Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED lens review

Nikon-20mm-f1.8G-ED-lens
As promised earlier today, here is the guest post review of the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED lens:

When the new Nikon AF-S 20mm 1.8G was announced (only a few weeks prior to Photokina 2014) it created quite a buzz on the Internet. And - as always with announcements nowadays - the first impressions were quite biased. Many (include myself) expected the price to be way higher, but therefore the optical and mechanical quality to be more in line with the 24/35/85 f/1.4 primes. What Nikon gave us instead was an unexpected addition to the highly regarded (especially in terms of price/performance-ratio) line of the f/1.8 FX primes, where we can now choose between 20/28/35/50/85mm focal lengths. The 20mm is not only the most recent but, also the most expensive of the bunch. Still, it is definitely more affordable than the aforementioned f/1.4 primes. Before the 20mm was released, the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G was the wide angle lens of my choice in the 20-28mm area. I actually bought it on "day one" since the day after the release I was going to go on vacation and I figured that would be quite the opportunity to "test" the lens.

Since I have used the 24mm quite extensively over the past few years and many of my favorite photographs were created with it, I am also going to show some comparisons between the 20mm and the 24mm because my guess is many folks that are/were in the market for the AF-S 24mm f/1.4G (but didn't pull the trigger yet because of the high price tag) may also be interested in the AF-S 20mm f/1.8G. But first: what do you need a fast wide angle prime lens for?

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What is often read in the context of fast wide angle lenses is that no one needs them, because landscape and architecture work is always done from a tripod and stopped down (as was the shot above). To me, this is only partially true, because there are especially two types of photography where a wide focal length combined with a fast maximum aperture is somewhere between favorable and necessary.

One type is called "landscape astrophotography" or "astroscape photography" where you take a picture of the sky, most of the time including the milky way and some landscape in the foreground in just one shot. To get an impression, here are two shots taken with the 20mm 1.8G in this context:

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Most important for these kind of shots is, how well the coma is corrected with the lens. To get things out of the way first: no, the coma correction is not perfect with the 20mm f/1.8G, but: it is not with any of the fast wide angle lenses available. Here is a comparison between 100% crops (lower left extreme corner) of the 20mm f/1.8G @1.8 and the 24mm f/1.4G @2.0 - the shots were taken using a tripod from the exact same position, so the content inside the frame is not identical because of the different focal lengths:

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Anyone who is more interested in the coma performance of these two lenses may have a look at the following links where I uploaded many full D800 resolution pictures:

The second type of photography where a fast wide angle lens shows its strengths is often referred to as "environmental portraits" but to me anything qualifies here, where you have your (small) subject close to the camera but still want to include a wide landscape (or something like that) in the background:

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Of course you may also use the lens stopped down for the usual architecture or landscape shots. I especially like that the lens is quite flare resistant:

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I won't give you a conclusion on what lens to buy (by the way: for the time being I will keep both, the 20mm f/1.8G as well as the 24mm f/1.4G). Decide for yourself what's best for you by the pictures you can find here or anywhere else. But honestly: if you already have any of the recent (and very good) wideangle zooms and you don't need the fast aperture of the 20mm, then just don't buy it. The differences stopped down (especially compared to the very good AF-S 18-35mm 3.5-4.5G) are minor in my opinion. If you have any questions feel free to contact me via my flickr-profile.

The Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED lens is currently in stock at B&H. If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Andrew

    I won’t give you my opinion but here is my opinion 😉

    Anyway, nice pictures!

    • i know where it was taken… this is South Germany close Austrian border. Königsee and Obersee lake. Btw. very nice area for tourism. Btw. at Kónigsee there is Hitler’s cottage with astonishing view….

      • Bastian Kratzke

        Two of the pictures were taken in Berchtesgarden national park near Königsee, that’s correct.
        The others were taken in switzerland, austria (especially in Hohe Tauern national park) and germany.

  • JosengSisiw1

    i love my 18-35, this lens is freaking sharp with my D800.

    • Chris

      You mean Sigma 18-35 f1.8?

      • HF

        No, 18-35G from Nikon. Really sharp lens, especially for this price.

        • Eric Calabros

          Its just a bit slow for indoor

          • HF

            Yes, 20mm is on my list, here.

  • TheInfinityPoint

    These are great shots, and I agree with the reviewer’s comments. I also tested this lens against the 14-24 which is another great performer in terms of coma. I personally found that coma on the 20mm at f/2.5 basically matches the level of coma on the 14-24mm at f=20mm and f/2.8. And on the 20mm at f/1.8, the coma wings were about 1.5X larger than the 14-24mm at 20mm and f/2.8. I wrote a long review of this lens on Amazon but for those of you here I’ve included the coma test shots (these were taken from the lower and upper right corner, respectively). The first one is a test on distant lights, and the second one is a test on stars which are fainter.

    • thelordjesuschrist

      To be fair when you print at that size and the viewing distance associated with it you probably won’t notice the coma anyway.

      • TheInfinityPoint

        Indeed, see my 2nd paragraph above 😀

    • Eric Calabros

      I dare to say at f/2.8 the 20mm is even better in your star sample

    • Spy Black

      The 20mm is slightly better than the 14-24 at f/2.8, your only comparison, not only at coma, but CA. It’s slight but it’s there. Of course, that says a lot about the 14-24, but we’re talking about a $2000 lens versus an $800 one, albeit a prime. One wonders what a 20mm would be like made to the 14-24’s tolerances. Any way you look at it the 20mm is a good deal. I’m not sure if astronomical deconvolvers can correct for coma as they do for focus and tracking errors, but if so it would be interesting to try it on these lenses.

  • yayaWHO

    there is yet another ´player´ in that focal lengh/angle & the boy is called Zeiss 21 f/2,8 – very nice piece of glass … but not to be too OT – I tried the 20mm for a short while & it really did a decent job / on the other hand I only have horrible experience with the 24 f/1,4 & its focusing,NOT USABLE even after Nikon service repair thus sent back … & as said above, now I am an very happyowner of the wide Zeiss

    • neversink

      My 24 mm f/1.4 is a wonderful lens. I have had no problems focusing and have used it for all sorts of assignments, including some astrophotography….

  • Marcelo Tezza

    Not worth when the 14-24 is about 2 times expensive but has much more focal lenths and about the same quality in all regards, this lens needs a price reduction…

    • humenbean

      It’s tricky though. I feel much better sometimes when shooting fixed. The camera just becomes an extension of what I am doing. Everyone is different, but some of my fastest and best photos are on my 50 1.4. I don’t have to think about anything, I just shoot.

      I have a 14-24, 24-70, and 70-200. All 2.8 Nikkor. I’m constantly using my 50, even during weddings and have had my eyes on a 24 1.4 for some time now. I just really like the connection I have to my camera when it’s fixed. there’s no second guessing the zoom.

    • ninpou_kobanashi

      14-24mm can have zoom creep when doing intervals / long exposures [especially if you’re pointed upwards and at 14mm]. It’s also half as fast. And, yes, I still love my 14-24.

      • Marcelo Tezza

        Yeah, this prime has its advantages, 1.8, lighter, no zoom creep eomewhat little better coma correction and so, BUT, if you are talking about, weight, photographic possibilities, this lens becames an almost specific tool compared to the wide angle zooms 16-35 or the 14-24. Imagine you carring all that focal length primes. No way. This lens is not that much better then neither of those in any aspect so this price for me is unjustifiable. if it was and PC lens or a “perfect prime” APO, 0% Geometric Distortion, super light weight, super compact no coma at any aperture, 1.2 or 1.4 of max apt. Then i think that it would really make sense, but it doesn’t.

        • Louis-Félix Grondin

          For me the bulk and weight of a 14-24 or a 24-70 is a deal breaker, it’s too intimidating for people and takes too much space to have a small bag. If you had to that the light-gathering and background blurring abilities of a wide aperture primes the choice is just evident for me.

          I’d have bought this lens even if it was more expensive; if you don’t think it has this value for you it’s no problem, but if you talked to me about a compact 20mm with a 1.8 aperture, good IQ and a 77mm filter thread a year ago I’d have thrown a thousand dollars to your face to get it and I think some other people think like me since the really high price expectations before the official launch.

          Personnaly my plan is to carry this, a 35mm and a 85mm most the time rather than two zoom that I’d end up interchanging anyways. For now it’s the 14mm, the 28mm and the 85mm, for some occasions (mostly when I get paid, I put the 24-70 in the bag). You certainly have to like working with primes, but it comes down to your style of shooting and how much you’re irritated by bulkiness.

  • Awesome photos! Finally a review where the photographer knows how to push the lens to its limits.

  • George Kalogeris

    Hey man what about indoor photography ?

    This is the main reason for fast lenses in general.
    I need a light, compact, bright wide angle for my FlyCam.
    There was no option at 20mm until now

    • AM I Am

      Didn’t you see the shot taken in the church?

      • George Kalogeris

        That’s an environmental portrait.
        I am referring to “indoor handheld photography and cinematography”
        or reportage if you like.
        Totally different approach,
        Totaly necessary lens

        • Bastian Kratzke

          I see if i can find something appropriate 🙂

  • rt-photography

    Very nice work.

    The lens though is overpriced. As is the case with most of their. The yen is weak and prices need to be adjusted.

    Im waiting for more news on the Tamron 15-30mm 2.8 VC. Tamrons saying it will surpass the nikon 14-24 or at its level at least. Price im guessing will be $1100. Thats my guess though. I think they price it low to steal everyones thunder

  • DafOwen

    Is this a “Review” ?

    Not in my mind – just mentioning who might use it and lots of examples from the writer. I was expecting a much more in depth aanalysis / opinion of the lens.

    • Bastian Kratzke

      I could have done that, but anyone, based on his or her photographic priorities, may come to a totally different conclusion.
      So even if i say “this lens is better than that lens”, this might be true to me, but not necessarily for anyone else.

      • DafOwen

        That is what I consider part of a review – yes. One definition:
        “To write or give a critical report on ”

        To me the above is just a brief “Overview”. Just a matter of what the post is called.

        • JK

          How about you buy the lens and give us a review that’s up to your standards then?

    • doge

      You should ask for your money back.

  • Carl E. Feather

    I was thinking of selling my 16-35 and going with this, but this review helped me re-examine that plan. Really, there are so many good choices out there these days. Everyone seems to be making excellent optics for Nikon. I appreciate this balanced review.

    • Louis-Félix Grondin

      It all comes down to wether you need more light or if you need more flexibility. I personnaly love the creative oppurtunities of wide aperture wide angle lenses and I couldn’t live without it, but then again I don’t shoot weddings were flexibility might be key to geting « ze moment ».

  • Stan Chung

    IIt’s light and takes filters, what not to love.

  • Louis-Félix Grondin

    Great shots (I love the groundhog shots)! It’s a good way to show all the possibilities of such a lens, especially environnemental portraits wich are often neglected.

    Mine is ordered 🙂

  • Bengt Nyman

    I wish you had posted at least one full resolution image.

  • Reilly Diefenbach

    Nice lens, nice pics!

  • Matthew Saville Baldon

    Hmm, I’ve been calling it astro-landscape photography. I started blogging about my adventures at astro-landscapes.com. We’ll see if that name catches on, lol!

    In my testing so far, the 20mm f/1.8 G is utterly phenomenal. I have no complaints whatsoever, in fact I’m delighted by how well controlled coma, CA, and flare is. Top it off with some of the BEST SUNSTARS I’ve seen from a Nikon ultra-wide in a very long time, and I absolutely must own this lens for astro-landscapes, period. I was hoping for a Sigma 18-24 f/1.8 full-frame, or something along those lines, but IMO this is far more desirable of an option to me, as a backpacker who really loves lightweight lenses. I’m still amazed that Nikon was able to pull off such incredible sharpness in such a small lightweight package…

    =Matt=

  • RIT

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this became the go-to landscape glass, until at least Nikon bring out their next fisheye…

  • Wonderful images, great review. Thank you for this.

  • vousplaisentezouquoi

    I have downloaded your full res images.
    I don’t understand how you can get so much noise with ISO 100.
    Over-sharpening or what?
    Would be nice to have one or two raw files…

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