Monday, April 30, 2012

Best Alternative to Nikon 24-70 2.8G: the Nikon 28-70 2.8D

Every Nikon shooter knows that the Nikkor 24-70 2.8G is the best standard zoom for Nikon's full frame cameras.  However, at around $1900, it's not easily affordable.  There are of course third-party standard zooms that cost far less, such as from Sigma, Tamron and Tokina, but their performance is not quite as good as that of the Nikkor 24-70.

One alternative that some newer Nikon shooters might not know about is the predecessor to the 24-70, the Nikkor 28-70 2.8D.  It is no longer being sold new, but used prices are about half the price of the 24-70.

But is the 28-70 as good as the 24-70?  In this post, I compare the 28-70 to the 24-70 and let you judge for yourself.

The 28-70 is the first high-end Nikon lens I've owned.  It is an all-metal lens and feels substantial.  I don't own an 85 1.4D, but that's what it reminded me of.  It feels like you're holding an expensive watch.

The 28-70 usually comes in black like the one pictured above but there is also a white version:
image courtesy of Nikon

The 28-70 is sometimes called 'the Beast' because of its size and weight, a name that I don't think it truly deserves, because it's only slightly wider, a little shorter, and just 35 grams heavier than the 24-70.  There are some people who talk about it being too heavy.  I think they're whining like a bunch of little kittens.

The 28-70 on a D3 beside a Tamron 17-50 VC on a D70
Quick rundown of the 28-70's features:

  • Full frame FX lens - can be used on both full frame FX and APS-C DX bodies.  On a full frame, it's a standard fast zoom.  On a DX body, it covers 42-105, which is like having both a normal lens and a portrait lens with you, but no wide angle coverage.
  • Constant f/2.8 aperture
  • ED glass:  Extra-low dispersion glass minimizes chromatic aberrations.
  • SWM (silent wave motor): as an AF-S lens, the 28-70 has a silent wave motor, which allows it to focus quickly and accurately, even on smaller Nikon bodies without a built-in AF motor
  • SIC super integrated coating - reduces ghosting and flare
  • M/A switch - allows quick switching from autofocus to manual focus
  • aperture ring - as a D lens, the 28-70 has an aperture ring, which can be used to change aperture on the fly for video, adjusting aperture on older cameras, or for macro (for example, if used with a reversing ring).

Both the 28-70 and 24-70 have 15 elements in 11 groups, except that the 24-70 has 3 aspherical elements whereas the 28-70 has one.  Both have a 9 bladed diaphragm for rounder bokeh.

There are some differences in features, however.  The 24-70 has Nikon's nano crystal coating to minimize ghosting and flare.  The 24-70 also has dust/weather-sealing.  Finally, the 24-70 has a much closer minimum focus distance (15 inches vs. 27.6 inches).

Included accessories:
The 28-70 comes with a petal-shaped lens hood (HB-19) and a leatherette hard case (Nikon CL-74).

On with the shootout...

28-70 vs. 24-70: TEST PROTOCOL
I took the two lenses, mounted them alternately on a D3 on a tripod aimed at a brick wall.  I took shots at 70mm, 35mm, 28mm (and in the case of the 24-70, at 24mm as well).  Each focal length was taken at f/2.8, f/4.0 and f/5.6.

To compare the results, I took 100% crops from the center and from the upper left corner area (not literally the corner though).  This is what the uncropped shot at 28mm looks like:

Disclaimer: the 28-70 had the benefit of a microfocus adjustment.  The 24-70 here did not.

In the slideshow below, you'll see the 28-70 shot first, then the equivalent shot from the 24-70.  If you prefer, you can click on the link to launch the album where you can view the pictures larger.

The slideshow below is similar to the one above, except these crops are taken from top left corners of the same shots.  Web album here.

In my opinion, the 28-70 holds its own against the significantly more expensive 24-70, at least at the D3's 12 megapixel resolution.  [EDIT: But see the comments below for the performance on a D800.]  The 24-70 has a warmer color rendition, but otherwise it's hard to tell them apart unless they're side-by-side, and I'm pixel peeping really closely.

If you are looking for a more affordable alternative to the Nikon 24-70 2.8G, this is it. Together with the 24-70, this is Nikon's best standard zoom with virtually the same sharpness, yet it costs almost half as much as the 24-70.  Personally, I sold mine, but only because I found a good deal on the 24-70 and I wanted the peace of mind of having the absolute best lens for a focal range that I use very often, in case I ever upgrade to a higher resolution body.

Coming up: A review of the Tamron 28-105 f/2.8, the only lens that covers 28-105 at a constant 2.8 aperture.  I will also be reviewing the Nikon 24-70 briefly, followed by the Sigma 50 1.4.  We'll switch to wide angles again with the Tokina 11-16 2.8 and the Tokina 10-17 fisheye.  Then we'll go to the opposite end with a review of the Nikon 70-200 VR I.


28mm at 2.8
48mm at 2.8
28mm at 4.0
Scissor sweep.  70mm at f/4.5
My professor, teaching the s-mount armbar.  50mm at 4.0
28mm at 4.0
38mm at 2.8