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Nikon 24mm Sharpness Comparison
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List of Lenses Compared
Let's compare the sharpness of every known Nikon 24mm lens, as well as every known Nikon zoom which covers 24mm.
Excused from this comparison is the older 24-85mm f/2.8-4 AF-D, which Nikon forgot to discontinue when it introduced the newer and greatly improved 24-85mm AF-S. Nikon accidentally discontinued the newer AF-S lens instead, another example of big mistakes going unnoticed in large organizations.
Otherwise, I've included every Nikon 24mm lens and zoom design going back to Nikon's first 24mm 2.8 design of 1967, represented here by a very beat-up, AI-converted sample from 1976. Even with a dented filter ring repaired with vice grips, no rubber left on the focus ring and chips and wear to the glass, it performs just fine, thank you.
On most computer monitors at 100 DPI, these are small sections from what would be gallery-sized 42 x 28 " (100 x 75cm) prints, if printed in their entirety. At smaller sizes, these differences would be much less obvious.
The corner crops are taken from the lowest left corner. If the trees seem like they're moving, it's because lens of differences in lens distortion and actual focal length; I didn't want to move my crop to chase the tree. The bottom and left edges of each cropped image shown here are the actual 100% edge pixels of the D3.
I cropped freehand for each center crop, so that's why the trees seem to move around.
This page uses a special display technology that rearranges the images to fit your screen, so maximize the size of your browser window to see as many of these images on-screen at the same time.
Click any image to get to that lens' detailed review, or at least a picture of it if I don't have its review yet completed.
There isn't much sharpness difference between these in the center, so feel free to skip to the corner images to see the real differences.
Maximum Aperture, Center Center: Maximum f/4 f/8 Corner: Maximum f/4 f/8 top
f/4, Center Center: Maximum f/4 f/8 Corner: Maximum f/4 f/8 top
f/8, Center Center: Maximum f/4 f/8 Corner: Maximum f/4 f/8 top
Maximum Aperture, Corner Center: Maximum f/4 f/8 Corner: Maximum f/4 f/8 top
f/4, Corner Center: Maximum f/4 f/8 Corner: Maximum f/4 f/8 top
f/8, Corner Center: Maximum f/4 f/8 Corner: Maximum f/4 f/8 top
As expected, they all look pretty much the same. The differences are minor compared to what we're going to see in the corner.
Remarkable is that the 24mm f/1.4 is among the sharpest at its maximum aperture of f/1.4, while most of the other lenses are shooting at their wimpier maximum apertures of f/2.8 or smaller.
I only showed these to show you what I keep telling you: lenses are pretty much the same as each other in the center.
I told you this is where we'd see differences!
The biggest difference in lenses is in the corners, wide open. Of course this is silly to worry about, since only idiots shoot wide-open in broad daylight and then look at the corners this close, but if you want to see differences between lenses, this is how to do it.
Compelling is how great the 24mm f/1.4 looks at its huge maximum aperture of f/1.4, while the awful 24-120mm VR looks like mush, and it's shooting at f/3.5.
The 24-85mm AF-S, 14-24mm AF-S and 16-35mm VR look great. The 16-35mm isn't looking so great here, but that's the thing about zooms: they very from frame to frame and shot to shot, so this snippet isn't doing it its usual justice. Likewise, the 18-35mm looks great in this snippet, but it's having a good day; it usually doesn't perform this well. Zooms vary from region-to-region and from shot to shot as the glass moves around inside them, while fixed, manual focus lenses are more consistent from shot to shot and region to region.
Remember that when we're comparing wide-open like this, that we are looking at lenses from f/1.4 to f/4. The f/1.4 lenses are working much harder to work this well, gathering 8 times as much light as the f/4 lenses and staying sharp at the same time.
This lets us compare all at the same f/4 aperture, letting the faster f/1.4, f/2 and f/2.8 lenses relax a little.
In this case, I'm using the same images again from the f/4 lenses, and different images from the faster lenses.
It turns out that the professional, high-speed lenses are so good wide-open that they don't need to get much better by stopping down to f/4, and still exceed the performance of the slow lenses even wide open.
As expected, by f/8, most of the lenses look the same.
In daylight, you'd usually be shooting at f/8, which is why even though I spend days out at the range and then back in the bunker reporting on all this, lens sharpness doesn't really matter.
As I've been telling everyone (and I'm not alone), the pig at this party is Nikon's expensive 24-120mm VR. It's horrible, even at f/8. Even the hockey-puck 24mm f/2.8 lens, with all sorts of mechanical and glass damage, easily outperforms the expensive new VR lens. HA!
Everything was shot on a 12MP full-frame Nikon D3.
I used a tripod not for sharpness, but to try to hold each camera in the same position from shot-to-shot to help these images stay in alignment to make nice, neat looking comparisons.
I equalized exposures so that all images look as bright as each other.
This is trivial in the center, but for the corners I sometimes had to use two or three stops more exposure at large apertures keep some lenses' corner images as bright as the rest.
Since the purpose here is to compare sharpness, I did this so we can compare sharpness equally. I address falloff at each lens' individual review.
At small apertures, there is little difference between these lenses in falloff.
The best 24mm lens is easily Nikon's exotic 24mm f/1.4 AF-S.
Its not as obvious here as I had hoped due to the vaguenesses of zoom lenses, but especially on digital where absolute speed isn't as mandatory as it is when shooting ISO 50 film, the Nikon 16-35mm VR is unbeaten. It's what I usually take with me. The 14-24mm is as good, but way too heavy to want to carry, and can't use any filters for serious photography.
For budget shooters, pick up a 24mm f/2.8 AI-s manual-focus lens used for a song, or the optically identical autofocus 24mm f/2.8 AF-D. Both of these current 24mm f/2.8 lenses work great on the D3X, D700 and D3, and every other serious Nikon, for a fraction of the price of the 16-35mm VR.
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