Not quite two years ago, I wrote an article about the lenses that I was regularly using with my Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera. Since that time, I have somewhat changed my focus. I have come to focus on two genres of photography: Sports and Travel. While my choice of lenses has changed only slightly, I am ranking them here in the order that I call upon them for my particular shooting style.

Because my camera, a Nikon Z6, uses the new Z lens mount which is larger than the traditional Nikon F-mount, my goal was to get native Z lenses. The Nikon Z cameras (Z5, Z6, Z7, and Z50) will all work with older Nikon F-mount lenses using an adapter. Until recently, I used this method successfully. However, I now use Z-mount lenses exclusively.

My Everyday and Travel Lens: the Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3

I initially rented a Z-mount 24-200mm zoom lens for a week-long trip. I was spurred toward this by a comment by Scott Kelby that you should strive to only take one lens when traveling. His point is that photographers too often lose a shot because they are fiddling in their bag for the ‘right’ lens. His recommendation, as a Canon shooter, was the 24-240mm f/4-6.3. Sony makes a similar lens, while the Nikon version is 24-200mm. Still, it covers the ranges most often used in general travel photography.

nikon 24-200
Nikon Z 24-200mm

While not quite of the build quality of my other main lenses, the 24-200mm is lighter than my other lenses, particularly my very well-built but also very heavy, 70-200mm f/2.8. While the lens speed isn’t as good as my others – f/4 at wider apertures but quickly moving to f/6.3 after only a short-range increase – the numbers are more than adequate for most travel photography.

I found that the lens performs very well for the specific use – travel. But because of some of my encounters during my travel photo walks, it occurred to me that the lens would also be a great general-purpose lens – the standard ‘walk-around’ lens. As a result, this is the lens that is mounted on my camera body by default1.

I was fortunate to be able to purchase the lens that I had rented at a sizable discount. I was happy with that option because I already knew that the lens, despite a couple of cosmetic blemishes on the surface, performed as expected.

The Basic Sports Lens – the Z 70-200mm f/2.8

For sports, I needed to look at lenses which were ‘faster’, i.e. had the ability to gather more light on their own. For travel shots, it is usually possible to use some type of flash to supplement the light if necessary. However, with sports photography, that’s rarely an option.

The 70-200mm lens is the darling of most sports photographers, except perhaps those who shoot football and need a longer ‘reach’. For some time, I had an F-mount 70-200mm f/4 and it performed adequately using the adapter for my Z6. However, while I don’t normally photograph college or professional sports, I take a lot of pictures of my grandson’s sports activities. 

Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8

One thing I noticed was that, with baseball in particular, while the zoom range of the 70-200mm lens was more than adequate for baseball, the f/4 aperture didn’t allow enough bokah at higher telescopic ranges. The result was that, while the player was in sharp focus, spectators or other players behind him were also more in focus that I wanted. That means the player action was not visually isolated as much as I would like it to be. 

So I decided to take the plunge to the f/2.8 version of this longer reach lens. While I certainly could have purchased the F-mount version of the f/2.8 and it would work with my adapter, I went with the Z mount for two reasons. First, the optics of the glass are a little better – although certainly, Nikon’s F-mount 70-200mm is one of the better lenses on the market. Second, there really wasn’t much price difference between the Z-mount version and the F-mount. In general, Z-mount lenses are much more expensive than their F-mount counterparts, but that wasn’t true in this case. 

Finally, I was able to save considerable money by purchasing the lens used from KEH, a reliable used camera dealer in Atlanta. Also, by selling my F-mount 70-200 f/4 and another F-mount lens that I didn’t use much (50mm), I reduced the purchase price significantly. I also decided to sell my adapter since, with the acquisition of the f/2.8 lens, I would be fully invested in the Z-mount environment.

Z 50mm f/1.8

Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8

In my original post, I talked about the inexpensive and lightweight pancake lens – the Z 40mm f/2. I had sold my F-mount 50mm lens and I hoped this would take its place.

However, I discovered the virtue of shooting basketball up close under the net. And while the 40mm did ok, I wasn’t getting the quality photos that I wanted.

So I sold the 40mm – not for a lot of money because it didn’t cost a lot originally – and bought a used Z 50mm f/1.8 (from KEH, of course.)

I haven’t yet used the Z-mount 50mm for macro shooting as I did with my F-mount lens, but I have no reason to believe it won’t perform just as well – if not better.

Z 24-70mm f/4

nikon z4 lens
The Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm f/4 lens attached

This is the ‘kit’ lens that comes with new Z6 or Z7 cameras. It is a Z mount lens with a popular range of capabilities. While at 24mm on the low end, it isn’t quite a ‘wide-angle’ lens, it still performs well as a landscape lens.  

Nikon also makes an f/2.8 version of this lens, but as with all lenses, the lower the available aperture setting (meaning a larger opening for light to enter the camera) the more expensive the lens. As with many such lenses, the cost of the f/2.8 version is more than twice that of the f/4 version. I haven’t seen a real need to make that expenditure for the range that this lens covers.

1.4x Teleconverter

For field sports – those played outdoors – in particular, the 70-200mm lens sometimes doesn’t have enough ‘reach’ to get the shots you want. This is particularly true in football and the baseball outfield. While longer lenses are expensive, one alternative is a teleconverter. This device mounts between the lens and the camera body and effectively makes the lens ‘longer’.

The two most popular teleconverters are a 1.4 and a 2.0. The designation comes from the amount by which the teleconverter extends the reach of the lens. A 1.4 teleconverter increases reach by a factor of 1.4, so a 70-200mm lens effectively becomes a 98-280mm2. Similarly, a 2.0 teleconverter increases the reach by a factor of 2. So a 70-200mm lens becomes effectively a 140-400mm lens.

Nikon 1.4x teleconverter

But there’s a downside. Using a teleconverter reduces the amount of light which reaches the camera sensor, and this reduction is specific to the increase in reach. A 1.4 teleconverter decreases light by one stop, effectively making the f/2.8 lens an f/4 lens. Similarly, a 2.0 teleconverter reduces light by two stops, making that f/2.8 lens an f/5.6 lens at the widest aperture.

That isn’t necessarily bad but one just has to remember that you are trading lens reach, or magnification, for light collecting ability. So while a teleconverter, particularly a 1.4, generally works well outside on a sunny day, it doesn’t perform as well indoors or in lower light outdoor situations.

A secondary downside of a teleconverter is a small loss of sharpness. This is particularly true with most 2.0 teleconverters. While I find the slight degradation of sharpness with a 1.4 teleconverter to be acceptable in most instances, I returned the 2.0 unit to the store. I just found the sharpness in all but very bright and sunny situations to be unacceptable.

Another factor to consider is that a teleconverter doesn’t work with every lens. Of my four lenses, my teleconverter will only mount to my 70-200mm lens. Of course, that’s the one I want it for, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t solve reach problems with every lens.

The Future

In my original post, I said that I didn’t intend to purchase any more lenses. However, I’ve changed my mind about that.

While my 70-200mm with a teleconverter solves many shooting problems with field sports, 280mm still isn’t a very long reach on a football field or a baseball diamond. So I’ve started looking at other options.

Nikon recently announced a 180-600mm lens for the Z-mount system. 600mm is more than adequate for field sports, and although the aperture is variable between f/4 and f/5.6 on this lens, the extended reach will more than compensate for that3.

The 180-600mm hasn’t been fully released yet, but I’m keeping my eyes open for it. I expect to be able to actually try one out in early 2024.

Footnotes

  1. As a hobbyist photographer, I only have one camera body.
  2. The calculations look like this: 70 x 1.4= 98 and 200 x 1.4=280
  3. Bokeh, the pleasing background blur that sports photographers seek, is a combination of relative distance to the subject and the aperture opening. So being able to get relatively closer to the subject with the longer reach offsets the reduced bluring effects of the higher aperture settings.

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