Nikkor AF-S 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR—VR the Champions

Nikkor AF-S 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR

The Nikkor AF-S 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR is an elaborate upgrade, whose inclusion of image stabilisation makes it one of the best assignment lenses one can have, but the benefits come with some tradeoffs, that everyone may not like. Raj Lalwani investigates.

This review was originally published in July 2016.

Freddie Mercury’s iconic lines in the Queen song We Are the Champions, are what I first thought of, after using the Nikkor AF-S 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR. Bad puns aside—the highlight feature of this new lens is the image stabilisation that Nikon has brought to a lens that is ideal when you (as the song goes) need to go on and on, and on.

Indeed, a 24–70mm f/2.8 has never been a lens I have liked using, and yet, I always have. I’d much rather use a small, convenient lens or a faster specialist prime. But though this lens category does not set my heart racing, it is probably my most oft used lens, whenever I’m on assignment. A professional values the combination of power and convenience that one gets in a lens that’s wide enough for cramped environments, telephoto enough for a good portrait, and has a fast aperture for both low light and depth control.

But the older Nikkor 24–70mm f/2.8G had problems, no doubt about that. Its corners were rather average (considering the price and premium nature of the lens) on high resolution bodies. This much required update, thus, besides the inclusion of VR, has a new optical formula, including an aspherical ED glass element, a first for any Nikkor lens. I was disappointed to see some chromatic aberration (correctible in ACR) though, especially visible while shooting at around 35mm.

The E in the lens name (instead of G) denotes an electronic aperture. This facilitates smoother control over the same during video, while using Power Aperture. That said, do keep in mind that this feature reduces compatibility, as it means that some of the older DSLRs like the D200/D90 can only shoot wide open with this lens, something you may want to check up on, if you plan to invest in it.

This is a large lens. and feels a little front heavy on a camera like the D750. The build quality is excellent, with flourine coating on the front element to resist against water, dust and smudges. There is a rubber seal on the lens mount, but the lens isn’t listed as weather resistant. Unlike other Nikkor lenses, the hood does not mount directly on the front, but actually, further back on the barrel. This is interesting as the overall length, while the hood is attached, does not change while zooming.

While centre sharpness sees only slight improvement over the old version, the corners are excellent and it’s liberating to get the benefit of a very efficient VR, as seen in this picture shot at 48mm. 1/15sec at f/2.8 (ISO 2000). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

While centre sharpness sees only slight improvement over the old version, the corners are excellent and it’s liberating to get the benefit of a very efficient VR, as seen in this picture shot at 48mm. 1/15sec at f/2.8 (ISO 2000). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

If you are shooting between 24 and 35mm, there is a visible improvement in sharpness, both at f/2.8, as well as stopped down. The lens is tack sharp and does justice to the D810 sensor, something that couldn’t be said about its predecessor. Sharpness suffers a little as you zoom in, but it’s still very good. Distortion is present, but is minimal and easily correctible.

The focus throw is extremely small, which improves the AF speed… it’s even zippier than the old lens which was already very fast. Surprisingly (and pleasingly), the small focus throw does not hinder while trying to focus manually. VR works very well, giving four usable stops at the wide end, and around three at the telephoto end.

That said, the increase in size, weight and filter size may deter users from upgrading, considering this is also a far more expensive lens. The competition is fierce. The Tamron 24–70mm f/2.8 VC, of course, was the first of its kind to bring in stabilisation in this lens category, and is quite sharp. Tokina’s new 24–70mm f/2.8 lacks stabilisation, but is excellent optically, and almost matches the Nikkor. If you do a majority of your shooting with such a lens at wider focal lengths, Sigma has the one-stop faster 24–35mm f/2 (equally sharp, less aberrations). All these third party lenses have slightly slower AF, but nothing that would hinder. Most importantly, they all have a significantly lower price tag.

Of course, the Nikkor’s greatest competition is the Nikkor itself—a used copy of the older one. The compromises (cost, size, weight) may not justify the gains (VR, sharpness gains) for some, especially those who largely use this as a wedding lens, where perfect corners may not be as essential.

But of course, for some, this conclusion may not matter. A fast 24–70mm is the workhorse that you may need day in and day out, and as a working professional, especially if you are someone who is not as comfortable with third-party lenses, the Nikkor 24–70mm f/2.8E VR is a better iteration of a familiar workhorse.

VR, aspherical ED lens element
Excellent sharpness, fast AF, some CA
Build Quality
Excellent build, no weathersealing
Off/Normal/Active VR switch, rather heavy
Warranty & Support
Wide service network, two year warranty
MRP Rs. 1,78,450
Who should buy it? Pro wedding photographers and photojournalists using 24MP or 36MP bodies who also shoot video, and would need to use Power Aperture.
Why? It’s a little expensive, but does much better justice to high-resolution sensors as compared to the older lens, and the VR is invaluable for both stills and video.
Tags: Raj Lalwani, Gear Guide, Nikkor, better photography, August 2016, Nikkor AF-S 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR