The Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is a standard zoom with lens outstanding optical performance and a pro-grade build.
Nikon understands that if it wants to get pros excited about its mirrorless system, it needs to have the lenses to match. So it's no surprise that the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S ($2,299.95), a must-have lens for most working photographers, is an early entry. Nikon's most recent take on the design is an exceptional performer, one of the sharpest 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms we've seen for any system, but it also comes with a premium price—it's one of the most expensive lenses of this type on the market. That doesn't stop it from earning Editors' Choice marks—it's the standard zoom you'll want to pair with your Nikon Z camera for sure.
The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 is around the same size and weight as similar lenses for other systems. It measures 4.9 by 3.5 inches (HD), weighs 1.8 pounds, and supports 82mm front filters. If you prefer a smaller, lighter zoom, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S is probably a better fit. It captures half the light at maximum aperture, but is just 3.5 by 3.1 inches and 1.1 pound.
We're used to seeing striking gold accents on Nikon's top-end SLR lenses, but the company has gone down a different design road with its mirrorless Z lenses. The Z 24-70mm f/2.8 is finished in matte black and all of the markings are in plain white text. Front and rear caps, a reversible hood, and a soft carrying pouch are included.
The lens is protected from dust and moisture, just like Z 6 and Z 7 camera bodies. Internal seals keep drops of water from getting inside the lens, and a fluorine front coat keeps them off the glass. Fluorine repels grease and moisture, so it's very easy to clean the front element to keep it free of drops and fingerprint smudges.
There are two control buttons—L-Fn and Display (marked as Disp.), the latter of which works with the OLED information display, which we'll talk about later. L-Fn is a programmable button, set via the camera menu. It can be set to activate or lock autofocus or exposure, change the metering pattern, or perform sundry other functions.
The lens has three control rings. The narrowest is at the base and acts as an aperture or EV compensation control ring. It turns smoothly, but does offer a little bit of resistance, so it's easier to make fine adjustments than a Z lens, which doubles the functionality of the manual focus ring and control ring, like the Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S.
Still, I'd like to see Nikon reduce the sensitivity, or offer an activation delay option for the ring, via firmware; as it stands, it's just a little bit too hard to dial in fine adjustments with the control ring. The Z 24-70mm f/2.8 ring is positioned so you're not likely to turn it inadvertently, but I still turn the function off when shooting with a Z camera—turning the ring on other lenses by accident is still way too easy to do.
The zoom ring sits in the middle of the barrel. It's finished in rubber, complete with ridges to make it easier to turn. It has marks at the 24, 28, 35, 50, and 70mm positions, but there's no lock as you find on other zooms. It doesn't seem to be necessary, as I didn't encounter any issues with the gravity pulling the barrel toward the telephoto position when the lens was pointing straight down. This is despite the barrel having a bit of extension when zoomed in.
Finally there's the manual focus ring. It's positioned at the front of the lens and turns comfortably in either direction, without hard stops. The A/M switch, used to chang focus modes, is located on the left side of the barrel, on the smaller portion that's closest to the lens mount.
Manual focus is electronic, without a linear response, so turning the focus ring more quickly will make more dramatic adjustments to focus. You have to remember to turn the ring slowly to make fine focus adjustments. It makes the lens a less-than-ideal choice for cinematographers working in manual focus. On the other hand, its autofocus motor is smooth and silent, a plus for vloggers and other videographers who prefer to use autofocus.
Focus is available to 15 inches (38cm), which gives the lens a decent 1:4.5 maximum life-size magnification. Most 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses offer similar close-up performance. If you want a standard zoom that gets you closer, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S focuses close enough to project subjects at 1:3.3 life-size.
Nikon doesn't include image stabilization in this lens—it's included in the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR for Nikon SLRs, which can be used with a Z camera using the FTZ adapter. But Z cameras use stabilized image sensors, so the lens still delivers steady results.
The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is the first Nikon lens with a digital information display, a feature we've seen in the Zeiss Batis family of lenses (for Sony mirrorless cameras) and a few others. It's an OLED display, just like the one you find on Z 6 and Z 7 top plates.
The display is activated by pressing the Disp. button, just to its left. The button also toggles what is displayed—you can have it show the focal length, aperture, or the set focus distance and depth of field scale. The scale shows in meters by default, but can be set to feet—change the settings by holding the button down and use the manual focus ring to switch between feet and meters.
The depth of field scale is ostensibly the most useful feature of the panel, but it's not displayed in any sort of meaningful way. It shown as a bar underneath the displayed focus distance—the bar is wider when the depth of field is greater, and narrower when it's shallower. It's a fine visual representation of the effect, but lacks the precision to be useful for true hyperfocal camera work. I'd love to see Nikon improve its utility via a firmware update.
I tested the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S in the field with both the 24MP Nikon Z 6 and the 45.7MP Z 7. In the lab, I paired the lens with the Z 7 and analyzed its output using software from Imatest to check its optical performance.
In short, it's a stunner. At 24mm f/2.8 it manages 4,401 lines on a center-weighted analysis, which is toward the top of our excellent scale on a high-resolution camera body. Image quality is strong almost all the way to the edges, but even the periphery shows 3,954 lines—at the top of the very good range. It's the type of image quality we expect from a 24mm prime lens, so seeing it in a zoom is no small thing.
Because it's as good as it is at f/2.8, there's not much improvement as you stop down. Resolution holds steady at f/4, f/5.6, and f/8. Diffraction starts to set in at f/11, but the lens still puts up a strong 4,094 lines. Results remain good at f/16 (3,601 lines), but output is just okay at f/22 (2,804 lines).
At 35mm f/2.8 the zoom delivers 3,973 lines on the Z 7, with edges that show about 3,309 lines. There's a slight uptick at f/4 (4,083 lines) and f/5.6 (4,133 lines), and edges climb to around 3,700 lines at both settings. At this focal length the best performance is at f/8, where the lens shows an average 4,200-line score and edges lag only slightly behind (3,930 lines). The expected drop in clarity starts at f/11 (4,143 lines) and continues at f/16 (3,737 lines) and f/22 (3,020 lines).
We see a little bit of resolution loss at the edges at 50mm. At f/2.8 the average score is a strong 3,822 lines, but edges drop to 3,055 lines. I wouldn't fret at all—the periphery is still good, and depth of field will blur the background in many of the images you make at this focal length. Resolution improves as you stop down—3,761 lines at f/4, 3,858 at f/5.6, 4,186 at f/8, and 4,160 at f/11. For landscape shots, set to f/8 or f/11, as both settings will net excellent resolution from center to edge. As with other settings, resolution drops at smaller f-stops—3,754 lines at f/16 and 3,057 lines at f/22.
At 70mm f/2.8 the resolution drops a little bit, to 3,329 lines. It's the weakest f/2.8 performance from the zoom, but is still solidly good. Edge resolution is lower (2,788 lines), but again, will be blurred due to the shallow depth of field at 70mm f/2.8 for the most part.
There's no real change in performance at f/4, but we see a little bit of an upgrade at f/5.6 (3,446 lines), with edge resolution lagging behind the average by about 100 lines. At f/8 it climbs to 3,794 lines, with even performance from center to edge, and it's best at f/11 (4,002 lines). You can still comfortably shoot at f/16 (3,708 lines), but I'd avoid using f/22 (3,120 lines) due to resolution loss.
The zoom shows surprisingly little distortion—just about one percent barrel distortion at its wide angle and academic amounts at longer focal lengths. Nikon Z cameras perform automatic corrections, even to Raw files, so it likely has some help. But the output is what matters and this is as distortion-free a standard zoom as you'll find anywhere, for all practical purposes.
If the lens has an optical flaw it's the vignette. We looked at its output with the default Normal correction, as well as with correction disabled. Even with corrections turned on, there's noticeable dimming as you approach the corners of the frame. We see -3.3EV at 24mm and it ranges down to -2.6EV at 70mm; with corrections disabled there is a -4.4EV drop at 24mm and a -3.9EV deficit at 70mm.
The vignette effect is lessened, but not eliminated, at f/4, and isn't really visible in images at smaller f-stops. Whether or not it's a big deal is up to you—it's something you can correct for using Raw software as desired with ease.
The Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is an absolutely killer zoom. It delivers exceptional sharpness, even when paired with a demanding, high-resolution image sensor, with little distortion through its zoom range. If it has an optical drawback it's the vignette, but modern image processing software makes compensating for it a minor thing.
Build quality is excellent as well. The lens is protected from weather and the fluorine coating makes it easier to keep clean. I didn't find the information display to be that useful, but your mileage may vary and it certainly doesn't detract from functionality. Nikon does have some work to do to make its control ring system more useful in general, but the position and damping of the ring on this lens is better than what I experienced with the 35mm f/1.8 and 24-70mm f/4 lenses.
At $2,300, the 24-70mm f/2.8 S isn't inexpensive. Sigma and Tamron both offer more budget-friendly 24-70mm lenses in F-mount that can be used with a Z camera via the FTZ lens adapter, but they deliver budget-level performance to match.
I think the Z 24-70mm f/4 S is a better option if you want to spend less. You lose the f/2.8 aperture, but it's smaller and less expensive than either the Sigma 24-70mm Art or Tamron 24-70mm G2 lenses, especially when you add the FTZ adapter to the kit.
But if you can afford it, get the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. It's just a lovely lens all around, and our Editors' Choice.
Bottom Line: The Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is a standard zoom with lens outstanding optical performance and a pro-grade build.
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Lead camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H... See Full Bio
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