Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S - Why no love for primes?

Across systems I see universal preference for zoom lenses, whether it is the excellent Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, Olympus 12-100mm f/4 PRO, Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S or the newer and clearly excellent Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. But there is very little discussion of primes today, they seem much less popular. The phrase “will replace a bag of primes” is common in discussions and great, low noise performance at higher ISO from modern sensors is the continued and obvious argument against the additional speed of a prime lens being necessary. Alongside this, of course the convenience of not having to change lenses and reducing the ingress of dust on the exposed sensors of mirrorless cameras - who would want primes?

Without doubt the current zoom lens offerings from Sony especially their GM series, the L mount zooms from Panasonic and Leica and the Nikons and Olympus lenses with which I am more familiar mentioned above, are well ahead of zoom lenses from just ten years ago and in a different league to the zooms of film days. Image quality is generally indistinguishable from a prime.

So why a prime? The reduced size of the very good and very popular Nikon 24-70mm f/4 Z mount lens, has been achieved with the collapsible design. Of course this lens is about the same size and weight as the Z primes, however as much as I tried, I just hated this additional step - opening up the lens before use was more of a showstopper than the  2.5 stops of “lost” light. Size and weight is a consideration, a single prime is generally lighter and smaller than a zoom, though less so than historically the Z mount 24-70mm f/2.8 is still about the weight of two Z primes. For me the flexibility of light and depth of field control are important but above all it is the practise and familiarity with the field of view that is the greatest pull for a prime lens - I am used to it and can work quickly, knowing what I am going to get. 

Nikon’s Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S 

Which leads me on to the Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S for my Nikon Z6. The photos in this article, where cropped, are for aspect ratio only - I think the sharpness across the field is evident, even on the web. In fact, sharpness, through the entire image is outstanding - optical quality is outstanding on this lens - it is easily comparable with the other S lenses from Nikon and probably their best 24mm lens, much as the 35 and 50 siblings are the best by the brand at that focal length too. Close focus performance is excellent, though of course you need to watch depth of field at the closest focus distances, even stopped down, depth of field can be very shallow.

Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S and Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AIS

Handling is much the same as the other Z primes, although longer by about 15mm and 100 grams heavier than the F mount equivalent, it balances well on the Z bodies and the large focus ring is easy to grip, hold and use. The hood supplied is solid and mounts securely - the supplied pouch is not much more than a lens cloth. Nikon has used the Z mount to improve quality not necessarily to reduce bulk and I think this is wise. Small and compact is not a driver to move to mirrorless and certainly not to move to full frame mirrorless in my opinion. It does mean, at least for now, that when I want small and compact, I pick up my Olympus E-M1ii with a tiny prime and until Nikon release their planned 28mm and 40mm “pancake” lenses, the Olympus will be my primary camera for street photography. 

Why 24mm? Well, my stated favourite focal length is 35mm - without doubt my single lens / single camera choice for most things - but as a versatile pair, 24mm and 50mm work really well and for many of my travels, these are the lenses I have chosen to take whether historically with film SLRs and rangefinders, with my Olympus micro four thirds system and now with the Nikon. 24mm is wide without being too wide, allowing a dynamic view of a scene without it appearing artificial.

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