If you want a 24mm prime lens for the Nikon Z system, two of your options are the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 and the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S. There’s a major price difference between them, but at least both lenses have autofocus capabilities and a Nikon Z mount! So, which one should you get?
Table of Contents
Without a doubt, the two lenses that I’m comparing today can be described as “budget” and “high-end” respectively. There’s a reason why the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 costs $380 and the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 costs $1000, and it’s not just about the brand name.
I’ll get into the image quality side of things momentarily, but it’s probably not much of a spoiler to say that the Nikon Z lens is clearly ahead in that regard. For now, let me focus on some of the other considerations first.
The biggest one that stands out to me is weatherproofing. The Viltrox 24mm f/1.8 does not have weather sealing at all, while the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S is extensively sealed. This alone could make the difference if you’re planning to use the lens in adverse conditions. Personally, as a landscape photographer, I’m always standing by my tripod in the rain waiting for the light to break – and I’d much rather trust the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S in that situation.
Another difference is handling. The Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 is an all-metal lens, while the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 has a mix of metal and plastic construction. Both feel well-built, but the Viltrox is smaller and lighter than the Nikon. It weighs 370 grams compared to the Nikon’s 450 grams (AKA 0.82 pounds versus 0.99 pounds). That’s probably not enough to matter, but it’s not invisible, either. The Viltrox also has a dedicated aperture ring, as you can see below:
In terms of autofocus, the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 definitely surprised me with its good autofocus performance – fast, accurate, and quiet. The Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S’s autofocus measures as slightly more consistent under lab conditions, but nothing that is likely to be obvious in real-world photography.
Finally, I should mention that there’s always some difference between first-party and third-party lenses. Nikon could always come out with a firmware update that harms the Viltrox’s autofocus performance. Props to Viltrox for building a USB-C port into the AF 24mm f/1.8, in order to mitigate this potential issue. But I still trust a native lens more than an off-brand lens, all else equal.
The Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S has much better vignetting performance than the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8. Not only is the Nikon lens much better wide-open, but upon stopping down, vignetting quickly reaches negligible levels on the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S. One of my biggest complains with the Viltrox is that it has noticeable vignetting even at landscape apertures like f/8 through f/16.
2. Lateral Chromatic Aberration
Both lenses control lateral chromatic aberration to a very impressive degree. You will rarely, if ever, see this type of color fringing with either lens in real-world photos, even with chromatic aberration corrections turned off.
The two lenses have very different distortion profiles, with the Viltrox measuring at 0.83% pincushion distortion and the Nikon measuring at -1.34% barrel distortion. This is a slight win for the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8, although neither lens has high enough distortion to be a nuisance in practice. I should also mention that the Viltrox’s distortion profile isn’t just simple pincushion distortion – it’s more of a wavy, mustache-shaped distortion, which can be a bit harder to remove completely in post-processing.
Now for the moment of truth! So far, the Viltrox lens is looking pretty good for the price, at least if you don’t need extensive weather sealing. But how do the two lenses perform in sharpness? Here’s what we measured in the lab.
It’s pretty clear that the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S is the sharper lens. Central sharpness is never particularly close – the Nikon is way ahead, even at the narrower apertures. Corner sharpness also favors the Nikon lens, but it doesn’t really pull away until f/4. And it’s really the midframes where we see the biggest disparity, because the Viltrox has extensive field curvature that harms its sharpness on flat subjects (such as overlooks where everything is near infinity focus).
Still, the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 is not a terrible performer and puts up a reasonable performance here. The Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S is simply one of the sharpest 24mm lenses we’ve ever tested, so it makes the Viltrox look worse by comparison.
Value and Recommendations
I don’t think that any photographers would seriously argue that the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 is a better lens than the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S. But is it a better value? At $380 rather than $1000, there’s definitely a case to be made.
To me, the biggest issues with the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 are the lack of weatherproofing and the high levels of vignetting throughout the aperture range. Sharpness also clearly favors the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S, but the Viltrox isn’t fatally bad in that department.
Personally, I would at least consider looking for a used copy of the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S before buying the Viltrox, as the Nikon can be found for some pretty good prices on eBay these days. It’s definitely the better lens, and if you can find a good price on a used copy, I would snap it up.
That said, the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 is obviously still cheaper. If you’re willing to work around some of its issues, you can get some great photos with the Viltrox and keep hundreds of dollars in your pocket along the way.
You can check the current prices, and support my testing efforts at Photography Life, at the following B&H affiliate links:
- Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S at B&H – Check prices and current sales
Let me know in the comment section if you have any questions about these two lenses! I’ve used them both in the field extensively and would be happy to help.