GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 20mm f/2.8D
A few months ago, I was looking for a wide angle lens for an upcoming trip to the National Park in Alberta, Canada. Knowing there were a multitude of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and other natural eye-candy, I wanted to be able to fit everything in the frame, rather than rely on panoramas.
Not having used a lens of this focal length before, I didn't want to drop a huge amount of money on new glass, mainly because I feared the lens might just sit in my camera bag collecting dust afterwards.
Equally, I didn't want to go too cheap and end up with an optic that delivered less than satisfactory results. After much deliberating, I opted for the Nikkor.
First impressions were very positive. The lens felt robust in my hand and being only 270g, not overly heavy either. A lightweight lens is definitely a bonus when hiking long distances with the camera and tripod, especially in mountainous regions. The construction is composite plastic and metal components, which includes the mount. This is pretty much the standard for virtually all Nikkors of this period and as such, they will easily stand up to the odd knock or bump.
The barrel is covered in a rubber grip, which although quite narrow, does provide good contact. Manual focus felt light but not entirely smooth. When fine-tuning, the focus is almost juddery. Still, this didn't concern me much, as I would be using the auto focus anyway and would have plenty of time to compose my shots. Close focus to infinity is just over a quarter turn and so the gearing on this lens is very quick. On the D800 this range takes barely 1 second, so easily on a par with modern AF-S lenses, although obviously noiser. Not that this poses any sort of a problem. You aren't likely to be shooting wildlife close up with a 20mm lens, without spooking them on approach anyway. Well, with the exception of some friendly squirrels, who are used to interacting with people in exchange for a few peanuts or black sunflower seeds.
As can be seen from the picture at the top of this review, the front optic is quite shallow in relation to the filter holder and a hood isn't included in the box, frustratingly enough. Thankfully, you can purchase generic HB-4 type lens hoods on eBay or Amazon for as little as £3. I highly recommend buying one, as it will help protect the front element from accidental knocks and scratches. It also helps eliminate unwanted, stray light sources. Having said that, the 20mm handles ghosting and flare remarkably well, so I mainly use the hood solely for protection. The only time I encountered unwanted flares, was when using filters, which caused internal reflections. The front of the lens extends without rotating, so using CPL filters or graduated ND filters is not a problem.
Optically this lens didn't disappoint and I was very pleased with the resulting images. The photos were sharp with a good level of detail across the entire frame, as can be seen in the above picture. Wide open there is a bit of coma softness but stopped down where you'd typically use this lens, the resolving power is great, even on the 36MP D800 sensor. There is some green/magenta colour fringing in higher contrast areas but, nothing that can't be corrected in Adobe Camera Raw.
Due to the focal length, pretty much everything in the image is in focus, unless you are shooting up-close, which is where this lens comes into it's own, at least for my tastes. You don't have to stop the lens down that much to achieve a very deep depth of field. Remember, the wider the angle of the lens, the greater the depth of field automatically is. For example on a 50mm lens at f/2.8, focusing on an object 3m away on a full frame camera, the DOF is 0.65 meters. The same settings on a 20mm lens gives a DOF of 6.32m!
As it features a CRC (Close-Range Correction) floating element, the 20mm delivers great performance at all distances, making it a very versatile lens. With a 25cm minimum focus, you can achieve some wonderful perspectives and the distorting effects definitely add to the cuteness factor of animals and kids. "Dave" in the photo to the right, demonstrates this effect beautifully, whilst staring at his bag of treats, just off camera.
Due to the techniques often employed in landscape photography, you'd normally use the 20mm on a tripod with polarizers or neutral density filters attached. When shooting freehand, as in the above photo of Dave the dog, I did find the fact the focus barrel rotates, somewhat annoying. My fingers naturally rest in that area and so had to adjust them in order to support/stabilize the camera and avoid hitting the moving grip. This takes a little bit of getting used to at first. Not a major issue but something to be aware of. It is also another reason I recommend the use of the hood, as it's a good place to lightly rest your thumb and index finger.
Although now 2 decades old, you may be surprised to learn that it is still available new today, for around the £460 mark. That should give some indication as the quality of the lens, that Nikon still has faith in it after all these years. The 20mm f/2.8 AF-D is a well built, compact, ultra-wide angle, fast aperture prime lens for film or FX DSLRs, which lends itself well to travel, landscape, architecture, as well as portraiture under certain applications. My concern that it would become somewhat of a white elephant has definitely been alleviated and I find the 20mm to be a very fun and creative tool to have in my photographic arsenal.