The all-purpose zoom lens that’s perfect for travel and walkabout photography
Earlier this year, Nikon announced the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR zoom Nikkor for full-frame (FX) Z-mount mirrorless cameras. Despite its variable aperture design, I was intrigued by the idea of having a native Z-mount lens for travel and general purpose photography. During my international photo tours, I typically used my 24-120mm f/4 VR zoom Nikkor as my primary lens.
When I moved to the Nikon Z mirrorless camera system last year, one of the challenges I faced was coming up with an appropriate travel kit. When I’m traveling, especially internationally, the size and weight of my kit are more important than superior optical quality. The Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S lens, which is the Nikon Z “kit” lens, is very good but has a limited zoom range, meaning I’d need to add a longer telephoto zoom to my bag.
I considered using my 24-120mm f/4 with the FTZ lens mount adapter, but I found that it was a little clumsy to use and frankly, quite heavy. That left me with the following travel kit:
- Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera body
- Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S zoom Nikkor
- Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S zoom Nikkor
- Nikon 70-200mm f/4 AFS G VR zoom Nikkor (plus FTZ adapter).
This kit worked well on my photo tour of Scotland in the fall of 2019, but it was still a bit cumbersome compared to having a good all-purpose zoom lens. With the addition of the 24-200mm to the Nikon Z lineup, I could theoretically have a two-lens kit, with the 24-200mm being my go-to lens in most situations. This change would save me nearly a kilogram of weight from my bag!
Trade-Offs With All In One Zoom Lenses
All in one zoom lenses typically represent a trade-off between optical quality and convenience. Moreover, many of the all in one zooms can be quite heavy; something that you don’t want hanging from your neck all day when you’re touring a city. The 24-200mm Z lens weighs in at 540 grams (1.25 lbs), lighter than both the 24-120mm (1.56lb) and 28-300mm (1.76lb) without factoring in the FTZ adapter (specification comparison chart).
For me, then, it really came down to one question:
How does the Nikon 24-200mm lens compare to my go-to 24-120mm? If the performance is anywhere near close, then I’d call that a win.
Handling and Ergonomics
The Nikon Z 24-200mm zoom is extremely easy to use hand-held. It fits comfortably in the hand, and the large zoom ring is smooth and easy to use. I rarely use the narrow manual focus ring, which is located closer to the camera body. This lens does not have a “collapsed” position like the 24-70mm f/4 S, but it does have a zoom lock switch to prevent the lens from zooming during transport. The 24-200mm lens uses 67mm front filters.
I tested the 24-200mm on my typical backyard subject (a fence) using the Nikon Z7. At all focal lengths, center sharpness was very good. At 24mm and wide-open, sharpness declines at the extreme edges of the frame, and there is modest light fall-off in the corners. Light fall-off wasn’t an issue at f/5.6 and higher (and you can correct for it in your RAW editor). I found that the sharpness was very good across the frame at 50mm, 120mm, and 200mm.
With a 7-blade aperture, I didn’t expect bokeh to be a strong point of the 24-200mm, but out of focus backgrounds were not harsh, either. I think most people would be satisfied with this lens for casual portraits.
I tested the speed of the autofocus in the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 Z Nikkor by recording video at 120 fps while focusing the lens. I focused the camera on a subject approximately 6′ away, and manually set the lens to both minimum focus and also infinity focus. In both cases, the 24-200mm focused quickly and nearly silently, with focus from infinity being nearly instantaneous!
- Focus from infinity: 0.06s
- Focus from minimum setting: 0.23s
Field Test: Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is the kind of place where the versatility of an all in one zoom is extremely useful. Blowing sand makes changing lenses in the field a real pain, so the 24-200mm was the perfect choice for me. I was able to easily shoot hand-held and capture a wide range of images!