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July 23rd, 2010 / 9pm
Gear Review, Lens Review

Gear Review: Nikon 24mm f/1.4G

I’ve been using the Nikon professional zoom lenses for a while now, and have built up quite a nice kit. However, when combined with a full frame body such as the D3, it becomes a heavy outfit to use when traveling. So for my recent trip to Japan, I decided to travel lightweight (by my standards, at least) and take a couple of primes.

Green Tea ceremony at the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. Shot at f/1.4

I initially settled on taking the 24/2.8D, along with the 50/1.4G and the 85/1.4D, but shortly before I left I was able to pick up the 24/1.4G at a reasonable price, so I decided to replace the 24/2.8. I also packed the 70-200/2.8VR for some shots I was planning to take of the snow monkeys at Jigokudani, but I decided I would leave that one behind in the hotel when we were out on day trips.

Shooting an entire trip with primes requires a different thought process than shooting with a zoom would. Although a 24/50/85 combo covers a similar range to the 24-70/2.8 that I normally travel with, I would obviously only ever have a single focal length on the camera at any one time, so any ‘zooming’ I would need to do would have to be done by foot. Since a lot of our trip would be spent inside the city (initially Tokyo, and then later Kyoto) I needed wide, so the 24mm f/1.4G stayed on the camera for probably around 80% of the shots. This blog post covers my experiences thus far with the lens.

Prayer boards at a Japanese shrine. Shot at f/1.4

When I was convincing myself to buy this lens, I looked at my lens collection so far, and realised that I had a number of lenses that covered the 24mm focal length already – 24/2.8D, 17-35/2.8D, and the 24-70/2.8G. All of these lenses serve their purpose very well, and at around f/8 it is very difficult to tell the difference between shots taken with each lens. However none of them give me the flexibility that the 24/1.4G gives me – and that is the ability to shoot at f/1.4. This makes the lens very flexible if I want to shoot at night, or when I want to provide some separation between the subject and the rest of the shot. Combined with the high ISO performance of the D3, I can shoot in very low light conditions without having to rely on flash for illumination. And to me, that makes the lens worth the price you have to pay to get one.

Buddha at shrine. Shot at f/1.4

The 24/1.4 is a fairly bulky, but lightweight, prime. This is down in part to the material used for the barrel construction – plastic. At first I was surprised that a 2000€+ lens would be constructed from plastic, but after using the lens for a couple of months, I am more than happy with the build of the lens, and it balances well in the hand when mounted on the D3. Being from the pro line, it is also a plus point that the lens shares the same 77mm filter thread, allowing filters to be shared with the other lenses in the series.

The lens is a G lens, meaning it doesn’t have an aperture ring, as is the case with pretty much all of Nikon’s recent new lens releases. This isn’t a problem for any of the Nikon Digital SLR range, but should be taken into consideration if the lens is intended for use on an older film body which doesn’t have the ability to adjust aperture in camera. The lens does however have a depth of field scale in the focus distance window.

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. HDR shot at f/7.1

Talking about depth of field, this is one of the great things about this lens. With it being a wide angle, depth of field is a lot deeper at any given aperture when compared to a longer lens, but when used close up at f/1.4, the lens provides pretty good subject isolation. At the same time, focusing at further distances when using f/1.4 still gives enough depth of field for this to be a very useful low light lens. The next two shots were both taken at f/1.4 at night – note the difference in apparent depth of field due to the distance I focussed at:

Tokyo Night Lights. Shot at f/1.4

Kyoto Tower. Shot at f/1.4

The lens appears sharp at every aperture, and although I have taken a high percentage of my shots with this lens at f/1.4 to take advantage of the creativity this offers, it also provides excellent results when stopped down a bit (all the HDR landscape shots in this post were made at f/7.1 or f/8). I have noticed a slight amount of vignetting wide open occasionally, but in most cases this adds to the atmosphere of the shot, and can be corrected in post if necessary.

All in all, the lens is very versatile, providing an excellent solution regardless of whether it is being used for portrait, night/low light, landscape, or architecture photography. Whilst the price point makes this lens inaccessible for many photographers, for those that do get a chance to shoot with it, the results are worth the money.

Flowers, shot close to minimum focus distance at f/1.4

Waterfall at Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. One shot HDR, shot handheld, 1/10s @ f/7.1

Tabatha. Shot at f/1.4

Nagano Mountains. HDR shot at f/8

Kyoko. Shot at f/1.4

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