This is what you’ll get if you buy one of the mirrorless Nikon Z 6 or Z 7 cameras as part of a kit, but as one of Nikon’s S series of primes it’s meant as a ‘premium’ model. While we’ve yet to see what one of the ‘standard’ models is like build-wise, this sober-looking lens is a step or two above the DX equivalent zooms in the company’s range. It’s nicely made but it’s not quite up to the pro-oriented build of the Nikkor Z 24-70mm F2.8 S (reviewed here).
Still, with a part-plastic part-metal outer, this is intended as lightweight and compact design. It even has a retractable mechanism to keep it small when not in use – like the later Nikkor Z 14-30mm F4. Nikon has added a thin, serrated control ring designated for manual focusing but it can be customised from the camera menu to perform aperture selection or EV correction instead. Autofocus using a single stepping motor is practically silent too. All of which are very useful, especially if you intend to use it for occasional video capture. Indeed these lenses are better suited for video than the majority of their F-mount models, except perhaps for the AF-P series that use similar tech anyway.
Inside there are 14 elements arranged in 11 groups and it achieves a minimum focus distance of 30 cm with a 0.3x magnification, which is useful at 70mm for close ups. Exotic glass includes an aspherical ED element and three aspherical elements all of which bumps up the price but also serve to reduce chromatic aberration, coma and distortion while keeping it relatively compact. It also features a Nano Crystal coating in addition to Nikon’s usual Super Integrated Coatings to reduce flare and ghosting. Given the high price you might expect it to have stabilisation but that’s not the case. While that’s perhaps understandable with the current bodies (both have in-body sensor stabilisation), that might not always be the case.
Image quality from the Nikkor Z 24-70mm F4 S [advertiser link] is very good, even at the widest aperture. Admittedly, resolution is on the low side at F4, but at 24mm the image has excellent large structure contrast and a very attractive drawing style which makes for some very compelling imagery.
Contrast is noticeably lower at 70mm wide open, where this lens is at its weakest. This improves at F5.6, as does resolution throughout the focal range and it’s highly consistent across the frame, the latter being unusual for a lens like this.
Somewhat controversially, it has a built-in lens profile for additional distortion and chromatic aberration correction. This can’t be overridden in ACR/Lightroom but, if you’re curious, it can be switched off in Capture One Pro. Then you’ll notice the rather high levels of distortion and fringing. Still, both do a good job at automatically interpreting corrections. However, if you want more control, Capture One can arguably offer a better, more balanced result overall.
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B&H Photo (US)
If you’re looking for a good all-round performer, this lens won’t disappoint. If you’re being picky, the resolution is a little low at F4 on the Nikon Z 7 but its perceived sharpness is still very good and the way the lens draws is very attractive. One stop down from F5.6 onwards and the contrast and resolution are excellent for a zoom.
In nearly all other respects its build, handling and AF performance make it a pleasure to use. At around $997 / £899, it is pricey when bought separately but as part of kit it’s far more reasonable. The only other slight downside is the bundled hood. While it works as intended, like a lot of Nikon hoods it’s very tight fitting. The mechanism used to lock the hood in place puts unnecessary rotational stress on the barrel, which is far from ideal. Designs with locking buttons are more desirable but they’re only found on higher end models.
Attractive rendering/drawing style
Good build and handling
Lowish resolution at F4
Poorly designed hood
Pricey when bought separately