Today, I’ll share a few thoughts on the Nikon NIKKOR Z 17-28mm f/2.8 wide angle zoom after getting to try it hands on for a bit of testing.
First things first. Let me start out this particular essay by pointing out that I am not someone who uses wide angle lenses a lot. There are several practical reasons for this. One, I primarily shoot people. And, while you can use a wide angle lens to shoot people to great effect, there is a point in my taste profile where a lens can be too wide. As someone who can often get lost in the moment during a photoshoot and forget what exact focus length I am zoomed in/out to, I have, on more than one occasion, gotten back home and looked at my photos only to realize that my perfectly proportioned model somehow now looks like a character from Avatar. So, for safety and my own sanity, I generally stick to a 24-70mm lens for most of my work. I am usually on the wider end of that mid-range zoom. But it does prevent me from going full fisheye while giving me a wide enough field of view to suit most of my tastes.
But there are occasions when that’s just not wide enough. You need to take in more of the environment. You want to intentionally add a bit of distortion for dynamism in your image. Or maybe you’re a wedding/event photographer looking to get in close with the crowd. There are a million and one reasons why one might want to get wide. Thus, the reason why the 14-24mm range is generally considered the starting point of the holy trinity.
As a long time Nikon shooter, I had the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED for the F mount. As a matter of fact, wanting to shoot with that lens was one of the main motivators for me to go full frame back when I bought my D700 years ago. At the time, it was the most expensive lens I had ever bought. And it was fantastic. But, over the years, I found that it spent a lot of time in my bag, due to the reasons I mentioned above, and so, I sold it in advance of making the shift to mirrorless within the Nikon ecosystem. Since making the Z9 my undisputed daily driver for the foreseeable future, I’ve traded up to the Z versions of the 24-70mm and 70-200mm glass. The only open roster spot remaining is a wide zoom. But, given my particular use case, I am taking some time before making my purchasing decision as I want to sample all that Nikon has to offer.
This decision has been made all the more fun by the fact that Nikon now have not one, not two, but three options for wide angle zooms in the Z family. The top end NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, the NIKKOR 14mm to 30mm f/4 S, and now, the middle child, the NIKKOR Z 17-28mm f/2.8. I haven’t shot with all three side by side. So, this won’t be a technical comparison. I'm not a "shoot a brick wall and punch way in" kind of buyer. I'm a "does this lens feel right in the hand and accomplish what I need" kind of guy. So, rather than break out my lab coat, I’d like to spend some time with each individually and figure out how, or if, they would be a good fit for my particular needs. And, in the process, I thought it might be helpful to share some of those thoughts with you in case you are also deciding which of the wide zoom is right for you.
Right out of the box, I noticed one thing that I really liked about the 17-28mm. It was an internal zoom, meaning that the front barrel doesn’t expand and contract when you zoom. This has nothing to do with image quality. But from an ergonomics and weather resistance standpoint, it is much appreciated. Additionally, as the lens weight lends itself to gimbal operation, being able to zoom in and out without unbalancing your rig is a major benefit.
I also really enjoyed the balance of the lens. My old 14-24mm f/2.8mm for the F mount was a tank of a lens. It was fabulous. But, at 1,000 grams, you knew you were carrying it. This 17-28mm f/2.8 only comes in at 450 grams (versus 650 grams for the Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S). Attached to the front of a Z 7II, the entire package made for a very comfortable carry. So comfortable, in fact, that I found the combination to be an excellent size for fun walkabout photography. Wide angle lenses are usually go-to lenses for landscapes. And I’ll get to that. But in the first weeks of me having the lens, when my beloved Southern California was under assault by a deluge of uncommon rain, I primarily used the 17-28mm as a walkabout lens for daily shots around the house or occasional breaks in the downpour. As the weather cleared, it became evident that this lens, paired with the Z 7II, might make for a somewhat perfect walkabout camera package. 28mm being a standard walkabout focal length. Then, using the DX crop on the camera, punching in to roughly 42mm would bring me close to my favored 40mm focal length for general street photography. While, at the same time, giving you a 17mm full frame option for when you find yourself in a tightly packed museum or historic location when on vacation.
For vloggers in the audience, I found that the 17-28mm range is incredibly useful for arms-length self-recording. This would be really useful for a travel content creator who needs to take in the wonders of the city while also flipping the camera around on themselves.
Of course, the main use of this lens would be for shooting landscapes. I am not a dedicated landscape photographer. But when I do put on a wide angle zoom, what I’m personally looking for is a bit of dynamism that the focal range offers to the environment, whether that be a landscape or an environmental portrait. How does the inherent curvature of a wide angle field of view enhance a frame? Beyond simply whether or not you can physically fit the scene into the frame, judging the most desirable focal length is a subjective thing for each photographer. 17mm just feels different than 28mm, which feels different than 50mm or 200mm and so on. When I opt for a wide angle zoom, it is usually less because I can’t get far enough back and more likely because I am actively trying to convey a certain mood. So, the question I asked was whether or not the 17-28mm range would be wide enough to give me that wow factor when the occasion called for it. While many photographers will absolutely need the extra width that comes with a traditional 14-24mm (you know who you are), I wasn’t put off at all by the 17-28mm coming in 3mm narrower, especially given that the lens comes in at half the cost. Again, I haven’t shot with the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S yet, so I don’t mean that as a suggestion of superiority. Rather, I found that 17mm was plenty wide enough for my particular needs and thus posed an intriguing value for my use case.
Because I am both a filmmaker and a photographer. The next question I wanted to resolve was whether or not the lens would display focus breathing when racking focus from near to far. With the lens’ small size and weight, I can see this as being a very useful lens for video work, especially when mounted to a gimbal, so minimized focus breathing would be an absolute must. I was happy to see that Nikon seems to have continued their newfound tradition in the Z family of producing lenses with very minimal breathing. My tests were hardly scientific, but when repeatedly racking from objects in the near foreground to those in the deep background, I was unable to find any instances of jarring shifts in frame size. And I found the focus breathing in this lens perfectly suitable for video work. Perhaps a wee bit more than my top end, but 24-70mm f/2.8, but nothing that required me to alter my shooting approach. This might also be a good moment to point out that the lens has a minimal focusing distance of 7.5 inches, which gives you focusing options near to far.
In terms of lens sharpness, I will return to that topic once I’ve gone through a similar exercise with the other two wide-zoom options from Nikon. But, I can say that there were no shots that I took with the 17-28mm that I found lacking for sharpness. Again, there are labs reports which I'm sure can give you a far more numeric answer to the sharpness question. But, in actual practice, I was plenty happy with image quality. I’d feel more than comfortable using this lens with one of the higher resolution Nikon bodies without concern of losing detail.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my time with the lens. Some basic findings:
- Internal zoom
- Good cost-value proposition
- Minimal focus breathing
- 17mm versus 14mm on the wide end
As I continue my journey to figure out which of the Nikon wide zooms is right for me, I’ll check in again in a future article. In the meantime, for those who have shot with the 17-28mm, let me know your thoughts. How have you found that the lens fits into your workflow?
Is this another case of Nikon rebranding a Tamron and upping the price?
I think it's a Tokina.
After lots of research and playing with lenses from the local camera store, I came to some conclusions as to why I should (and did) buy the 17-28:
-So much lighter than the 14-24, making it balance well with a Z6ii
-Overlaps with my 24-120 and 24-200, allowing me to keep this lens on if I want to zoom past 24 to the more natural feeling 28mm (I only ever owned 1 Prime 28mm lens, and it seemed not wide enough for most things, so I sold it and just cropped the 24 mm shots)
-The 14-30 has the pesky "lock" position that makes the lens shorter, but unshootable until you zoom it to the starting spot of 14mm. It's not ready-to-shoot like the the 17-28 is. Out of the box it is ready to go at wherever the zoom ring is set.
-Twice as bright as the 14-30 f/4
Love the f/2.8 bokeh and lens flare capability.
You can't go wrong with this one.