Speaking in general terms, if you want a zoom lens that covers the most useful focal lengths, you cannot do better than a 24-70mm. This type of zoom is a common choice for photojournalists but can be equally applied to anything from landscapes, street photography or portraits.
Basically, these lenses are in the Goldilocks zone of being not too wide-angle and neither too long. Nikon 24-70mm lenses fall into this category, with options coming from Nikon and third-party makers.
As Nikon 24-70mm lenses are typically aimed at the working professional, they not only have to have superior optics, but also a build quality that can take the odd bump and scrape. Wide apertures are also key to punch out the background and provide plenty of low-light capabilities.
One thing to bear in mind is that quality optics don’t come cheap. This means there’s a good chunk of change to be spent initially on these lenses, but in return, you get one of the most versatile zooms around that also produces spectacular images.
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED (Overall Winner)
It’s not really a surprise that the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is our standout pick. Equally capable on both FX and DX formats (36-105mm equivalent focal length), this lens packs in all the quality you need for this focal range.
The lens consists of a constant f/2.8 aperture, with an optical makeup of three aspherical and extra-low dispersion elements, plus a Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coating. The Silent Wave Motor is wonderfully quick to snap into focus, with full-time manual override, and quiet enough operation for most video work.
The rounded nine-blade diaphragm produces wonderful bokeh, which in the right circumstances, is almost approaching high-level prime lens quality.
This may be an expensive lens, but it’s also the go-to option for the Nikon platform. Basically meaning, if you’re happy with the price point, this 24-70mm is everything you need from a workhorse zoom lens.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR houses some excellent optics, along with image stabilization, but it’s also heavier and costs more than its sibling above.
What the lens does have is a wide and bright f/2.8 aperture, along with 20 elements arranged in 16 groups, plus fluorine, Nano Crystal, and Super Integrated Coatings. The vibration reduction image stabilization system offers four stops of compensation, plus a Silent Wave autofocus motor.
There is no faulting the build quality, with a fully weather-sealed design and an outer shell that feels like it can take loads of punishment. If vibration reduction is a much-needed aspect for you in this zoom range and you don’t mind the additional cost and price, this lens is a worthy option.
3. Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
When it comes to third-party lens options, Tamron is usually in the mix somewhere, in this case with the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. Along with having some tasty features such as image stabilization and a lens lock switch, it’s reasonably lightweight at 898.7g.
This zoom lens isn’t short of fancy optics, which include two extra refractive, three glass-molded aspherical, one hybrid aspherical element, and three low dispersion elements. This area also includes eBAND and BBAR coatings to reduce the likes of lens flaring, while also increasing contrast and image clarity.
The VC image stabilization system offers an impressive five stops of handheld compensation, with two modes of operation for general use and panning shots. Considering that the lens’ barrel design is also moisture resistant, the Tamron offers a lot of outstanding features for the money along with excellent levels of image rendition.
4. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art
It’s not often these days that a Sigma Art lens gets ousted by another third-party competitor, but in this case, the Tamron above offers similar optics, along with a cheaper price point.
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art also has some wonderful features, which includes the very useful f/2.8 aperture, Super Multi-Layer Coating, along with a highly useful image stabilization system offering four stops of compensation.
Although the lens barrel isn’t fully weather-proofed, like the rest of the Art series, it’s made from a tough Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material. The bayonet lens attachment is made from brass and there are also rubber seals to keep out dust and moisture.
Bokeh from this lens looks superb with the aperture set at f/2.8. There is no faulting the overall image quality, pulling every bit of resolution from the most discerning of camera bodies.
5. Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX (Budget Winner)
As stated at the beginning of the article, quality optics need to be exchanged for an equal amount of money. So, although the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX is our budget winner, it will still set you back a solid amount.
In exchange, you get an optical arrangement of three glass-molded aspherical, three super-low dispersion, and three low dispersion elements, along with Multi-layer lens coatings for reducing lens anomalies and increasing contrast and color. A Silent Drive-Module covers autofocusing, with a unique one-touch focus clutch mechanism to easily swap between auto and manual focusing modes.
Even when the aperture is set to f/2.8, this lens is wonderfully sharp, only being defeated by diffraction after f/16. It may not have image stabilization like some of the other zoom lenses on this list or the same levels of refined optics. But in every other regard, if you need a very high-quality 24-70mm zoom, the Tokina is set up at a reasonable price point without sacrificing quality.
Searching for the Best Nikon 24-70mm Lenses
For the Nikon users out there, you’re not short of choice when it comes to 24-70mm lenses. If your primary concern is ultimate image quality, then you can’t go wrong with the Nikon 24-70mm versions. However, if you want a workhorse zoom lens that provides the most bang for the buck, the Tokina has a lot going for it, featuring great optics and simple features.