If you key "Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 zoom" into Google the prospects look good for anyone considering a lens which the Nikon brochure claims is “Praised for its reliability and overall image quality, this is a long-time favorite of passionate professionals.”
The American reviewer, Ken Rockwell, calls the lens "Nikon's best midrange zoom ever", Photography Life gives the build quality five stars and wrote that it delivered outstanding results. Buyers who use Amazon UK have awarded the optic an impressive 4.8 stars out of five.
But for the press photographers who give the lens a tougher and more prolonged work out on the streets of Britain, this piece of glass has a reputation.
Nikon's "Incredibly reliable" 24-70mm zoom as featured in their online brochure.
When one British photographer wrote on a professional photographers' page on Facebook recently that his Nikon 24-70mm zoom was jamming at 50mm other professionals piled in with "mine too" comments. The list now stands at sixteen professionals who've encountered similar problems. Two reported their Nikon 24-70mm zooms had jammed three times. Another wrote that his second 24-70mm zoom had jammed.
Among the first photographers in the UK to get the Nikon optic was Glasgow-based freelance Wattie Cheung. Cheung still uses his original 24-70mm zoom although it has been repaired many times, he said. He dropped it from waist height once but on a second occasion the lens just fell on its side. "It fell three inches and the helicoid went," said Cheung, who says he’s spent up to £2,500 on repairs on a lens worth £1,200 new.
Photographers who use Nikon UK to repair the lens said on Facebook that it often came back with a new serial number. Apparently much of the optics are a sealed unit so even a minor fault can result in the entire internal mechanism having to be replaced. According to the Facebook conversation replacement can cost as much as £650.
In 2014 the Taiwanese firm Nikon Repair Centre (NRC), who market protective rings for lenses like the Nikon zoom, revealed on their blog that they had fixed five Nikon 24-70mm zooms in one week. The lens has four design drawbacks, NRC said:
1. A slight knock can make the rear element shift. This is the only Nikon lens to have the rear element attached to the bayonet mount.
2. Five shallow screws hold what NRC call "the rear fixed tube", these screws cannot be tightened properly.
3. The lens barrel can be deformed by resting the lens on the lens hood.
4. The zoom looses smoothness after long-term use, a fault easily repaired say NRC.
In the early noughties Canon had problems with their 28-70 f2.8L zoom lens. The front cell became wobbly and would eventually detach and fall off if left unfixed. It was held on by a plastic ring and three tiny set screws that would break out of the plastic lugs. Canon quietly re-engineered the weak ring and the problem went away.
Some members of the Facebook page for professional photographers said Nikon UK tell them that their optic has suffered "impact damage", a term familiar to Nikon users in America where US Customer Service Scoreboard presently rates Nikon Customer Service at 34.70 out of 200, little better than "Terrible". Contacted by EPUK last week Nikon UK declined to comment on issues raised in this article.
So the right term to key into Google is "Nikon impact damage". This reveals comments including one posted on DP Review by RB Fresno in 2012 in which he mentions "the now infamous Nikon 24-70 stiff zoom ring problem" (my italics).
Ken Rockwell calls the 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S the sharpest midrange zoom ever made by Nikon. Fleet Street veteran Brian Harris agrees, "Optically its a cracking lens right from 24 to 70 at f4," Harris told EPUK, "the problem is it doesn't work all the time!". Portrait and features specialist Geraint Lewis, an EPUK member like Harris, pointed out that because of it's 24-70mm range the lens would get more use than any other, so it is bound to be repaired more often. Lewis said that Nikon do try to look after their photographers and, with the exception of a bit of grating on the zoom, his own 24-70mm lens has worked flawlessly since the day he bought it.
According to the Spanish photography website Quesabesde 51% of the winning images that they got data from in this year's World Press Photos awards were taken on Canon cameras. The once all-pervasive Nikon, despite producing some of the finest professional equipment available, came in at a disappointing 15.5%.*
Perhaps Nikon feel that the professional market is only a small, and (knowing fellow professionals) difficult, part of their business so addressing manufacturing issues like a stiff zoom does not really matter. As a Nikon user for over 30 years I suggest it does.
Professionals using cameras and lenses daily in all conditions are helping both Nikon and Canon, not only with their product testing for the considerably larger amateur market but with the manufacturers' public image by producing extraordinary photographs with their equipment, the best of which may grace our online media, newspapers and magazines and, of course, win prestigious competitions. And I could add that you don't have to buy the top-of-the-range Mercedes to feel that a little of its allure might rub off on you even if you bought the marque's most economic model.
Treat the lens gently and you'll probably find Nikon's 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S zoom is a fine bit of kit. If you use it regularly for anything like hard news it could end up failing on you at a crucial moment and then you could receive the "impact damage" treatment when you take it in to be repaired. And that’s not good enough for press photographers who invest tens of thousands of pounds in their photographic equipment.
I'm trusting that Nikon will understand this now that a new smaller and lighter 24-70mm f2.8 with VR may be on the way but I don't wonder at all why so many professional photographers have already migrated to Canon.
Text © 2015 Graham Harrison
* Quesabesde analysed the EXIF data of 45 winning images in the 2015 World Press Photo awards. Out of those seven were taken on Nikon cameras, 23 on Canon.
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