Nikon Ultrawide FX Zooms Compared
20mm f/2.8, 20-35mm f/2.8 AF-D, 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, 18-35mm AF-D , 14-24mm f/2.8 and 16-35mm VR. enlarge. It helps me keep adding to this site when you use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, and eBay to get your goodies. Thanks! Ken.
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Listed in order of introduction:
* As set in Photoshop's distortion correction tool to correct.
** Some waviness remains.
*** See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details.
They do exactly the same thing as the other big, ugly lenses, but do it for less money, while taking up less space in your bag and less weight around your neck.
You'll get farther, feel better, and thus see better and take better pictures with these lenses than with the other pigs.
The 20mm f/2.8 AF-D is my favorite on this page.
The biggest disadvantage to either of these is that the focus ring spins as the camera autofocuses, so you have to keep your hands clear. You also have to stop and move a switch to go between auto and manual focus, another pain, but much less of a pain than carrying around a two-pound lens.
The AF switching can drive you crazy, if you need fast access to manual focus.
While twice as big and expensive as the 20mm f/2.8 AF-D or 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-D, the newest 16-35mm f/4 VR is a superb all-around lens and allows instant manual-focus override simply by grabbing the focus ring. If you don't mind carrying it, it is a pleasure to shoot. Just be sure to watch the front so you don't bang it on anything; it is very long.
Pro on a Budget top
The 20mm f/2.8 is also a reasonably tough pro lens, while the 20-35mm f/2.8 AF-D is built to take a beating and still come up shooting great images time and time again.
The 20-35mm f/2.8 still requires moving a switch to go between auto and manual focus, but you have your choice of either the one on your camera, or one on the lens that's easy to use as you shoot. Its focus ring doesn't move during autofocus.
Practical Pro top
The 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S is still the winner.
It's tough, focuses great, takes filters, and is a lot smaller than the ridiculous 14-24mm that can't take any prophylactic filters With the 14-24mm, you'll need to use an easily lost and flimsy lens cap, instead of just throwing it in your bag like the others.
The 17-35mm has instant manual focus override; just grab the focus ring.
They both have instant manual focus override; just grab the focus ring.
Low Light Hand-Held top
The hyper ISOs of FX digital make fast lenses largely obsolete for the great majority of hand-held low-light shots of things that hold still.
For hand-held low-light shots of still subjects on FX digital, the 16-35mm VR is the clear winner because its VR more than compensates for its slower speed compared to the f/2.8 non-VR lenses. An additional benefit of the slower lens with VR is that the f/4 aperture, versus f/2.8 or faster, gives even deeper depth-of-field for sharper pictures.
The effective maximum aperture of the 16-35mm VR is about f/2, yet we get the depth-of-field of f/4. Nice!
The reason I don't use the f/1.4 lenses for still subjects in dim light on FX is because at f/1.4, very little is in focus due to the small depth-of-field, and with the excellent high ISOs of FX, nothing except moonlight is dark enough to need f/1.4.
For subjects that move, VR does nothing. Faster apertures let us stop motion, in which case, the 24mm f/1.4 is the best lens.
If you need a zoom, then the 14-24mm f/2.8 is best optically.
On film, we don't get ISO 3,200 without witchcraft, while FX digital gives us ISO 6,400 for free.
Computer Nerd top
If you're a pixel-counter who spends more time on your computer or peering through 22x loupes than you do shooting, you'll prefer either of the 16-35mm f/4 VR or 14-24mm /2.8 AF-S because they offer slightly more sharpness in the far corners when shot at larger apertures and looked at at 100% on your screen.
Both of these have instant manual focus override; just grab the focus ring.
If you split pixels, of the two 16-35mm f/4 VR and 14-24mm /2.8 AF-S that I shot-off against each other at the range, the smaller, less expensive and more practical 16-35mm f/4 VR was actually a bit sharper than the old 14-24mm /2.8 AF-S!
Nikon never ceases to amaze me with its unending ability to make better lenses cheaper every year.
If you don't mind hauling them, the 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, 16-35mm f/4 VR and 14-24mm /2.8 AF-S really do offer excellent optical, mechanical and autofocus ergonomic performance. They're also the three heaviest lenses here.
The 16-35mm f/4 VR is the lightest of these three, but gets you back by being so long that it bangs itself on things as you walk around.
The 14-24mm /2.8 AF-S is the biggest, heaviest, and optically best lens on this page, or possibly in the the world. It is the Masochist's favorite.
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