For many, the 24-70mm is the most widely-used zoom lens, which is why it’s most commonly given the workhorse title. For many photojournalists, this focal range is an invaluable tool, acting almost like a bunch of 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm lenses in one package. Each camera maker has its own version, which is why the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is a significant release for the Nikon community.
The lens has brought added bonuses such as image stabilization and an improved optical structure. But the lens also had its dissenters, when compared to its older sibling the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at the lens itself and how it performs in the real world.
There are a few prerequisites needed with a high-performance 24-70mm. Firstly, a lens that can be taken out into all types of weather conditions. One also expects an aperture of f/2.8, lightning-fast autofocus, superior optics, and (ideally) image stabilization.
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR features an optical makeup of 20 elements arranged in 16 groups, with a good bunch of corrective elements. These include one aspherical version, one high refractive, three aspherical, and two extra-low dispersion elements for good measure. Each element is treated to a Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coating. There is also a fluorine coating on the front element to protect against dirt and moisture.
The ‘E’ bit of the name represents the electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism, which essentially gives finer control over the aperture diaphragm. Also, one of the much-needed additions to this type of lenses is a Vibration Reduction system, which in this case offers up to four stops of handheld compensation. The addition of this feature also means an increase in weight to 1070g.
The filter thread size has also increased from a 77mm filter to 82mm and, as expected, the lens has full weatherproofing.
One thing that Nikon has addressed with this newer lens is the balance of sharpness. The previous version was criticized for having slight corner softness. The new version distributes the sharpness levels across the whole frame.
This sounds great on the surface, but it also means that the resolution across the frame has taken precedence over central resolution as with the older lens. This is especially evident at close focusing distances. This point essentially means a more even spread of sharpness for things like landscape shots, but not as much critical focus in the center of the frame for close-up portraits.
At 24mm and f/2.8, the lens has very good sharpness levels in the center of the frame, with the mids and corners slightly trailing behind. At this focal length, the sharpest overall results come in at f/5.6. At 35mm and f/2.8, the center sharpness is just a touch behind the levels at 24mm, with the edges of the frame keeping the same levels of detail. At 50mm, the overall sharpness drops a little and at 70mm it will need stopping down to f/5.6 for the overall best results. In total, this means the 24-70mm has equal levels of sharpness as other versions in its class.
As expected, the Silent Wave autofocus motor is extremely fast in all focusing modes and even works very well in low-light conditions. The lens does have full-time manual override when needed but may be rarely used due to the autofocusing accuracy, even in low-light conditions.
Vignetting is also visible, especially with the aperture set to f/2.8, but can be mostly eradicated when stopped down to f/5.6. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is also very good at handling ghosting and flaring, mainly thanks to the Nano Crystal Coating. As for chromatic aberration, it is mostly seen at 24mm and f/2.8, reducing significantly by 70mm with the aperture set to f/5.6.
Bokeh is not always the most sought-after aspect of this type of zoom lens, but with a f/2.8 aperture, blurry backgrounds are easily achievable if needed. The quality of bokeh will work for impromptu portrait shots, but for the finest of background blur, you will still need to rely on a dedicated portrait lens.
Nikon Beats Out Third-Party Lenses in Everything but the Price
If you’re not going to go native with a Nikon lens, then one possible third-party option is the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. The Tamron also has image stabilization, but the Nikon wins out in overall sharpness levels. The autofocusing system on the Nikon feels much faster, which is to be expected from a native lens.
However, the Tamron is less than half the price of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, which means the end choice will be solely down to your own budget levels.
|Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR||Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD|
|Min. Focusing Distance||38cm||38.1cm|
Then there is the option of the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art lens. This lens also has image stabilization and is a touch better than the Tamron, but is not up to the overall definition of the Nikon. But just like the Tamron, the Sigma is less than half the price of the Nikon, making it a very tempting proposition.
Final Thoughts on the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
Although the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR may have opted for a more even frame sharpness, it still stands out as probably the best 24-70mm lens currently available. The more smooth overall sharpness levels result in better clarity throughout the focal range, although the lens does display a few pronounced anomalies along the way.
Considering the overall improvements made with this lens, coupled with image stabilization, it’s a very worthy upgrade from the previous version. The lens may display small amounts of vignetting and chromatic aberration with the aperture wide open, but in reality, these are quite minimal and easily corrected in software.
As mentioned at the start, the ideal 24-70mm lens for a Nikon camera would be one that closely replicated a bunch of Nikon prime lenses in one package. In total, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR has gone a long way to achieving this point, with the added benefit of built-in stabilization and solid build quality for everyday use.