A Joy to Wield

Courtesy Nikon

We all have our lens preferences. For me, it’s an f/2.8 constant aperture zoom. I’ve owned numerous f/2.8 zooms over the years, and the Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 just might have them all beat. It’s compact, lightweight, and delivers that wide open f/2.8 bokeh creaminess that makes lenses like this so fantastic.

Let’s talk specs. The 4-inch-long Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 lens has internal zoom, a clickless control ring (which is important for filming video), suppressed focus breathing, and a nine-rounded-blade iris. The FX glass is top-notch, so distortions and aberrations are minimized, with ED (extra-low dispersion) glass, super ED glass, and aspherical lens elements (13 elements and nine groups in total). At 450 grams, it’s smaller and lighter than the prized Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S workhorse. 

The Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 gives you a versatile range of capabilities for photographing pre-ceremony setups.

Practically speaking, you’ll love this lens for its minimum focus distance and the 17-28mm range. At its widest (17mm), you can get some neat images from scenic overlooks to interior closeups. How close can you get to a subject? Really close: 7.56 inches at 17mm. I loved this feature during my extensive testing, and during a Michigan ice storm I was excited to capture many fine details up close, including willow buds and pine needles encased in ice.

The lens was great for wide-open spaces, too. I took it outdoors one evening after a heavy snowfall and was impressed at how well it did. It was very windy during my 30-second exposure, so several cattails in the foreground have noticeable movement, but the majority of the image retained extensive detail while perfectly capturing the odd pink-hued sky that night.

With a short minimal focusing distance and the ability to capture gorgeous falloff, this lens is great for capturing icy details. Exposure 1/200 second at f/5, ISO 800, focal length 17mm.

Due to its wide-angle range, this lens isn’t optimal for traditional portraits. You’d get a lot of facial distortion if you were to create a full-frame headshot, and the closer you get, the more pronounced the distortion would be (see page 37). But it would be great for wide-angle atmospheric images at a wedding when you want to showcase the crowd of people at the venue as well as for detail shots of people getting ready before the ceremony.

The Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 lens was designed with video creation in mind. Whether you’re video blogging, filming for marketing purposes, or creating a video for your client, I can see this lens being worthwhile. The zoom ring is quiet, and the amount of detail this lens captures is absurd. While reviewing a test clip of my dog snoozing in the sun, I realized the lens had captured particulate dust floating through the sunbeams. Finally, with its internal zoom design, this lens has great balance throughout its zoom range in case you want to use a gimbal for handheld stabilization and smoother footage while filming video.

The 17-28mm lens is great for wide open spaces. This 30-second exposure at 28mm captured amazing detail (right) and a pink night sky.

I had one minor qualm. Though I wouldn’t change anything about this lens, there were several occasions when I wanted to switch to manual focus on the fly. Since the Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 doesn’t have a switch, I found myself having to fiddle with the info panel to make the change. Even though the front lens element features an antifouling coating, if I added this lens to my arsenal I would still put a UV protective filter on the front.

Overall, this lens was a joy to use. The autofocus was quick and able to track everything I threw in front of it. I appreciated the video-friendly design aspects too. My favorite type of images to create during this evaluation involved a close-up subject with an intentional blurry background. The detail captured is astounding. If you look closely at the face test shot (below), you can even see the texture of my soft box fabric reflected in the subject’s eye. Let’s just say this lens has lovely bokeh and detail.

A wide-angle zoom distorts faces too much for use as a portrait lens, but here you can see the astounding detail that it captures, showing even the fabric texture of a soft box in the eye’s subtle catch light.

Maybe you’re like me—hesitant to switch to mirrorless, still relying on the tried-and-true DSLR because you’ve been waiting for mirrorless technology to get there. Well, let me tell you, it’s there. I fell in love with the portability and lightweight nature of this lens that takes the f/2.8 zoom to a new level. While not a primary lens for a headshot photographer or traditional studio portrait artist, the Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 is great for many other genres of photography. If you capture photojournalistic images, environmental portraits, sports events, or weddings, or if you need a lens that can adapt to a variety of settings, you’ll probably love this as much as I do.

The Nikkor Z 17-28mm f/2.8 lens retails for $1,199.95.  

Betsy Finn is a portrait artist in Dexter, Michigan.