Initial Thoughts on the Nikkor Z 24-70mm F2.8 and Nikon Z 7 (Updated)

 

Firstly, I still don’t feel like I’ve had enough time to fully come to terms with the Nikon Z 7. I’ve used it often but it takes months to be accustomed to working with a new camera, even as a camera reviewer with nearly 20 years’ experience (first in print and then online).

Plusses include build and viewfinder quality even for my aging eyesight. It also has enough modes to accommodate a wide range of shooting scenarios including the new Eye-detection AF option which allows you to easily switch between left and right eyes using the joystick (or sub-selector, as Nikon call it). That’s a nice feature but it doesn’t as far as I can tell focus on the iris (see comments further down on the performance at F2.8, and this is at 70mm, where lenses like this aren’t usually at their best). At close range, the large square AF target focuses on the eyebrow more often than not, and when positioned further away – AF target usefully resizes using a smaller square frame over the eye more than the eyebrow, but even then it will focus on the upper eyelid or eyelash instead.

I have also have a couple of issues with one of the important manual focusing aids of the Z 7 camera. That’s to say I would like to see focus peaking better integrated. Although, Nikon has done a quite a good job with it, for example, it can be used when zoomed into the image, it would be useful to be able temporarily switch it off when confirming the composition. It would after all be easy to implement that alongside the options to reduce viewfinder and/or monitor clutter, that is unless I’ve missed an option in the menu (easy to do, as I don’t find Nikon menus particularly intuitive). It’s also a limitation that the peaking and the zoomed in option can’t be used when focusing stopped down beyond the AF-system’s F5.6 limit. I suspect the answer to all of these questions is contrast, or lack thereof, but let’s hope they’re working on it. The only workaround in the meantime is to use a highly developed tethered-camera operation such as that found in Capture One Pro.

Those niggling issues aside, for the most part the Nikon Z 7 sensor performs as well as the D850’s in terms of dynamic range and noise response and like every other camera in terms of resolution, it has to be matched to the right lens to maximise its potential.

Some lenses stress sensors more than others.

Although I can’t speak for DxOMark here (and these observations are mine and not those of DxOMark’s) what I didn’t say when writing the Nikon Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S review there is that it achieved the highest Sharpness ‘score’ of any Nikkor lens tested to date. The Nikon Z 7 sensor with the right lens is certainly capable of resolving very fine detail.

While the Nikkor Z 24-70mm F4 S didn’t perform to the same level in terms of resolution – how could it? – the 24-70mm F4 S lens is clearly designed with other considerations in mind. Namely, compactness with good image quality. If you look at the lens profiles at the DxOMark site, it has outstanding symmetry in sharpness from F4 no less – and it performs very well at all focal lengths. But the price for that, the concession, is outright resolution. Part of that will be down to the lens’ symmetry and pretty decent sharpness at all focal lengths but the forced distortion correction profile built-in as part of the optical design will also play its part. Stretching pixels damages high frequency detail rendition. Overall the lens is a good performer optically. It has very good large structure contrast and pleasing rendering and colour, just not very high resolution. It’s a trade-off for the compact dimensions.

The Nikkor Z 24-70mm F4 S is certainly attractive in size; it matches the smaller proportions of the Nikon Z 7 and Z 6 but it doesn’t have the build quality of the Nikkor Z 24-70mm F2.8 S.

Even the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F4 S which is supposed to be of similar level to the 24-70mm F4 S feels and looks slightly better made (no play on the extending barrel and visibly better looking material construction) but it doesn’t possess the attention to detail that the 24-70mm F 2.8 S has. Besides having the display, an extremely useful programmable button and a decent quality flocked hood (using fabric rather than paint) with a locking button to lessen mechanical twisting of the extending barrel, it feels built to last. So clearly the F2.8 models are made to a higher spec.

I was never really enamoured with the Nikkor F versions, the build didn’t seem quite in keeping for a pro-oriented Nikkor and the zoom rings on both were far from smooth, while performance was less than stellar (though admittedly still pretty good). Just compare it with the Canon equivalent. The new Nikkor Z version, however, is a completely different proposition, and it has reversed my feelings that Nikon never really put enough effort (or resources) into this key lens in the range. My impression is that Nikon feel the lens is most likely to be bought by press photographers (using out-of-camera JPEGs mostly, and thus can rely on in camera correction). Nevertheless, its appeal is much broader than that. It’s a lens that makes or breaks systems, and if you don’t get it right you stand to alienate your user base.

As mentioned above, this new lens represents a change of direction, at least in this cornerstone product. The new Nikkor Z variant is quite a handful on the diminutive Z 7 but handling overall is much improved. The Z 7 would be even better in this regard if there was a battery grip option but most of the internet is more concerned with the fact there’s just one XQD slot. Yes, it would have been better to have two, or even if that was supplemented by an SD UHS-II, like the Phase One IQ4 backs.

Still the zoom ring is much smoother and the inclusion of both a focus collar and separate control ring is an improvement. Though to be fair not everyone is going to like the distance between them. I personally prefer the layout of the Canon RF lenses, where the focus collar and ring are side-by-side allowing quick movement between them, which is useful when manual focusing and adjusting the aperture or exposure compensation. The built-in display has received much criticism online but the option to display the distance with a depth of field scale looks as if it may be very useful when there’s time to use it. While it could be improved, it looks a lot more than just a gimmick. Wouldn’t it be great if it could adapt to the sensor resolution’s CoC? Of course it might already or could potentially in the future. I’m not holding out for that but if it’s accurate, it will be useful.

What are the downsides? While further testing is required, from my own field tests open aperture performance isn’t great – though likely better than the previous Nikkor F models. That may or may not be a deal breaker for some – it would have been nice – but performance at F4 is significantly higher. We’ll have to wait and see the results from DxOMark.

Check prices and availability of the Nikkor Z 24-70mm F2.8 S

B&H Photo (US)

Amazon (US/Canada/UK)

Wex Photo (UK)

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