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Nikkor Z 24-70 F4 Vs. Nikkor Z 24-70 F2.8 Experiences

I wanted to do a short blurb about the differences between these two lenses from Nikon. Mostly because I have both and have shot extensively with both. At one point I also had questions about the differences between the two and wondered if it was worth the extra almost $2k for the F2.8 lens. For this quick comparison, I will only touch on image quality differences and feature differences, then end off with what I recommend for different situations.


Nikkor Z 24-70/4 S and Nikkor Z 24-70/2.8 S. Photo taken with phone.


Features

As for features, there is not a huge difference between these two lenses. Both lenses use a rubber grip control ring for the zoom with clear markings for the focal lengths painted on the housing and a more plastic feeling ring for the focus ring. Both lenses have a switch to change between the manual and automatic focus. Additionally, both lenses come with a lens hood and their zoom function cascades outwards making the total length of the lens increase while using it. It is important to note that both lenses are well weather sealed, and I have taken them into stormy weather without issues. Although, both lenses are constructed differently.


Nikkor Z 24-70/4 S and Nikkor Z 24-70/2.8 S. Photo taken with phone.


Nikkor Z 24-70/4 S

The F/4 is a bit smaller, and lighter than the larger F/2.8 lens. This does come at the cost of some performance, however, not significantly noticeable. In many cases this smaller size and weight might easily counteract the loss in features depending on the situation that you are attempting to use it for. For instance, a landscape photographer I know loves the F/4 due to the smaller weight when hiking. It is also important to note that you probably never do landscape photography under an aperture of 5.6 anyways, so the F/4 does not hinder your abilities in this manner.


Specs:

-Retail price, new: $999.95

-14 lens elements in 11 groups

-1 Aspherical ED

-1 ED

-3 Aspherical

-Nano Crystal Coat

-Fluorine-coated front lens element

-7 Diaphragm Blades

-Weight: 500 grams or 1.1 pounds

-77.5mm diameter with 88.5mm length

-Filter thread size of 72mm

-Minimum focus distance of 0.3 meters

-Note: Lens must be extended to 24mm position before it can be used


This list does not include all of the specifications for the lens, but rather just the ones that are unique to it. If you want a complete, and detailed list of specifications for this lens check out Nikon's page here.


Nikkor Z 24-70/2.8 S

The F/2.8 is the more expensive cousin to the F/4 that is developed and marketed to professionals in the photography world as having "Uncompromising Optical Performance". This lens is sharper than the F/4 across the entire range of function for the lens, along with adding in the increased low light performance and outstanding Bokeh from the F/2.8 aperture setting. However, it is important to ask yourself if these extra features really warrant the increased cost of the lens for the kinds of photography that you do. If you never go under F/4 for your work you might be able to live with some of these tradeoffs and save a quick buck, possibly to spend on another lens like the 70-200.


Specs:

-Retail price, new: $2,299.95

-17 lens elements in 15 groups

-2 ED

-4 Aspherical

-Nano Crystal Coat

-ARNEO Coat

-Fluorine-coated front AND rear lens elements

-9 Diaphragm Blades

-Weight: 805 grams or 1.77 pounds

-89mm diameter with 126mm length

-Filter thread size of 82mm

-Minimum focus distance of 0.38 meters

-OLED screen to display focal length, aperture setting, and focus settings

-Includes rubber display button to switch the display

-Includes 1 rubber programable function button

-Includes programable control ring, set to control aperture by default

-Note: lens does not need to be extended to begin taking pictures


This list does not include all of the specifications for the lens, but rather just the ones that are unique to it. If you want a complete, and detailed list of specifications for this lens check out Nikon's page here.


On paper, there is a fair amount different between the two lenses, but I would like to narrow down the feature set on the F/2.8 a bit. The OLED screen, function button, and programable control ring are nice thoughts but personally I have no use for them, and they simply add to the cost of the lens in general. I have seen other photographers make similar statements from portrait photographers to landscape photographers. The programmable control ring also gets in the way sometimes, and I find myself accidentally changing the aperture of the lens while trying to set up my shots.


Image Quality

Now to touch base with the more important portion of the comparisons. The features are mute if a lens cannot hold its own in image quality. Please note that this is by no way a comprehensive or scientific comparison of the two lenses for image quality. I chose a single focal length and aperture for these example photos for both lenses and these photos were shot under "Ideal" lighting conditions in order to give a generic representation. These ideal lighting conditions were simply a study lighting setup which should provide consistent reproduction of images from the camera.


With the fact that this will be a brief comparison, I would like to start off by saying that DXOMARK scores the F/2.8 with a 36 overall while they score the F/4 with a 29 overall. They conduct a scientific and comprehensive study of the lens performance so check out their site to compare with the photos below to decide what is important to you. F/2.8 scores here, and F/4 scores here.


Top Image: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at 1/20 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm

Bottom Image: Nikkor Z 24-70 f/2.8 S at 1/20 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm


Now let’s start off with an image taken of a detailed figurine of a popular gaming character. Bonus points to those who know who this character is! It is a bit dusty, but I opted not to clean that off to include additional textures. No edits were made to either of these images and they were taken straight from the camera. It is difficult to see a clear difference between the two, but the F/4 is slightly less sharp looking in the details. However, this is not a significant difference. At least not in ideal lighting situations. When things get darker, we might expect the image to appear a bit softer compared to the F/2.8.


As the figurine comparison did not show too much let's move straight into the images of the color charts that I have used in the past. These have a textured surface that can also help to show how sharp the images are coming out for each lens.


Left Image: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S at 1/15 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm

Right Image: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 at 1/15 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm

From the examination of the color chart images, both lenses do an excellent job at reproducing colors. Although the F/4 does appear to have a bit more vibrance in some of the lighter colors as compared to the F/2.8. This is a very subtle observation from comparing the two images side by side. Also, the black square appears to be slightly brighter on the F/4 than on the F/2.8. As both lenses had these photos taken at the exact same settings, with a studio light making for a very consistent environment I am comfortable in saying that these observations are from the lens itself and not from the shooting conditions.


Another observation that was made between the two images once I got them off my camera and into Lightroom is that despite them being setup to the exact same settings that the F/2.8's histogram was ever so slightly shifted more to the right than the F/4's histogram. As these two lenses run the same focal length, this difference appears to mean that the F/2.8 lets slightly more light into the camera than the F/4, even at identical camera settings. It is possible this is just a manufacturing variance in my units, however.


Left Image: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S at 1/15 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm

Right Image: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 at 1/15 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm

From the above two zoomed in images on four of the color squares the sharpness differences become a little more apparent. Looking between the left image for the F/2.8 and the right image for the F/4, on the black textured area it is easier to see that the F/4 is a little bit softer in its reproduction of the image. However, this is still not too bad and the image on the right is more than acceptable for most applications. It is also a little bit easier to see the slight differences in the color reproduction between the two lenses, specifically on the red and yellow squares.


Recommendation

After reviewing some of the sites linked to in this post and reviewing some of the controlled environment photo comparisons that were taken, I have arrived at a similar conclusion now, that I did back when I was researching on whether the money should be spent for the F/2.8 lens. Both lenses perform very well, despite one being slightly sharper than the other and having a few more features to boot. However, not all those additional features necessarily justify the added cost for all types of photography. Nikon did a really good job with their Z series kit lens to the point that a lot of photographers might not have fully expected to be the case at the release of these new mirrorless cameras. This really makes the decision a case by case one for each photographer.


I personally ended up making the decision to make this purchase because I wanted to start a photography business. With this in mind, I wanted that small amount of extra sharpness to help boost my larger prints that I sell. Additionally, I do periodically provide portrait and product photography and these types of images can both take advantage of the slight increase in sharpness, and the F/2.8 aperture. If I am traveling or doing something that yields concern to the safety of the lens, I still throw on the F/4 though as it is still an awesome lens to have in my collection.


So, if you are a hobbyist landscape/nature photographer with the Nikon Z6 or Z7 camera and you want to save a chunk of money I would recommend that you stick with the F/4 lens. It is lighter, smaller, and almost as versatile as the F/2.8. This would free up some money that you could maybe sink into the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm F/2.8 lens, which is an amazing lens for landscape photography as well. This lens could also fill the additional role of portraits if you are primarily a landscape hobbyist but do want to occasionally take portraits with the deep Bokeh of the F/2.8 aperture.


Additionally, if you are a professional landscape photographer you might still be interested in just sticking with the F/4 lens due to how small and light it is. As stated earlier, I have seen a couple professionals successfully accomplish this without issues. Otherwise, if you are primarily into high detail, or portrait photography then the F/2.8 might be the route you need to go by default.


I hope you found some of this information useful. I know it was a fairly limited and non-scientific comparison of the lenses, but still provides a good example showing that these two lenses are actually quite excellent options and it really comes down to what you need to use your camera for. I wish you an awesome day, and until next time!





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