The new Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E ED VR is the workhorse for the professional documentary photographer. It is not without reason that upon its introduction, Nikon talked about this lens as “A Legend Reborn”. Everything you can expect from a lens is on it: super-solid, bright, nano-coating, image stabilization, electronic aperture, splashwater-tight finish. You do pay a price for that: the lens is big and heavy and comes with a hefty price tag. But in combination with a full-frame body like the D810 or the D4S, this is an indestructible combination. But how good is this lens, really?
3 bright lenses in one
The 24-70 is extremely long, and when zooming out to 24 mm, it becomes even longer.
The Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E replaces the 24-70 mm f/2.8 and is part of the series 12-24 mm, 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm. 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 does not need it in the least); the other two do.
The new 24-70 mm jumps out in terms of dimensions; it is a good bit longer (154 mm) than comparable lenses from other brands and has grown considerably in comparison with its already sizeable predecessor. For a zoom with this range, the lens is really extremely long, and when zooming to 24 mm, it becomes even longer. The front lens is colossally big (filter size 82 mm); a polarized filter of this diameter will cost a pretty penny!
The lens has no less than 20 glass elements in 16 groups, and the weight reflects this (1070 gram). Such a lens can in principle replace three fixed-focal length lenses, but then we do note that for the price and the weight of one such 24-70 mm, you could 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. That is something a professional photo-journalist usually has no time for, but it can be a serious alternative for an ambitious hobby photographer..
Build and auto focus
Both the zoom ring and the focus ring are as smooth as a hot knife through butter.
You will not find anything built more solidly than the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E. Nearly everything is metal and well-sealed. The included lens hood now attaches to the lens in a different way, so that it will not soon fall off. In particular when removing the lens from the body, the lens hood did tend to come off with the old version. That will not happy anymore. The lifespan of this high-quality lens will exceed that of many shutters. There is an MF/AF switch with three settings: 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 is nice and fast. The lens has a nano-coating to reduce flare and ghosts with strong backlighting. In addition, both the front lens and the back lens have a dirt-repelling Fluoro coating as in the very best modern telephoto lenses. Less dust and dirt in the picture. But because the lens becomes longer when zooming out, it does work like a kind of air pump, and with that air dust naturally also gets inside. Dust in the lens, however, is 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 came up with an average—pretty much independent of the focal length—of around 250 milliseconds. Fast for a zoom lens, but not exceptional for a fixed focal length. We cannot fail to mention that with the 24-70 in the test set-up, there was also a measurement of more than a second and even one total miss. But on the whole, the camera focused fast and accurately.
Here you see the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E next to the Tokina AT-X 24-70 mm f/2.8 PRO FX with the same zoom range, which is also built like a tank. The difference in length is striking for a zoom lens with the same zoom range and the same target audience. The makers chose very different solutions with the design. The Nikon is set here to 70 mm and becomes even longer when zooming out to 24 mm.
Vibration Reduction of a high level
The built-in image stabilization is also a valuable improvement relative to the previous model. We cannot help but be impressed by the performance. A profit of 4 stops is easily achievable. Of course something like that is an enormous advantage for the documentary photographer who often has to work under poor lighting conditions.
Vignetting, Chromatic Aberration, Distortion
Vignetting and chromatic aberration are not entirely absent, but are minimal. Because Nikon cameras remove lateral chromatic aberration with all lenses in jpg files that are stored in the camera, that only occurs in RAW files. With the lens correction profile in Lightroom or Photoshop, that is simple to resolve.
Both in the wide-angle and in the telephoto mode, there is noticeable distortion. This happens with practically all zoom lenses and is easy to correct.
MTF charts for Nikon D810 jpg files, standard image settings.
IIn the center, this 24-70 zoom scores extremely well. In the corners, it does not achieve the level of a good fixed-focal length.
Practically all manufacturers are working on releasing as many lenses as possible that can let the resolution of the modern sensors with 30 to 50 megapixels come into their own. Older lenses are rather left behind by such sensors. For a lens in the price class of this 24-70 mm f/2.8E, you can expect outstanding detail sharpness, and this top model certainly does not disappoint. In the center, the sharpness is very good. Even so, there are other, less expensive lenses that achieve the same level and zoom lenses that perform better: look, for example, at the recent f/1.8 series from Nikon. See our lens comparison for this, where you can compare zoom lenses on individual focal lengths with lenses with a fixed focal length.
For the performance in the corners, we are less impressed, in particular at very short distances. The corner sharpness often increases by stopping down so much that around f/8 it is practically equal to the center sharpness. We honestly expected more of this very expensive lens. We once heard a press photographer say that 90% of the photo is in the middle 30% of the image. Seen in that light, the target audience will probably not lose any sleep over the corner sharpness. But for those who want to photograph landscapes or architecture with high resolution, take a fixed-focal length.
Bokeh and Flare
The more lens elements a lens contains, the greater the chance of internal reflections becomes when you are working with bright backlighting. Then you run the risk of light flecks/ghosts, or reduced contrast. Despite the complex lens design and thanks to special coatings, the Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E has little trouble from flare or ghosts. Partly thanks to the nine rounded aperture blades, the bokeh is beautiful.
Conclusion Review Nikon AF-S 24-70 mm f/2.8E ED VR with Nikon D810
- Broadly usable zoom range
- Exceptionally sturdy and well built
- Very good image stabilization
- Very good optical properties
- Fast auto-focus
- Dirt-repellant Fluoro coating
- Very big and heavy
This Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8E is intended for demanding professional photographers who cannot spare the time to change lenses during a shoot. For that target audience, it is an indestructible workhorse with very good optical properties, fast AF and outstanding image stabilization. The Fluoro coating and the extra sealing against dust and splashwater makes this zoom lens distinctive with respect to many other lenses.
But the lens is big, heavy and expensive (list price € 2500). We think that the added value is in the fast AF, the image stabilization and especially the very good mechanical construction. The lens can operate for a long time under difficult circumstances. For amateur use, the 24-70 mm f/2.8E seems to us to be less suitable.