The new Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E ED VR is the workhorse of the professional documentary photographer. Everything you might expect from a lens is on it: bright, nano-coating, image stabilization, electronic aperture, splashwater-tight finish. You do pay a price for that: the lens is large and heavy, and the price is substantial as well. Usually, professional photographers work with a camera with a full-frame sensor, like the Nikon D750, D810 or the D4s. They will have to be a bit patient, since we are starting as a pre-test with the review of the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E on a Nikon D7200. In terms of pixel density, that is the toughest resolution test: the number of pixels per mm on a DX7200 sensor beats out the number of pixels per mm on a 50-megapixel full-frame sensor. On a D7200 APS-C/DX camera, the zoom range corresponds with the field of view of a 36 – 105 mm on FX. Is that a logical combination, and is the lens worth the money?
3 bright lenses in one?
The Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E replaces the 24-70 mm f/2.8 and makes up part of the 12-24 mm, 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm series. All bright (f/2.8) and very solid professional lenses with ‘state-of-the-art’ technology. The 12-24 mm has no image stabilization (and needs it the least), the other two do.
The new 24-70 mm stands out in terms of dimensions: It is a good bit longer (154 mm) than comparable lenses from other brands and has also grown significantly in comparison with its already-hefty predecessor. For a zoom with this range, the lens is really extremely long, and when zooming to 24, it becomes even longer. The front lens is colossally big (filter mount 82 mm); a polarized filter with this diameter is going to cost a pretty penny!
The lens has no fewer than 20 glass elements in 16 groups, and the weight reflects this (1070 grams). Such a lens can in principle replace three fixed focal lengths, but then we do note that for the price and the weight of such a 24 -70 mm, you can buy three outstanding Nikkor fixed focal lengths with higher brightness, like for example the 24 mm f/1.8, the 35 mm f/1.8 and the 85 mm f/1.8. You are then missing the vibration reduction in the wide-angle (where you need it the least). You will have to change lenses from time to time. But that is something that a professional photojournalist usually has no time for.
Build and auto focus
Both the zoom ring and the focus ring are smooth as a hot knife through butter.
You will not find construction more solid than this. Nearly everything is metal and sealed well. The included lens hood now snaps onto the lens in a different way, so that it will not easily fall off. The lifespan of this high-class lens will outlast many shutters. There is an MF/M-AF switch with three modes: off, normal and “active” (for panning). Thanks to the Silent Wave AF-motor, you can safely turn “through the focus,” without having to use the AF/MF switch, which works quite fast. The lens has nano-coating for the reduction of “flare,” ghosts from strong backlighting. In addition, both the front lens and the back lens are equipped with a dust-repellent Fluor-coating, as in the very best modern telephoto lenses. Less dust and grime in the images. But because the lens becomes a good bit longer with zooming out, it works like a kind of air pump, and dust also of course comes in with that air. Dust in the lens, however, is much less quickly visible in a shot than dust on the front lens or the rear lens element.
Due to a new and stronger AF motor, the auto focus is remarkably fast for a lens with so much moving glasswork. In our standard test, we found—pretty much independent of the focal length—an average of around 350 milliseconds. Fast for a zoom lens, but not exceptional for a fixed focal length. We cannot fail to report that with the 24-70 mm in the test setup did one time have a time of more than a second, and even one total miss. But on the whole, the camera focuses quickly and accurately.In this shot, you see the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E next to the Tokina AT-X PRO FX with the same zoom range. The difference in length is striking for a zoom lens with the same zoom range and the same target audience. The builders have chosen very different solutions in the design. The Nikon even becomes a good bit longer when zooming out to 24 mm.
The naming f/2.8E already indicates that we have here a lens with an electronically driven aperture. So far, the Nikon lenses with F-mount have a sliding tab that is attached to the body by a pin in order to close the aperture. This tab is missing on the lenses with the ‘E’ in the name; the operation happens here with an electromagnet. According to Nikon, that is faster (which we believe) and more accurate (which we will have to wait and see). It is certain that the aperture only works on modern bodies that send out a digital aperture signal. On older Nikon bodies, the aperture does not work, and you can only shoot at full aperture. Those who are planning to use the lens on older cameras first have to look at the compatibility table. The aperture has nine lamellae for a beautifully round opening and great bokeh.
The image stabilization, relative to the previous model, is also improved, and we cannot help but be impressed by the performance. A benefit of 4 stops is pure and simply achievable, and we shot by hand in the 50 mm mode with the D7200 even at 1/6 of a second. Something like that is naturally an enormous bonus for the documentary photographer who often has to work under poor lighting conditions.100% image excerpts from 4 shots made at 50 mm: Left with image stabilization. Right without. Top with a fast shutter time (1/100 sec). Bottom with a long shutter time (1/6). The shot made with a shutter time of 1/6 of a second with VR (no. 3) is even sharper than the shot made at 1/100 sec without image stabilization. At short shutter times (~1/100 sec) VR active delivers better results than VR normal. With longer shutter times, the two VR modes are equally good.
Vignetting, Chromatic Aberration, Distortion
In this review, we are working with the 24-70 mm on a Nikon D7200 APS-C body. The extreme corners of the lens, where the most lens errors always appear, then fall outside the DX sensor image. Under those circumstances, you do not expect any problems with vignetting and chromatic aberration, and those were absent. The lens is not completely free of distortion, certainly not in the telephoto mode or wide-angle mode, but this is actually normal for a zoom lens and is simple to correct.
During the testing period, we did not see the sun, so there are no practice shots to search for “flare.” Given the nano-coating, there will be practically none. In artificial light, we did not notice it in any case.
The design of a 24-70 mm zoom lens that performs well on a modern sensor across the whole zoom range is a challenge that should not be underestimated.
Practically all camera and lens manufacturers are involved in a race against the clock in order to release as many lenses as possible, which lets the resolution of a 50-megapixel sensor come into its own. That is not the case with most slightly older lenses. For a modern lens in this price class, you can expect outstanding detail sharpness, and this top model certainly does not disappoint. After stopping down a couple of stops, MTF50 values above2000 LW/PH for unsharpened RAW files were achieved. The resolution is better than that of its predecessor. Very good, but not exceptionally good. There are other zoom lenses and fixed-focal point lenses that reach the same level (or even a bit better: look, for example, at the recent f/1.8 series from Nikon) for a good bit less money. Check our lens comparison, where you can compare zoom lenses on individual focal lengths with lenses that have a fixed focal length. Below is a practice shot made at 24 mm f/8.
Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E + D7200 @ 24 mm, 400 ISO, f/8, 1/500 sec
Conclusion Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E on D7200
- Widely usable zoom range
- Exceptionally sturdy and well-built
- Very good image stablization
- Very good optical properties
- Fast auto focus
- Very big and heavy
This Nikon 24-70 mm f/2,8E is primarily intended for professional photographers, who cannot spare the time to change lenses during a shoot. For this group, this is an indestructible workhorse with very good optical properties, fast AF and outstanding image stablization. The fluorine coating and the extra sealing against dust and spleashwater make this zoom lens distinctive as a workhorse relative to many other lenses.
But this lens is big, heavy and expensive (list price € 2500). We are not saying that it is too expensive for a professional photographer, but that the quality and lifespan are insufficient justifications for amateur use. Putting such a lens on an APS-C camera is actually a waste. The zoom range is less broadly usable than, for example, the zoom range of the recently released Nikon 16-80 mm f/2.8-4. We advise the amateur to check out the 16-80. That saves about 1000 euros.
How well the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E performs on a D810, we will let you know within a couple of weeks.