Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR AF-S Nikkor
Lab Test Results
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March 9, 2016
by Andrew Alexander
Nikon released this new version of its 24-70mm lens series towards the end of 2015: the big news is the inclusion of Vibration Reduction. Also, the new lens uses Nikon's new electromagnetic diaphragm ("E" designation), which utilizes a motor to operate the aperture under CPU control, rather than the mechanical linkage of D/G type lenses.
The 24-70mm ƒ/2.8VR is a full-frame compatible lens: on sub-frame cameras like the Nikon D7100, the lens provides an effective field of view of 36-105mm (in 35mm film terms). The lens aperture is not variable, so it provides a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 across the zoom range.
The lens ships with a petal-shaped hood, accepts 82mm filters, and is available now for approximately US$2,400.
The Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G VR provides excellent results for sharpness, even when used wide open at ƒ/2.8. Stopping down the lens provides slightly better performance, but not the night-and-day results we sometimes see from other lenses.
The lens produces its best results at the wide end of its focal length spectrum: images are very sharp, even at ƒ/2.8, and get even sharper as the lens is stopped down towards ƒ/8. Zooming in towards 50mm, we note an increase in overall softness - it's not as good at ƒ/2.8 at this focal length, showing a small amount of generalized softness across the frame. At 50mm, you'll want to stop down to ƒ/4, for improved sharpness. Zooming in to 70mm is slightly better than 50mm, and by ƒ/5.6 we're seeing excellent results for sharpness.
These notes are applicable to the testing done on the D800e (full-frame) body; they're applicable to the D7100, except the corners aren't as soft, as the camera sensor doesn't "see" the poorer areas of the lens.
The lens is capable of stopping down to ƒ/22, but at ƒ/16 and smaller diffraction limiting becomes an issue, producing a generalized softness across the frame.
The 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G VR performs quite well on the D7100, showing an average amount of chromatic aberration: however, the corners of the lens are clearly trouble spots for CA, as our test results for maximal chromatic aberration are very high when the lens is mounted on the full-frame D800e. Looking at the sample images, we note some purple/cyan fringing in areas of high contrast.
Corner shading isn't really a problem for the Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G VR when mounted on the sub-frame D7100; on the full-frame D800e, however, we note that at ƒ/2.8 you'll be seeing corners which are a full stop darker than the center. This corner shading is alleviated as the lens stops down towards ƒ/8.
As you might expect, a lens which provides both wide-angle and telephoto capabilities produces some distortion; it is somewhat pronounced with the Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G VR. At the wide end at 24mm, mounted on the full-frame D800e, we are seeing +1% barrel distortion in the corners. There's a useful area of near-zero distortion around the 35mm mark, but as you zoom in towards 70mm we see some strong pincushion distortion, getting to its most significant at the 50mm setting of the lens, at -0.7%.
The overall speed of the auto-focusing system in the Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G VR is very fast, going from infinity focus to close-focus and back again in under a second. Small changes in focus happen incredibly fast. The lens also allows the user to override autofocus results by just turning the focusing ring at any time.
This lens isn't a dedicated macro lens, but you can get some fairly decent results for close-up photography. The minimum close-focusing distance is 38cm (around 1.2 feet), and the maximum magnification produced is 0.27x.
Build Quality and Handling
This version of the lens is the next generation of Nikon's previous 24-70mm ƒ/2.8, which did not feature Vibration Reduction. The new lens is slightly longer than the previous version (154mm instead of 133mm), and slightly heavier (1,070 grams instead of 900 grams). Nikon completely redesigned the lens, using 20 elements in 16 groups, including 2 ED, 1 aspherical ED and 3 aspherical elements. The lens also features Nikon's latest lens technology; Nano Crystal Coat, Fluorine Coat, and Super Integrated Coating. As previously mentioned, the lens uses the new electronically controlled diaphragm, making the lens partially incompatible with cameras produced before 2007: they will still mount and work, but they won't stop down past ƒ/2.8.
Operationally, there's not a whole lot of chances compared to the older version, however with the addition of Vibration Reduction, there's now a new switch bank: VR can be activated or deactivated, and changed to active VR all with the same switch.
The zoom ring hasn't changed much, retaining the rubber texture with large, raised ribs. It's about one and a half inches wide and has great tactile feel. It's smooth to turn, and offers only slight resistance, taking gentle pressure from two fingers. There are about ninety degrees of turning action. The lens also extends as the lens is zoomed towards 24mm, gaining an additional inch in length.
The focusing ring is about 3/4 inch wide, composed of thinner rubber ribs, also with very nice tactile feel. The ends are bordered with soft stops, so an increased amount of resistance lets you know you've reached the end. The lens will focus past infinity. Finally, attached 82mm filters will not rotate during focus operations.
The HB-74 lens hood is 2 5/8" long, petal-shaped, and can be reversed for storage on the lens.
The Vibration Reduction system of the lens was quite impressive, providing around 3 stops of hand-held improvement at 24mm, and 4 stops at 70mm. Check out our IS Test tab for further detail.
Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G ~$2,400
It's still on store shelves at the time of writing and will probably end up costing less than the new lens, however you won't have VR and the latest technical features of the new lens. Optically the new lens is a bit sharper than the old ones, especially in the corners.
Tamron 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC USD SP ~$1,500
Tamron's comparative model also features image stabilization, but isn't as sharp as Nikon; however, chromatic aberration results are much better, and the lens is overall much less expensive than Nikon's.
Sigma 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG HSM ~$900
Sigma's lens does not feature image stabilization, but it is much less expensive than either of the Nikon or the Tamron. Optically, it is not as good as either of those lenses.
Nikon's made some excellent progress with this lens. While image stabilization isn't a necessity with this focal length when it comes to shooting stills, it's certainly welcome, and when shooting movies, it is very handy indeed. If you're looking to compare this lens with the version it replaces, it's a very good improvement -- corner sharpness, in particular, is much improved.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR AF-S Nikkor
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