Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thoughts on Buying Nikon Lenses (FX): Part 1

Sometimes the first reaction of a person with a slight "gear head" problem, such as myself, is that you read three or four review of each product before considering buying something. That in and off itself isn't bad, because you don't want to make an uninformed decision when spending $500-$2000 on something that you are going to be using for at least a few years down the road. On the other hand you can get so wrapped up in the findings of these reviews that you forget the practical use of such equipment is based on your needs and not just numbers from a test chart. Keeping the matter of practical usefulness in mind makes me wish there were more lens rental services in Canada, because the one major rental service I have access to does not have most of the lenses I would like to test before I would buy them! In fact that only lenses that the rental service has that I would consider buying in the distant future are the 24-70mm F2.8G and 70-200mm F2.8G VRII.

I'm going to list and comment on each of the lenses that I'm considering right now, simply because I think it will enlighten some people in the area of making good choices for practical reasons, and not just based on test charts. Today I'm going to focus on wide angel lenses. The comments in this post are based on reading review from both pro reviewers and users as well. I have not owned most of these lenses, so they are just a combination of thoughts based on what I have learned.

Thoughts On Buying Nikon Lenses (FX): Part 2 Standard Zooms and Primes

Thoughts On Buying Nikon Lenses (FX): Part 3 Telephoto Zooms and Primes

Nikon AF 24mm F2.8D - A 24mm lens on a full frame camera gives a reasonably wide angle of view, although it does not fit into the ultra wide category (that would be 18mm or wider). Most reviewers seem to either bash this lens or call it okay at best, partly due to corner soften wide open. Practically speaking few, if any lenses are sharp in the corners wide open, other than macro lenses! If you are a landscape photographer, would corner sharpness wide open really be an issue? When I'm shooting landscapes I'm often stopping down to F8-16 to get the depth of field I need in the image, which is where the corners of this lens are reported to be sharpest anyway. Keep in mind that the optical design of this lens dates back to the AI-S version from 1980's, when 24mm lenses were primarily used as a landscape lens, which explains some of it's characteristics. In other words, Nikon didn't bother designing the lens to be sharp in the corners wide open, because the users of the lens were stopping it down anyway! Another issue with the lens is reported to be ghosting when the sun or a bright light source is in the frame, and that could be a real issue for anyone wanting to use this lens. The ghosting issue can mean a loss of contrast, which could make some scene look a little flat.

Of course it isn't all bad news, the 24mm F2.8D also has less barrel distortion than any of the Nikon F2.8 zooms at 24mm, that means less resolution is being lost when correcting for said distortion. The other advantages of the 24mm F2.8D are easy for anyone to see, first the price, which is just over $400, that's at least $1000 less than any of the F2.8 Nikkor zooms! Secondly, weight and size; the 24mm F2.8D is small and light, which is great if you are hiking and don't want to carry 5kgs of camera gear on your back. After all, if you are landscape shooting you already have a 1 or 2kg tripod, 600g - 1kg camera and any other supplies that you need, so why bog yourself down with another 1-2kgs in terms of lenses (24-70mm or 14-24mm)? That is where the practical aspect of the 24mm F2.8D comes into play!

Nikon AF-S 24mm F1.4G - This lens is the low light wide angel king of the Nikkor lens lineup. If you are the kind of shooter who likes street shots in low light this might be the lens for you. There have been reports of some auto focus issues, although I haven't seen any of the pro reviewers mention this issue. This lens could also be used for landscapes and many other types of photography, but due to the high price tag, many photographers might want to consider an alternative.

Nikon AF-S 16-35mm F4 VR - I consider this lens to be a landscape photographers lens, although it does have other purposes. The reason I consider it a landscape photographers lens is because it does not have a super wide aperture, since it is a fixed F4 lens rather than F2.8. Another reason that this lens might appeal more to landscape photographers, over the 14-24mm F2.8G is the fact that it can accept standard 77mm filters. Also, the lens is reported to be very sharp in the corners from F5.6 and up. There is a large amount of barrel distortion on from 16-17mm, but beyond that distortion is not considered to be an issue. The lens is said to perform best between 20-24mm, although performance overall is still considered very good by almost all of the landscape photographers that I've talked to about it. The 16-35mm F4 is also the first wide angel lens on the market to have image stabilization, which is another plus in it's favor. Some reviewers comment that they could get sharp images down to 1/5s at some positions of the zoom range! Of course, as we all know, image stabilization does not freeze action so if you are shooting moving objects in low light the 14-24mm F2.8G might still be a better choice.

Nikon AF-S 14-24mm F2.8G - This is the wide angle member of what many call the holy trinity of Nikon lenses (14-24, 24-70, 70-200), and for a good reason. It is considered to be the best ultra wide angle zoom lens for SLR cameras on the market today. You might even see a few Canon shooters attaching this lens to their 5D MkII's via an F mount adapter! Barrel distortion is an issue with this lens at it's widest positions 14-18mm, so you will lose some resolution if you need to correct that. Also, due to the design of the lens the front element sticks way out of the front of the lens, which means you cannot use standard filters. There is a rig that allows you to use filters, but it is rather expensive. Of course, if you can afford this lens, it is very likely that you can also afford the filter rig. This lens can be used for many different kinds of subjects from landscapes to crowd shots at a party.

Read Part II on standard zooms and primes.