Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 lens review: Tiny, powerful and cheap

There was a lot of talk and excitement surrounding the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 lens when it was announced as a special pairing (accompanied by a special version) with the Z fc camera. As one of the smallest and lightest lenses launched for the Z mirrorless system that is paired with one of the shortest focusing distances, the $297 “pocket” lens offers lots of punch in a tiny, affordable package.

The tiny full-frame wide-angle lens (translates to around 42mm on a crop sensor) is mostly plastic and a little lighter than Nikon’s top-end glass. It weighs just 155 grams (5.5 ounces), making it easy enough to carry around as an everyday lens. The close focus distance (7.5 inches) and claimed waterproofing only add to that.

The lens is technically positioned between the 24mm f/1.8 S and 35mm f/1.8 S lenses, but lacks the “S” designation of its siblings. Given the interesting focal length, it might shine better on a crop sensor body. On a full-frame system, this lens gives users a 75-degree field of view, but on a DX system like the Z fc or Z50, it gets a bit closer to the ‘human eye’ perspective. For the purpose of this review I tested it on several full frame systems, however I think the 28mm lens was supposed to do bigger things if attached to a DX system like the Z fc or Z50 (which none of them had access to, unfortunately).

Build quality and design

Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 lens mounted on the body of the z9.

The compact lens is quite similar in design to Nikon’s 40mm f/2 lens with very similar dimensions and exterior appearance. The single control ring on the lens controls the focus ring by default, but it can be customized to adjust aperture or other features depending on the camera. Additionally, like the 40mm f/2 lens, the 28mm also excluded the familiar auto/manual (AF/M) focus switch and lens hoods typically accompanying most Nikon lenses.

Inside, the lens is quite similar to its 40mm sibling as it also lacks internal image stabilization. Given that all Nikon Z mirrorless systems have IBIS, it’s by no means a dealbreaker, but having a few extra steps of stabilization for those low-light moments would have been nice.

Compared to the S line of lenses, the frame and 28mm f/2.8 lens mount are mostly plastic, which makes it a little more fragile. I guess the advantage of the plastic body means it’s much lighter and of course keeps the price much lower. And despite being plastic, the lens is still surprisingly sturdy and well-balanced.

Another downside of not being an S lens is that it lacks the extra “fancy” coatings, and while it’s generally unnoticeable if you research it and make heavy comparisons to images taken in backlit situations difficult (like shooting in direct sunlight) the differences between high-end and low-end Nikon glass will begin to be felt.

Top view of Nikon Z 28mm F/2.8 lens mounted on Z6

Image quality and performance

While I found the lens to be a bit of an “in-between” focal length on my full-frame bodies (I tested it with the Nikon Z6, Z6 II, and Z9), images were fairly clean, crisp, and the the autofocus was incredibly fast (and quiet) when tracking moving objects, achieving precise focus in under a second in just about any scenario I could throw at it.

The control ring on the lens, being fully customizable, is of a “no-click” design (beneficial for video shooters) and there is no haptic feedback available for focus ranges / minimum or maximum opening. However, when focusing manually, there is a bit of focus breathing as you go from its maximum to minimum focusing distances. Magnification, at least in my testing, was barely noticeable if I hadn’t been shooting with a tripod on static targets, and even then it’s so minimal that it shouldn’t be a problem for occasional photos or video work.

28mm HDR picture

When reduced to f/2.8 at f/4, there is very minor aberration and vignetting in images that would be mostly unnoticeable if you weren’t specifically looking for it. Once the aperture is set above f/4, there are virtually no issues with clarity, sharpness or aberration for the rest of its range. Like most lenses of this nature, I found the sharpest focal point to be around f/5.6 to f/8 for most scenarios. With such a wide field of view, when shooting close-up objects, it is able to create strong separation between subject and background, even at higher f-stops, which means that creatives don’t need to feel stuck in the f/2.8 zone for their images.

As for the bokeh, while the separation was smooth and easy to manage, the actual bokeh pattern seemed to be the dullest Nikon Z lens I’ve used so far. It’s by no means bad, it just didn’t stand out.

It should also be noted that when shooting on the Z mirrorless system there is an option available for “Vignette Control”. If this is enabled, even just on “normal”, the minimal amount of vignetting present becomes almost invisible, except when shooting wide aperture at f/2.8. At this open, the extreme corners will still have visible vignetting in the raw files. (All this is easily adjusted in post and/or by applying the lens profile to the images)

Wide Angle LA - 28mm f2.8
Wide-angle LA – 28mm f/2.8
Wide Angle LA - 28mm f5.6
Wide-angle LA – 28mm f/5.6
LA Wide Angle - 28mm f8
Wide angle LA – 28mm f/8
Wide Angle LA - 28mm f11
Wide angle LA – 28mm f/11
LA Wide Angle - 28mm f16
Wide angle LA – 28mm f/16

Below is a set of sample images taken with the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 lens:

Tiny, powerful and cheap

While Nikon’s 28mm f/2.8 Z-mount lens may not offer the same top-notch quality as the S line of lenses, it does offer a lot at a significantly lower price than these same S-series lenses. It performs consistently with minimal aberration and has a high-end, quiet autofocus motor, making it advantageous for videographers as well. Also, did I mention it’s cheap?

The most important feature of this lens is its small size and weight, especially compared to its cost. While the performance isn’t mind-blowing on an FX system, I feel that when connected to a DX camera, any issues I’ve had with aberration or vignetting in the corners would be negligible.

Whichever way you look at this lens, it’s discreet and rugged enough to travel with photographers as part of their “everyday” kit.

Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 mounted on z9 body, side profile

Are there alternatives?

Nikon already offers several S-line alternatives for this lens that fall on either side of its focal range, but they are priced significantly higher. This includes the $997 24mm f/1.8S and the $847 35mm f/1.8S. While both are “close” in focal range and are larger and heavier. It should also be noted that they are much less discreet than the 28mm f/2.8 for something like street photography.

Beyond Nikon, the $429Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 is quite similar, faster and a bit closer in price to the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8. I can’t speak to the quality of the photos it produces, however.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you are looking for a lens to fill in the gaps between other focal lengths or just want a very affordable strolling lens for travel and street photography. the $297 28mm f/2.8 lens worth the low cost of entry.

About Timothy Cheatham

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