CP+ 2019: Hands-on with Nikon’s new zoom lenses, and a peek at the new 58mm f/0.95 Noct lens
posted Saturday, March 2, 2019 at 2:02 AM EDT
Nikon continues to expand their lens offerings for their new Z Series cameras, first announcing the ultra-wide Z 14-30mm f/4 S zoom back at CES and then just a few weeks ago, debuting the must-have, work-horse zoom, the Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. And we can't forget the still forthcoming Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct prime that was announced all the way back with the launch of the Z Series system in August 2018.
Here at the CP+ tradeshow in Japan, all three of these exciting new full-frame mirrorless lenses are on display. I was able to get hands-on with both of the zoom lenses as well as see and touch the new 58mm f/0.95 Noct lens -- however, it was fixed to a tripod and I wasn't allowed to pick it up, unfortunately.
Despite being an ultra-wide angle zoom for a full-frame camera, the 14-30mm is shockingly compact and very lightweight. It's a night-and-day difference compared to Nikon's classic 14-24mm f/2.8 (granted that lens has an f/2.8 aperture compared to an f/4). It's also much smaller than Nikon's other f/4 full-frame DSLR lens, the 16-35mm f/4 G VR II. What's more, despite its 14mm focal length at the wide end, the front lens element is very flat, a notable change from the heavy, bulbous front elements on many other ultra-wide full-frame lenses. With the Nikon 14-30mm S lens, you now have a rectilinear 14mm ultra-wide lens that can also use screw-on filters. No need now for large, awkward filter adapters or simply being unable to use filters at all.
As mentioned, the 14-30mm is surprisingly small and lightweight. It's quite amazing that this is a full-frame lens! Thanks to the large Z-mount diameter and close flange back distance, Nikon was able to devise an all-new optical formula with smaller and much flatter front elements. (We'll have more info about how dramatically the large/close flange helps with the designs of lenses like this, when we publish our technical interview with Nikon, in a few days.)
The lens features a retractable zoom locking mechanism that makes the lens even more compact for easier storage. The overall zoom ring operation is very light and very smooth, and the lens itself doesn't extend very far when zooming -- it actually at its greatest length at 14mm and gets slightly shorter as you zoom out to 30mm.
As you'd expect, the 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens has a bit more heft and bulk than the 14-30mm f/4 lens, as well as their earlier 24-70mm f/4 S lens, but it is, again, surprisingly compact for a full-frame f/2.8 zoom and much smaller than Nikon's 24-70mm f/2.8E lens for their DSLRs. This seems to be yet another example of why Nikon's optical engineers were so excited when talking about the possibilities of the Z-mount.
The Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens is unique among Nikon lenses in that in addition to a manual focus ring and a zoom ring, there's also a third, customizable control ring that can be programmed to a variety of things, including aperture. In video shooting mode on a Z6 or Z7 camera, this control ring is said to offer smooth, steppless aperture (iris) adjustment. (A third control ring is a feature of Canon's RF-mount lenses, but this is the first time we've seen it on a NIKKOR optic. It will be interesting to see if the feature is extended to other Z-mount lenses in the future.)
Another cool feature that's on this lens, as well as on the upcoming Noct prime, is a small OLED display on the top of the lens. You can toggle through a handful of different modes, such as a digital indication of the current focal length. You can also see focusing distance as well as a live depth of field scale. (How great is it, to see the return of DOF scales to lenses, in the digital era? :-)
Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S NOCT
I'll get right to it: this lens is a beast! With its f/0.95 aperture, it's no surprise really that this lens has some heft to it. The lens almost dwarfs the Z7 camera it was attached to on the show floor. Despite being only a 58mm lens, this is a big, big lens.
The 58mm f/0.95 S NOCT is a manual focus-only prime; as such it has a serious manual focusing ring that's not only incredibly thick but also has a very long focus throw. In other words, it takes a lot of rotation to rack through the lens's full focusing range, however, this gives you a lot of fine-grained precision for focusinh -- which for this kind of lens is definitely needed. Wide open, the depth of field is incredibly thin, and the tiniest bit of rotation of the focus ring can shift focus. When I magnified the live view on the Nikon Z7 camera, it was shocking to see just how little I needed to rotate the focus ring to bring my subject in or out of focus. The camera's AF points become manual-focus indicators when using this lens, turning from red to green the moment the subject comes into focus - and just a touch more rotation and I was out of focus again. So there's a good reason why the focus ring has such a long throw. While it's extremely sensitive, the long throw and fully-mechanical coupling does let you focus very precisely.
Details about pricing are not yet available nor is there a concrete release date, however Nikon has simply said "Spring 2019." (Meaning it should be showing up on the market pretty soon.)