June 27

9 comments

Wide Angle Lens Review: Nikon 24mm f/2.8D

By Dan

June 27, 2012

Today I review perhaps my all time favorite lens. In fact, if I had to narrow down my camera gear and choose but one single lens to use for the rest of my life, it would be my Nikon AF 24mm f/2.8D. (Canon also has a 24mm f/2.8 lens.)

I’ve had my 24mm for well over fifteen years. It was the first lens that I bought when I lost the day job that sent me on my path as a professional photographer, and I’ve taken it on every single adventure, trip, vacation, expedition, afternoon outing, day trip, assignment and stock shoot since the very first day I’ve owned it.

Size and Weight

The main thing I love about this lens is that it’s small and light. At 9.5 oz and about 2/3 the size of your fist, it fits perfectly in my light and fast style of photography. I generally prefer shooting with prime lenses instead of zoom lenses for this reason, my 80-200mm f/2.8 being the exception. Fixed wide angle lenses are much more compact than wide angle zooms, and they’re sharper and faster.

Size and weight matter when you’re out slaying peaks with friends who hike REALLY fast, when you’re out for an entire day on the bike, or when you’re traveling around Europe or Asia with minimal gear. Sure, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is a great pro quality lens that offers a wide choice of compositional options, but which lens would you rather run or hike ten miles with?

The Nikon AF 24mm f/2.8D is indeed sharp; sharp enough for any kind of work that you’ll ever do. It creates imagery that is crisp from front to back and edge to edge, unless you’re trying go shallow.

When shooting with limited depth of field, it gives razor sharp subjects that stand boldly in front of dreamy soft backgrounds. It allows you to accentuate your foreground subject matter with prominence create depth that carries the viewer’s eye all the way through your frame and then back again.

Usability

Distortion is very limited with this lens. It’s wide enough so that you can get in very close, but it won’t bend or warp the subjects too much. In fact, it’s this cleanliness that makes it such a great environmental portrait lens (see below). You can move in and really accentuate your subject within the frame, but still show enough location to help create a story around your subject instead of just shooting a photo of your subject. You get wide without effect. Portraits shot with the 24mm are genuine, because they don’t call attention to themselves with unnecessary style. However, if that’s what you’re going for, just move in even closer and you’ll get it.

The same applies for shooting adventure, action and sports, which has always been my favorite style of photography. I’ve used my 24mm for shooting climbing, kayaking, hiking, skiing, mountaineering, biking. You name it; if I’ve shot it, I’ve shot it with this lens, and with great results. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of published photos that I’ve shot with my 24mm. It lets you get right in the middle of the action, and since it’s so compact, you won’t obtrude upon your subject matter when you do.

It’s also very fast. A maximum aperture of f/2.8, gives you lots of options for freezing action, shooting inside, shooting at night, (think star trails and aurora borealis photos) and shooting in dim ambient lighting conditions. Focus is also quick, mainly because the rotating distance on the lens barrel between close focus and infinity is only about a quarter turn.

Of course, I also love this lens for shooting landscapes. It’s got a wonderful angle of view, and as I said above, it’s wide enough that you can accentuate some aspect of the foreground and still get edge to edge sharpness if you need. Stop down with a tripod and you’ll get all the sharpness you could ever want.

That said, since I tend to move quickly, I often end up hand holding this lens with no tripod, and I still get great results. If I can brace my arms and/or hands a little bit, I can go down to around half a second an still get sharp photos. If I’m not bracing, and my subject is not moving, I’m comfortable down to around 1/10 sec.

Value

Also, when compared to other lenses like that 24-70mm that I mentioned above, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8D costs WAY less. At around $359, it damn near falls into the budget category. You simply can’t get very many versatile pro quality lenses for under four bills. For what you get, this one is a steal. I’ve paid for it countless times over with all the photos that I’ve sold from using this lens. I also cannot count the times when I’ve banged it around, knocked it against rocks, dropped it and abused it in other ways during a decade and a half of outdoor photography. (I always use the dedicated metal lens hood.) Put simply, it’s built to last.

One thing that I’ve noticed with this lens is that you get very slight vignetting when using it on full frame cameras like the D700 and D750. We’re talking very slight, and it’s nothing that you can’t fix with a minor adjustment in the Lens Correction slider in Lightroom. You could probably even make a preset for that or do batch vignetting adjustments if you wanted. On a DX body, you don’t have this issue. It effectively renders as a 32mm, which is still a great focal length for a variety of subject matter and styles. I’ve used it for years on my D300 body.

Overall, you simply cannot go wrong with a 24mm lens. It offers great value and gives, what I feel, is the best combination of wide angle creative options, size and price for a lens of this type. In my photography, I find this to be an absolutely essential piece of gear that I NEVER leave behind. Whether you shoot landscapes, portraits, locations, interiors, street scenes, action, sports, adventure or travel, this lens will give you great imagery, it won’t break the bank and it certainly won’t slow you down.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.


As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.


  • Dan,
    I was literally going to send you an email “today” asking your opinion on this lens. I really value your advice. I couldn’t believe my eyes when this popped up in my rss reader. Thanks for reading my mind! Keep up the great work.
    Rod

  • Dan, I’ve used this lens on the D700 and now D800 (around 5 years). I am amazed how many pixel peepers bitch about it. Perhaps they have poor technique as I have been finding it creates wonderful prints, hanging on my wall at 18×12 and much larger, sharp right across the frame (or where I want them to be!). Thanks for the review. Just bought a 10 stop B+W ND for it which I am waiting to arrive!

    Steve

  • Hi Dan – I just discovered your site. Really interesting stuff. From my reading, you are one of the first people I’ve seen who actually gets happy about this lens – and that makes me happy because you are using it in actual real world and not taking photos of rulers. It looks like you use it much as I intend to (on a D7000) in the outdoors (surf mainly) – wide enough to take in everything but focused enough to be human. I just bought it instead of a new body upgrade (holding off on D750 until the dust well and truly settles), and after reading some pretty scathing stuff from the pixel peepers and then stumbling across this (with actual examples) I am pretty positive about where it looks like my shots will be going. Thanks and all the best with your shooting.

  • Hamish, thanks for your comments. Yes, I really love the Nikon 24 f/2.8 lens, especially on full frame cameras, it gives me just the right tradeoff in subject vs. environment without distorting at the edges. Even on crop sensor cameras like the D7000, it works really well because it’s lightweight, sharp and pretty bomber for adventure photography. I’m also curious about the new D750, that could be a great body to use with that lens, especially since you’ll be focusing on the sharpest part of the optics towards the middle of the lens.

    I checked out your site- love your surf photos- really great stuff!! Keep up the good work. -Dan

  • Only thing I need is this, the 50mm and the 80-200. 80-200 is not a walk around so i don’t care about weight. wide angle zooms are like 3 pounds on fx…no thanks.

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    Terry Bourk

    I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

    Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.


    Roger Sinclair

    You have done it again! Another triumph.

    Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

    Thank you, Dan.