Review Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8, a classic wide-angle monster
The Nikon 14-24 AF-S f/2.8 ID-ED wide-angle zoom has been around since 2007. That nothing has changed on it since then is proof of its quality. The Nikon AF-S 14-24 mm f/2.8 is a monster of a lens, not only in terms of size and weight, but also in terms of performance. That is no small challenge for lens designers, because designing bright wide-angle lenses for cameras with a full-frame sensor is extremely complicated, since lens errors increase very fast with both the diameter and the brightness of the lens. Nikon has pulled out all the stops to achieve the best optical results. We tested this premium lens on a Nikon D800 and a D810. What are the most important application areas for such a zoom, and what are the strongest points? Is the lens worth the hefty price tag in practice?
Nikon AF-S 14-24 mm f/2.8G IF-ED
This shot was made with the Nikon AF-S 14-24 mm f/2.8 in the zoom mode 21 mm, 1/1600 at f/8. To get this rainbow completely in frame, I would have had to go to 18 mm. The middle of a rainbow lies on the extended line from the sun to the camera; the size of the arc thus depends on the angle of the sun.
The photo above is a good example of a situation where an ultra-wide angle (and you can count a 14-24 in that group) comes in handy. Situations where you want to get as much as possible in frame. That can be a landscape, a group of people or a building. Often, a short focal length saves you if it isn’t possible to take a step backwards. Extreme wide-angle zooms are also handy for sport and action photography, where precise framing of the subject is not always possible. If you get a lot in frame, there is always something there that you actually wanted to capture.
There are not many rectilinear wide angles (those are lenses that do not distort straight lines, in contrast to fisheyes with their characteristic distortion) of this caliber; Nikon once had a 13-mm fixed focal length. Only 350 of them were made—a real collector’s lens. I once had an 18-mm fixed focal length from Nikon. But that was not an optical superstar; the lens had an S-shaped (“Mustache”) distortion pattern that was very difficult to correct. My Sigma 12-mm fixed focal length was lost during a parachute jump. That lens is also no longer in the Sigma catalogue. Extreme wide angles for formats other than full-frame do not exist. If you wanted to achieve the field of view of a 14 mm, full-frame lens with an APS-C camera, then you would need a 9.3 mm, but that doesn’t exist. With micro-43, you can choose from two 7-14 mm zoom lenses, both of which we have reviewed. The problem with extreme wide angles is always in the corners, where the resolution falls off and vignetting and chromatic aberration appear. Distortion can also be a bother. The result is that you have to crop the images to end up with acceptable image quality. That is naturally not what you buy a super-wide angle for. The great thing about this Nikon 14-24 is that everything possible has been done to achieve the best optical performance with a high f/2.8 brightness, and that has worked.
Build and Auto Focus
A monster of a lens, I wrote in the introduction. It measures 98 mm (diameter) by 132 mm (length) and weighs nearly a kilo. There are 14 lens elements in 11 groups. The front lens is very convex and is protected by a permanently attached, tulip-shaped lens hood. You can rest the lens on the lens hood without damaging it. No filters fit on this lens, not even on the back, and the lens cap is a lid with raised edges of about one centimeter that you slide over the lens hood. Everything exhales quality: a rubber seal around the mount for a perfect seal against water and dust, larger rubber rings for distance and zoom settings, a distance scale and a solid switch for MF/AF. Nano coating front and back, and ED-glass elements to prevent CA. The smallest aperture is f/22; there are nine aperture lamellae. It is a “G-lens,” which means that the aperture is operated by the body; there is no aperture setting on the lens. There is also no image stabilization. That is the only flaw that we find in this lens design.
The AF is done with a Silent Wave motor: very fast and practically silent. The focal depth is of course large at the short focal lengths, so that fewer demands are placed on focusing than with a telephoto lens. At 14 mm and f/8, everything is sharp from 42 cm to infinity! Focus fails, which remarkably enough happen more often with wide-angle lenses than with telephoto lenses, were extremely rare with this lens. The shortest distance setting is 28 cm, which produces an image field in the 14-mm mode of 30 cm horizontally
The castle of Neerijnen. Hard sunlight, flat blue sky, f/6.3. No trace of vignetting. Hats off!
With many wide angles, the vignetting in the corners is a point of attention. Logical, since the light falls on the sensor at a very sharp angle. Nikon has suppressed that problem expertly, and certainly when the vignetting reduction in the body engages, there is practically none left to notice.
Flare, distortion and chromatic aberration
Sched on the Waal at Herwijnen. 1/160 f/9. Zoom mode 21 mm. The quality gives nothing up to a fixed focal length.
Optical flaws like flare and chromatic aberration are almost entirely missing. Only with the sun in frame do we notice some flecks. That is something to pay attention to, since with such a gigantic field of view, the sun sometimes enters the frame without being noticed. You also sometimes see a gradient in the blue of the sky (as above). That is not a lens flaw; it is really like that. Of all the parameters that we have tested for this lens in the laboratory and in the practice test, distortion was actually the least strong point. Distortion is observable, but on the other hand, it is easy to correct in the camera or with an image editing program.
From the tree trunks fanning out at the top of the photo, you can see that a significant field of view is involved. 1/50 second, f/8, zoom setting 24 mm
The resolution of this top lens, the graphs below show the MTF 50 of jpg files, is outstanding. At full aperture, the resolution in the corners is “good,” but after stopping down just one stop, we measured very good, and in the center even outstanding, values. Check out the bottom corners in the photo above; those are, for a lens with this focal length, really very beautiful. Below, the Imatest results for the resolution of jpg files from a Nikon D810 are shown.
Conclusion Nikon AF-S 14-24 mm f/2.8G IF-ED review with Nikon D810 / D800
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
mm @ FF