PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

9May/1025

Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Review

Despite its general reputation as the best Japanese supplier of wide-angle lenses, Nikon has only sporadically offered high-speed wide-angle lenses throughout its history. For that reason we cannot yet tell whether the new Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G is the first of a charge by Nikon on this market, or an “accidental success” as the 28mm f/1.4D Aspherical was before. Irrespective it is clear that Nikon’s new high-speed wide-angle lens is set to leave its mark in Nikon's history: the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G delivers consistently excellent results and it is lots of fun to use, and that is a recipe for lasting chemistry.

There is only one fact I was able to assert simply by looking at the optical layout: it is a modern Japanese lens. This is not a flaw or an issue, of course, but it does caution that the Nikkor may not behave as an ideal lens would in use. The optical specification also suggests good correction of chromatic aberrations and the inclusion of the “Nano” crystal coating should give it strong resistance to flare and maintain utility in contra light.

After testing (reveling in) the excellent Zeiss 2.8/21mm ZF lens, I had set on a path to its acquisition. Before that could come to pass however, Nikon launched this fast 24mm lens and captured my imagination. I decided had to see this lens for myself before I could act on the ZF, so I immediately reserved a rental copy of the Nikkor.

Operation

My first impression(s) of the Nikkor is that it looked perfect on the table, bulky in the hand, and heavy on the camera. It is not really heavy, it just looks heavy, and actually balances very well on the D700. Your subjects will definitely feel its presence however, as the natural application of the lens requires that you encroach on your subjects’ personal space. In this respect it is about as impressive (or terrifying) as the 21mm ZF.

The 24mm is an auto-focus lens and as such it invites you to leave the camera in control of focus operations. In this mode the focusing process is slow, indecisive and rather imprecise with the D700. This is a weak point for the lens which is only severe when it is most important: in low light and when shooting wide-open. Other photographers have reported similar issues and I suspect that camera firmware updates may help.

As a manual-focus lens this Nikkor offers a workable solution, superior to other auto-focus lenses I have used. The focus ring is very well damped and easy to find, and offers an excellent angular speed of focus. Its diameter is too large for my comfort in prolonged use however and the rubber grip hurts my skin when rolling with a single finger (ironically that is not a problem with the fluted metal grips on the ZF’s). This copy also has play (backlash) in the movement which discourages the finest of fine-tuning.

Lastly the focus scale and its markings are not likely to be useful to anyone and there isn’t an aperture ring on this lens, both of which are exactly as expected. Few will bemoan these last two points as I do.

Drawing

This fast Nikkor lens reminds me most of the 100mm ZF – that is very high praise and I must qualify further because the situation is not so simple. The Nikkor is never as sharp as that ZF, even though it impresses in that department considering the speed, nor does it draw with the same punchy-high contrast. Nonetheless in many other respects the two lenses draw in similar brush strokes, particularly where Bokeh is concerned.

Fine details are something of a mixed bag with this lens. At full aperture the lens can already resolve fine details with good contrast in the center portion of the frame, provided you achieve critical focus. Only moderate improvements are available there by stopping down by two or three stops, while the borders improve substantially with every stop. At its best aperture, f/5.6 in my opinion, fine details are rendered over the entire frame with firm and clear outlines but their density is not as good as I have seen with other lenses on the D700 (itself not a density champ).

Light fall-off is a concern when shooting this lens wide-open, and except for dynamic reportage would be very distracting. This is expected of course and thankfully the situation improves quickly when stopping down. What is more of an issue is that my copy of the lens showed a centering defect via asymmetrical shading, the right edge of the frame being visibly darker than the left in some cases. It is very likely that this also affected resolution on my lens, at infinity and wide apertures, but I did not notice it in reportage work.

That’s the end of the bad news however, and despite appearances this wasn’t much bad news, because on all other metrics this fast 24mm defines the state of the art. Chromatic aberrations are almost never a problem. Coma is not perceptible even in the night sky, astronomy might even be an application for this lens at full aperture. Resistance to veiling flare is high, though not as high as T* lenses (sorry Nano).

However the strongest quality of this Nikkor, and in my opinion its raison-d’être, is its drawing of Bokeh. The defocused regions of its images are soothing and richly colored. Defocused specular highlights are almost perfectly circular, even near the borders, with a slight softness at the edge. The ramp in and out of focus is generous, forgiving, and pleasant. This is why I associate this lens with the 100mm ZF, their sensational Bokeh make them two of a kind.

With all of these attributes combined you can expect consistently excellent images from this Nikkor. When focused properly, images at any aperture show rich details, colors, and Bokeh.

Conclusion

The Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G is a very special, delightful lens. At full aperture it offers something unique in the larger Nikon F ecosystem, which is a field of view that is inclusive in breadth and exclusive in depth (and highly energetic). Beyond f/2-2.4, where all its negatives become themselves negated, this is one of the easiest, most rewarding and most fun lenses to use.

Would I recommend this lens to other photographers? Yes. This lens delivers more than I expected.

Will I buy this lens? Not right now. I will reserve judgment until the day when I can test the 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH on digital.

Samples

 

 

If this information was useful to you, then act on it!

I take the time to learn to see the way that each lens sees, in the field, then I describe to you my mental model for the lens so you can know it too.  That is a ton of work.  Whew.  Hey, I know of way you can help!

The next time you buy a nice lens from B&H, do it using my affiliate store.  It won’t cost you extra and it tells B&H that you care about my reviews so they should support them.  If you get yourself something nice this way, feel free to drop me a line!



Comments (25) Trackbacks (1)
  1. “… until the day when I can test the 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH on digital.”

    Does this mean you are resolved to wait for an improved successor to the M9 body, or just that you haven’t gotten your hands on this particular lens (and viewfinder)? The Leica lens book states that the 24 is good for reportage and architecture. Lloyd Chambers has tested it on the M9, and I found his coverage informative. Other than the crazy AF issues of the Nikkor, I think the latter may have more going for it.

    • Hi Matt,

      Oh I have the lens, just not the M9. It’s only a matter of time though. ;^)

      I also have read Lloyd’s coverage, but Lloyd doesn’t really test for reportage conditions. He’s purely a plants & rocks kind of guy (tongue in cheek). His information is still very useful – and so is Steve Huff’s, who is more about people and places as I am.

      Bottom line is that I expect to like the Elmarit on digital very much. The Nikkor is a very nice lens but I don’t really like how its fine detail rendering engine putters out before the small apertures. That’s mainly why I reserve judgment, I’m willing to put up with a slower lens if it is otherwise better.

  2. Seeing the focus problems:
    Now we all know why high speed super wide lenses are best focused on rangefinders. This area is the hallmark of the rangefinder and I think the new Summilux 24 is a better choice then the Nikon. Not because it is necessarily better but because you can focus it better. And what is a high speed lens worth if you cannot use its speed due to inaccurate focusing?

    == See a similar discussion around focusing the 90 mm / 2.8 G series lens on a G1 camera. ==

  3. Hi,
    I am a d3x user and using zeiss 21mm 2.8 for wideangles.It is a great lens and i have just bought it after i sold my 14-24mm becouse of filter problems.Now i wonder how is 24mm 1.4 ?I know that 21mm and 24mm are different angles but i cant afford both and one wide angle is enough for me.It has 77mm filter threat so i can use my filters which i am currently using with 24-70mm 70-200mm vrII etc.
    It is AF it is Nano and it is 1.4 which can be realy creative.
    So what dou you think when you compare zeiss 21mm and 24mm 1.4 nikkor about their sharpness,color,contrast and 3d like rendering?
    Thanks

    • My advice is keep the Distagon.

      The difference between 21mm and 24mm is not meaningful, it’s not something that will change your compositions either way.

      AF and Nano are not features that benefit the 24mm Nikkor over the 21mm Distagon. That’s because the AF is actually pretty poor and T* is a better coating than Nano already.

      Now I can’t argue that f/1.4 is fun and versatile, but on a 24.5MP D3X you will find the resolution at that aperture (or any aperture really) of the 24mm Nikkor is limited. It was limited on the 12MP D700 already. The Distagon delivers the resolution at almost all apertures and that is going to keep it in another league.

      So press on with your Distagon and don’t look back. It’s not likely to get real competition any time soon.

  4. “Now I can’t argue that f/1.4 is fun and versatile, but on a 24.5MP D3X you will find the resolution at that aperture (or any aperture really) of the 24mm Nikkor is limited. It was limited on the 12MP D700 already.”

    Where and how do you see this about the resolution ?

    Thanks

    • I know this question isn’t directed at me, but I think the answer is “in pictures you take with it”. Simply shoot, then observe.

      It may not be readily apparent unless you have experienced high resolution lenses before. The 21mm ZF for example shows what is possible to achieve with a current camera. What the 24mm f/1.4 delivers is far less than that.

      It is an fast f/1.4 lens however, that may or may not give it “bonus points” in your mind. That is certainly a very good reason to desire it. But if you’re looking for a high resolution lens, specifically, look elsewhere.

      As a side note, I would say this Nikkor is roughly on par with zooms in this range. So if you think zooms are high resolution imaging device, then you’re not likely to be disappointed. I am not impressed by wide angle zooms (particularly) even on the low-ish pixel count D700.

      If you need the speed then the 24mm f/1.4 is the only game in town. If you need the resolution then the Zeiss 21mm can’t be beat.

  5. Thank you, Oliver G., yes it was directed at you, because you wrote it.

    I know Zeiss, I have the 35mm f/2.0, and it is certainly a fine lens, but manual focus is not for me, because I have “mouse-arms” because to much IT-work.

    I have just bought the 24mm f/1.4, and it looks like it is “on pair” with the 14-24 lens (from f. 2.8), as I also have, but my idea was to sell the 14-24, because it can not use filters, and it is huge to carry around, and I do not need it wider than 24mm.

    I have the D700, but later I will go for the D3x or the D700x, (whatever), so I am still interested in how you can say, that the 24mm f/1.4 is low resolution – do you also mean the 14-24 is low resolution ?

    Is your statement only based on the pictures, or have you a measurement ?

    As mentioned I have just bought the 24mm, and have only shot a few shots, so I am not familiar with it and have very low experience for the time being.

    • Right, sorry, I got mixed up in the replies – clearly it was aimed at me.

      I do not have any experience with the 14-24mm so I cannot comment on that. I do not have numerical data to offer you, particularly not MTF/SQF. Other websites take care of that.

      I only comment on what I see in the images after shooting thousands of useful (not test) images. I hope my information is complementary and not redundant with the other websites.

      Let me try to put this “low resolution” opinion in different words…

      Let me define low resolution as meaning “fine structures are either absent or resolve with too low contrast for me to sense their impact on the picture”. The 2nd part is important, because micro-contrast makes resolution actually useful.

      Experience (tens of thousands of pictures) taught me what the D700 can do with a lens that resolves fine structures with high micro-contrast. The 24mm f/1.4 does not deliver this performance. That’s all I can say.

      I do not expect that the per-pixel sharpness will be good on the D3X. I do not have actual experience with the D3X however, that is an educated guess.

      It’s a great lens in every other way. It’s bokeh alone ought to make it lengendary.

      • Thank you Olivier.

        I can not say anything about this:

        “I hope my information is complementary and not redundant with the other websites.”
        Photozone use to show resolution, but they have not tested the lens yet – perhaps because it has not been easy to get. – I waited more than 4 month.

        I shot with it last night, and I totally agree with you – what a bokeh for a wide angle lens !!

        I still need to test it further, but it looks like it is on pair with the 14-24 at f. 2.8, and the 14-24 resolve fine – see this test eventually:

        They start writing:

        “The lens produced impressive resolution figures when we reviewed it on our DX camera and it continues to do so on the D3x.”

        http://www.photozone.de/nikon_ff/447-nikkor_afs_1424_28_ff?start=1

        ..but I can not argue about, that the 24mm f/1.4 is on pair in resolution, because my very first interpretation was that the 14-24 was better at f. 2.8, but now I think it is the same, af some more shots, and before I take a final judgement I need to test it further.

        Thanks for your respons.

  6. “but now I think it is the same, af some more shots, and before I take a final judgement I need to test it further.”

    Sorry it should have been:

    ..but now I think it is the same, after some more shots, and before I take a final judgement, I need to test it further.

  7. Hi again Olivier

    They have resolutions for the Nikon 24mm and some Zeiss lenses)

    http://www.lemondedelaphoto.com/TEST-BONUS-MDLP-No27-AF-S-NIKKOR,4642.html

    http://www.lemondedelaphoto.com/Le-pique,1447.html

    —–

    Lloyd Chambers have testet Nikon 24mm and Zeiss 21mm, against each other, but I can not give you the link, because you have to pay to read it, but there is not much difference in his findings.

  8. funny how none of test are conducted on film bodies anymore-many of you would be suprised about this 24 1.4 when you see pictures taken with f4 and f6 bodies.my d3x went straight on open market and money used bought 2 of these creatures and brand new f3t.all camera manufactures have along way to go b4 any of their cameras can utilise f/1.4 or faster primes

    • I’m not sure how funny that (not testing on film) really is. It seems pretty obvious for most everyone.

      Film did have an advantage when it comes to fast lenses : it was thick (compared to a micron). Digital sensors sample a tiny slice of the image field with almost zero thickness. That gives film a more graceful handling of small focus errors, and improves the appearance of the ramp between focus and defocus.

      That’s a nice fact about film. It doesn’t really reverse the severe productivity/efficiency issues of film that made it succumb to digital pretty much instantly on civilization’s time scale. One or two remaining benefits of film don’t really make it any more viable in today’s world.

      I would have kept the D3X. It is more versatile than film and ultimately cheaper to shoot with. Once you put 20K clicks on a D3X it has paid for itself compared to film. I put 20K clicks on my camera almost every year.

  9. Olivier, I must say, as I earlier mentioned briefly, that you are very wrong about the resolution from the Nikon 24mm f/1.4.

    They have now tested it and measured the resolution at Photozone, and here you can also see the Zeiss 21mm (from the Canon review), and the

    ..resolution of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 is clearly higher in the center,and in the extreme corners,

    but not in the corners (that last is funny), but added together the 24mm is the winner in resolution.

    • Gandalf,

      I have had both of these lenses in my hands and I’ve made a thousand images with each. I can tell you that the *perceived* sharpness was greater with the Zeiss than the Nikkor. That’s really all I can say.

      I don’t shoot test charts so perhaps I need to stop using the term “resolution”. Maybe I need to use different terms, like “microcontrast” and “contrast of fine detail”. Or I need to find even more subjective terms like “pop” and “3D feel”.

      The most practical take-away I see from this conversation is that one may want to carefully select sharpening / USM settings when using a lower contrast lens. One may be surprised at the resolution present in the image that doesn’t “pop” by default. It appears I missed out on resolution with the Nikkor because my eyes were calibrated to Zeiss-eyeball-punching contrast. :^)

      Cheers,

      Olivier

  10. Olivier: This is NOT written to be the person, that has right or not, but to find the very truth about it, because you adviced a man about a Zeiss lens and said, that the Zeiss has more resolution for the D3X (I think it was), and the 24mm f/1.4 is tested on a D3X on photozone.

    I certainly agree, that Zeiss has colours, that I have never seen so beaurifull (I have Zeiss 35), and I can see, that this lens (35mm) has more details, more resolution, than a Nikon 35mm f/2.0, but I can not see it from the other lenses mentioned here, yes better in some ways if you like the special Zeiss-look (I do)..but NOT better details, more resolution – of course I agree that resolution is not the only thing, but resolution was the issue we “talked” about.

    • I would point out that the Zeiss was tested at Photozone on a lower-resolution body with a stronger AA filter. You can’t compare the two graphs directly. What you _can_ say however is that the 24mm is no slouch, and believe me when I say that I recant making that statement. I may go back and edit the review text itself to make sure to say something to that effect.

  11. Supplement: I also agree, that the Zeiss-lenses has a superb contrast, and better than the Nikon 24mm f/1.4.

  12. No, you are right if you will split hairs, but I am happy that you will correct that – I must say, that the reason I followed this up was not because I wanted to be rigth, but because I was very interested in this “issue” – if I payed too much for my new lens ?? – the Nikon 24mm f/1.4, and because I later will change my D700 to a D3x (or D700x whatever) – exatly because I want more resolution for my landscapes, and therefore I neede to know.

    At the same time I admit, that looking at my Zeiss 35mm pictures, they are amazing, but again, this lens has also very high resolution (se also here photozone), and at the same time this special color rendition and contrast – I am just sorry, that I do not like manual focus

  13. Thanks for posting pictures


Leave a comment