you need wide angle for your digital SLR.
first of Nikon's DX series of lenses, intended to restore
true wide angle support for digital bodies with 1.5x
angle of view conversion.
elements in 7 groups; 3 aspherical, and 2 ED elements.
focus override, AF-S lens focusing motor, internal
77mm filter size. Comes with HB-23 hood. Focuses to
90mm long, 17.1 ounces (485g).
the introduction of digital SLRs (DSLRs), many photographers
lamented the fact that their wide angle zooms, such as the 17-35mm,
suddenly became more like mid-range zooms. With the smaller sensor
size of the Nikon digital bodies (D1 series, D100, D2h, Fujifilm
S2 Pro), the angle of view for a 17mm focal length was effectively
a ~27mm lens on a 35mm SLR. Many
professionals regard 28mm at the start of
wide angle range and not overly useful, so they immediately
went out and bought the Nikkor 14mm, which at least got them
angle of view (the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 is
probably the wide angle most in use by outdoor and nature professionals
like myself). Still, this really didn't give them any
flexibility with wide angle.
solution to the missing wide angle range was to launch a new
series of lenses--the DX lenses--which are designed with an
image circle more appropriate to the smaller sensor size of the
digital lineup. Essentially, these lenses are designed solely
for use on Nikon DSLRs (and the Fujifilm DSLRs), though as you'll
learn, they can be used in a limited fashion on 35mm bodies.
I write this, three DX lenses have been announced (two have shipped):
the 12-24mm that's the subject of this review, the 10.5mm full
frame fisheye, and the postponed 17-55mm f/2.8 AF-S [arrived in summer 2004]. I expect additional ones to be announced [the 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G DX AF-S shipped with the D70 in spring 2004].
12-24mm DX lens is larger than you'd expect, being only slightly
smaller than the 17-35mm! That's despite producing a smaller
image circle and
f/4 lens. The minute you pick
up this lens, you're going to be curious why it is as large as
it is. (Hint: it's all about performance, baby.)
12-24mm focal range gives you angle of views from 61 to 99 degrees
on a DSLR; it's effectively the same as using an 18-35mm lens
on a 35mm body. Coupled with the 10.5mm DX lens and Nikon Capture,
really shouldn't be any wide angle function digital users will
miss. Assuming, of course, that the lens performs well (see below).
is a two ring design, once again with the zoom ring in the front
and the focus ring nearest the camera (the opposite
of older designs). The lens does have a distance scale, but
with no depth of field or
markings. You know, even if the lens manufacturers don't want
to give us depth of field markings, the least they could do
the hyperfocal point at one focal length and aperture combination.
In the case of the DX lenses, this is even more important, as
standard 35mm depth of field charts won't help you; you need
one designed specifically for the APS-sized sensors (copies of
which are in my DSLR books, by the way). On the left side of
the lens (from the back of the camera) is
Focus button: In the M/A position the lens
works as usual (autofocus with manual override). In the M
position, the lens focuses only manually.
HB-23 hood supplied with the lens is the bayonet type butterfly
style. It can be reversed onto the lens for carrying, but it adds
diameter to lens when you do so. This is the same hood used
with the 17-35mm and 18-35mm Nikkors.
get AF-S focusing with this lens, and that'll take you down to
1 foot (.28m, which Nikon in its inconsistent fashion rounds
to .3m in some of its literature). The supplied lens cap is the
new pinch-front type.
not a lot to say: if you're used to the focus ring being closer
to the camera than the zoom ring, everything is pretty much
where you expect and works the way you want it
to. If you're not, you'll stumble over that for awhile until
you get used to it.
there isn't a great deal of difference in "feel" of the two rings, the zoom ring is much wider
than the focus ring, so you can distinguish them without looking.
Both rings aren't quite as smooth as the cream of Nikon's lineup,
though they are decidedly better than many of those in the consumer
lens line-up. Both rings give the full
of options through slightly less than a quarter turn; I'd have
preferred slightly more turn for the focus ring, as it's very
difficult to set a specific focus distance. Moreover, you only
have four focus distances marked: 1, 1.5, 2.5, and infinity (in
lens doesn't extend during zoom or focus.
on a wide angle zoom usually boils down to three things: sharpness,
light falloff, and distortion. So without making you wait for it,
I'll just say this is one heck of a sharp lens with modest falloff
is strong throughout the range, with f/8 and f/11 being the
point of maximum
sharpness on my sample pretty much across the focal length range.
But even at f/4 in the corners this lens is a very good performer,
though some very small amounts of chromatic aberration rears
its head at the 12mm end. Still, at 12mm and f/4 this
beats the pants off the 18mm f/2.8D Nikkor (used on a 35mm body)
in the corners. That's right, a zoom lens is better than a prime
wait, there's more. At 24mm, this lens may be as sharp as
the 24mm f/2.8 Nikkor, which I think is one of the sharpest wide
angles Nikon has made. Even at 20mm it rivals the 20mm f/2.8
Nikkor in almost every performance aspect. Wow!
"wow!" is even more interesting in that the 12-24mm can be
used on a 35mm body from about 18-24mm. At 18mm there is a clear
light falloff at the corners, but at 24mm this is no worse than
the 24mm f/2.8 Nikkor at the same apertures. In short, if you
shoot with an APS-sized sensor and a full-frame sensor as I do
(D100 and Pro 14n when I wrote this article), you can leave the 17-35mm or fixed
wide angle primes at home. A 12-24mm coupled with a 24-85mm
AF-S covers the primary focal lengths you'd
use with excellent optics. If you need longer telephoto, season
to choice (my choice is usually the 70-200mm
typical wide angle use of the 12-24mm, taken at 12mm mid-stream
with a D100 at f/22 and with a 1 second exposure. Note
the sky in the upper right: very little apparent light
fall off. Note too that detail in the bank, trees, and
rock appears good (see below).
a closer, 100% look in the middle part of the image. JPEG
rendering softens this a bit. Since this was taken at f/22
hyperfocal distance, you're looking at a worst case scenario
here. The small aperture has produced a bit of diffraction
effect, while the hyperfocal distance might have been set
just a bit too close to the focal plane (as I note, it's
hard to set a focus distance on this lens as it only has
three marked distances other than infinity). Still, there's
good individuation of the leaves and "grain" in
the rock, which I'm quite far away from (there's a highway
between me and the rock). And this is at 12mm, which
is the lens's weakest focal length, and on a D100, which
tends to produce less acuity than my D1x.
falloff is well under control throughout the range on digital
bodies. On 35mm bodies, you'll see light fall off at 18mm and
clear vignetting caused by the small image circle by 16mm.
performance is okay. At 12mm there's evident mustache
distortion--just enough to rule out this lens for architectural
photography but not enough to make most of us worry. (What the
heck is mustache distortion? Think handlebar mustache. Barrel
distortion is outward curving straight lines, and pincushion
is inward curving
lines. Mustache distortion is a form of both, with wavy straight
lines, usually barrel-like in the middle with some pincushion
towards the corners. As I first starting using the lens, I thought
the distortion was straight barrel, but use has shown me otherwise--a
straight barrel conversion tool doesn't quite get straight lines
back to straight.) At 24mm, the distortion is mostly gone and
straight lines at the
the frame look straight. I don't know of a wide angle zoom that
have some distortion at the wide end (some have it throughout
their zoom range), and this lens I'd characterize as being one
the better performers in this regard. Still, if you need perfectly
straight lines at 12mm for architectural photography, this isn't
the lens to give it to you.
is very fast and hunt-free. Personally, I rarely autofocus a wide
angle zoom, as depth of field is more important to me than focus
speed, but if I were a photojournalist, I'd be very happy with the
me the worst performance factor of this lens is two-fold: first,
chromatic aberration is indeed recognizable in the corners, especially
at 12mm. That is easily fixed in Photoshop CS or Panorama Tools,
though. The bigger issue for my work is that even thin filters
tend to produce vignetting on this lens, especially at 12mm.
It's impossible to stack filters, and every polarizer I've tried,
including some very thin B&W ones, tends to "clip" the very corners
of the image at 12mm. Curiously, Nikon recommends using a NC filter
("To protect the front lens element, an NC filter is recommended
at all times"). Don't listen to Nikon, you'll end up with clipped
corners at 12mm.
performance is quite good. Unless light is hitting directly
on the front element, I've not seen any visible contrast degradation,
and the supplied butterfly type hood is adequate in keeping light
from hitting the front element in most situations. Shooting into
the sun (or a light source) can be problematic in some, but not
all, situations. Curiously, the only time I've ever questioned
flare performance of this lens is when I was shooting with an infrared
filter into the sun. In that case the flare was dramatic and
very evident (see below).
may be wondering why I haven't given the lens 5 stars in Performance.
Well, it boils down to 12mm performance, which is very good,
but not up to what this lens does at 24mm. Since most people
will be buying this lens to go wide with an APS-sized digital
camera, it's the 12mm performance that's most critical to them.
Nikon came close to hitting one out of the park, but instead
merely put a dent at the top of the outfield wall. That's 4 star
territory in my book.
Added performance note [1/14/05]: Curiously, on some cameras this lens seems to fare less well than on others, especially at the widest focal length (12mm). The difference is best seen on a D100 versus a D70, which have the same resolution sensor: on a D100 at 12mm, the results are just a bit soft and lower in contrast compared to the exact same scene framed on a D70. The difference is more acute when comparing between a D100 and a film SLR loaded with Provia F. I chalk this up to interaction with the antialiasing filter, and not a flaw of the lens itself.
Not a professional grade build, and an f/4 aperture, so why
the over US$1000 cost?
Bigger and Heavier than you'll Expect.
If you thought a lens designed to cover a smaller sensor
size would be smaller, you'll be surprised. This thing
takes 77mm filters!
- 12mm Performance could be better. While
good, the performance at 12mm isn't up to the levels produced
At 24mm, this is the only lens you'd ever need (as long as the
f/4 maximum aperture didn't get in your way). Even at its weakest
focal length, 12mm, it produces contrasty and sharp results,
albeit with a touch of chromatic aberration.
Yep, you can use it as an 18-24mm zoom on your full frame
or 35mm bodies, though almost any filter will vignette