A Tiny Pancake Lens for Nikon Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras: Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 Hands-on Review

This 26mm pancake lens is the smallest lens in Nikon’s Z lineup. And yet I’m very impressed with its performance, both in handling and in image quality. It has quickly earned a regular place attached to my camera.

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Text & Photos By David Coleman
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I’ve been shooting recently with the Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8. It’s a full-frame autofocus prime for Nikon Z-mount cameras. It has a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8, a minimum aperture of ƒ/16, an angle of view of 79°.

It’s a natural choice for street photography or minimalist travel photography. And it’s a lens I’ve come to really like.

Basics & Mechanics

The killer feature of this lens is its size. There are other good primes in Nikon’s Z lineup; they’ve quickly fleshed out this part of their range.

Nikon Z f camera and Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Fitted here on a Nikon Z f, the 26mm ƒ/2.8 is an exceptionally low profile and portable lens, ideally suited to street and travel photography. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

There’s a 24mm f/1.8 and a 35mm f/1.8, both of which are faster but also much larger.

Even more closely, there’s a 28mm f/2.8 that’s similar in size to this lens but is significantly cheaper (you can find my hands-on review of that one here). And 28mm would seem a more traditional focal length for street photography and travel photography than 26mm; it’s a classic focal length that has been a favorite of some master photographers such as Lee Friedlander. (I have more on this direct comparison below.)

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

But the 26mm f/2.8 is by far the smallest and lightest lens. It’s less than an inch long (without the lens hood) and very light (4.4 oz / 125 g). That makes it the most portable. And also the most discreet. And both of those benefits are what make it so appealing.

Construction

Like many of the Z-series lenses, this lens is built with weather-sealing. So, no problem if you get caught out in a rain or snow shower out on the street (it’s happened to me a few times just with this lens!).

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
With the HB-111 lens hood attached. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

Design

As you’d expect in such a small lens, it’s a relatively simple construction. But there’s still quiet a lot packed in there.

It has 8 elements in 6 groups. Three elements are aspherical, keeping lines straight rather than succumbing to wide-angle distortion.

It has a 7-blade rounded diaphragm. That results in bokeh that’s a little less smoothly rounded than is common with 9-blade lenses.

Compatibility

The lens is an FX lens, and on full-frame bodies like the Z8 and Zf that I’ve been using it on, you get the full wide-angle value of that 26mm. But it will also work on a DX body, where the effective focal length is narrower and tighter, equivalent to around what a 39mm lens would look like on a full-frame body (or, more practically, the Nikon Z 40mm f/2, which I’ve reviewed separately).

Lens Hood

It comes with a lens hood, but it’s a fairly unconventional hood (part number HB-111).

HB0111 Lens Good for Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
The HB-111 lens hood for the Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8 is an unusual hood. It doesn’t block much in the way of stray light, but it does offer some physical protection to the front of the lens. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

While it does prevent some stray light, that’s not really its forte because it lies so flat.

It does a more serviceable job in providing some physical protection to the front of the lens. And for that, I tend to keep it on all the time. That adds a little extra length to the lens, but not much.

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
With the HB-111 lens hood attached. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

The lens hood is also required if you want to add filters to this lens. The hood adds the screw thread for the filters; the lens body itself doesn’t have a filter thread. It takes 52mm screw-on filters.

Lens Cap

Related to this, it doesn’t use the usual snap-on lens cap. There’s a dedicated slip-on cap for it (one is included in the box).

The part number is LC-K108.

Performance & Handling

It’s a very simple lens to use. It’s basically a case of attach and forget.

There are no switches or dials. There’s a single ring for manual focus override. You can also assign it to be an aperture ring or something else; the function is assigned in the camera’s Custom Controls feature. I’ve reassigned mine to be for exposure compensation, something I use a lot and find that the lens ring is really good for.

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
On the left is the Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8. On the right is the Nikon Z 24-70mm ƒ/4 S, a zoom lens that is a popular kit lens paired with Nikon’s Z mirrorless cameras. In this shot, the 24-70mm is fully retracted. To actually use the lens, you need to rotate the zoom ring to at least the 24 marking, which also makes the lens longer. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

There’s no on-lens aperture control by default; that’s all handled in the camera. But you can reassign the focus ring to be aperture. You do that through the camera’s menu.

And the actual glass element is, compared to most other DSLR and mirrorless lenses, tiny; closer to the size of a smartphone lens than a more traditional camera lens. You can see what I mean in the photo at the top of this page.

What It’s Like to Shoot with the Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 Lens

I’ve found this lens to be fun to shoot with. It’s one of those get-back-to-basics lenses. I’ve been using it on both a Nikon Z8 and a Nikon Zf, and I’ve especially enjoyed shooting black and white with it.

(I’ve included a handful of photos I’ve taken with it here. I’ll post a much larger collection of sample images separately.)

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
What might look like flaring here around the light is actually from a heavy mist in damp conditions. Arlington, VA. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Midtown, New York, NY. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
The indistinct light source here, again, is from heavy mists in damp conditions. Arlington, VA. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Lower Manhattan, New York, NY. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
As much as I’d love even faster than ƒ/2.8, it’s still plenty wide enough for low-light shots, especially when combined with the wide angle (meaning camera shake is less of an issue and you can get away with slower shutter speeds handheld) and the high-ISO performance of Nikon’s Z cameras. Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
The Oculus, New York, NY. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Grand Central Station, New York, NY. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
The aspherical elements are put to work here keeping lines straight. Times Square, New York, NY. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

Because of the way the lens elements of this lens move when focusing, focusing isn’t silent, but it is quiet. It’s subtle, but you can feel and hear the focusing motor working. In practical terms, I can’t imagine many situations where it would present a problem shooting photos.

Nikon does tout the quiet drive technology that’s used as being ideal for video, but I’d actually disagree with that in practical terms. Quiet is relative, and this lens is noisier than some when focusing, and I’d argue that makes it less suited to video shooting. The manual focus ring is also very narrow; it’s functional but doesn’t have the smooth and precise glide that video lenses tend to have. That said, I’ve been using it nearly exclusively for stills photos, so take it with a grain of salt.

Not a Macro, But . . .

This isn’t a macro lens. But it does focus quite close, which can be very useful for general travel photography if you want to pick out small details or, say, are taking photos of cuisine.

It focuses down to under 8 inches (7.9 inches / 20 centimeters).

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 Sample Image. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

If you do need an actual macro lens in a smallish lens, Nikon has the 50mm ƒ/2.8 MC.

26mm vs 28mm

If you’re eyeing the 26mm, the natural comparison is with the 28mm ƒ/2.8. The 28mm has a very similar perspective, is a bit larger, and is quite a bit cheaper.

For a size comparison, here they are side-by-side:

Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens and Nikon Z 28mm f2.8. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
On the left is the Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8. On the right is the Nikon Z 28mm ƒ/2.8.

For comparison of the perspective, there’s only a difference of around 5° diagonally, or about 4° across the wide dimension. So there’s not a lot in it composition-wise. Here are some shots taken on the same camera from the same vantage point.


Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Nikon Z 28mm ƒ/2.8. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com

For price, the 26mm has an MSRP of $499. The 28mm has an MSRP of $299 (there’s also a special edition version with a retro finish that’s a shade more expensive, but not much).

I have both in front of me as I write this, and while I don’t have any particular complaints about the 28mm—it works well and is still very portable—I prefer the 26mm for two reasons.

The first is its size. Smaller is better for the types of uses I want to put it to. However, in reality, some of that is undermined by having the lens hood attached (the 28mm doesn’t come with a lens hood or have a dedicated hood available).

The second is its perspective. While there’s really not much in it, the 26mm is just that little bit closer to my favorite travel lens focal length of 24mm. I also have a larger 35mm ƒ/1.8 and 40mm ƒ/2 I can put on if I want a tighter view.

Nikon Z Small Prime Lenses. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
From left to right: Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8; Nikon Z 28mm ƒ/2.8, Nikon Z 40mm ƒ/2, Nikon Z 50mm ƒ/2.8 Macro.

Taking price out of the equation, I can’t think of a reason to choose the 28mm over the 26mm. But the price difference is not insignificant.

For that matter, if the lens size is no object, I’d lean towards the larger 24mm ƒ/1.8.

Optical Performance

This is the area where I was initially skeptical. There’s barely any glass there, and the entire opening is tiny compared to most other Z lenses. I feared that optical quality would be heavily compromised in the effort to make it compact. And, being so used to lenses with far more glass in them, I’m still a bit surprised at how this one does.

But after shooting with it for a while, it has allayed my skepticism. It actually performs very well optically, and I have no real complaints in this department. It’s sharp. It doesn’t have major issues with chromatic aberration or vignetting or flaring. And Nikon Z cameras do a pretty good job of addressing any lens chromatic aberration and vignetting in the camera (if you leave those default options enabled).

Other lenses will offer more notable bokeh. And other lenses will inevitably beat it in lab tests for sharpness. But as a small and light package, I’ve been very happy with the optical performance of this lens.

Quibbles

After shooting with it quite a lot, I’ve come to really like this lens, and I don’t really have any complaints. Sure, I’d love for it to be faster—f/2 or even faster would be wonderful. But that’s basically complaining about something it’s not.

Specs

Specification Detail
Focal Length 26mm
Maximum Aperture f/2.8
Minimum Aperture f/16
Lens Mount Nikon Z
Lens Format Coverage Full-Frame (FX)
Angle of View 79°
Minimum Focus Distance 7.9″ / 20 cm
Maximum Magnification 0.19x
Optical Design 8 Elements in 6 Groups
Diaphragm Blades 7, Rounded
Focus Type Autofocus
Image Stabilization No
Filter Size 52 mm (Front)
Dimensions (ø x L) 0.9 x 2.8″ / 23.5 x 70 mm
Weight 4.4 oz / 125 g

Wrap Up

Ultimately, the true test of a lens, or any camera gear for that matter, is about the shots it helps you get. And that’s where this lens’s combination of very good optical performance and remarkably small size make for its strengths. For street and travel photography, in particular, it’s a really attractive combination. There are other lenses I’d use for other types of photography where I’m less concerned about portability or convenience. Or when I’m going for a particular look or want to maximize bokeh or low-light performance.

But for an all-around take-anywhere combination, I’m really happy with this lens.

Nikon Z f camera and Nikon Z 26mm f2.8 lens. Photo by David Coleman - havecamerawilltravel.com
Fitted here on a Nikon Z f, the 26mm ƒ/2.8 is an exceptionally low profile and portable lens, ideally suited to street and travel photography.

Nikon Z 26mm ƒ/2.8 Price & Availability

Nikon has set the MSRP of this lens at $499. If you’re looking for something a little cheaper, the 28mm ƒ/2.8 is well worth a look.

Buy New

Check the latest street prices and availability at:

Buy Used

As a relatively new lens, I haven’t noticed many on the used market yet. But some good places to keep a lookout at are:

Profile photo of David Coleman | Have Camera Will Travel | Washington DC-based Professional Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.

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