Nikon NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S Lens Review
What We Love. The Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S is hard not to love. Besides its key features like the nearly flat front element to allow screw-in filters and its collapsible design to make it compact during travel, this wide-angle zoom wonder is strapped with a few fine-tuned essentials. Those include excellent image quality, enhanced sharpness at the widest (constant) aperture, remarkable chromatic aberration minimization, breathtakingly quiet autofocusing and VR image stabilization, to name a few.
What We'd Change. The Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S is not exactly cheap at $1,299.95, but we can live with that. However, we were hoping for edge-to-edge sharpness at 14mm, as Nikon had promised. Additionally, we would have loved a wider constant aperture, as F/4 just isn’t good enough when shooting low light. And, it could be better at minimizing flare, ghosting and vignetting. While its nano-crystal coating minimizes ghosting and flare, it doesn’t do it as well as other premium lenses.
Pick This Up If... you’re a landscape, adventure, and interior photographer. Because this lens is compact and lightweight, the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S also a great lens to lug around with when you’re tramping around in the Great Outdoors. If you’re an enthusiast, the price might put you off, unless you’ve got deep pockets. But if you’re in need of a good wide-angle lens with a few aces up its sleeve, this one’s solid.
The Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S has been with us through thick and thin… air, that is, and at least for the three weeks. We shot around Los Angeles, up in the Hollywood Hills, and above the clouds in the San Gabriel mountains. And it has been a reliable adventure companion, touting things like dust and drip resistance as well as a collapsible design so that we won’t have to worry about it as we contend with heat, dust, and bugs on the trail.
In many ways, it’s an ideal wide-angle lens for shooting nature and landscapes, not to mention documenting epic adventures on the trail. But there’s no such thing as a perfect lens, and the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S is definitely isn’t as close to perfection as you can get. It’s got a few drawbacks, the most glaring of which is the fact that it has some noticeable softening especially at 14mm.
Still, it’s a solid lens with a bit of zoom versatility, and it could just be your ticket to getting better landscape and interior photos.
Nikon has loaned us the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S, sending alongside a Nikon Z 6 body, for testing. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an 82mm circular polarizer or ND filter to test this lens’ filter thread and flat front element design. With its constant F/4 aperture and advanced 5-axis VR image stabilization, we did manage to test it without using a tripod even once.
- Fits: Z-mount cameras
- Focal Length: 14-30mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/4
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Angle of View (diagonal): 90°00'-50°00'
- Lens Construction: 14 elements in 12 groups
- Minimum Focus Distance: 11in (0.28m)
- Filter Size: 82mm
- Max Length: 3.5 x 3.3 in (89 x 85 mm)
- Weight: 17.1 oz. (485 g)
- Aperture Blades: 7
- Standard Accessories: Hood, front cap, rear cap
Designed for Nikon’s Z-Mount mirrorless cameras, the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S is surprisingly compact and lightweight. That may be mostly due to its collapsible design – it has a collapsing mechanism that lets you retract it down to 3.34in (85mm) when not in use, both to save space and keep the lens more secure.
But that’s only a part of it. Even when not retracted, this lens is already decently compact, with a diameter of 3.5in (89mm) at its thickest and about 485g heavy. Compare that to the Nikkor 14-24mm F/2.8, which is 3.8in (98mm) at its thickest and 1,000 g, and to the Sigma 14-24 F/2.8, which is at 3.8in (96.4mm) and 1,150g. Then you’ll really know that this camera is meant for photographers who are looking for a wide-angle that won’t take up too much space or weight in their backpacks.
The Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S also boasts dust and moisture sealing. Unfortunately, it’s been mostly dry in Los Angeles when we were testing it, so we couldn’t put it through the wringer, weather-wise. But we did take it on a 4.15-mile loop to Glendale Peak and Mt. Hollywood, as well as a 5.2-mile loop hitting Mount Lowe and San Gabriel Peak, and it survived the dusty trails beautifully.
It also did a great job repelling dust and dirt from covering the front element, thanks to that fluorine coating. The barrel kept largely clean as well, thanks to its matte coating, even though we had the camera exposed to the elements during our day trips. That said, the rubber zoom ring attracted particles more.
There’s no doubt that this lens is made of the good stuff – it has to be with that price and the fact that it has that collapsible mechanism. While we haven’t dropped or tortured it to, it does feel solid and durable, which again goes back to how it’s an ideal lens for outdoor adventures.
The Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S isn’t only easy to carry; it also handles effortlessly. Sure, the camera might constantly remind you to extend the lens – if you’re like us and you want to keep it tucked neatly while you’re on the move – but retracting it gets easier with practice until it becomes second nature.
The zoom or focal length ring handles beautifully, with the focal lengths marked for convenience, as does the control ring closer to the mount. This control ring is customizable, providing a level of personalization. While it is set for manual focusing at default (there’s a focus switch nearby on the left side for quick toggling from AF to MF), you can also set it for aperture control or for exposure compensation, depending on what best suits your creative process.
Wrapping up its ergonomics and ease-of-use nicely is its advanced 5-axis vibration reduction, which Nikon reinforces with an additional electronic VR image stabilization, to eliminate camera shake and vibration. It’s a pretty solid addition, and although we still found some shaky shots, it still did its job in many low-light situations, a plus when you're a stop down from an F/2.8 lens.
SPEED & FOCUS
Nikon has strapped the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S with its own Stepping Motor (STM), which gives the lens a smooth, fast, and super quiet autofocusing. This is worth mentioning here, as this motor really does work wonders. The AF system is so silent we didn't hear it once during our tests.
The autofocusing is precise and smooth, as well, and it hasn’t failed us yet. Although it’s also worth noting that sometimes, there’s a bit of a delay when you’ve switched focus points. On the upside, it’s a fraction of a second delay, hardly noticeable, and it doesn’t happen often. It will hardly affect your process unless you’re shooting action shots, which you probably won’t do much of which wide-angle lenses.
With only 7 diaphragm blades and a maximum aperture of F/4, don't expect super creamy, super smooth bokeh. We found the bokeh smoothest and most circular at 30mm, but it starts to have a more polygonal shape when you get wider until all seven blades are unmistakable at 14mm.
It would have been awesome to get a larger constant aperture, so that you get elements that blend more beautifully in the backgrounds, but then again, since this is a wide-angle lens meant for landscape and interior photography, you’ll probably be using smaller apertures more.
The good news is that it has a maximum focusing distance of 0.92 ft (0.28m), so you can get pretty close to your subjects if you’d like to isolate them more.
The only real issue we have with this lens is that while Nikon has promised edge-to-edge sharpness even when shooting wide open, the Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S doesn’t actually get as sharp as we would have liked. Not at 14mm, especially.
It does get sharper around the corners at longer focal lengths from 20mm to 30mm, but at its widest, it gets some corner softening. Not that it’s very noticeable and bad, mind you, but if you’ve got a discerning eye, you will see it.
Still, there’s excellent sharpness at the center at all focal lengths, and Nikon reinforces that with just outstanding image quality that’s crisp and clean. Thanks to four aspherical lenses, there’s hardly any signs of chromatic aberration or purple fringing, even in high contrast situations, or spherical aberration.
Unfortunately, despite Nikon’s attempts to minimize flare and ghosting with four ED (extra-low dispersion) glass, you’ll see minor flaring and ghosting even when the lens isn’t pointed directly at the light source.
Additionally, there’s some minor vignetting happening, though you can easily get rid of it in post.
Not that any of its flaws prevent this lens from being an excellent wide-angle glass. In fact, it’s strengths and extra feature more than make up for its faults. And, we’ve gotten so great shots with this lens without even trying.
The only thing we regret here is not being able to utilize the lens’ filter thread because we didn’t have an 82mm filter handy. Having a flatter front element and a filter thread is not very common with this type of lens, giving landscape photographers that use this lens the ability to screw on their favorite filters without hassle, and it would have been awesome to take advantage of it during our tests.
PROS & CONS
- Light, compact and retractable
- Center sharpness
- Impressive chromatic aberration correction
- Dual Detect 5 Axis VR image stabilization
- Constant aperture
- Dust and moisture sealing
- Customizable control ring
- Soft corners
- Ghosting and flare reduction not as good
- Some vignetting
- A tad pricey
The Nikkor Z 14-30mm F/4 S is a fantastic lens, period. It may have its shortcomings -- softening at the corners, and signs of ghosting, flare and vignetting-- but let’s face it, there’s no such thing as a perfect lens. And while this one does have some room for improvements, it’s already an incredible lens as it is.
Not just because it takes excellent images that are sharp and clean, but also because it’s trimmed with many features that make it an ideal companion when you’re out on the field. Retractability, weather sealing, compact and lightweight design, and of course, its flat front element and filter thread – a distinctive feature – that allows landscape photographers to simply strap on their favorite filters without hassle.
The bottom line is this: we enjoy shooting with this lens, we like carrying it on strenuous hikes, and more importantly, we love the images it yields. The rest hardly matters.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.