Nikon 28-75mm f/2.8 Lens Review

What is It?

The Nikon 28-75mm f/2.8 was a surprise announcement in December of 2021 for a lens not on any previous road map. Moreover, the odd specification made everyone immediately think of the Tamron Di lens that appeared in the Sony FE mount. Well, there's a reason for that: it appears that Nikon licensed the optical formula for the lens from Tamron. Not only is the optical formula the same, but the published MTFs of the Nikon and Tamron lenses are near identical. The 28-75mm also appears to be made in the same plant in China as the Tamron.

But that raised two immediate questions: (1) why did Nikon license the original version of the Tamron lens when Tamron themselves had come up with an improved second generation? and (2) why did Nikon think they needed another mid-range zoom in the first place?

Rumor has it that Tamron had over-committed to Gen 1 glass, and that glass might have been from Nikon's foundry, thus the likely answer to both questions is that licensing gave Nikon a quick, easy-to-produce, additional lens for the Z-mount lineup. As to what that means pragmatically, you'll have to skip to the performance section, below. But first let's deal with the basic information about the lens.

One thing that's different about Nikon's version of the lens is the build. Nikon has put their usual Z-mount aesthetics and build quality into the lens. Ironically, this means a narrower focus ring than on the Tamron version.

The thing Nikon licensed from Tamron was the optical design. That consists of 15 elements in 12 groups, with 3 aspherical elements and 2 low dispersion elements. Those latter two turn into an ED and Super ED element in Nikon-speak, and if you look closely, you'll find that two of the aspherical elements are actually hybrid aspherical (only one side polished aspherically). The smallest settable aperture is f/22.

Nikon has substituted their Arneo coating for Tamron's BBAR coating, though it's unclear what the actual difference might between those (there's a lot of hidden cross licensing that shows up as different marketing terms in the optics business). The front element of the 28-75mm has Nikon's fluorine coating to repel dust and water. 

The lens itself is weather sealed at multiple (at least seven) points, though it relies on the plastic overlap instead of an extra rubber gasket at the lens mount.

The 28-75mm f/2.8 is 4.8" retracted (129.5mm), but extends while zooming. 28 to 75mm is achieved in less than a 90° turn of the zoom ring, and the lens extension fully zoomed to 75mm turns out to be almost exactly 1". 

Close focus is variable. At 28mm you get 7.5" (0.19m) and a 1:3.3 maximum magnification ratio, while at 75mm close focus is only 15" (0.39m). Focus is done by a single stepping motor, and is entirely internal. Up front we have a 67mm front filter thread and the bayonet for the included HB-83A lens hood. No switches or other controls appear on the lens (not even the typical M/A switch).

The lens doesn't come with an S designation, so a lot of other things are missing, too: no internal lens VR, no LED display, and so on. Weight is a reasonable 19.9 ounces (565g).

As far as focal range goes, the big difference is at the wide end. 28mm is not at all like 24mm, in my opinion. We're talking about 65° horizontal coverage at 28mm versus 74° at 24mm. That's a fair degree of change. At the other end, 70mm and 75mm are pretty darned close, and the rounding that went into those designations turns out to make them even a bit closer: we're talking the difference between 29° and 31° horizontal. If you mount the lens on a DX camera, the focal range is 42-112mm, which is a decidedly odd range.

The 28-75mm f/2.8 is made in China, and comes with the HB-93A lens hood and a light lens pouch, and sells for US$1200 (often discounted).

Source of the lens reviewed: loaner from B&H.

Nikon's Web page for the lens.

How's it Handle?

The simplicity of the lens means there's not a lot to comment on. The zoom ring on my sample was slightly on the loose side, but not so much that I saw any zoom creep. The focus ring is the usual Nikon Z fly-by-wire: smooth, and on the latest cameras, selectable in terms of speed of response.

How's it Perform?

Focus: I didn't notice any appreciable difference between focus speed on the 28-75mm and the other mid-range zooms Nikon has produced. 

Moderate and easily seen focus breathing on this lens occurs at all focal lengths, though you're probably most likely to notice it at the wide end. I wouldn't recommend the lens for serious video work because of the focus breathing (it's also not parfocal).

Sharpness: At the center for the frame wide open I wasn't expecting a great deal of difference between this new lens and the 24-70mm f/2.8 S. That's basically true in both chart testing and actual use: I can't really distinguish the 28-75mm and 24-70mm f/2.8 in any meaningful way at the center of the frame. However, by the DX corners, the 28-75mm is starting to fall slightly behind, and at the far corners it's clear where the 24-70mm's advantage is: the 28-75mm starts to show a little fuzzy where the 24-70mm is still relatively crisp. The DX corners on the 28-75mm actually are a bit better than the 24-70mm's at f/4, but the far corners still never catch up. That's true from 28-50mm. In the 50-70mm focal range, the 28-75mm comes closer to matching the 24-70mm, but doesn't quite equal it.

So, within the DX frame lines, I'd say the 28-75mm f/2.8 is a highly respectable optic, particularly as you stop down a bit. It's those outer edges that feel just a little "old school" and "anti-Z" to me. Overall, the best performance of the lens is at the telephoto end, where I find it very close to the 24-70mm f/2.8 S, especially once you get to f/4. I'm less happy with the 28-50mm performance, where I really don't get strong acuity outside the DX corners. 

One thing I look for in real life testing is scene complexity. Poor lenses tend to fall apart with complexity, and I'm trying to push that here by using f/2.8. The lens rendered quite well, in my opinion (more on this scene in a bit).

This is a straight out of camera JPEG in a scene of both complexity and contrast, again at f/2.8. Here I was looking for focus falloff in the complexity, and the lens handles that well, too.

Best aperture at the wide end is f/5.6, while f/4 suffices above 50mm except for the extreme corners.

Close-up focus performance exaggerates what I wrote above: the center is very usable, but there's clear fall off of performance as you move outward, and closer to the middle than the DX corners. Infinity performance is the opposite: the lens actually performs a little bit better towards the corners than at test chart and normal photography distances. This is decidedly not Z-Nikkor optics design: Nikon-designed Z-mount optics tend to not have much difference between near and far performance.  

I don't see evidence of focus shift, though there is field curvature (which partly explains the corner performance). Mild coma and minor astigmatism were seen in the corners of the image, pretty much at all apertures.

Linear Distortion: Clear mustache-type barrel distortion at 28mm (1.5%+), which becomes pin-cushion distortion of about 2% at the telephoto end. The cross-over point is somewhere around 32mm. The mustache has a strong barrel component in the inner quarter of the lens, that flattens and even pin-cushions some as you approach the edges. The in-camera corrections do seem to account for the odd shape of the distortion, though.

Chromatic Aberration: As often is the case with fast lenses, there's a bit of longitudinal chromatic aberration (magenta front, green background), but surprisingly much less than I would have expected, and not as much as I remember from the original Tamron lens with this optic design. The lens has visible lateral chromatic aberration, but generally in the one to one-and-a-half pixel range. Not terrible, but probably something you'll want to correct. Stopping down doesn't really improve the lateral CA enough to warrant making that your primary method of removing the CA.

Vignetting: Surprisingly not fully corrected by the in-camera corrections wide open (it is as you stop down). At 28mm, the corner clipping is over 2.5 stops, and it's decidedly corner-heavy (i.e. a broad inner image circle shows little vignetting). 75mm also shows a strong 2.5 stop clipping, but the middle focal ranges do much better, more like 1.5 stops. Stopping down a stop also reduces the vignetting a stop, something I haven't seen in such a one-to-one correspondence before.

Flare: Pretty well controlled for a fast lens that has wide angle capability. The biggest issue was a bit of veiling glare, not flare spots, though I could see some faint green ghosting in extreme situations with a light source in the frame.

Bokeh: Clear outer ring and onion-ring in out of focus highlights. Very busy compared to previous Nikkors. Also, the lens shows clear clipping (not exactly cats eye) as you move towards the far corners of the frame.

Here's a crop from that first image, above, showing the in-focus area versus the out of focus area. While not at all bad, there is some busy-ness and structure to the out of focus areas.

Note: Nikon makes a number of claims for the 28-75mm that I find to be mostly untrue. For example, "Big beautiful bokeh." No, the bokeh is slightly busy and structured, not the soft, dreamy bokeh that has "large, soft spheres." Likewise, "Optimized for Z series video." Nikon says the focus breathing is suppressed, but that's not at all true, particularly when compared to other Z-mount Nikkors. 

Final Words

I've heard a lot of "meh" comments about this lens, and a lot of complaints about Nikon licensing the G1 version of the lens and not the somewhat better G2 version. Thus I wanted to review this lens and form my own opinion. My review may seem rather "meh", too ;~).  

It's a tricky call, no matter how you slice it. First, the other two mid-range zooms, the 24-70mm f/4 and 24-70mm f/2.8 S are so good that this new lens is going up against the best in class, period. And, no, it doesn't quite match best in class across the board. Clear compromises are involved, with the outer edges of the frame being one, and the slightly busy bokeh being another. The 28-75mm f/2.8 isn't really a lens for video, either, as the focus breathing is clear and very non Z-like. 

That said, the 28-75mm f/2.8 is 9 ounces lighter than the 24-70mm f/2.8 S, and almost as light as the 24-70mm f/4 (2 ounces more). If you need a faster lens (by a stop) and don't want to pay for it with both your wallet and neck weight, the 28-75mm f/2.8 does step in nicely. I've actually added it to one of my two-lens travel kits (with the 14-30mm) that make sense for Z System users. 

The trickiest part is the price. The 24-70mm f/4 sells at discount as a kit lens, and is a highly competent performer. At US$1200, the 28-75mm f/2.8 is overpriced enough to push most people elsewhere in their mid-range lens choice. On the other hand, at the US$900 price that Nikon has been discounting this new lens at, it starts to make a lot more sense. Thus my final recommendation:

Recommended (at US$900 discounted pricing) (2022)

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