Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Review: A Stunning Sunrise At Oxbow

The NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is an exceptional zoom lens for Nikon's Z full-frame mirrorless cameras, and ideal for landscape photography
Nikon offers two 24-70mm zooms for its Z series full-frame mirrorless cameras, the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S that’s available in a kit with the Z 6 and Z 7 bodies, and the newer, faster NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. There’s a lot to like about both lenses.

I own the Z 6 and NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S. The ƒ/4 is my go-to lens for landscape photography, so I was interested in trying out the ƒ/2.8 to compare it to the ƒ/4. On a trip this past fall to Jackson, Wyoming, I had the opportunity to shoot with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, and was very impressed with its image quality.

Sunrise image taken at Oxbow Bend with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
It was a magical morning at Oxbow Bend when I captured this image with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. Exposure: 1/13 sec., ƒ/11, ISO 1000.

Which is the best choice for you? And, if you bought the ƒ/4 as part of a kit with a Z camera as I did, is the ƒ/2.8 worth the upgrade? The answer depends a lot on your style of shooting and the typical end use of your images.

Interested in the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm? Check it out on B&H!

Size Comparison

One of the main physical differences between the two lenses from a portability perspective is that the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S is a retractable design, so when it’s fully collapsed in your bag, it measures just 3.5 inches in length. That’s considerably smaller than the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S which measures about 5 inches. The ƒ/4 also weighs a fair amount less than the ƒ/2.8, as you’d probably expect, at 17.7 ounces versus 24.8 ounces, respectively. If keeping size and weight of your system to an absolute minimum is desirable, the ƒ/4 has the advantage there.

Size comparison (roughly to scale) of the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S (left) and the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S (right, with the lens in its retracted position).

However, note that when the ƒ/4 is in use, the lens extends to about 4.25 inches at the 24mm end of the range and out to nearly 5.5 inches at 70mm. (The ƒ/2.8 model also increases in length when zooming, out to just over 6 inches at 70mm.)

Overall, the smaller size of the ƒ/4 is primarily a plus when packing your gear.

Speed

The most obvious advantage of the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S over the ƒ/4 is its larger maximum aperture. That will appeal immediately to portrait photographers who want the shallower depth of field for smooth, defocused backgrounds that the extra stop provides.

It’s also potentially an advantage in low light, but for most landscape work, you’re likely to be shooting from a tripod and at a mid-range or smaller aperture for greater depth-of-field, so a one-stop larger maximum aperture isn’t a huge benefit for landscape photography in those circumstances.

Image Quality

Here is where the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S really shines. I’ve been totally satisfied with the image quality of the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S, but the numbers don’t lie. DXOMARK, which does independent testing of camera and lens quality, states in their analysis of the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S that the lens is, “the best 24-70mm lens we have tested to date,” meaning not just Nikon lenses, but all 24-70mm lenses including the top models from Canon and Sony, and Nikon’s own 24-70mm f/2.8 for its DSLRs. The ƒ/4 scores relatively well, placing at number 6 on the list, but for ultimate image quality, you currently can’t beat the ƒ/2.8 S. Check out the DXOMARK review for MTF charts and a direct comparison between the ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4 lenses. Their review concludes by calling the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S “The new benchmark for 24-70mm lenses.”

Overall Value

Depending on the end use of your images, you may be completely satisfied with the more affordable ƒ/4. Modern camera technology enables the automatic correction of many common lens aberrations, and if your photography is primarily for personal enjoyment rather than professional uses, the travel-friendly, compact design of the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S and its lower price tag of $999 is appealing. But for pros and hobbyists who want the absolute best image quality and don’t mind paying roughly double ($1,999), the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is the reigning champ. Contact: Nikon, nikonusa.com.

Interested in the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm? Check it out on B&H!

Wes is the editor of Outdoor Photographer.
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