Review: Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S

The release of the Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens completes the 14mm to 200mm focal range of fast professional zooms for mirrorless Nikon Z cameras. It joins the 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor S lenses. The 14-24mm incorporates innovative and useful features, some never before available in a zoom lens of this range.

The internally-focusing Z lens is shorter by 0.2 inches and lighter by a full 12 ounces (or 35%) than its DSLR counterpart. The weight differential makes it a far better mate for the Z series bodies than the DSLR 14-24mm (which requires an FTZ adapter). I tested the lens on a Nikon Z 6II, and the balance was very good, even with the MB-11 battery pack attached. The optical design of the new S series lens is a major departure from the DSLR lens, as is the addition of Nikon’s ARNEO lens coating that reduces flare, coma, and ghosting. Also separating it from its DSLR cousin is the use of an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism rather than mechanical levers. This ensures accurate electronic aperture control when using autoexposure during continuous high-speed shooting.

©Stan Sholik
Even at minimum focusing distance, image quality is excellent.

Close focusing with the new lens is about 11 inches, resulting in an image magnification of 0.13X. While the DSLR version can focus slightly closer, yielding a 0.15X magnification, the Z lens image quality is extremely good at this distance.

The new design features a nearly flat front lens element that is fluorine-coated to repel dirt and ease cleaning. The nearly flat front results in one of the most useful and innovative features of this lens—the ability to use filters on the front of it. Nikon’s HB-97 lens hood, supplied with the lens, is threaded for 112mm filters. Nikon offers a neutral color for lens protection and a circular polarizer. The availability of a circular polarizer, even the pricy $680 version from Nikon, makes this lens attractive for landscape photographers. A flat front element opens the door for Formatt Hitech, Lee, and other manufacturers to design a lens hood/filter holder for graduated neutral density and other filters for this lens, making it nearly essential for landscape still photography, time lapse, and establishing shots in video production. The lens also features a filter slot at the rear. The lens manual provides instructions for how to cut sheets of third-party filter material to slide into the holder.

©Stan Sholik
At 14mm and throughout the zoom range, camera firmware eliminates vignetting and distortion.

Although I didn’t have a $420 Nikon lens protection filter or a $680 Nikon polarizing filter, I still used the larger, deeper HB-97 lens hood for my captures. Nikon also provides a smaller HB-96 hood without the lens attachment threads along with appropriate lens caps for both the lens and the HB-97 hood. They are beautifully designed, locking positively once oriented properly.

The 14-24mm Z lens incorporates the high-end features of its series siblings. These include a large mechanical zoom ring, an electronically coupled focusing ring near the front, a separate customizable control ring toward the rear, a customizable lens function button (L-Fn), and a multi-function OLED display (DISP) button. The placement of the rings on the lens body emulates the placement on its siblings, ensuring easy transition when moving from one lens to another.

©Stan Sholik
Nikon's latest lens coatings reduce flare to a minimum and ensure excellent shadow detail and contrast.

There are many customizing possibilities for the rings and L-Fn button with a Z series body. This allows you to set up the lens for whatever conditions you expect to encounter. The rear control ring, for example, can be programmed for click-free aperture adjustment, which is useful for shooting video or time lapse. The display button cycles through focal length, depth of field, and aperture settings, although the depth of field readings are meaningless with a lens of these focal lengths and the lack of distance markings after the five-foot mark. The L-Fn button offers 22 settings, programmable through the f2 Custom Display option on the camera body.

As expected with any Nikkor professional lens, environmental protections are robust. It’s extensively shielded around the front and rear mounts and all moving parts. As mentioned, the front lens element is coated for dust protection and easy cleaning. All of the rings have a smooth, almost silky feel in operation.

What really matters is lens performance, and it’s outstanding. Sharpness from center to corner at all focal lengths and apertures is superb. Distortion and vignetting are eliminated by automatic corrections programmed into the firmware. Switching off lens corrections in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom shows small amounts of barrel distortion at the wide end of the aperture range and slight pincushion distortion at the upper end. These, along with vignetting, are automatically corrected. I found no evidence of chromatic aberration in any image at any aperture or focal length.

©Stan Sholik
Small light sources, even at the edge of the frame, are reproduced with minimal flare and almost no evidence of coma.

Shooting light sources at dusk showed a near total lack of flare with light sources either in the center or at the fringes of the image and only slight amounts of coma at the corners of the field. With stay-at-home orders and the Milky Way center below the horizon, I decided not to venture to a dark sky area to photograph at night, but I believe this would be a truly superior lens for night sky and Milky Way photography. Tested against my Nikkor 14mm DSLR lens, the new 14-24mm is vastly superior in every way.

The Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S takes full advantage of the Z-camera lens mount and thinner body to maximize lens performance. Build quality, image quality, and ergonomics are top of the line, and as you might expect, so is the $2,400 price.  

Stan Sholik is a commercial and advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California, specializing in still life and macro photography.

Tags: lenses  nikon