 40mm f/2’s comment section here if you’re skeptical. (Also included in the comments is a technique to replace the plastic lens mount with a metal one, if you’re daring enough.) It’s still a case of Nikon cheaping out, but maybe it’s of no real concern for a lens as lightweight as this.
As for the rest of the build quality features, the lens has no moving external parts aside from the control ring. The filter thread is a tiny 52mm, which means you’ll need a step-up ring if you want to use more common 62mm+ filters on this lens.
Beyond that, due to the lack of a fluorine coating, water and dust tend to stick to the front element of the 28mm f/2.8 more than on some Nikon Z lenses. The minuscule size of the lens’s front element helps somewhat in rainy conditions, but it’s still a point against the lens for usage in harsh weather.
Other than that, I am actually pleasantly surprised with the 28mm f/2.8’s build quality and construction. Everything is built to tight tolerances, and there are internal dust/water seals for usage in tough environments. In my months of testing this lens – including more than a week testing it in Iceland in the winter – it always functioned like normal.
Now let’s cover the handling features of the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8.
The Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 has very few handling features at all. There are no switches on the lens, and there’s only one control ring (which 99% of photographers will keep assigned to manual focus). This puts it on the same level as the Nikon Z 40mm f/2 as one of Nikon’s sparsest lenses in decades.
At minimum, I would have liked to see an AF-M switch like you’d find on most other Nikon Z lenses. Because there isn’t one, you need to open the AF settings on the camera itself whenever you want to disable autofocus.
Still, the lack of handling features means that there’s not much to complain about, either. It’s a very straightforward lens that gets out of your way most of the time.
Next up, I’ll cover the optical characteristics of the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8, including focusing performance and sharpness tests in the lab. Click the menu below to go to the next page of this review, “Optical Features”:
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