Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S Lens Review
What We Love. There are quite a few things we love about the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S. Its versatile focal range. Its retractable design. Sharp imaging. And a speedy autofocusing system. But wait, there's more! We’re also fans of how clean images are, with minimal ghosting and flare, and hardly any chromatic aberration, as well as its extensive weather sealing, customizable control ring and minimal focus distance of less than a foot. This is a lens we know we can rely on for many shooting situations and whatever type of activity we’re doing, whether it’s a kid’s birthday party or camping on a secluded island off the California coast.
What We’d Change. Although included with the Nikon Z6 or Z7 as a kit lens option, if you buy the 27-70mm f/4 S separately, it'll set you back a cool grand, which is a lot to pay for an f/4 maximum aperture, especially when Canon and Sony's competing kit lenses offer a 24-105mm focal length. The retractable design is also, at times, annoying and has the potential to make you miss a crucial shot. Still, the fact that we could only think of two things to moan about says a lot about how good this lens is.
Pick This Up If… you’re a Nikon Z6 or Z7 shooter. Every photographer needs a standard zoom lens in their arsenal and this is a fantastic kit lens. Unless, of course, you have the money to burn on the $2,300 NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S (review coming soon!).
| Aperture Priority | 28mm | F/22 | 5 | ISO 50 |
There’s nothing standard about the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens. (You know, besides its technical designation as a standard zoom lens.) One of the three lenses that Nikon rolled out to launch its Z series (and the only zoom lens of the bunch), it’s hardly a surprise that this lens has a lot to offer – that is, if we were to go by our experience with the other two Z-mount lenses, the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S and the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S.
Admittedly, at $999.95, it seems a little pricey, but this excellent lens more than makes up for blowing the budget of many non-pro photographers. And, if we owned a Z camera, we would happily pay that price for its versatility, sharpness, whether-sealing and compact design.
We took this lens on a very short backpacking trip on the rugged and secluded Anacapa Island in California to test its image quality, build and lightweight design. And, we are happy to report that it is as good as it’s cracked up to be.
We tested the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S alongside the Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S and the Z 50mm f/1.8 S on the Nikon Z6. To shoot the light trail photos in this review, we used our trusty (if aging) Manfrotto BeFree tripod. For backpacking, we clipped the camera and lens on our pack strap using Peak Design’s Capture clip.
- Fits: Z-mount system
- Focal Length: 24-70mm
- Maximum Aperture: F4
- Minimum Aperture: F22
- Angle of View (diagonal): 84° to 34° 20'
- Lens Construction: 14 Elements in 11 Groups
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.99 ft. (0.3m.) from focal plane at all zoom positions
- Maximum Magnification Ratio: 0.3x
- Filter Size: Φ72mm
- Length: 3.5 in. (88.5mm)
- Weight: 17.7 oz. (500 g)
- Diaphragm Blade Number: 7
- Image Stabilization Performance: none
- Standard Accessories: Front cap, rear cap, bayonet hood, case
When you’re shelling out $1000 on a lens, you expect it to be of high and durable quality. The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S doesn’t fall short. It’s mostly made of plastic, but it feels solid enough to withstand accidental bumps and bangs (though probably not a fall on a hard surface).
| Aperture Priority | 24mm | F/11 | 1/50 | ISO 400 |
The Nikon Z7 and Z6 were designed to stand next to the D850 in bad weather conditions, which means any new Z kit lens need to be equally tough. Here's the great news about the 24-70mm f/4 S: weather sealing is comprehensive. It’s present around all the moving parts, not just around the mount and the front element, which means that it’s pretty rugged in that regard.
During our testing, this lens endured its fair amount of abuse, contending with dust on the trail, light rains, and the salt air, and it performed without hiccups. The fact that the front element has nonstick Fluorine coasting made it easy for us to remove dust or even water particles with just a blower.
The one feature in the design that we don’t quite know how we feel about is its retractable design. On one hand, it’s extremely nifty because it’s space-saving, it makes the lens compact and its retracting mechanism seems solid enough to last many years. On the other, you can’t just pull out the camera, turn it on and take a photo. There’s that extra step of having to extend the lens before it’ll let you take photos.
| Aperture Priority | 70mm | F/4 | 1/8000 | ISO 360 |
That doesn’t sound like much on paper, but in our tests, we found it to be slightly inconvenient and could potentially make you miss a crucial shot – like if you’re on a boat and a pod of dolphins decided to breach the surface and perform acrobatics for a quick second or if a seagull is about to make a landing.
At least, the camera is programmed to remind you to extend the lens when it’s retracted.
The retractable mechanism of the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S can be slightly inconvenient when you’re shooting, but as far as ergonomics is concerned, it is very much an advantage. When you’re not using the lens or the camera, you can simply retract it to a more compact size, cutting a few centimeters off so that you can quickly put it away. In our case, the fact that we could collapse it kept it out of our way such as when we had it clipped to our backpack strap when not in use.
| Aperture Priority | 66mm | F/4 | 1/4000 | ISO 400 |
On top of that, it’s also lightweight at 17.7 oz – only 3 ounces more than the 35mm and the 50mm Z-mount lenses. This means that not only is it nicely balanced on the Z6 body, but it also didn’t feel like a burden on our shoulder as we were walking to and from our campsite.
When in use, it also handles beautifully, with the AF/MF switch within easy reach of your fingers and the zoom ring effortless to turn without being prone to accidental turns.
Rounding it all out is the customizable control ring. It’s set to manual focus by default, but it can also be set for exposure compensation or aperture control. Depending on how you typically shoot, this can prove to be very advantageous and help make your creative process more seamless.
SPEED & FOCUS
| Aperture Priority | 70mm | F/22 | 1/400 | ISO 400 |
In our experience, Nikon's Z Series bodies aren't as quick to autofocus as their DSLR siblings or as accurate as Sony's mirrorless cameras, but every Z series lens I've tested, from the 35mm and the 50mm F 1.8 primes to this the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S, has proven quite adept in the AF department.
The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S delivers fast and precise, not to mention near-silent, autofocusing whether you have a lot of light to work with or not so much. On AF-continuous and Auto-Area AF, the lens was able to keep up with fairly fast-moving subjects during our review.
We tested how the lens’ AF speed would fare against the sea birds on Anacapa Island, and we’re happy to report that the lens managed to mostly keep up with them. There were some missed shots, of course, but considering the cloudy, sometimes dark conditions, we were impressed by the number of images with spot-on sharpness.
Since it is the Z6 however, we were mostly using the Dynamic-Area AF for non-moving subjects, which only means that we weren’t relying as much on the camera’s ability to find the correct focus. We’ve found that this mode is the fastest and most effective way for us to establish focus, and it’s what we’ve been mostly using to test the Z-mount lenses.
To be fair to the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S, however, it did maintain a consistently high level of responsiveness, so that no sooner than we’d determined the focus area, the camera had already locked on to the correct subject. That’s definitely something to write home about.
Given that the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens only has 7 aperture blades and a maximum aperture of f/4, expecting super smooth and creamy bokeh is foolish. You’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment. Even at 70mm focal length, you won’t be getting the dreamy background and foreground blur – not to mention, perfectly rounded bokeh balls – that you’d get if this lens was capable of opening at a bigger aperture.
That said, we do have to commend this lens for its ability to separate and isolate the subject, especially at its longest focal length. You may not be able to get that blended bokeh background you want, but you can be sure that your subject will pop right out of the photograph and be the first thing that catches the onlookers’ attention.
The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S brings its A-game when it comes to image quality. There’s a lot of sharpness here, especially for a lens that’s not considered premium, but this isn't a surprise given the overall performance of the growing Z-mount lens series. They're all impressively sharp. That said, the 24-70mm f/4 isn't as sharp as the f/1.8 primes and there's some softness in the corners at 24mm f/4. Still, the 24-70mm is plenty sharp in the center and edge-to-edge sharp around f/5.6 and 30-35mm.
There’s a lot of contrast and vibrancy here as well. Even shooting on a very dull, cloudy day where everything seemed gray, this lens is still able to capture the colors, albeit more subdued in saturation. Shooting this at sunset, of course, we got plenty of vibrant and accurate color representation.
We didn’t get much chance to shoot the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens on bright, sunny days. However, the images that we did shoot in sunny conditions didn’t have any noticeable signs of chromatic aberration, which only proves that the Aspherical Extra-Low Dispersion lens elements that Nikon fitted this lens with are very good at their job.
Nikon gave this lens an anti-reflective Nano Crystal coating as well to prevent flare and ghosting, but that isn’t as effective. To be fair, while you will still see signs of flare and ghosting especially when you have the light source in your frame, they don’t quite ruin the image and the amount is very minimal. In fact, we would even go so far as to say that any ghosting and flare we got in our images only added to their appeal.
In all, we’re very impressed with the image quality this lens produces. It’s great to know that Nikon didn't compromise quality in their standard zoom "kit lens." It delivers great sharpness, vibrancy, color accuracy, and contrast, and you’ll come home with images that are very sharp and clean, albeit with minimal ghosting and flare and perhaps some vignetting that you can easily fix in post. The sweet spot here is at f/5.6 at 30-35mm where the lens is at its sharpest. But even at other apertures and focal lengths, this lens delivers.
PROS & CONS
- Great image quality
- Silent and accurate AF
- Weather sealing
- Very minimal chromatic aberration, if any
- Maximum aperture of f/4
- Bokeh just ok
- No built-in stabilization
- Retractable design can get in the way of shooting
Should the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S be part of your next investment if you’re buying into the Nikon Z system? We think so. And that’s not just because it’s one of the first three lenses in the Z Mount Series. At $999.95, this lens has a lot to offer with hardly any drawbacks.
At that price point and the performance it delivers, it’s not just good for enthusiasts and non-pros, but professional photographers as well. It produces great image quality and has extensive weather sealing to match the Z6 and Z7’s rugged bodies. It’s compact and lightweight so you can take it into the field without it being a burden. And it’s got a fast, precise and near silent autofocus that is only restricted by the Z bodies’ own autofocusing limitations.
As a standard zoom lens, it’s very versatile, giving you access to a wide range of focal lengths in one compact body, making it ideal for not just landscape photographers but photographers who have a strong sense of adventure as well.
We only wish that Nikon would have given this lens a bigger maximum aperture. But while the bokeh on this thing isn’t as creamy as many bokeh fans would have preferred, the lens still does a pretty good job of isolating its subjects when you need it to.
Ultimately, you’re going to want this lens in your arsenal.
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