The Nikon Z 40mm f2 is one of the latest compact full-frame lenses for the Nikon mirrorless system. An impressive lens for the price and for what it’s capable of with an overall really nice balance between size and performance.
I paid full price for my copy and I purchased it at Bic Camera in Japan.
|Focal Length: 40mm
Aperture Blade: 9R
Aperture: f2 – f16
Elements: 6 elements in 4 groups
Coatings: Super Integrated Coating
Minimum Focus Distance: 11.4″ / 29 cm
Filter Threads: 52 mm
Weight: 6 oz / 170 g
Pros: Very sharp in the center, high micro-contrast, great color, great contrast, great flare resistance, semi-classic rendering (subjective), small and light, price, quiet and smooth autofocus, minimum focus breathing, weather-sealed.
Cons: Nasty coma, some loss of sharpness at close distances, some loss in sharpness towards the edges of the frame, not great bokeh in transition zones (the area is just out of focus).
Notes: I find autofocus to be very acceptable and accurate and can easily handle tough situations like street photography at night, but some lenses like the Z 50mm f1.8 are a bit faster. While many of the retail pages are not advertising this lens as dust and water-resistant, on Nikon’s official page for this lens, they advertise it as being dust and water droplet sealed.
Nikon 40mm f2 First Impressions
With only 6 elements, this lens produces a more classic rendering with very high micro-contrast, the bokeh is a little more bloomy at the center, and overall little less perfect compared to the bigger S lenses.
Don’t get that confused with this lens underperforming. The results are amazing and the lens is still very sharp, punchy, and a great go-to everyday carry lens – especially for the price, which is why I’m a little more enthusiastic about it compared to something like my Canon RF 35mm f1.8, or any of Sony’s offerings.
Nikon 40mm f2 vs Competition
There are actually a few other lenses that are similar in size to this lens from the other brands. I own a few of these.
Canon RF 35mm f1.8 IS lens ($500) RF
Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 ($598) FE.
Sony 40mm f2.5 G ($598.00) FE
Sigma 45mm f2.8 ($549.00) for the FE and L mount systems.
Tamron 35mm f2.8 Di III $250 FE
What’s the difference?
Those lenses above are all fairly expensive, except the Tamron, the lenses are also a little slower than this Nikon 40mm except for the Canon 35mm which is f1.8.
The Nikon 40mm f2 undercuts them all pretty heavily in price, performance is also really nice. It’s likely not going to match some of these lenses in terms of overall image quality, since it is a lower element lens with a more classic rendering which street shooters would want anyway. But this lens is about a stop faster than most lenses in this range.
Even if you price this lens against APS-C systems, at $300, it’s still pretty competitive as the XF Fujifilm 35mm f2 is priced at $400. However, with a plastic mount, comparing it to the $200 Fujifilm XC 35mm f2 would be more appropriate, although the 40mm is considered weather-sealed. So die-hard APS-C shooters could probably still find more value in Fujifilm over Nikon in the 35mm-40mm range, but not by much.
I prefer this lens to my Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8, which has never performed perfectly on Sony bodies because of the color ring pattern. The Canon 35mm f1.8, is decent in performance, but too expensive for what you get, considering the inclusion of IS is a little obsolete with an IBIS camera. This makes this Nikon 40mm very appealing. The Canon 35mm f1.8 renders a bit duller and the images lack the punch of this Nikon lens, but at f1.8 the Canon can also produce some pretty cool looks with a classic vibe.
What does classic rendering mean?
When I say classic rendering, that typically means higher micro-contrast, and less consistent performance from the center to the edges, and often classic lenses have a big bend in the field curvature (not this lens). Bokeh in the center usually is a little puffier and a little more lively than the midframe and edges, where the shape is often not as symmetrical.
Classic lenses usually flare and bloom a little more as well. – Not this lens.
Non-classic lenses like the Z 35mm f1.8 S or 50mm f1.8 S, have very clean field curvature and very consistent sharpness throughout the frame, as well as fairly consistent bokeh depth throughout the frame. This often creates a 3d cutout effect with the subject separation with very clean transition zones (areas just out of focus). To do all this, a lens needs a lot of elements, which will lower the micro-contrast.
So this 40mm f2, is doing some things very classic, like sacrificing edge and corner performance in favor of punchier, high micro-contrast rendering, but it’s only partly classic since it does use two aspherical elements to clean up that field curvature and it does use really nice coatings to keep light blooming and flaring under control.
Overall it’s a very balanced lens, but not the best option for shooters looking for near-perfect reproductive photography like with landscapes or astrophotography.
Why do a lot of elements lower the micro-contrast?
Every time you introduce a new element to an optical design, you introduce two new surfaces, this creates more potential for light to scatter as it transitions in and out of that surface. No matter how good the glass is, there are also impurities, the more glass there is, the more light can be disrupted as it interacts with those impurities. All of this can interfere with the phase and frequency of the light reducing the clarity and resolution.
Another way I think of it is, high micro-contrast vs low-micro contrast is almost like the analog version of a 10-bit image vs a 12-bit image. There seems to be less resolution to the color and tonal depth with low micro-contrast lenses and color and tonal transitions like in skin tones, never look as nice. You should be able to see it right away in these samples if you’re used to shooting on the Z 50mm f1.8 S. The Z 50mm f1.8 or even 50mm f1.2, are not even close to this lens with this one attribute and I feel like this lens complements the 35mm and 50mm really nicely because of this.
When I use this lens, it’s more for casual shooting or street photography where I want punchier tones. If I need to shoot portraits, I prefer the 35mm f1.8 S, or the 50mm f1.8 S over this lens simply because those lenses have a little bit more of a magical or prettier vibe to the way they render, with more constant bokeh across the frame for fewer distractions.
However, for candids, this lens is king.
Nikon Z 40mm f2 Review | Build Quality
Build quality is overall solid and the lens feels tougher than it looks. Originally I was concerned that this would feel like a light and cheap lens but was impressed by the way it feels and functions. It’s a single barrel design with internal focusing elements, meaning externally there are no moving parts or openings to suck in dust or moisture.
This lens uses two aspherical elements in a 6 element in 4 group design with 9 rounded aperture blades which are visibly close to the front element of the lens, which actually looks pretty cool.
There is no lens hood or place for a lens hood but the coatings are good enough that I’ve yet to ever have any issues with flaring or ghosting. Again, this isn’t a good choice for landscape photography anyway.
This lens does have a plastic mount which is a little disappointing, not that it needs a metal mount but having one would help with the overall presentation of the lens. With a plastic mount, the perception of this lens is going to be that it’s an entry-level lens with entry-level performance, even though optically the lens produces very good results.
If you’re concerned about this plastic little lens, being just a plastic little lens, I’ll say the overall quality of the lens actually feels very nice, it doesn’t feel cheap.
One other little weird thing that bugs me about this lens is the type of plastic they’re using kind of works as a fingernail file. It’s high-quality plastic and it feels good, but as I go about the day shooting, my fingernails bump and scrape on the side of the lens next to the grip, and there ends up being all these little marks that make the lens look dirty. It’s not damaging the lens, but I am constantly leaving behind fingernail dust on the side of the lens as well as other marks. It’s just weird and I’ve never experienced this before. This is where maybe an aluminum housing would have been nicer for that bottom section of the lens.
To see if I was crazy or if this was just me, I also looked at other lens reviews, and with some of them, this lens was also very dirty by the time they were done with it.
I’m not sure who tests the Nikon gear, but I continue to see issues like this overlooked. The same goes for the Z6 and Z7 bodies where the rubber material next to the mount is immediately destroyed by fingernails if you have big hands. My guess is Nikon doesn’t have any testers with big hands.
Nikon Z 40mm f2 Review | Technical Overview
Sharpness – The Nikon 40mm f2 has great center sharpness. I wasn’t really demanding that out of a 40mm f2 compact lens, but the center sharpness is surprising. However, sharpness does fall off a little towards the edges and get a little softer in the corners wide open. Also, this lens will lose some of its sharpness at close distances. Anything under maybe 5 feet will soften up and you’ll probably want to stop down to f4 by the minimum focus distance if you demand absolute sharpness at close focus.
Micro-Contrast – Compared to the current lineup of S lenses, this 40mm has a lot more punch and micro-contrast, this makes the images feel like they have better color and tonal rendering. Should be obvious in these samples below if you’re coming from a 50mm f1.8 S.
Focus Breathing – Like with so many Nikon prime lenses, the 40mm f2 focus of breathing is kept to a minimum. This is great news for video shooters who want clean focus without having to rely on cropping the sensor to correct this issue as Sony does. This allows great performance while using the full sensor.
Build-In Profile Corrections – Compared to third-party lenses like the Viltrox 35mm f1.8, this lens does have built-in profile corrections, so vignetting and distortion are cleaned up before the files even get to your computer. You won’t see distortion or severe vignetting even with RAW files.
Coatings – Nikon uses a Super Integrated Coating on this lens and the results are really nice. There are no Nanocoatings on the outer elements, so you’ll likely have to work a little harder on keeping the lens clean.
These coatings also allow you to use the lens in bright sunny conditions without losing contrast or clarity. Images are high in global contrast and saturation.
Astigmatism – Like with my Canon 35mm f1.8, you do also get that crazy astigmatism along the edges and corners. Meaning, this lens won’t work well for astrophotography, and you’ll even need to be a little careful of the scenes that have a lot of little point lights.
Here is the image and bottom right corner as an example.
Some CA – There are some chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas, specifically in the bokeh. You can even see some of it in the top right of the above shot on the left, but it’s nothing to really get concerned about.
Softer Close Focus – Like with most old wide lenses or lenses with that more classic optical design, this lens does lose its sharpness a little when doing close focus. This lens has a minimum focus distance of 29cm or 11.4″, so you’re limited a little here on how close you can get anyway, but if you’re shooting at the minimum focus distance you might want to stop down a stop or two to get back the full sharpness.
Autofocus, Is It Good?
Yes, autofocus is very good. I can shoot in AF-C just fine, and it mostly passes the swing test with my kids, which a lot of lenses fail. Just going off my experiences, I would say it’s a little better than the 35mm f1.8, but not quite as good as the 50mm f1.8. So it’s very good and will keep up with a hyper kid in most situations, but if they are running towards you, often you’ll get the focus on their ears instead of their eyes.
Autofocus is quiet and smooth as well.
This photo is also another nice example of how the center bokeh is a little puffier and more intense than the edges – very classic.
Shooting 40mm, is it worth it?
The Nikon 40mm isn’t my first 40mm, from time to time I still shoot on my Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake on my EOS R and I’ve always loved the focal length as a prime.
Voigtlander also makes a few 40mm lenses and the new Ricoh GRIIIx is also fitted with a 40mm equivalent prime.
40mm a very fun casual focal length and it’s gaining popularity. For someone who can’t decide between 35mm and 50mm, the 40mm is a nice compromise. It’s not as wide as 35mm so it allows a little more subject isolation, but it’s not so tight that shooting the full scene is difficult like with a 50mm.
Me personally, I like 40mm more than 35mm for general purpose photography. While I love the longer lenses like 50mm and 85mm, 40mm is a bit more versatile so it’s a great lens to carry all the time since it still works in any situation like a 35mm.
Some fun 2:1 crops for cine vibes.
Art & Character
There is a vibe to this lens that is very interesting. It renders a lot like some of my classic lenses or even my cheaper lenses with simpler designs. Except, the image quality is all held together very well because of the nice coatings and aspherical elements. So there are no big imperfections except that coma in the corners, but mostly this lens just has cool rendering with overall good results. I like the balance here.
The bokeh is interesting with this one, and if you’re not used to old-school lenses, it might throw you off.
If you’re using the other Z lenses of the S line, you’ll notice they have a totally different profile. Their bokeh swirls a little with some clean-shaped cats eyes bokeh along the edges and corners.
Not this lens.
This lens has an astigmatism in the corners, so the bokeh isn’t beautifully shaped with beautiful cats’ eyes. Rather the shape is asymmetrical and kind of blobby. You’ll also see crazy coma in the corners when they are in focus.
Corner sample of the blobby shape.
Like other classic lenses, this center bokeh is bloomier and more intense compared to the edges and corners, sometimes this creates an interesting depth to the image when the subject is positioned correctly.
Focus Falloff – Transition Zones
Compared to the bigger S line lenses the focus falloff behaves a little different with this lens and it almost feels a little more analog. The render has a less 3D cutout effect, and the area that’s in focus, to out of focus has a slightly calmer transition and feels a little less dramatic.
Also, the areas in the bokeh that are just out as focus ( aka the transition areas ) are not quite as nice on this lens compared to the 35mm f1.8 S lens, but definitely not terrible, but the out of focus areas are a little hazy and ghosty.
Bottom Line – Should You Buy It?
The Nikon 40mm f2 is a fantastic addition to the current lineup of the Z lenses. While the Nikon 35mm f1.8 S all around performs better, none of the S lenses come close to delivering what this lens delivers when it comes to micro-contrast, making this lens special in its own right.
For just a little bit more money you can now get a Viltrox 35mm f1.8, but the 40mm f2 Nikon lens is overall a little nicer with autofocus, quite a bit more compact and I’m going to guess it’s sharper at f2 than the Viltrox, although I haven’t done any side-by-side.
Where the Viltrox beats the Nikon is at corner performance. Astrophotographers will get better corners coma with the Viltrox and landscape photographers will overall have cleaner corners as well, but they’ll need to manually clean up the Viltrox distortion which is quite noticeable.
I personally prefer the Nikon 40mm f2 over the Viltrox for street shooting, but if I needed an inexpensive lens in this price range for landscapes, I would go with a Viltrox or some other manual focus option over this 40mm f2. This is just not a landscape lens, perhaps you could get by with a lot of situations at f8, but I think there are better lenses designed specifically for that.
This lens is a great street lens or everyday casual lens, and with the fast f2 aperture, it’s still great for shooting at night and in low light. With this context, I have zero complaints, although the corners do get a little funky with some lighting conditions.
It’s easy to say, I am very happy with the results here for the price, but serious professionals would probably still like to have the 35mm f1.8 specifically for portraits.
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Nikon Z 40mm f2 Sample Images
Samples images were shot with the Nikon Z6.
Colored with these Light Room Presets.
Some slow shutter action. I like doing slow shutter street shots on 35mm. It seems like 40mm works well for it as well.
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