Nikon already has two mirrorless APS‑C cameras, but so far there is no fix developed for this system. What to do? Use alternative budget lenses for Nikon from Viltrox, which look very interesting in terms of price and quality.
Native and not so
Of course, someone will argue that the company has an excellent line of full-frame glasses that are quite compatible with the manufacturer’s crop cameras. This, of course, is true, but there are several problems with them. They are either more or less inexpensive, but not very fast, like the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 SE. Or fast, very expensive and heavy, like the Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S.
You can, of course, wait until the “golden mean” appears on sale, like the Nikon Z 40mm f / 2 announced in the fall (it will cost about 40 thousand rubles). But if you want a fast fix right now and at the same time inexpensively, third-party manufacturers are ready to help.
Today we will consider a budget alternative: a series of inexpensive autofocus lenses from Viltrox for APS‑C Nikon Z mirrorless cameras (Nikon Z fc and Z50). These lenses can also be used with full-frame Z cameras, but you will get powerful vignetting. Viltrox has a series of lenses for full frame as well, but we will talk about them next time.
Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4Z
Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 Z is a small fast autofocus prime with full support for electronics (camera control). This is one of the most budgetary autofocus lenses for the Nikon Z mount — it costs 20 thousand rubles (10 thousand cheaper than its full frame counterpart Viltrox AF 24 / 1.8 Z, which we will talk about in the next article).
With an equivalent focal length of 35mm, this is a classic all-around lens suitable for a variety of uses — street photography, environmental portraits, and simple everyday photography.
This is an all-metal lens with a metal mount. At the same time, it weighs 340 grams — not bad for such a design, but if you are used to super-light plastic glasses, the weight is still felt here.
There is no protection against adverse weather conditions (as in all glasses of the series), but, frankly, we did not expect such an option from a budget Chinese lens. At the same time, the front element is protected from dirt and drops by a special coating. In general, it is quite compact, so that Nikon feels quite balanced on small crop mirrorless cameras.
There is a 52mm filter thread on the front, and the lens comes with a double-sided metal hood, which is strong and of good quality.
The lens itself has a USB‑C port for firmware updates (Viltrox releases updates for their products quite often, including lenses), ensuring that the lens is always on the same wavelength as the camera.
The 23mm f/1.4 Z has a large manual focus ring that, as with native Nikon lenses, can be adjusted for other tasks. Closer to the base is an aperture adjustment ring without clicks (as on other autofocus lenses from the manufacturer). The click-free ring is convenient for videographers (it allows you to smoothly change the look of the picture by changing the size of the aperture), but many photographers prefer click-stop rings, which make it easier to get the desired aperture value. So it would be really cool if the company added a dedicated click/no click switch, but this option usually only appears on more expensive glasses.
You can also move the ring to position “A”, then the aperture will be controlled from the camera.
In general, in terms of design and build quality, there are no questions about glass: this is not a cheap plastic “Chinese” from aliexpress, but a high-quality metal fighter.
The lens is equipped with a stepping motor that provides decent autofocus speed. Face autofocus works at about the same level as native Nikon lenses.
In terms of the volume of the motor, everything is not bad — it is quiet and suitable for video shooting. In general, for video, autofocus is also no problem — object tracking is fast and responsive, and transitions are smooth.
The minimum lens distance is 30 cm, not too much and not too short, but for simple photos of small objects, this is enough. And yes, this is not a macro lens — the magnification factor here is 0.1x (for a real macro it will be 1x or more).
Center sharpness wide open is very good. You can notice slight chromatic aberrations in the form of purple fringing along the edges of the contrast zones, but nothing critical, and they are easily corrected during post-processing. At the edges of the frame, the lens soaps a little.
If you close the aperture to f/2.8, the sharpness does not change much, but the chromatic aberration disappears. Edge sharpness improves noticeably at f/4.
This is a fast lens and, of course, it allows you to blur the background a lot. The bokeh looks good, but not perfect: the bokehs (bright circles in the blur zone) are round, but you can see the fringing around the edges.
At a slightly covered aperture of f / 2.8, the cupcakes are still round, although “cat’s eyes” are noticeable closer to the edge of the frame (the effect when round cupcakes become more flattened). In general, if you do not consider pictures at 100% magnification, there is nothing to complain about.
Vignetting is quite noticeable wide open, but already at f/1.8 it noticeably decreases, and at f/2.8 it almost disappears.
In terms of glare and flare, there are no questions to the lens, it copes well with them even when shooting against the sun. As for the “sun stars” (a favorite effect of many landscape painters and street photographers, when sharp rays radiate from the sun and other bright light sources), they can be obtained starting at f / 5.6. But even the “sun stars” made at f / 16 aperture cannot be called especially beautiful and symmetrical.
Viltrox AF 33 f/1.4 Z
The Viltrox AF 33 f / 1.4 Z autofocus prime is also designed specifically for Nikon Z crop mirrorless cameras. Its equivalent focal length is 50mm, which is approximately the same as the angle of view of the human eye — great for street photography and portraits. This is the most budget option of today’s trinity. Its price is 18 thousand rubles at the time of writing the review.
Once again, this is a well-built all-metal lens with a metal mount. Again, not too heavy, but not super light either, although it is smaller and lighter than its wider-angle counterpart, which we talked about before — 270 grams. With a lightweight Nikon Z fc camera, the balance is almost perfect. Once again, a cool metal lens hood is included, which can be installed both with the petals inward (not needed yet) or outward to reduce glare and flare when shooting in the sun.
With controls, it shares the same history as the 23mm — a large customizable manual focus ring and a neat aperture ring that’s smooth and clicky with the option to switch to Auto.
Front thread for 52 mm filter, and rear USB port for firmware updates.
The model uses the same stepper motor as in the previous fix: it provides fast and responsive focusing, and face and eye tracking works without any problems.
The motor operation in the video can only be heard when shooting in very quiet conditions and recording on your camera’s built-in microphones. There are also no questions about object tracking in video — for the money, the lens shows excellent autofocus quality.
The minimum focusing distance is 40 cm, so this is not a very suitable glass for close-ups.
At an open aperture, chromatic aberrations are quite pronounced in the form of purple and green fringing along the edges of contrast zones, slightly more than with the previous lens. At the same time, it has good central sharpness, but sharpness drops a little at the edges of the frame, but not so much that this is a serious problem.
To improve both indicators, you need to cover the aperture — sharpness straightens out, aberrations are significantly reduced, and completely disappear at f / 5.6. If you want maximum sharpness but still maintain a shallow depth of field for blurry backgrounds, f/3.2 is the best option for this lens.
The lens blurs the background beautifully and smoothly at an open aperture. Of course, sometimes the blur zone turns out to be a little “loaded”, but for a budget class, its bokeh is not bad.
The glass is not bad, but it does not perfectly cope with flare — when shooting against the sun, the frame is evenly flooded with light, there are no too distracting glare, and the contrast is maintained at a good level. “Sun stars”, as in the case of the previous model, are not very interesting, but for such a lens this is clearly not a “must have” characteristic.
The lens suffers from noticeable vignetting at f/1.4, although this can be corrected in post-production. The problem (like most other shortcomings in terms of optics) is again solved by closing the diaphragm.
Viltrox AF 56 f/1.4 Z
The Viltrox AF 56 f/1.4 Z is another autofocus lens for APS‑C Z‑mount mirrorless cameras. It provides an equivalent focal length of around 85mm, so it’s a classic portrait prime. Like other glasses in the series, this is a budget model, the price of which is 23 thousand rubles at the time of writing.
For a fast-aperture portrait lens, the Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.4 Z has a very compact design that goes well with small Nikon mirrorless cameras. Despite the all-metal construction, it weighs only 290 grams, which is very good for this class. Along with the lens in the box is a cylindrical hood (previous models included a petal hood). The cylindrical design of the lens hood does not create vignetting effects on telephoto lenses.
Like the previous two lenses, the 56mm f/1.4 Z has a wide manual focus ring in the front (can be used for other functions by changing the settings in the camera menu), an aperture ring with no clicks and a switch to auto mode (for example, for shutter-priority shooting).
The thread diameter for the filter is 52 mm, so you won’t have any problems finding filters. As with other lenses in the series, the lens firmware can be updated via the USB port on the back of the body.
The portrait lens was no exception and received a stepper motor — this is good news, because for shooting portraits you need fast and tenacious autofocus on the eyes, and the stepper motor in Viltrox glasses works well in conjunction with the Nikon system.
For shooting video, it is no worse — it smoothly refocuses, tracking the object, and does not create unnecessary noise.
Sure, it’s not the fastest or quietest autofocus on the market, but it’s good enough for most tasks.
The minimum focusing distance is a respectable 60 centimeters, so it’s not the best device to get too close to the subject.
At an open aperture, the optics show very good sharpness in the center of the frame, which does not change much if you cover the lens down to f / 2.8. As you might expect, the sharpness is not so high in the corners at an open aperture — in order to get good sharpness, you will have to close the aperture to f / 4.
The bokehs are really round with smooth transitions and almost no narrow “cat’s eyes” at the corners of the frame.
Unlike the previous two models, the 56mm vignetting is under complete control — even at f/1.4 it is almost imperceptible and completely disappears at f/2.
But in terms of chromatic aberrations, the indicators are average — purple edging is noticeable, so sometimes you have to work extra in the photo editor.
When shooting with the sun in the frame, the backlight is quite noticeable, although the contrast is maintained at the proper level. Flare is also pronounced, so, in general, this is not the strongest side of the lens.
As for the “sun stars”, they look very decent for a portrait — at f / 16 the “stars” turn out to be sharp with fairly symmetrical rays.
When buying budget lenses from third-party manufacturers, you always make some compromises. Some models do not have autofocus, some are made of cheap plastic, some lose a lot in terms of optics.
But Viltrox managed to make really good fast primes at a very nice price. All three models received high-quality metal cases and small dimensions. Add to this a good autofocus that works without problems with the Nikon system. Of course, their optics cannot be called ideal — there are problems with sharpness at the edges of the frame and chromatic aberration, you can find fault with bokeh, but the price-quality ratio is very decent.
The series covers three popular focal lengths — 35mm, 50mm and 85mm (equivalent). So if you’re willing to make some small compromises, the Viltrox AF 23mm, 33mm and 56mm f/1.4 Z can be a worthy alternative to stock Nikon lenses.