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Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S test: a strong all-rounder

Posted on Mar 12, 2020

With Nikon’s range of Z series lenses steadily growing, the fast, wide-angle Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S is well worth a look.

This prime joins Nikon’s mirrorless Z range and as a full-frame lens – FX in Nikon-land – it’s matched with the Z 6 and Z 7 bodies, giving a decent wide-angle, but not ultra-wide view. Use it in those cameras’ DX crop mode, or with the recent Z 50 you’ll get a 36mm equivalent. As an S lens it sits at the upper end of the range and its f/1.8 aperture makes it plenty fast enough for low-light and subject separation. We tested it on a Nikon Z 7 body.

The Z 24mm f/1.8 S is by no means small, projecting quite a long way from the camera – but it’s not massively different in size or weight to the F-mount equivalent – just about 100g heavier and 13mm longer. It feels pretty well balanced on the Z 7, though, and is light by some standards. It’s weather sealed and has a metal mount, both of which you’d expect for the outlay.

The lens’s length provides plenty of room to grip the barrel, and as most of it is taken up by a finely grooved manual focus ring, you’re not going to struggle to find it. Like all Z lenses, the ring can be programmed to other camera functions, like exposure compensation or aperture, but these didn’t feel as precise to me as using the traditional buttons on the camera.

On test

No complaints about the Z 24mm f/1.8 S in terms of image quality. It can be used wide open and still delivers excellent sharpness in the centre. If you want optimum edge-to-edge results, you’ll find them from f/5.6 to f/8.

There’s only one switch, which sets manual or autofocus. This all makes the lens feel, in one way, streamlined, or in another, a bit naked. For over £1000, a lens function button would have been nice, as on the Z 24-70mm f/2.8. There’s no VR switch because image stabilisation is dealt with by the Z 6 and Z 7 bodies. If you’re planning to twin this with the Z 50 you won’t get VR at all, but in fairness, the price makes this unlikely.

Manual focus is good, albeit with the slight feeling of disconnection that a non-mechanical ring gives. But there’s certainly enough accuracy, aided by a long throw and the Z bodies’ focus peaking and magnified views. This became obvious when I took advantage of the lens’s close focusing – the 25cm minimum limit got me right on top of small details, and was a benefit for textured foregrounds. You get great separation focusing that close.

Switching to AF, I got some excellent front-to-back sharpness combining the close focusing with the Z bodies’ Focus Shift mode. And generally, AF performed well. It isn’t the most decisive or speedy, but I had little trouble locking on in all but the darkest of low-contrast situations, and it’s very quiet. Using the Z 7 Eye and Face AF modes, it also performed well, keeping moving people in focus nine times out of ten, even at the wider apertures. In that way, it makes a neat walkaround, or documentary lens.

At this price, you’d expect decent image quality, and the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S delivers. It’s very sharp wide open in the centre, reaching its peak around f/4. The best edge-to-edge sharpness was from f/5.6 to f/8, we found.

There’s little or no distortion, and flare and fringing are both very well controlled. Vignetting is present wide open, but is eliminated after f/4. Overall, an excellent performance.

Verdict

If you’ve invested in Nikon’s Z series, you’ll likely have plumped for the 24-70mm f/4 or f/2.8 along with the body. So is this a vital purchase? Only if you value the handling of a prime, want to work in very low light, or need subject separation in wide-angle view – it’s ‘only’ an f/1.8, but all of those things it does very nicely. There’s a Z 20mm f/1.8 on the horizon, so that could be worth waiting for if you want a wider view, but this is an excellent lens that won’t disappoint.

Pros: Build, aperture, handling, excellent image quality.

Cons: Not all that fast or cheap.

For more information, please visit the Nikon website.

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