3 New Nikkors: Should you order them?

Three new Nikkor lenses were announced on August 4, 2015 (Image courtesy of Nikon USA)
Three new Nikkor lenses were announced on August 4, 2015 (Image courtesy of Nikon USA)

Yesterday brought the announcement of three new Nikkor lenses from Nikon. Two of these lenses are completely new, and the third is an update to a member of Nikon’s “holy trinity” series. You can read the official press release here, but let’s get down to it. These new lenses are a great addition to the Nikkor lineup, but should you consider them? Let’s take a look at each of these new lenses.

New Lens: 24mm f/1.8 G ED Nikkor

Pre-order for $746.95

New Nikkor 24mm f/1.8 AFS G prime lens (image courtesy of Nikon USA)
New Nikkor 24mm f/1.8 AFS G prime lens (image courtesy of Nikon USA)

Over the last few years, Nikon has really updated its lineup with fast, light primes that won’t break your budget. It used to be that the fast primes were all of the very expensive (and heavy) f/1.4 versions, but now the f/1.8 lineup is a very attractive option for anyone looking to get creative with out of focus backgrounds or low-light shooting.

Photographers like fast prime lenses not only to shoot in low light conditions, but also to get those dramatic out of focus backgrounds and isolated subjects that come with fast apertures. In fact, I’d say that the latter reason is more important with today’s photography because between image stabilization systems and high-ISO performance, most of us can shoot hand-held in common low-light conditions with even a kit lens. These fast primes are perfect for street photography, portraiture, and shooting the night sky.

The 24mm f/1.8 Nikkor adds to a full range of f/1.8 aperture Nikkor primes:

  • 20mm f/1.8
  • 24mm f/1.8 (new)
  • 28mm f/1.8
  • 35mm f/1.8
  • 50mm f/1.8
  • 85mm f/1.8

This is an awesome set. The Nikon f/1.8 primes are smaller, lighter and MUCH less expensive than their f/1.4 counterparts. And because these are prime (single focal length) lenses, they tend to be very good optically. I have certainly been very happy with my 20mm f/1.8 Nikkor for night sky photography. Just for comparison’s sake, here are the MTF charts for the two 24mm Nikkors:

24mm f/1.4 AFS G Nikkor MTF chart (image courtesy Nikon USA)
24mm f/1.4 AFS G Nikkor MTF chart (image courtesy Nikon USA)
24-1.8MTF
24mm f/1.8 AFS G Nikkor MTF chart (image courtesy Nikon USA)

If anything, the new 24mm lens performs as well or better as its more expensive cousin. Keep in mind, however, that these charts are reflective of using the lens wide-open, so the 24mm f/1.4 would theoretically be much better at f/1.8 than at f/1.4.

My recommendation: Buy

If you want to explore wide-angle photography with shallow depth of field, or photograph stars and the Milky Way, this lens should be a real winner. Alternatively, the 20mm f/1.8 is there if you want an even wider angle of view. At a list price of under $800, this lens  is less than 1/3 the price of the 24mm f/1.4 Nikkor, and it weighs over a half pound less.

Next: 200-500mmm f/5.6E VR Nikkor

New Lens: 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Nikkor

Pre-order: $1396.95

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR zoom Nikkor lens (Image courtesy Nikon USA)
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR zoom Nikkor lens (Image courtesy Nikon USA)

When I saw this announcement, I was immediately interested in checking out this lens further. A big telephoto lens is absolutely necessary for those interested in photographing small birds or wildlife. When I saw the price of under $1400 USD, I had to do a double-take. That’s an incredibly aggressive price point for a lens with this kind of reach, VR stabilization, and Nikon’s new electronic aperture control (hence the “E” designation).

Taking a quick look at this lens, I see it flying off the shelves for people who are bird and wildlife enthusiasts. It’s the only Nikon lens that will get you to 500mm without a teleconverter for under $8000. That’s saying something right there. The number one reason my clients tell me that they don’t photograph more birds is usually the price of the lenses. This new lens will compete with the super-telephoto options from Tamron and Sigma. The main difference is that this lens maxes out at 500mm and f/5.6 instead of 600mm and f/6.3. That means potentially better autofocus performance despite slightly less reach. You could also use a teleconverter, like the Nikon TC-14EIII and retain autofocus with Nikon bodies that have f/8 compatible focus sensors.

Design and Specs

The 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR has 19 elements in 12 groups, and uses a massive 95mm front filter thread. I doubt anyone who buys this lens would use it with a filter, though, so that’s no big deal. The lens is able to focus to 7.2′ (2.19m) and has a reproduction ratio of 1:4.5. That means you can even use this lens as a quasi-macro setup for small animals like butterflies and lizards while retaining a good working distance. A lens like this is going to be big, and it certainly is. The 200-500mm Nikkor weighs just over 5 lbs (2300g), meaning that while you could hand-hold it, you’ll want either a monopod or tripod most of the time.

Performance

A look at the MTF charts for the new Nikon super-tele zoom suggests that the 200-500mm Nikkor is optimized for shooting at the long end; something most zoom lenses don’t do well. It probably won’t deliver the bokeh of a faster prime, but at this price you really can’t argue with that. It will be interesting to see some real-world samples from this lens, but you can view some samples posted by Nikon.

MTF chart of the 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Nikkor lens at 200mm (image courtesy of Nikon)
MTF chart of the 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Nikkor lens at 200mm (image courtesy of Nikon)
MTF chart of the 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Nikkor lens at 500mm (image courtesy of Nikon)
MTF chart of the 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Nikkor lens at 500mm (image courtesy of Nikon)

 

My recommendation: Strong Buy for Sports/Wildlife on a Budget

If you’re looking at this lens, your other choices from Nikon would be  either the 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR or a 70-200mm lens (either the f/2.8 or f/4 versions) with a teleconverter. If reach is the most important factor (i.e., you want to photograph birds), then this lens should absolutely rock. Factor in the under $1400 price tag, and it’s practically a no-brainer for birding on a budget.

If you aren’t shopping for a dedicated sports/wildlife super-telephoto lens, the 70-200 + Teleconverter or the 80-400mm VR are more versatile options due to the different focal length range and lighter weight. While the 80-400mm VR Nikkor could easily replace my 70-200mm on a trip, the 200-500mm would not.

Next: 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

Pre-order: $2396.95

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR zoom Nikkor lens (Image courtesy Nikon USA)
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR zoom Nikkor lens (Image courtesy Nikon USA)

My 24-70mm f/2.8G Nikkor is probably my most-used lens. It was introduced in 2007, and it’s sharp, handles well, and delivers great starbursts when stopped down. If I had one complaint about it, it was that it didn’t have vibration reduction (VR). I’m sure some people would say that a fast lens doesn’t need VR, but if you shoot indoor events like weddings or theater, then every little bit of shake reduction helps. Well, if you are that kind of photographer, Nikon has answered the bell.

The new 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Nikkor is an indoor photographer’s ideal working lens. It has Nikon’s 4-stop VR system, which means you can use lower ISOs in low-light shooting than with the original lens. It also offers an aspherical ED glass element, which Nikon says does a better job of correcting lens aberrations. Indeed, the MTF charts suggest that this lens is better at both the wide (24mm) and telephoto (70mm) ends of the zoom range.

MTF (wide)
24-70mm f/2.8E VR (2015) MTF chart @24mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
24-70mm f/2.8E VR (2015) MTF chart @24mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
24-70mm f/2.8G (2007) MTF chart @24mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
24-70mm f/2.8G (2007) MTF chart @24mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
MTF (tele)
24-70mm f/2.8E VR (2015) MTF chart @70mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
24-70mm f/2.8E VR (2015) MTF chart @70mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
24-70mm f/2.8G (2007) MTF chart @70mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
24-70mm f/2.8G (2007) MTF chart @70mm (image courtesy of Nikon).
Design and Specs

In order to add VR and improve the optical performance, Nikon has made the new 24-70mm f/2.E ED VR lens bigger and heavier. The new lens weighs in at 2.35 lbs (1070g) as compared to the 1.98 lb non-VR version. It’s also a full inch longer than the previous design. Most notable, however, is that the new 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens uses an 82mm front filter, up from 77mm. This was probably a necessary design change to improve the corner sharpness of the lens, but it is not a trivial one.

A third wheel in the holy trinity?

The need for 82mm filters represents a major departure from the traditional 77mm filter thread lineup for Nikon’s “pro” lens series. The whole idea was to minimize the need for redundant accessories, such as polarizers and other filters. If you use ring-mount filters, whether it’s a polarizer or something like the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo, you suddenly need to get new ones. And that can be expensive!

Consider:

  • 82mm Nikon CPL filter: $179.95
  • Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo 82mm: $480
  • Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 15-stop 82mm: $500

That’s over $1000 in new filters for a single lens, if you’re into landscape and creative long exposure photograph like I am. You could choose, of course, to abandon your 77mm filter set and use step-down rings with 82mm filters, but then you’ll be unable to use your lens hood and you’ll also risk vignetting with wide-angle lenses. If you use square/rectangular filters, it’s less painful because you can simply get an 82mm adapter ring.

My Recommendation: Buy if you shoot indoor events

I think if you are a wedding or PJ/event photographer, you should just go out and pre-order this lens today. There is no question that this lens will be superior in every way to the previous 24-70mm Nikkor. The low-light performance, corner sharpness, and 4-stop VR makes this lens a must-have for event shooters, and the extra size and weight aren’t a big deal for walking around events. However, if you are an outdoor photographer who uses filters for creative photography, or frequently use a tripod, then the original 24-70mm f/2.8G version is still a great lens. It is lighter and smaller to pack for trips, and delivers outstanding images. If you already own the original 24-70mm, I’d be reluctant to upgrade unless I shot indoor events for a living.

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