Surprisingly, this $1,700 (street) lens is Nikon's first constant-aperture optic in the very popular, all-purpose, standard zoom category. Both of the company's previous pro and amateur 24-85mm lenses had variable apertures. If the gold ornamentation on its barrel doesn't tip you off, the price should confirm that this is a professional-caliber lens.
Outfitted with Nikon's latest generation of optical artillery, including extra-low-dispersion and precision-molded aspheric elements, it promises better control of chromatic aberration and linear distortion, especially at wider apertures and focal lengths. (One big benefit for landscape and architecture photographers: horizon lines that are edge-to-edge sharp and only minimally curved.)
The lens boasts special seals for enhanced dust and moisture resistance. Also on board: Nikon's fast, accurate, and silent SWM autofocus motor. The newest member of Nikon's unofficial pro kit of well-built full-frame f/2.8s, it is a stablemate of the 14-24mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lenses. It converts up to a 36-105mm when used on Nikon DX-sensor bodies.
Similar in size and heft to the comparable Canon and Sigma in this category (the Sigma is lighter but broader), this Nikon certainly isn't a small lens, and it has the solid hand feel of a tool meant to last a career.
Its barrel sports the large gold "N" indicating Nikon's Nano Crystal Coating, a technology borrowed from its semiconductor business, applied to select glass surfaces to reduce glare and ghosting off digital sensors, especially effective in bright light.
The amply proportioned and handsomely finished zoom and focusing rings both offer smooth, satisfying turning actions.
IN THE LAB
As expected, our SQF tests found sharpness and contrast in the Excellent range at the three tested focal lengths. At longer focal lengths, the numbers indicated significantly higher sharpness than those of Sigma's 24-70mm f/2.8.
Our DxO Analyzer 2.0 tests revealed Visible barrel distortion (0.50%) at 24mm; there was Slight pincushion distortion at 50mm (0.24%) and 70mm (0.11%). This is demonstrably better distortion control than the comparable Canon and Sigma 24-70mms, both of which showed distortion in the Visible and Very Visible ranges in our tests.
Light falloff was gone from the corners by f/5.6 at 24mm and by f/4 at both 50mm and 70mm -- about average for the class.
The Nikon's maximum magnification ratios at the uniform close-focusing distance of approximately 14.75 inches ranged from 1:10.36 at 24mm to 1:3.35 at 70mm, offering slightly more magnifying power than competing lenses.
With its rugged construction, faultless optics, and bright f/2.8 aperture, this lens should exert an irresistible appeal to any pro photojournalist or event photographer who is physically and financially able to carry it.
24-70mm (24.78-68.86mm tested), f/2.8 (f/2.86-3.05 tested), 15 elements in 11 groups. Focusing turns 60 degrees clockwise. Zoom ring turns 80 degrees counterclockwise. Focal lengths marked at 24-, 28-, 35-, 50-, and 70mm.