Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 is a full-frame compact wide-angle prime lens for the Z Mount mirrorless system.
At launch, this lens was a little confusing, as we already had a very similar lens, the 28mm. However, after closer inspection, these two lenses are quite different.
I won’t compare the two lenses too much in this review but I will talk about some of the key points that make this lens unique.
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|Focal Length: 26mm
Aperture Blade: 7R
Aperture: f2.8 – f16
Weather-Sealed: Yes – Dust and Drip
Minimum Focus Distance: 7.9″ / 20 cm
Filter Threads: 52mm
Weight: 4.4 oz / 125 g
Pros: Very compact, Sharp even at close distances due to the all-element focus system, decent corner-to-corner sharpness, decent flare control, fairly smooth rich bokeh, good contrast and saturation, good pop/micro-contrast.
Cons: Slow and noisy autofocus, not-so-great sun stars, vignetting wide open.
Editor Notes: Overall a very good lens, you will just have to be careful about the in-camera profiles correcting the vignetting when shooting wide open, as you’ll still see extra noise in the corners. Also, the lens is audible when focusing and is a little slow with focus, but still very usable for most situations.
I keep a list of all available Nikon Z Lenses.
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Review – Overview
Pretty much right away you notice this lens is different than a lot of the other mid-range lenses from Nikon. It has some pretty fancy tech with the all-element focusing system that improves sharpness when close focusing. The downside is that the focus is significantly slower than most or pretty much all of the Z lenses.
On the back of the lens, we have a metal mount and on the front, we have a protruding element, so you’ll likely want to throw on a UV filter onto that front lens hood to keep any dust from getting sucked into the lens, even though the lens is technically weather sealed.
For the most part, this is a really good pancake lens. One of the best ones I’ve used aside from the slow autofocus system. It really feels like the Nikon engineers were shooting to make this an S lens, but it just fell short in a few areas which caused branding to say no. What you’re left with is an almost S lens.
And that’s how you should view and think about this lens when compared to the 28mm. The 28mm is a less expensive midrange lens, with significantly faster autofocus and a slightly more classic rendering with some extra chatter to the bokeh, and think of the 26mm f2.8 as an S lens, or very close to one with very clean rendering and very sharp center focus.
Compared to the 28mm, the 26mm f2.8 is the better travel lens, better landscape lens, and better close focusing lens. Overall it’s just a better lens, except, as mentioned it has a pretty slow and audible autofocus system which shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most shooters. But videographers may want a lens with a smoother and quieter focus system.
The extreme corners are not going super crisp and the edges are not quite as sharp as the center, but for a pancake lens, it’s still very good and we see enough improvements over the 28mm to justify the price.
The 26mm and the 28mm don’t really overlap, there are enough differences between the two to make owning both may be justifiable.
For one I do prefer the field of view of 28mm over 26mm.
Videographers and street photographers would probably like the fast quiet focus on the 28mm lens despite it having slightly busier bokeh and not being as sharp, and landscape and travel photographers would probably like the 26mm lens. I find myself switching between both frequently as they do also produce very different rendering. With the 28mm feeling a little more classic in my opinion.
Compared to the 40mm f2.8 and the 28mm, the build quality is where the 26mm shines above the rest. This is what makes me believe they were pushing for this to be an S lens but it just fell short in a few other areas.
We have a metal mount, a slide-on lens cap, a lens hood that snaps on firmly, and overall a much smaller and tougher feel.
Aside from that, there are only a few other little differences to the build. First, it’s an all-element focusing system. First of its kind? This allows you to still get razor-sharp images even when focusing on close subjects, something the 28mm cannot do.
The downside of the all-element focus system is when throwing focus from close too far, it’s probably about 1/4 the speed of the 28mm lens. So, in fast-paced situations, where close focus sharpness isn’t a requirement (street photography), photographers might prefer the less expensive 28mm for the faster focus.
Also, the 26mm makes a little noise when focusing. It’s not super loud but you will notice it, and it will be something you have to deal with if you’re using an on-camera mic while shooting video.
The 26mm is also weather-sealed (dust and drip), but we do have a retractable front barrel, so really you should throw a filter over the front of the hood.
Internally we have 8 elements in 6 groups and then we have a 7R blade aperture.
Size comparison, Nikon 40mm f2, 28mm f2.8 and 26mm f2.8.
This lens performs very well considering how small it is. I’m actually not sure I know of any other pancake lens that performs as well as this while also being this small. This might just be the best tiny lens optically out there right now, although you can still get a smaller build size with some of the Voigtlanders, but they lack autofocus.
Sharpness is very impressive, especially in the center, with some falloff along the edges of the frame and corners. Even wide open it performs well, but it really comes together at around f4 on the higher resolution cameras like the Nikon Z8.
My lens is ever so slightly softer on the right side. Not enough to worry about or to replace the lens especially since I’m not using this as a landscape lens, even then it’s still fine.
This I believe is a recurring theme with non-S lenses Nikon allows for some looser tolerances. I can hardly notice except for the 50MP Z8. Keep that in mind when ordering new lenses and maybe double-check it when you first get a lens like this.
Something I also wanted to mention is that it seems like I get varying levels of sharpness depending on how far away the subject is. So it feels like I hit these sweet spots where the lens can be sharper than at other distances with the corners and edges, but it’s hard to actually test.
Here are a few samples in a Landscape situation one at f2.8 and one at f8.
These are 50% crops so you can see more of the scene in a smaller slice. You should still be able to compare the edges to the center. I’m focused slightly below the center of the frame towards the middle of the rice fields, so not quite infinity.
You can actually see some slight field curvature in this sample, so the edge samples are actually a little above where the focus is.
Not bad for f2.8, considering that the bottom corners are much closer to us, but there is a slight loss in edge detail because it sits well above the area of focus due to the bend in field curvature. What’s interesting is I don’t really see much field curvature when focusing close, I only first realized it when shooting the above sample. So this makes me realize that the lens behavior, maybe because of the all-element focus system, changes depending on where the subject is.
You can also see the vignetting at play here.
Sample at f8
At f8 those edges clean up a little bit more but still not perfect. The corners are much nicer due to the deeper depth of field, the bottom left corner does very well.
I took the sharpness charts to f8 and shot a little closer than I should have for these samples. But it shows us a few things – there is some field curvature and as long as you’re in that curvature the edges and corners can be very sharp.
Close Sharpness f2.8
This is maybe two feet off the ground – very Impressive.
Nikon 26mm f2.8 vs Nikon 28mm f2.8
The following charts give us a look at the difference between the 26mm and 28mm when looking at close-focus sharpness. Corners and edges are often difficult to compare perfectly since it’s very difficult to get the camera on the exact perfect tilt axis when hand-held or even on a tripod close to a subject. So you would have to focus on the edges and corners, but nobody does that in the real world and it’s a bit of a time-sink for me to get into that.
However, this test does at least allow us to see the center sharpness and what’s happening with the edges.
Mainly you can see that the center is significantly sharper.
These are at about a 75% crop taken on the Nikon Z8.
Quite a bit more detail with center sharpness on the Nikon Z 26mm compared to the 28mm.
You can see the field curvature softening the edges and corners on both lenses. Basically, this means that they are slightly out of focus since the focus plane in the edges and corners is not the same as the center and it’s exaggerated here since I’m only about two feet and a half from the grass.
The 28mm edge seems to be about the same or maybe slightly better than the 26mm with this close-up test, but I’ve never seen the 28mm edges perform as well as the 26mm when shooting stopped down with landscapes. This leads me to believe that this softness is mostly a bend in the focal plane so don’t pay too much attention to it here in these samples.
I also did these samples handheld, so not a super scientific comparison – just a general look to see what’s going on. It does seem like the 26mm has more aggressive field curvature than the 28mm at this focus distance but is still mild compared to other lenses I have.
Corners perform a little better on the 26mm and you see it improve even more in the extreme corners as they bend back into focus.
This is a lens you might want to take up to f11, but on a Z8 you will get some noticeable reduction in center sharpness due to diffraction. On the Z6 or Zf, you could easily shoot f11 without seeing too much diffraction and you’ll get that much deeper depth of field which is what this lens needs/wants. I personally just accept the diffraction at f11, then sharpen in post.
Overall performance with the 26mm is very impressive, especially with that close focus center sharpness. For travel and landscapes, you should give great results if you stick to infinity subjects like the Grand Canyon shots I’ve posted. This lens with those scenes behaved very well.
The lens comes with a built-in profile correction that fixes distortion and vignetting and there is no way to turn off the distortion correction. But as is, there is very little distortion.
Vignetting is maybe its greatest weakness. If you turn off the vignetting control in the camera you can get some pretty heavy vignetting. I don’t have any third-party software right now that can strip the Build-In Lens Profile corrections, so most of the time you’ll get a fairly controlled image.
Here is a straight-out-of-camera sample. You get a nice image, however, when you’re wide open like this, you will notice a lot more noise in the edges and corners than in the center. One of the downsides of hiding lens flaws behind lens profiles.
Here is a sample with all vignetting controls turned off in-camera at f2.8.
Sample at f2.8
Sample at f5.6
I’ve been shooting with this lens for several months now and really haven’t had any issues with any type of CA. I’m sure some exist if I were to stress test the lens, but for the most part, it’s performing very well.
Flaring / Sunstars
Sometimes you do get some flaring. It’s not bad, but there are some angles where the lens is susceptible to a little flare.
Sun stars are not great.
Art & Character
The character of this lens is somewhat clinical but also very clean so there are rarely any distractions. The images produced have great contrast and saturation and actually pretty good micro-contrast. So even though the images are super clean, the rendering can still be very lively with some nice tonal depth.
So I’d hate to call it clinical because there is so much pop, it’s almost surreal.
The 28mm on the other hand does produce more swirl and chatter to the bokeh and seems to have a bit of a consistent field curvature which can sometimes add a classic feel, but then sometimes it’s super distracting.
The Nikon 26mm is pretty much always consistent with bokeh and is pretty much going to give you great images no matter the environment.
There are not really any outstanding negative characteristics to the 26mm other maybe the sun stars are a bit of a letdown.
Color & Contrast – Micro Contrast
The 26mm like pretty much all of Nikon’s new prime lenses has very nice contrast and very good saturation. You do actually get some pretty nice pop as well. All of Nikon’s pancake lenses are good in this regard, the 26mm, the 28mm, and especially the 40mm. They’ll be fun for Nikon Zf and Zfc shooters looking for a bit more of a classic rendering to go for their classic cameras. But I’d say the 28mm has even more of a classic rendering than this 26mm and the 26mm is cleaner with the bokeh.
Here is a good example of lens pop/micro-contrast. Luka just really comes to life in stunning detail and almost jumps out of the image, but the background is still buttery smooth. It looks super sharp when displayed on this blog, but this image is actually slightly blurry from motion blur. It’s really impressive, considering it’s a 26mm lens that is only f2.8.
I know people these days love their smartphones, but you’ll never get this magic with a smartphone photo.
B&W photography is just amazing with this lens.
The 3D effect here is unreal. You can see how the bokeh gets a little chatty on the right edge.
Bokeh is maybe not super buttery smooth, but it’s still decently smooth and vibrant while holding rich colors. A lot of the higher element lenses that correct for better optical performance often get bokeh that’s a little less saturated and mistier or aetherial.
Very few distractions in the bokeh and very little swirl or cat’s eye effects.
Here you can see a straight-out of the camera sample at f2.8. There is some bubbly bokeh in the highlights and it does hold its shape pretty well in the bottom right corner.
You can actually pull almost everything you need to know about this lens from this one sample. Punch contrast and colors, pretty smooth bokeh with some nice vibrancy. Very controlled CA, although you do see some slight teal fringing in the top sunshade, which is not outside of normal. Then of course it’s very sharp in the mid-frame at a close focus distance.
Here is another sample from later in the day so you can see how the bokeh performs under calmer lighting – It gets a little rougher in that bottom right corner, but I wouldn’t say it’s distracting.
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Bottom Line
This might be the best tiny lens I know of so far. Usually, small lenses come with a ton of compromises but this is the first time I’ve really seen one where it’s just so consistent. It’s not a perfect lens but it’s pretty close in the areas that matter.
The only significant flaw that would make me grab the 28mm instead, is the slower and louder autofocus.
A serious landscape photographer would also want to pick up a lens with a little better corner-to-corner consistency with sharpness, and wide-open landscape shooters might not like the extra noise in the corners and edges from the hidden vignetting. This was the same problem we saw in the 14-30mm f4, however, for daytime shooters at higher apertures, it’s totally fine.
For most forms of photography, the lens is really good, but I would probably grab a 28mm for street photography or videography if on-camera sound is used, because of the better-focusing system. 4k video and high motion blur from street shooting or videographers using the 180-degree rule, wouldn’t really see a difference in the optical performance between the two lenses, except for the different bokeh profile.
For all other situations, the 26mm f2.8 is amazing, but it won’t always be the best option for everyone since use-case matters here. This is likely why it didn’t make it as an S lens, but it’s so close. Truly an exciting lens. I get why it’s more expensive and the price is justified.
See the Nikon 40mm f2.8 Lens Review
See the Nikon 28mm f2.8 Lens Review
I will go back and clean up those reviews a bit since now we have this 26mm to compare and I have a high res Z8 camera.
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Images
Sample Images are shot with the Nikon Z8. Some of the street photos are using a Glimmerglass filter with 1/4 power. Colored with Color Color Presets.
Here are a few street shots using the Glimmer Glass 1/4 where you can get a very classic almost film vibe with the right presets applied.
These photos shot on the Z8 have no filters over the lens but have been colored with presets.
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