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Beautiful Colors. But the Autofocus? Nikon Z 28mm F2.8 Review


There are a few great things about the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8. It’s part of a lineup of insanely affordable lenses that are pretty much impulse buys. But it’s also got fantastic colors. In fact, shooting with the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 transported me to a time long ago. If you’ve used and loved the Nikon D700, you’ll get vibes from that era, as the colors from this lens make you feel like you’re shooting with that old and trusted DSLR. But so will the autofocus. And in 2022, our comment on the autofocus isn’t necessarily a good thing.

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Too Long; Didn’t Read

What the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 lacks in autofocus performance it makes up for with colors. Along with the Nikon 40mm f2 that shares a similar build, this lens has some seriously gorgeous color. It’s also weather resistant. If you can get around the autofocus issues, you’ll find yourself very happy with this lens. And yes, the colors are that awesome; the render reminds me of the old Nikon D700.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Nice image quality
  • Good colors: they remind me of the old Nikon D700’s render on the Nikon z5.
  • Very compact
  • Weather resistant
  • Very affordable

Cons

Innovations

The Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 doesn’t have much going on in terms of innovation. There have surely been other 28mm f2.8 lenses on the market. And it’s for sure quite small, but I wouldn’t say it’s pancake sized. 

Gear Used

We tested the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 with the:

  • Nikon z5
  • Godox TT685 II N
  • Profoto B10

Tech Specs

Our tech specs are taken from the LensRentals listing:

Angle of View

53°

Aperture Blades

7, Rounded

Aspherical Elements

1

Autofocus

Autofocus

Brand

Nikon

Compatibility

Full Frame and Crop

Diameter

2.8″

Filter Size

52.0mm

Focal Length

28.0-28.0

Groups/Elements

8/9

Hood Included

No

Image Stabilization

Yes

Item Type

Lens

Length

1.7″

Lens Type

Wide Angle

Max Aperture

2.8

Maximum Magnification

0.2x

Mfr. Model Number

20110

Minimum Aperture

16.0

Minimum Focusing Distance

0.6feet

Mount

Nikon Z

Weight

0.4 lb.

Ergonomics

Here’s a shot of the front of the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8. It takes a small 52mm filter thread. So of course, you know this thing has to be small.

And here’s another shot of the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 from above. The only control on it is the manual focus ring. There are no switches.

Build Quality

Well, what do you think? Believe it or not, the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 survived a half-hour walk in the rain. It didn’t falter when it came to performance. It kept working with no issues. In situations like this though, I really wish it had a lens hood. But it doesn’t.

Regardless of the durability, I think folks will adore the lightweight quality of this lens. I think the folks who will enjoy this lens most are those who go hiking and shoot landscapes. The colors are lit, and it’s durable enough to survive your time in the wilderness.

Ease of Use

This is a simple and straightforward lens to use. Mount it onto your camera, point, focus, and shoot. It’s that simple. All the controls are done through the camera. With that said, things can get complicated for sure.

Autofocus

In most well-lit situations, the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 did a great job at autofocusing in the AF-S setting. When set to AF-C, things can get annoying. If you’re shooting a landscape of some sort, you have nothing to fear. Where it gets really annoying is in low light. For that, we’re going to copy and paste a section from our Nikon z5 review update

Trust me, this got very annoying. But here’s the excerpt below:

According to Nikon’s Website, the latest Firmware update as of February 2022 does the following:

• Added support for:

  • FTZ II mount adapters
  • NIKKOR Z 24-120mm f4 S lenses
  • NIKKOR Z 28-75mm f2.8 lenses
  • Improved face/eye detection performance and the visibility of subjects in pictures taken using an optional flash unit.

This test, quite honestly, was one of the most frustrating and inconclusive tests I’ve conducted with a Nikon camera. I called the Nikon z5 back in after we reviewed the Nikon z9. Comparatively speaking, the Nikon z5’s autofocus feels archaic.

In a call with two Nikon representatives, we got clarification on what this firmware does. It’s supposed to affect the “Apply Settings to Live View” feature. Nikon customers can go about shooting with their cameras with the Live View setting effect activated. For more common terms, we just call this exposure preview. And for years, manufacturers across the board have said it affects autofocus performance. But when a flash is attached to the Nikon z5, the Live View effect setting will be disabled.

This means you can go from shooting with flash and without flash with ease when shooting a wedding or something. Your exposure preview will be enabled when you need it and disabled when you need it. Overall, it’s a great feature to have and a fantastic idea!

However, the problem occurs with autofocus performance in low light. Nikon sent us the 28mm f2.8 Z lens with the Nikon z5. In many instances, the two couldn’t autofocus well in low light together. It especially had issues if someone were wearing glasses or a hat that shrouded their eyes a bit in shadow.

I originally tried this test at a local bar using the Godox TT685 II N. (And before I go on, no, the flash brand wasn’t the problem because the Nikon Z5 thought it was a Nikon flash.) But then I moved it into my office and my own apartment. To get this functionality to work, you have to set your camera to AF-S or AF-C mode, and then set it to all-area autofocus. Face and eye detection need to be enabled. The photo above was shot using a single-point autofocus selection, and that’s the only way I was able to get it to work.

Once you do that, you run into another potential issue: manual focus override. To get rid of it with the Nikon Z5, you need to literally disable it on the lens within the menu system. With the Nikon z6 and Nikon z7, you can go to a13 and turn it off. But that’s not available with the z5. This will prevent you from accidentally turning the focusing ring.

After that’s done, the Nikon z5 will still have issues focusing on your face in low light. For the record, I’m turning off the autofocus assist lamp. Most photographers wouldn’t use it anyway because it would annoy the heck out of your subject. Nor would we use AF-Assist from the flash’s infrared beam.

However, the Nikon z5 and the Nikon 35mm f1.8 Z S did a better job focusing in low light together than the 28mm f2.8 did. But overall, it was still pretty awful. The new OM-System OM1 did a better job in a comparative situation and even with disadvantages thrown at it. The Fujifilm X Pro 3 with the original 23mm f1.4 R lens far outpaced the Nikon z5 and the new Nikon 28mm f2.8 Z. For comparison, the X Pro 3 is older than the Nikon Z5 and the 23mm f1.4 was one of the first Fujifilm lenses to come to market.

To make sure I wasn’t going nuts, I checked it by a reader, who agreed that I wasn’t wrong about the autofocus performance.

I’ve also realized Nikon does not have body detection and this is a big flaw. In the end, the Nikon z5 has a problem with glasses and overall it still isn’t as good as Canon, Leica, or Sony.

Image Quality

Here’s where things fare much better for the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8. The image quality is really, really nice. Does Nikon have better lenses? If you’re talking about sharpness or bokeh quality, then yes they do. But the colors this lens gives off somehow or another reminds me of those gorgeous colors the Nikon D700 produced in just the right situations. Do you remember seeing all those old photos of former President Obama shot with the Nikon D700? Or any of the photojournalism done with it? Well, that’s the look you’ll get with this lens.

Bokeh

The Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 doesn’t have very much in terms of bokeh. It’s a wide angle lens and it has a fairly slow aperture. So don’t expect to get the most bokehlicious photos.

Color Rendition

Look at this photo? I mean, come on! I shot it with flash and balanced the ambient lighting to the rest of the scene. A Himalayan salt lamp is lighting my plants and that’s the sky in Queens, NY behind it. Look at the colors! The greens, oranges, yellows, reds, and blues look incredible. I have zero complaints about the color from the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8.

Lens Character

We didn’t find any issues with lens flare, chromatic aberrations, or distortions that would give us pause when considering the purchase of this lens. At the same time, I really wish Nikon didn’t suppress their lens flare like a country or religion that suppresses fun.

The photo above was shot on the old Nikon D700 and the Nikon 85mm f1.8. It’s taken from our database. And this is what I mean when I say that the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 reminds me of the Nikon D700’s colors.

Sharpness

Sharpness from this lens is very good on the Nikon z5. If we used a higher resolution body, we’re sure it would’ve been even better. 

In this scene, I used the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 with a flash, which is where the specular highlights really come out. And it’s amazingly sharp.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Unedited

Edited

Conclusions

Likes

Dislikes

The Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 has a whole lot going for it. Shoot landscapes? Cool, get this lens because you’re probably going to stop your lens down anyway. Like nice colors? You’re in luck. The Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 with the Nikon z5 gives some nostalgic colors; we’re talking Nikon D700 nostalgic. Just be mindful of the autofocus, because it is going to start disappointing you in low light.

We’re awarding the Nikon Z 28mm f2.8 four out of five stars. Want one? Check it out on Amazon and Adorama.





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