Budget autofocus lenses for Nikon Z are a reality. We learned about this when we considered Viltrox glasses for APS‑C cameras. Now let’s take a look at their full-frame models — Viltrox AF 24mm, 33mm and 85mm f/1.8 Z.
Viltrox AF 24mm, 33mm and 85mm f/1.8 Z
This trio of full-frame lenses for Nikon Z mirrorless cameras has all the electronic contacts on the mount to communicate with the camera and supports autofocus, which we will discuss separately.
Glasses from Viltrox are relatively inexpensive: 24mm f / 1.8 — 30 thousand rubles, and 33mm f / 1.8 and 85mm f / 1.8 Z for 28 thousand rubles. The lenses have a lot in common, primarily in terms of design and autofocus operation, but there are also differences.
These models are also compatible with Nikon’s APS‑C mirrorless cameras, as the company uses the same Z‑mount for both crop and full-frame cameras.
Design and ergonomics
All three models received an all-metal body with a metal mount. The build quality is nothing like cheap Chinese plastic lenses, everything is very high quality and strong — there are no questions for Viltrox at all.
The lenses are not miniature in size, but not too bulky either. At the same time, 24mm is significantly smaller than the native Nikon 20mm f / 1.8. And the 35mm is similar in size and weight to the native Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8. The largest of the three is the 85mm portrait lens, but even that strikes a good balance on full-frame Nikon mirrorless cameras, though it will likely feel bulky on cropped models.
All three lenses have a large focus ring on the front. The ring turns smoothly. It can be customized for other settings through the camera’s menu system — as is the case with native Nikon glasses.
At the same time, 24mm and 35mm also have an aperture setting ring, unlike both the Wiltrox 85mm and similar native Nikon Z lenses. The ring rotates without clicks, which is convenient for videographers and less convenient for photographers who can be helped while shooting through the viewfinder. The ring can also be set to auto mode and adjust the aperture using the camera.
On the front, the 24mm and 35mm have a 55mm filter thread — this is a small size for fast full-frame lenses. And in 85mm f/1.8 there are no surprises any more, it is compatible with large 72mm filters.
All glasses come with very high quality plastic hoods. There is a USB port on the case for updating the firmware (it should be noted that they are not here for show — Viltrox is doing well with product support). At the same time, a USB-mini connector is used on 85mm, and a more modern USB‑C on 24mm and 35mm.
In general, in terms of electronics, all lenses behave like native Nikon lenses and transmit full Exif data with all camera settings.
It should be noted that all three models do not have a stabilization system, and the body did not receive protection from bad weather (although it was hardly worth expecting such luxury from budget lenses).
One of the main features of the line is the presence of autofocus. All models use the same autofocus stepper drive, so we’ll talk about all of them at once.
The motor is fast and quiet enough. Autofocus is supported by the eyes, while tracking is tenacious and does not cause any complaints. In poor lighting, the system works without any problems.
Autofocus operation is very similar to native Nikon glasses, which can be written down as a big plus for Viltrox.
All three models in terms of video shooting have approximately similar qualities.
Autofocus for video is very quiet, and face tracking is accurate.
Focus transitions from far to near are quite smooth, while the 24mm and 35mm versions have almost no “focus breathing” (the effect when focusing from zero to infinity changes the focal length, which can be expressed by noticeable jitter during video shooting). The 85mm f/1.8 has more focus breathing, so of the three lenses, it’s probably the worst for video.
The aperture ring on the 24mm and 35mm models rotates smoothly and without clicks — another plus for videographers.
Image quality Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 Z
The central sharpness of the Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 Z wide open is good. If you cover up to f / 2.8, the sharpness increases quite a bit, but at f / 4 it does not change at all.
In the corners of the frame at f / 1.8, the lens is quite soft, at f / 2.8 the picture becomes much sharper, but further closing down to f / 4 does not change much.
Compared to the similar but slightly wider Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8, it’s slightly sharper at the center wide open, but the difference isn’t too noticeable. But in the corners at an open aperture, the native lens wins much in sharpness, although already at f / 2.8 the results are almost the same.
We can say that the Viltrox 24mm f/1.8 is quite good in terms of sharpness and is not too far behind the native glass.
This is a fairly wide-angle lens, so you won’t be able to blur the background too much. Although in close-ups at f / 1.8, quite pronounced results can be achieved.
The bokeh is very soft, and the bokehs (balls of light in the defocus zone) are round. The picture comes out tender, “dreamy”.
On an open aperture, longitudinal chromatic aberrations are noticeable in the form of color fringing in out-of-focus areas. Not to say that they catastrophically spoil the picture, but they are. However, they are quite difficult to remove during post-processing.
Transverse aberrations in the form of purple fringing at the edges of high-contrast objects are also noticeable, but they will be much easier to deal with in photo editors.
In general, we can say that when shooting contrasting scenes, one must be prepared for pronounced aberrations.
Glare, glare and solar stars
But what can be written in a clear plus of this model is excellent control over glare and flare. This is very good for glass, which is suitable for landscapes. Even when shooting against the sun, you get very good contrast and minimal flare.
As for the “sun stars” (a beautiful effect when beautiful sharp rays radiate from bright light sources), beloved by many landscape painters, at a aperture closed to f / 16 they turn out to be quite sharp, but not to say that they are especially beautiful (although this, of course, , subjective).
You may want to use such a lens to shoot the night sky, and then the presence of comatic aberrations (when light sources at the edges of the frame turn into “comets”, sometimes highlighting blurry areas of the image), will be an important point.
Well, the coma is clearly present at the open aperture, but for a budget lens, this is not a particular crime. And at f / 2.8 aberrations practically disappear.
As you would expect from a wide-angle lens, you can notice quite pronounced distortion in the photos, which is difficult to correct on your own. Viltrox promises to release a profile for automatic correction in Photoshop and Lightroom, but at the time of writing the review, it is not on the company’s website.
For macro photography
The minimum focal length of this lens is 30cm, which is not too close for a 24mm wide, and the magnification is only 0.1x — it is not suitable for macro photography.
Image quality Viltrox AF 35mm f/1.8 Z
Unlike the 24mm and 85mm, which previously had counterparts for other systems (Sony FE), the 35mm f/1.8 is a completely new lens designed specifically for the Nikon Z.
Center sharpness is good even at f/1.8. But close down to f/2.8 and you get a massive increase in detail and contrast. Covering up to f / 4 to increase sharpness does not make much sense.
As with the 24mm, corners wide open are soft. At f/2.8 they become sharper, but at f/4 the sharpness is excellent.
The lens has a fairly “calm” smooth bokeh without sharp transitions. A little “cat’s eye” (when round balls take the form of lentils) at the edges of the picture does not really spoil the picture. At the same time, even when the diaphragm is closed, the cups retain their round shape.
On an open aperture, lateral chromatic aberrations are, of course, present, but they are not particularly strong. With longitudinal aberrations, which are expressed in the form of green and purple fringing in defocused areas, the situation is about the same — they are there, but they do not spoil the picture.
Glare, glare and solar stars
Like the wider lens in our review, flare is very well controlled on the 35mm f/1.8 even when shooting with the sun in the frame (although the 24mm is slightly more effective in this regard). At the same time, during night shooting, when there is a bright light source at the edge of the frame, a small flare is visible even with the lens hood installed.
As for the “sun stars”, they appear at about f/8, but even at f/16 they are not too sharp, and are unlikely to interest you.
At an open aperture, coma aberrations are pronounced enough to get rid of the effect, it will be necessary to stop the aperture down to f / 4.
Distortion and vignetting
The distortion on this glass is very weak and does not cause problems. At the same time, the profile for auto-correction is already available on the Viltrox website.
But vignetting wide open and up to f / 5.6 is very noticeable. And this is probably the biggest weakness of this model.
For macro photography
The minimum focusing distance of this glass is 40 cm, and the magnification of 0.1x is again not the best option for macro photography. Although at the same time, when working at the minimum focusing distance, it is quite sharp, so sometimes small objects can also be shot on it.
Image quality Viltrox AF 85mm f/1.8 Z
Sharpness and aberrations
At f/1.8, the central sharpness is already quite good, but the lens achieves the best results at f/4. Although chromatic aberration in the form of purple fringing will be quite noticeable.
At the edges of the frame, as you might expect, the picture is quite soft up to f/5.6.
And this is a particularly important point for portraiture, more important than for the previous two glasses.
Wide open, 85mm f/1.8 produces very soft creamy bokeh. The bowls themselves are without a hint of “onion rings” (concentric circles inside the balls), along the edges there is a small, but not criminal, “cat’s eye” effect. The only thing that can alert is a slight trimming of the bokeh shape.
If you stop down to f/2.8, there are fewer cropped bokehs, but they lose their round shape, becoming a bit polygonal. But, in general, this option will come down for most situations.
A slight vignetting can be seen wide open, which almost disappears at f/2.8. So the model is very good in this regard.
But in terms of distortion, things are worse. The lens has pincushion distortion (when the picture seems to “swell” a little in the center). Of course, it is small, but for an 85mm portrait lens, one would expect less pronounced distortion. Fortunately, an auto-correction profile for photo editors is available on the company’s website.
Glare and highlights
As in previous models, Viltrox AF 35 / 1.8 Z has no problems with glare and flare. Of course, if you shoot with the sun in the frame at an open aperture, small glare appears. But they almost completely disappear at f / 2.8, and contrast improves at a covered aperture.
For macro photography
Another lens you probably don’t want to use for macro photography is that it has a minimum focusing distance of 80cm and a magnification of 0.1x. Accurate detailing of small objects will be quite difficult to obtain.
As in the case of APS‑C lenses for Nikon mirrorless cameras, Viltrox turned out to be good quality lenses.
All three models have an excellent metal body, full electronic support for Nikon cameras, but, most importantly, reliable and fast autofocus at the level of native glasses. The 85mm doesn’t have an aperture ring, which may not be very convenient, although similar native lenses don’t have one either.
As for the picture, despite slight variations, all three models are still very good.
The Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 delivers high image quality. There are obvious problems with distortion and vignetting, but we hope that the company will soon release a profile for automatic correction. Compared to the native 20mm f/1.8, the Viltrox holds up quite well.
Viltrox AF 35mm f/1.8 is much cheaper than its native counterpart, and, of course, falls short in terms of optics. At the same time, the model copes well with glare, but vignetting is very noticeable. For budget glass, which also supports autofocus at the level of Nikon glasses, everything is quite good.
The Viltrox AF 85mm f/1.8 also falls short of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 in terms of optics, but this lens is generally hard to compete with. And here again we must not forget about the huge difference in price. The only pronounced problem with Viltrox is, perhaps, distortion. Well, for video shooting, “focus breathing” can interfere a little. Otherwise, this is a very worthy portraiture.
The whole trio is an excellent budget option for autofocus lenses for Nikon Z mirrorless users.
* in preparing the article, materials from the Youtube channel Richard Wong were used.