A Practical Review of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens

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The Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 Lens

The Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 Lens

You will hear this from many photographers – “invest in your lenses”. Camera bodies will come and go, but a good lens can last a very long time. This was the advice that I first received when I started taking my photography seriously. Initially, I thought it was a bit hyped. I bought a cheap 70-300mm lens and used it at the first wedding I shot. I thought the images were fantastic until I bought a better lens a year later. I then realized how much difference a good lens can make.

This review is not going to be a technical review of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. You want to know how this lens performs, what the strong points are and what the weak points are – I will cover that. You will see images taken with the lens, many will be edited in Photoshop, some will be straight out of the camera, I will point out to you which are which.

About this lens

This lens is regularly praised as the best midrange zoom lens that Nikon has ever made. That sounds like a crazy statement, but when you look at the image results from this lens you can understand why. The lens is a high spec lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a minimum of f/22. Here is a quick look at the technical specs:

Focal Length: 24-70mm
Format: Full Frame – 35mm, can be used on a DX body, but will be cropped
Maximum aperture: f/2.8
Minimum aperture: f/22
Dimensions: 83mm (diameter) x 133mm (length)
Weight: 900g
Zoom ratio: 2.9X
Minimum focusing distance: 38cm

This lens is a perfect “all rounder” lens. You may find that you keep the lens on your camera most of the time. It has a really good focal range for everyday photography. It is a good travel lens too. Many photographers have said that this lens was the only lens they went on vacation with and it worked really well.


Photographic Genres that it can be used for:

1. Landscape Photography

This is not considered a super wide angle lens, but at 24mm on a full frame sensor, you will get a viewing angle of of 84 degrees which gives a pretty wide angle of view. This lens can be used for landscape photography for a few reasons. Firstly, it has really good glass elements that handle light beautifully. There is some distortion at 24mm, but this is easily corrected in Photoshop. Secondly the lens is really sharp, it makes an image seem almost too sharp. You may find that you won’t need to sharpen your image as much if you use a tripod and are properly focused. The colour rendition on this lens is really good too, colours are true and vibrant. This lens is good for landscapes, not necessarily as a dedicated landscape photography lens (you may want to look at some wide angle lenses) but it can certainly perform well for this type of photography.

This seascape image was shot at 24mm. The clarity and colour was amazing, this has been edited in Photoshop

This seascape image was shot at 24mm. The clarity and colour was amazing, this has been edited in Photoshop

2. People Photography

This lens can work well for people photography as well which can encompass portraiture, weddings, and even street photography. This lens will do a really good job in any of these genres. In people photography, you will want to have a lens with minimal distortion. If you are using the 24-70mm for people photography, you will want to be shooting at 50mm and upwards. With a wide open aperture at f/2.8 you will be able to isolate your subject easily and have a soft out of focus background. The bokeh on this lens is good, but more on this later.

A scene in a coffee shop, taken at 24mm. Converted to B&W and edited in Photoshop

A scene in a coffee shop, taken at 24mm. Converted to B&W and edited in Photoshop

3. Close-up and Macro Photography

While the 24-70mm is not a macro lens, it has a 37 cm (14.5″) minimum focusing distance. That sounds like a long way, but at 70mm you can get pretty close to your subject. If you are shooting on a high resolution sensor (16 megapixels and above) you will be able to crop in quite a bit and so you will be able to get some good close up images. Bear in mind, this is not a macro lens, but if you want to get in close to a subject, really nice and close, this lens can do that. The sharpness and clarity is amazing, and it is good to have this ability on this lens.

This badge on the hood of a car was taken at 70mm and handheld. The clarity and sharpness is good and the close up shot isolates the badge

This badge on the hood of a car was taken at 70mm and handheld. The clarity and sharpness is good and the close-up shot isolates the badge

4. Street Photography

Most street photographers will traditionally use a prime lens for their work. You will often find a 50mm f/1.8 or and 85mm f/2.8 on their cameras. Sometimes though, it is good to have a little more flexibility and the 24-70mm is perfect for this. You can shoot at 35mm, 50mm, or 70mm and you will get great results. Based on your creative desire, you can shoot at f/2.8 or up to f/8 depending on your scene. The beauty of the lens is that it can focus really quickly and easily. It has a SWM (Silent Wave Motor) which means the autofocus is quick and quiet, really useful in street photography. There is some vignetting when the lens is wide open at f/2.8, but this adds some depth and contrast to street photography images.

This lens gives you flexibility when shooting street photography.

This lens gives you flexibility when shooting street photography.

5. Travel Photography

When you are planning to travel, there is always the consideration of what lenses to pack. Weight is always a challenge and of course, space. Many photographers have found that the 24-70mm is a prefect travel lens. At the low end, you can capture some great images of wide open spaces and the interiors of  churches and cathedrals easily. Zoom in and you can get pretty close to your subject, step in closer and you can do some wonderful cameo and detail shots. The 24-70mm is almost designed for travel photography. Yes, it lacks a little in the zoom category, 70mm is not a huge zoom, but you will come home with bright, sharp, colour-filled images.

The magnificent Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies, made with the 24-70mm lens

The magnificent Peyto Lake in the Canadian Rockies, made with the 24-70mm lens

Performance

The Nikon 24-70mm has amazing optics. It is sharp throughout the zoom range and has a fixed aperture of f/2.8 which means you can get a very shallow depth of field throughout the entire range.

1. Autofocus

This lens focuses quickly and accurately. I use it on a Nikon D800 and it works really well on that camera. You can of course manually focus, but I would only suggest doing that when you are shooting landscapes or close-up photography. If you have a subject that is moving, autofocus is necessary.

2. Colour rendition

The lens produces good colour, which is vibrant and rich.

3. Distortion

If the lens is zoomed out to 24mm you will see some barrel distortion. Once you zoom in though, the distortion goes away, so be aware of the distortion when shooting at 24mm. It is easily fixed in Photoshop or Lightrooom, so don’t be too overly concerned about that.

4. Handling

The lens is quite large and heavy, mostly because the lens has all glass elements and the body of the lens is metal. It is a hardy lens and can take some rough handling, but be careful with it as it is an expensive lens and you wouldn’t want to repair it unnecessarily. When mounted on a Nikon D800 without a battery back, the combined weight of the lens and camera body will be at least 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). Thats a fair amount of weight to carry around at the end of your hand, so be aware if you plan to buy this lens.

5. Bokeh

Many lenses are judged not only on how sharp they are, but how smooth and creamy are the out of focus areas (bokeh) of the image. In this area, the 24-70mm does okay. The bokeh on this lens is not a wow, but it is smooth and soft. On a lens that offers so much, the bokeh is not perfect, but it is acceptable.

Overall Conclusion

This lens has been praised as one of the best lenses Nikon has ever made. It is a great addition to any photography bag. You will find that you may keep it on your camera most of the time. It really is a sharp lens and is a perfect “all-round” everyday lens. Its specifications make it a “pro-spec” lens which means it’s not cheap (just under $2000). Remember though, it is recommended to invest in your lenses. Generally they will outlast your camera bodies and you will have them for many years if you look after them. This is one of those types of lenses, it will last well and produce great images for many years.

Check out the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on Amazon.


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Barry J Brady is a Fine Art Landscape and commercial photographer based in Vancouver, BC. He is also an addicted traveller and loves travelling to far off places and capturing their essence. Barry is an entertaining and experienced photography teacher and public speaker. He loves nothing more than being behind his camera or showing other photographers how to get the most out of their camera. To see more of his work, visit his site here. You can also join Barry on a photography workshop in Canada. Click here to find out more.

  • walter

    The most unreliable lens I have ever had. The lens hood attaches to a barrel which has four tiny screws about 1 mm in from the edge. They eventually shear through and the lens hood and this barrel then slide off. One of the helical screws that zooms the lens is so soft that it eventually distorts and the lens won’t zoom anymore. This lens has cost me triple (that’s $6000) it’s purchase cost in repairs. I have been a pro photographer for 40 years ( all Nikon ) and this has been the worst piece of equipment I have owned. The Tamron equivalent is lighter, has VR, is shorter and optically indiscernible for pro use

  • walter

    And the Tamron is half price and has a better lens hood mount

  • This is not good, I am just about to purchase this lens and now I am thinking it may not be such a good idea, for 2k it should not have these problems.

  • This is not good, I am just about to purchase this lens and now I am thinking it may not be such a good idea, for 2k it should not have these problems. Thanks for the heads up.

  • MANswers

    I’ll buy this the day they get the VR version on. For now i am happy with my Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC

  • ScotDoc

    This is a fantastic lens, but…I sold mine as it’s just too heavy and instrusive. Got primes instead. Much better – lighter, even sharper, less noticeable. Very happy!

  • Wanderson Rosa

    Considering that my main subject is portraits but I also a travel photographer, I bought this lens about 5 months ago and it’s the best lens I ever had. It’s amazing!!! Considering that I’m using it on a non full frame camera a Nikon D5100 the results is really impressive. I’m a minimalist one lens guy who like to travel light with less as possible so change lenses for me is not possible. I was looking for one lens to cover all my needs, only one and after months of resources and a high dose of courage to invest $ 1.900,00 I’m more than happy. It’s little heavy, but after a fell minutes you get used and when you open you images on you computer you will understand that this lens worth each cent. I was a prime guy who believed that the quality of zoom lenses are poor compared a prime, but 24-70 is another story. Forget about comparison charts and compare images you and you will see the 24-70 deploy the same results. For my style it’s perfect and I have never touch my other lenses again. If you have doubts about buy or not as I was, take a deep breath and buy it, you will not regret.

  • Kasper

    I’va had this baby for 3 years, using it on Nikon d800 and now d810. I have tried to replace it many times – I’ve bought the Zeiss 28 2.0 the new Sigma 50 Art – but Whan I work, I mostly do reportage, nature, and some still life – this one just keeps being my go to lens. Much sharper than any other zoom’s I’va had – the Canon 24-70 is a piece of crap compared to this. Quite good contrast good sharpness across most of the frame – actually it really does better than my Zeiss for sharpness at 28mm. If you don’t have time to change lenses or if you’re in nature, and want to avoid it – I mean – this is just a killer of that big ens bag. I have found that, together with my 105 mm Micro, I do 95 % with those two lenses. They might want to update it though, with VR and maybe more sharpness in the long end.

  • Naveed Ahmad

    This lens is very sharp and good. i am using since last 3 years and never ever had any kind of problem. How come you paid 4200 dollars for 1800 vale lens.

  • Walter, I am sorry to hear this. In my experience and when I have spoken to other photographers that use this lens, there has been nothing but praise of this lens, so I think your situation might be unique. Also, I would be concerned about you paying so much for repairs on the lens. If the lens was under warranty or was damaged because of bad workmanship or pats on Nikons parts, they should have picked up the tab. I have a photographer friend who bought a Nikon D800 and unbeknown to him, the lens mount was misaligned. This resulted in his images being slightly blurry all the time. We tested it and then sent it into Nikon. To cut a long story short, it went back and forth to Nikon fro 3 months, with no improvement. I said to him that he needs to get hold of nikon Canada head office and explain to them that he is very unhappy with the service. I told him to push really hard and explain that it was not his fault, but bad workmanship. Nikon finally resolved the issue by replacing the D800 at no cost and repairing two of his lenses at no cost as they were damaged by the faulty mounting. This is generally not the trend with Nikon, but when something like this happens, don’t stop until you get the result you want, especially on a lens of this stature. I have not used the Tamron lens, but I hear it is a good lens too.

  • Thanks Naveed, it is one my favourite lenses too (as you can tell)

  • Josef, I think that you need to understand that Walters situation is not the norm (not from what I have experienced). Generally photographers who have this lens are extremely happy with it. It is a heavy lens and quite but, but then it is a 24-70mm F/2.8 lens with all glass elements and a solid barrel casing. It is a sturdy piece of kit and the images are amazing. All the images in the article were taken with this lens and many others in some of my other articles. Like I said, I don’t think this is the norm for this lens, it sounds like Walter had a bad experience with a bad lens.

  • Thanks Kasper, agreed, it is a “workhorse” lens. I find that I use it most of the time for the commercial work I do too, along with my 50mm F/1.4 or 1.8.

  • Primes are great Scot. I have a few myself, they are always really sharp.

  • Thanks Wanderson, I think you are right, this lens compares well to the image quality of some primes. It is a really versatile lens and if I had to choose one lens to go travelling with, it would be this one.

  • Naveed Ahmad

    $1800 value lens and $4200 for repair… can’t believe…

  • Naveed Ahmad

    @barryjbrady this lens is solid rock.

  • Walter

    I hate to cause angst among potential purchasers so let me qualify what I have written. I have worked as a racetrack photographer for over 40 years. This involves standing in rain fog heat hail. Climbing up towers and over fences. Getting kicked by a horse – twice. I grew up with bodies and lenses like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Metal bodies and metal barrelled lenses. The type you could hang three of around your neck and have them bang together for a whole war – and still work. This lens is not like that. If your photographic life involves taking the camera out of its case with gloves, taking one wonderful photo and putting it back. That’s fine. You will be very happy with this lens. If you spend a day from 11.30’am to 5.00 PM with your camera and lens around your neck, going through crowds, resting it on the bar, picking it up and down countless times, having it swing around while climbing a ladder to your stand. That’s another story. Also at night shooting from the track towards the grandstand to get a shot of harness racers after the race, my Nikon and two other shooters who work for me get flare from the track lighting. The Tamron doesn’t. Finally, my use whenever I can camera is my Fuji X100. Thank you and goodnight.

  • Hehehe, thanks for the update Walter, it sounds like you are a photographic stunt man. Clearly you make heavy duty use of your kit, which explains the reason for the issues. Thanks for clarifying!

  • Waldemar

    If you want to compare Tamron and Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens please go to DxO Mark and compare these lenses on the camera you have or are going to buy. And don’t listen to ‘pro’ photographers who abuse their equipment and then complain that it is not good enough for them to recommend it! Who is spending $4000 on repair of the lens, who? I think you can answer this question for yourself easily. I have not checked above mentioned lenses on DxO Mark web site but I bet that Nikon will win!

  • Waldemar
  • Interesting Waldemar, thanks for sharing.

  • George

    You can’t go just by what you see on DxO. I own both the Nikkor and the Tamron. The Nikkor is a better lens buy a country mile. I have a D810. The sharpness of the Nikkor is by far better. It’s a true workhorse. It doesn not have VR, but that has never once been an issue.

    The posts about the repairs above? You could have bought a new lens twice with the money spent on repairs. Sorry I don’t believe it. Sounds like a load of bull to me.

    Sigma has a good lens (I have a 50mm art), but their 24-70 just doesn’t match up to the Nikkor. If you are making your living shooting, it’s a no brainer.

  • George

    If the hood and lens is so bad, why did you bother repairing it? Sorry, you’re full of it.

  • George

    Primes are great, but not always practical. At a busy event, you don’t always have the time to swap out lenses. I am curious as to why so many people complain about the weight. The Sigma 50mm art is 815 g and the nikkor 24-70 is 900 g. Sure there are lighter primes, but is it that heavy to make you want to sell it? Maybe you could have rented one first and save yourself a bunch of trouble? Anyway.

  • Aye. I rent everything before I buy. I read reviews but then do my own testing. Without renting you’ll always wonder what if.

  • ron

    I love this lens, but i have to sell it coz i like to shoot handheld in natural lights so i bought the Tammy version with VR, and the Sigma Art 24-105 f4.. and I still got coffee money from the sale…but i still wish I have enough money to keep it…hahah just being a bit greedy…. This will be my go to lens if I make money from photography…but for now i’ll stick with the cheaper option.. If you have money to spend and don’t mind not having VR go for it…

  • ron

    one of the best lens i used…try it before you buy
    I just bought the Tammy and Sigma for their VR so i can shoot at lower shutter speed…

  • stephen

    I have three Nikon bodies (D700, D800 and a D3) and have used my 24-70 lens with each body on five continents, in minus 30 degree weather (Greenland and Alaska), in 100 degree weather (the deserts of Egypt), and everything in between. I also shoot some Grand Prix events where I have three cameras on me, banging around throughout the day. My Nikon 80-400 failed, but my 24-70 has been an absolute trooper, and hasn’t failed me yet. The only problem I’ve experienced, and one which I understand is very common, is the rubber zoom ring has become very slack and needs to be replaced. Other than that, this lens for me has been a real workhorse. (Sorry Walter for the pun.)

  • diane walker

    Nice article Barry. I have a question. What defines the sharpness of a lens. I mean I have observed that using lenses with better aperture like f/1.8 can create more sharp imagery than same focal length lens with aperture of f/2.8. Is that correct?
    alldayphotography.com

  • Zubin

    Looks like Walter has had a real bad experience…personally I’ve been shooting with a D810 and the 24-70 and I’ve never been happier with the results.

  • Denise Lawry

    I have this lens and it is wonderful. One of my favourites!

  • bill

    Hello Barry,

    I was hoping you could clarify some things for me. I have just started with Nikon and was looking to get a 24-70 2.8, but am a little confused with all the apparent configurations. How many different versions of the 24-70 f2.8 are there?, or I am just reading all those letters wrong? For ex. Sww-ED-IF-Af-S. I want to get the pro-level version of this lens. Thank you for your consideration.

  • Neil Millar

    Josef, this is my go to lens I keep on my camera and have had it for years. Absolutely LOVE this lens, doubt you will be disappointed.

  • Carlo

    Waldemar what you stated is not true! In photographylife you see that Nikon has better sharpness on every focal and outperform Tamron at 70mm. DXomark is just ridicolous, you have to consider that the sharpness they show is calculated like they state in their website (http://www.dxomark.com/About/Lens-scores):

    “The DxOMark Score corresponds to an average of the optimal quantity of information that the camera can capture for each focal.The quantity of information is calculated for each focal length/aperture combination, and the highest values for each focal are weighted to compute the DxOMark Score.”

    This is just measleading, and overall even different by photographylife results!

    But sharpness is just one of the important parameter to evaluate, and for sure is a mandatory one, but I have the Tamron 24 70 2.8 paired with my Nikon D750, and I am not so happy about results, not complaining about the sharpness, even if at 70 is not so ok, but about color rendering and shadows where Nikon is much better. And in post processing I am never able to fix color rendering as I would like.

  • Allan Begg

    So if plays up don’t fix it buy another 2 instead?

  • Dan Ko

    Lumix LX100: 24-75mm F/1.7-F/2.8 Leica lens. The bad thing is the flair but the rest works fine for me. 🙂

  • Barry

    I’m thinking of buying a Nikkor 24-85 3.5-4.5 VR for a trip to Italy.
    Please comment.

  • Barry

    I’m thinking of buying a Nikkor 24-85 3.5-4.5 VR for a trip to Italy.
    Please comment.

  • Rt

    This lens goes where I go 80% of the time….1st on my Nikon D700, now D800….very sharp.

  • Rt

    Take care of your gear Bro!

  • Karl McCunnie

    This is a beautiful lens. The time had come to replace some medium format equipment and a friend allowed me to try out his D800e with this lens. The medium format was ever so slightly better but five times the price. That was 2 years ago. I bought a D800e with the 24-70 lens and love it. There is ONE BIG WARNING that you need to know about. Look at the back of the lens and you will see a little 10 in a circle. This means that the electronics are designed to fail in 10 years time regardless of how many times you use it. This horrified me. However, I did buy the lens because I figured I would get enough use over 10 years to justify the purchase given that the lens is so versatile (and I would probably replace it before then). WARNING TO NIKON SALES DEPARTMENT: there are plenty of other Nikon lenses that I can’t justify buying because of this issue – and can we have aperture rings on lenses again please.

  • Jose Victoriano

    There are rumors that A new Sigma ART 24-70 f2.8 is coming in June

  • i got this lens years ago for my d300 and now use it on my d600. no idea why but i cannot get a crisp image from this lens. i think it has to be just my lens but quite frustrating…..scared to think what it will cost to send to nikon for diagnosis.

  • Ted Dudziak

    Barry, a great summary even for my lens the f/4.0 version except for the bokeh part of course. This is my work horse lens. I use it for everything from landscapes to sports with incredible results. Along with my D800 I am good to go. I don’t do a lot of portraits or street photography so for that I may go to my 50mm prime or my Tamron f/2.8 zoom which is not VR silly me. $$$$$$ were limited at the time. I find it to be reliable, fast that gives me high quality images. I have had it since it was released with no issues. Thanks for doing the article. Ted

  • Ryan

    Walter, you sir are what the internet calls a troll…who in their right mind would pay $4000 in repairs for a lens that costs at most $2000. Also, Nikon warranties their lenses for 5 years, so it would cost you $0 to get the lens repaired unless you abused the lens. If you aren’t a troll, you must work for Tamron.

  • decentrist

    Stop reading Ken Rockwell. That is simply untrue and you have been yanked. “This symbol indicates that the lens meets Chinese regulations regarding the use of environmentally friendly material used in the construction of the lens or camera. In China all items that meet these legations must display the above symbol. Any items that do not meet the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) regulations can no longer be imported into Europe so no similar logo is required for Europe .”

  • Karl McCunnie

    Thanks decentrist. That is good to know and quite a relief. I’m happy to be corrected.

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