It’s probably not a stretch to say, when it comes to ultra-wide-angle lenses Nikon shooters fall into two camps : those that have the 14-24mm f2.8 and those that want it. Having already opted for the 16-35mm f4 VR as my wide angle zoom of choice I fall into the latter group by default. I have been very pleased with the performance and utility of the 16-35mm but as fine as it it, well it just isn’t 14mm, nor is it f2.8!
As much as I imagine a 14-24mm f2.8 would look perfect in my camera bag I can’t ignore its price, size and weight. Any attempt to compile and work with the lightest possible equipment would be out the window. The front element of the 14-24 is almost 10cm which would take up a disproportionate amount of space in my travel case a Pelican Air 1485. True the combined weight of the 14mm f2.8 and 16-35mm f4 would be 300g more than the 14-24’s whopping 1kg but with the two lenses there’s always the option of just taking one, at almost half that weight. Plus the added coverage from 24 to 35, option for rear filters, VR etc… Making a case just to convince myself? Maybe.
At an rate, I was more than a little curious when I noticed a used 14mm f2.8 D prime lens for sale by a reputable Canadian retailer for only 40% of the current retail price. Too good to be true? Possibly, but with a listed quality of 8+ and a 90 day warranty how could it not be worth a look?
A thorough scrub of the web reveals less information about this lens than many of its peers. No doubt this is in part due to its vintage. Released in 1999 it was apparently designed for film cameras and incidentally to fill the emerging gap for a wide angle on APS-C sized sensors where it gives a 21mm equivalent coverage. The Nikons D1 was hot off the assembly line at a similar time.
Photozone have an analysis and report on the 14mm f2.8 D dating from 2007. Their review depicts the lens mounted to a D200! Ken Rockwell’s review is dated similarly 2007 & 2008 but I note some more recent image samples were taken with a D5 so he’s still dusting it off from time to time!
The pundits basically seem to agree that this is a well-built, aging performer with noticeable vignetting and softness toward the edges, both of which improve with stopping down. But it never really gets much better than overall 3-star performance. Where ever you look there’s no denying the consensus that the 14-24mm f2.8 zoom eclipses it in image quality.
Then there’s a bit of a jump in the review-timeline to more recent consumer feedback – 2011 to present, the advent of the D800 & D600 at this time a coincidence? Perhaps not. These seem to be a little more bullish on the veteran prime with accolades a plenty. I found words like ‘incredible’, ‘wow’, ‘impressive’, ‘under-rated’ and so on! Buoyed by the positive spin I allowed myself to be convinced that a 10 year old review on a long-obselete 10MP DX body had little bearing on the anticipated results on my D750 with its improved distortion and vignetting control, and ordered my bargain find…
Buying used there’s always some initial trepidation opening the box, but no problems here. Cosmetically the lens arrived looking clean and unblemished. The all important bulbous front element is completely free of any marks. Angling the lens to the light I can see one tiny speck of something on an interior element but overall it might as well be mint condition. As anticipated the first thing I noticed was the heft of the lens. It has to be the densest Nikkor I now own. The cool of the metal barrel, lens shade and the heavy rubber focus ring all add to the feel and look of quality. Rotating the focus ring manually it has the smoothest action of any lens I own. I could imagine being stranded in the wild, searching for food and lobbing it at a grouse or even a bear and knocking it out cold!
Anxious to see the image quality I went down to the local harbour to take a few quick test shots. Wow 14mm is wide! Not only is the angle of view incredible but the 20cm close focusing distance is alarming!