Nikkor Z 24–120mm f/4 S: Evolutionary Excellence
Nikon’s third iteration of this versatile, extremely popular zoom range, the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S is at the very peak of it product evolution. K Madhavan Pillai puts it to the test.
The 24-120mm focal range was always a huge success for Nikon with every version of the lens (the venerable AF Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6D IF, and the immediate predecessor, AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR introduced in 2010). While the G edition can also be used with Z mount cameras using the FTZ adapter, the latest edition, the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S, is an evolutionary leap forward in every sense.
Essentially, the Z 24-120mm is a 5x wideangle to moderate telephoto zoom with a constant maximum aperture of f/4, ensuring complete operability of all available camera AF systems. This lens belongs to Nikon’s S class of lenses, implying attention to optical performance. It is developed for full-frame cameras, but can also be used on APS-C bodies (Nikon Z fc or Z 50), with a crop factor equivalent of 36-180mm.
In a nutshell, the Z 24-120mm has an all-new, more cohesive design, taking all the advantages of the larger Z mount. Significantly, apart from the manual focus and zoom rings, there is an extra function button and a third, multifunction control ring that can be customised to operate aperture (by default), exposure compensation, or ISO sensitivity, or switched off. The lens is sealed against the elements, but it misses optical image stabilization, relying on the body-based stabilisation on Nikon’s fullframe Z cameras (and missing in the APS-C models, Nikon Z fc and Z 50).
Optically, the lens has 16 elements in 13 groups, including 7 special dispersion and aspherical elements. The lens has ARNEO anti-reflective coating, Nikon’s nano-coating to reduce flare and fluorine coating on the front element to repel water and dirt.
The lens is designed to have minimal focus shift, which is an advantage for video users. Closest focus distance is 0.35m or 1.2ft with a working distance of 0.16m or 6.3in at the tele end and a maximum magnification of 0.39x, all of which are excellent. The filter thread is a standard 77mm. A petal-shaped hood comes with the lens.
AF is quick and silent, but the sound of the AF can be faintly heard in videos made in quiet environments using the internal mic of the camera. The focus speed in video can be controlled through the camera. MF via the focus ring is fly-by-wire and precise, and the direction of rotation can be controlled through the camera. But this is not ideal for manual focus pulling for video, and there is no distance scale either.
The lens is very well-made for a zoom of its nature. It sits much better in the hand than its predecessor, and the controls are easily accessible. The zoom ring has a short rotation of about 80°, but the double barrel lens design means that the zoom ring, conveniently wide as it is, does takes a bit of heft to rotate. The MF ring is extremely smooth, possible to operate with a finger, and very accurate. The function ring and button is placed well and is useful.
Earlier iterations of this lens had their issues with optical performance, and given the focal range, this was forgivable. The Z 24-120mm surpasses them by being optically quite brilliant, even for a demanding photographer. On the whole, the lens produces impressive results across the focal range, with a high degree of center to edge definition across apertures. The sweet spot in terms of definition occurs at about 50mm at f/5.6, with some visible edge softness creeping in beyond 100mm. Similarly, there was some softness at the minimum focus distances. Also, not unexpectedly, zooming does cause some focus to shift. Flare is exceedingly well controlled, and so are chromatic aberrations. You can comfortably use this lens wide open against the light with no issues. Field curvature is also reined in well, and bokeh looks relatively nice for f/4.
Sharp, optically sound for its focal range, speedy and ergonomically excellent, this lens has it all in good measure. The other option to consider, perhaps with somewhat lower optical quality and also at a lower price, would be the Nikkor Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR. But if this focal length range is what you need, the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S is the best that Nikon has put out so far, and undeniably well worth the price tag of Rs. 97,995.Tags: