Serious photographers enjoy shooting with prime lenses, this we know. But purchasing and committing to carrying primes on a shoot often involves a trade off between the flexibility of the zooms, the additional weight & bulk of packing both along with he expense, versus the enhanced possibilities the prime lens offers. When is that trade-off worth it? This was the question I struggled with as I contemplated adding a fast wide angle to my equipment roster.
The mix of questions also included asking myself what would I gain relative to my current practices and results? Ultimately I think the core answer to that is simply, satisfaction.
It was a good friend that started me thinking of improving my lens lineup in the standard wide end (24-35mm shall we say) when he mentioned a series of images he liked of plated food. It was a scene we both frequently encounter and I have shot numerous times with acceptable, but not outstanding, results. In the images in question, taken with a Canon 35mm f1.4, it was the depth of field that stood out and this reawakened a nagging awareness I had mulled over through the years that super-fast lenses deliver images impossible with any other optics.
Of the primes I already owned in this range (AF 20mm f2.8, AF 24mm f2.8D and AF 35mm f2 D) it was the 24mm that I always thought of as the weakest. The images it delivers are fair enough but even though it’s the lens, of those three, that I’ve owned the longest, it’s the one I use the least. The 35mm f2 is one of my favourite lenses. Its optics may be dated now but I really like the rendition and it is a full stop faster than its f2.8 neighbours. So I couldn’t rationalize replacing a lens I enjoy using so much.
As for the 20mm f2.8, Nikon have a superb new AF-S 20mm f1.8 that is very tempting and reviews very highly but 20mm is getting into ultra-wide territory and once you go there I feel that you just want to head wider and wider and already having relatively recently acquired a 16mm fisheye and 14mm f2.8, again, I couldn’t make a strong enough case for upgrading that focal length.
So I started to look closer at 24mm. Of all the great things LightRoom does, revealing statistics about your shooting habits can be a real eye-opener and an invaluable assistant in making exactly these decisions. A quick look at my focal length usage over the years revealed something I had not been consciously aware of: I really lean on 24mm. In fact it accounted for just slightly over 10% of my images over 16 years of DSLR photography. This really got me thinking.
I could go on at length about the figures I had to digest but I’ll spare you more than these few extras:
Of the lenses covering 24mm it turns out indeed that the 24mm f2.8D has seen the least action, I hadn’t used it in a meaningful way in 6 years! With my 24-120mm f4 the usage of either extreme end are split almost even. But with the 12-24mm f4 DX the deployment is heavily weighted to the wider end, by about 3:1, which tends to support my theory that wider than 24mm there’s a tendency to shoot as wide as you are able.
Suffice to say that all these stats demonstrated that I clearly enjoyed framing at 24mm, and although I wasn’t using the existing prime I had, I convinced myself that upping the game with an ultra-fast lens would motivate me and give the freedom to explore its possibilities further. The clincher came when I noticed a superb deal for a used AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED at Henry’s Camera, at half the full, new retail price for an 8+ copy, with apparently multiple units to choose from, this seemed like a good opportunity to take the plunge.
Why a used f1.4 at twice the price of a newer f1.8 that reviews as well or better? Simple – satisfaction. I already own the 85mm f1.4G and have read all the glowing reviews of the 85mm f1.8G surpassing the 1.4 in sharpness etc… but when it comes down to it I like the look the 1.4 Nikkors give, and I don’t want to be left guessing or wishing I had that extra 2/3 of a stop. I was interested in acquiring a fast wide angle for the depth of field control and the best is at f1.4 regardless of sharpness. Now it’s in hand I’m happy with that decision.
My initial impressions after two weeks of shooting with the Nikkor 24mm f1.4 are good. I admit to succumbing to having a new lens affair, keeping it attached to my D750 and shooting with nothing else. I’d prefer to be putting it through its paces on the D850 but that body is off for a cleaning and inspection rot be ready for the upcoming summer season. Nevertheless the D750 is still a great camera and I enjoy shooting with it.
We’ve had a fair bit of snow on the islands through February (2019) and that’s been mixed in terms of shooting possibilities. The overcast days give some nice diffuse light but I really want to see what this lens does in bright, full sun. Luckily there’s been a few clear days and we’ve headed up to the mountains to make the most of it.
The Nikkor 24mm f1.4 is touted in some major online reviews for its corner sharpness so I was curious how my lens faired and whether or not I would notice a significant strength in this department. Here’s a 100% crop of the upper right corner of the above image.
This does seem pretty impressive. Admittedly this is at f11 so I’d need to delve into the wider apertures to really pixel peep but the scene in question calls for at least f8 so this is at least a ‘real world’ example.