Friday, May 3, 2013

Making A Wide Angle Choice

Given the available range of wide angle lenses on the market today, it can be difficult to choose the right one for your needs and budget. In this case I'll be talking about full frame lens options for Nikon cameras. I'm covering Nikon cameras, since I shoot with F-mount bodies. At this point in time there are 7 wide angle zoom lenses choose from, which could make the decision difficult for some.

1. Nikon AF-S 14-24 F2.8G ED
2. Nikon AF-S 17-35mm F2.8D ED
3. Nikon AF-S 16-35mm F4G ED VR
4. Nikon AF-S 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED
5. Tokina AT-X 16-28mm F2.8 Pro FX
6. Tokina AT-X 17-35mm F4 Pro FX
7. Sigma 12-24mm F4 HSM

Since I'm going through the process of picking a wide angle lens right now, I figured I'd share my thoughts on these lenses.

Given the number of choices, how do you narrow down your options? As in most situations the first way to narrow down your options is price. If you have a budget of up to $2000 Cdn, the AF-S 14-24mm F2.8G F2.8 is a very good option, coming in at around $1700. Optically the 14-24mm F2.8G is one of the best wide angle lenses on the market. It is usable wide open, making the 14-24mm prefect for event work, when you need to be close to your subject matter. If you want to use filters on this lens you need to buy expensive add-on holders that fit onto the built in hood. The 17-35mm takes standard 77mm filters, but has a older design and has soft corner performance according to most reviews that I've seen. Both lenses are tough and built to handle tough conditions.

On the other hand, if you have a budget lower than $1500, both the 14-24mm and the 17-35mm fixed aperture F2.8 Nikkors are out of reach. The higher cost Nikkors are also heavy, so even if you can afford the F2.8 options they may not be the right choice, unless you really need to work with an F2.8 aperture or 14mm on the wide end for particular subject matter.

In the middle of the pack you have the Nikon AF-S 16-35mm F4G ED VR lens. In some respects this lens offers something none of the others do, being that it is very wide at 16mm, while offering image stabilization as well. If you are shooting with an F-mount body this is the only image stabilized option that you have. This makes the lens great for shooting still subjects in lower light conditions, even when you don't want to carry a tripod. You just have to keep in mind that image stabilization will not freeze subject movement, or help with long exposures. Reviews, both from the respected review sites, and users are mixed. Some praise the lens for being optically superior to the AF-S 17-35mm F2.8D, while others bash it for barrel distortion or softness on the newer high resolution cameras. I still think this lens could be a good choice for many. The lens accepts 77mm filters and has dust and moisture resistant seals. The lens is around $1250 Cdn.

The Tokina AT-X 16-28mm F2.8 Pro FX offers similar zoom range, and a faster aperture, for less money, but like the 14-24mm Nikkor it does not take standard filters. The Tokina seems to have mixed ratings, mostly because there are some quality control issues at play. Optically, if you get a good copy of this lens it is considered very good for money (close to the Nikon 14-24mm). Like the Nikon 14-24mm lens, this Tokina is one of the heavier choices and doesn't take standard filters. You'll find this lens in the $750-800 Cdn range.

Also coming into the middle of the pack is the Sigma 12-24mm F4 DG HSM. This lens is somewhat of an odd ball in the group. It offers the widest zoom range, going to 12mm, but it does not seem to be an overly popular choice. Most reviews of the lens are rather mixed or based on the previous version of the lens. At this point I think it would be wise to avoid the Sigma, unless you really need the super wide angle that it offers. I say that considering that Sigma is starting to refresh many parts of the lens lineup, for both performance and quality control reasons.

At the lower end of the spectrum you have the Nikon AF-S 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED and the Tokina AT-X 17-35mm F4 Pro FX, both coming in under $800. These two options are easily the most affordable modern wide angle lenses for FX bodies on the market. The Nikkor is also the smallest and lightest of the bunch. Early reviews seem to indicate that the Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED is very good optically for landscape style shooting, particularity in the F5.6-F11 range where it shows very good corner performance. Some have even said it is better than the AF-S 16-35mm F4G ED VR. The lens uses 77mm filters.

The Tokina AT-X 17-35mm F4 Pro FX seems to be a decent lens, from the image samples that I've seen. Reviews still seems to be rather scares though, and the one that are out there leave me with the sense that this lens is very much a middle of the road option. I don't like that it uses 82mm filters, so I'm not considering this lower cost Tokina myself, since all my filters, and filter holders are for lenses with 77mm threads.

There really isn't any conclusion to what lens is best for you, since it completely depends on how you intend to use your equipment.

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