Jun 24 2006

Nikon 20 2.8 AF-D review – the compact wide angle alternative

The Nikon 20/2.8 was a long time favorite among the Nikon shooters in the film days, but it proves very useful in this digital age too.

Nikon 20 2.8 review – Specifications:

The long name of this Nikon lens is: AF NIKKOR 20mm 1:2.8 D

Construction: 12 elements in 9 groups
Picture angle: 94° (70° with Nikon DX format)
Number of diaphragm blades: 7
Minimum F/stop: 22
Closest focusing distance: 0.25m
Maximum reproduction ratio: 1/8.3
Weight: 270g
Dimensions: 69mmx42.5 mm
Lens hood: HB-4 (optional)
Filter attachment does not rotate during focusing
Filter size: 62mm

You can see the Nikon 20/2.8 D at B&H.

The Nikon 20/2.8 features a distance scale with an infrared compensation scale, CRC correction, the good old aperture ring and the bayonet is metal.

It comes with a 62mm lens cap and rear cap.

This lens was designed as a (ultra)wideangle lens for the film cameras so on the DX cameras (Nikon and Fuji DSLRs), it will become wideangle, similar with a 30mm lens on a full frame camera.

Nikon 20 2.8 review – Appearance:

The Nikon 20/2.8 exterior is plastic but the lens construction leaves nothing to be desired, being designed for professional use.

The focusing ring is very smooth and manual focus has a very positive feel, helped by the fact that the rotation from infinity focus to the minimum distance is over 90 degrees.

The filter mount does not rotate when focusing, making the use of polarizing filters quite easy.

Despite the small size, the Nikon 20/2.8 has a hefty feel, due to the 12 glass elements inside the small barrel.

The dedicated lens hood is of bayonet type and can be mounted in a reversed position when not in use. When used on DX cameras, the HB-4 dedicated hood may be replaced with the slightly longer HB-1 with no vignetting and better efficiency.

The Nikon 20/2.8 is one of the Nikon wide angles which feature CRC (close range correction) for better images in the close-up range.

The AF is the “screw type” but it is quite fast and not very noisy.

Since this lens was designed for film cameras, it features an aperture ring and it is compatible with all Nikon cameras.

Nikon 20 2.8 review – In use:

With the abundance of 17 and 18-xx zoom lenses, a fixed 20mm lens is not anymore an obvious choice, but it has several advantages which will be outlined below.

First, it is much smaller and lighter than any zoom which offer a 20mm setting, and more so than the F 2.8 zooms. Even the Tokina 12-24/4 looks like a monster compared with the Nikon 20mm.

The filter size is only 62mm, which in the Nikon line is shared with the Micro Nikkor 60/2.8 and the Nikon 85/1.8 among commonly used lenses, making even high quality filters quite affordable.

On DX cameras, the Nikon 20/2.8 is not an ultra wide anymore, but a wideangle lens, equivalent of a 30mm on a film camera.

Surprisingly, during everyday use, this lens feels wider than the numbers might suggest, but this is a subjective opinion.

The Nikon 20/2.8 is a very handy lens for architecture photography, both interiors and exteriors, due to it’s limited and correctable distortion.

Also, the Nikon 20/2.8 is very good for emphasizing the foreground since it have a very good quality on close-ups, due to the CRC.

I also use this lens for exaggerated perspective product shots, because both of the CRC and the fact that the minimum focusing distance is just 0.25m. The small size of the lens also helps when you are very close to the subject.

The small size and the 2.8 aperture of the Nikon 20/2.8 makes it very good for taking handheld images with pretty long exposure times.

Due to the 2.8 aperture, the image in the viewfinder is quite bright, which makes for easier framing when shooting in dark environments and also for a more precise AF.

Nikon 20 2.8 review – Performance:

The Nikon 20/2.8 offers good quality images in most situations and at all current apertures. I prefer to avoid shooting it at 2.8, except for very poorly lit available light situations with moving subjects.

If I can choose, I shoot with the Nikon 20/2.8 at F 8, both for good depth of field and optical quality.

As you already know, with digital cameras the problems associated with extreme apertures as 22 are emphasized and those apertures are better avoided.

In most cases the distortion is not a problem unless you are going to use it for architecture or similar subjects.

Of course, the distortion is quite visible if you have straight lines in the “wrong” position in the frame, but during correction you will loose very little from your image, as opposed to fully correcting for distortion an image taken with the Nikon 18-70/3.5-4.5.

In fact I found that if you shoot an image with both lenses and fully correct the distortion, you will end up with more or less the same frame, despite the fact that the 18-70 should be noticeable wider.

For wideangle lenses where you can very rarely, if ever throw the background out of focus, the notion of bokeh is pretty meaningless.

I did not find the flare to be a problem but if you insist shooting into the sun you may get some ghosting culminating with several aperture images in different colors, especially at close aperture values.

Lens kits:

Being so small and light, the Nikon 20/2.8 lends itself to fixed focal lenses kits or to complement a standard zoom.

Nikon 20/2.8 + Nikon 50/1.8 make a very good quality and small combination for various uses. You can add a Nikon 85/1.8 to complete a three rather fast fixed focal lenses kit which will offer you very good images without breaking the bank.

If you want added flexibility you can substitute the Nikon 85/1.8 with the Tokina 100/2.8 macro which makes for a very good short tele and an extremely capable macro lens.

Nikon 20/2.8 can complement the Tamron 28-75/2.8 or other fast standard zoom lens for the people photographers who favor the 28-70/2.8 range but need sometimes a wider lens.

This combination is very useful for social photography, including weddings and location portraits.

If you need a slightly longer reach for some tight portraits, just add the previously mentioned Tokina 100 macro and you will have F 2.8 coverage from 20 to 100mm in very good quality lenses.

Nikon 20 2.8 review – Conclusion:

If you prefer fixed focal lenses, the Nikon 20/2.8 is a no brainer given the quality, the useful focal length, size and weight.

Even if you are a zoom fan, the Nikon 20mm may be a wonderful complement to your 28-70/2.8 if you don’t want to lug a bigger and heavier 12-24 with you.

Buying the Nikon 20/2.8 AF-D

You can get the Nikon 20/2.8 at B&H, here.


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