Nikkor 14mm f/2.8 AD F ED FX Ultra Wide Review

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Nikkor 14mm f/2.8 AD F ED FX Ultra Wide Review

The Nikon 4mm f/2.8 AF-D is an ultra-ultrawide lens designed for film and FX digital cameras. It was introduced in 1999 at the same time as the historic D1. This fixed 4mm f/2.8 has great optics, is very solidly built and retails for about £1,200GBP.

The Nikon 4mm f/2.8 AF-D is a huge improvement over the manual focus 15mm f/3.5 AI-s and other older ultra-ultrawide lenses. This fixed 4mm is smaller and weighs exactly 2/3 what the huge new 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom (introduced in 2007) does. This means this fixed 4mm weighs 333g (12 oz.) less than the zoom!

 

Nikon 14mm f/2.8 AD F ED Top View

 

The Nikon 4mm is a much newer aspherical 4mm has none of the crippling ghosting problems of the earlier lenses, and it’s much, much sharper at every aperture. This 4mm lens covers the full FX format and 35mm film for an ultra-ultra wide view – its typical use is architecture and photo journalism.

For DX digital cameras the 12-24 mm DX or Tokina 11-16mm is far better choice. These DX lenses can use front filters, and weigh and cost much less. This 4mm can’t use anything except gels behind the lens. The reason today to get this 4mm is for use on film and FX cameras, not to use on DX cameras.

 

Nikon 14mm f/2.8 AD F ED Side View

 

Performance

The AF 4mm f/2.8D ED is a well built with most parts made of magnesium and with a texturised finish. The rubberised focus ring operates very smooth without being damped. The built-in petal hood is not removable – at a guess to protect the large front element which is going to be pretty vulnerable in the type of exploration locations. There is no provision for front filters however gels can be used in the back of the lens.

Nikon 14mm f/2.8 AD F ED Top view

Specifications

Nikon calls this the Nikon AF Nikkor 4mm f/2.8 D ED RF Aspherical.

  • AF: Autofocus.
  • D: Sends focus distance information to the metering system.
  • ED: Magic glass for sharper images and less lateral secondary chromatic aberration (color fringing). See the gold metal
  • band around the front? That how Nikon sets off their serious ED lenses, and Nikon is so serious that they really use solid gold. People argue whether it’s solid 14kt or just 18 kit gold-filled, but it is gold.
  • RF: Rear focusing. Nothing moves except the rear internal elements.
  • Aspherical: Specially shaped glass elements greatly improve sharpness at large apertures and in the corners.
  • Optics: 14 elements in 12 groups. One of these elements is made of ED glass. Two of these are hybrid (compound) aspherical lens elements. Hybrid means gluing plastic corrective pieces to the glass elements. Rear Focusing (RF).
  • Diaphragm: 7 conventional blades. Stops down to f/22.
  • AF System: Old-style mechanical AF linkage, not AF-S. The good news is that this 4mm therefore autofocuses perfectly on every AF and digital camera except the D40 and D40x. The bad news is that you have to unlock and rotate a ring on the lens to switch between autofocus and manual focus, just like the AF 28/1.4D and AF 20-35/2.8D.
  • Close focus: 8″ or 0.2m from the film plane, which is only inches away from the front of the lens and way too close for safety if you shoot airplane propellers.
  • Filters: None on front. Gelatin filter slot on rear. More at Filters.
  • Introduced: May 2000, right after the original D1 digital SLR.
  • Size: 3.427″ diameter x 3.425″ extension from flange (87.05 x 87.00mm), measured. 3.425 x 3.406″ (87 x 86.5mm), rated.
  • Weight: 23.518 oz. (666.7g), measured, naked. 23.6 oz., (670g), rated.
  • Nikon Product Number: 1925, in catalog as of spring 2008.

Shooting Performance

Sharpness

The 4mm shoots really sharp in the center at all apertures on a D700 – I would suspect this would be very sharp on a DX which will use the center of the lens. There will also be less distortion on DX – more on that in a bit

Shooting at f/2.8 shows a little softness in the corners and vignette however its gone by f/3.6, at f/5 things are perfect – don’t let this worry you. The falloff on the 4mm lens is enough for you not to notice. The only lens on the market that outperforms when stopped down is the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 AF/S which sell for around the same money – that lens is massive though so worth thinking about that and urban exploration

The following shot at 100% crop shows levels of sharpness:

See the first image, this lens picks up flare like crazy however the sharpness is pretty good at 100% crop.

Distortion

You can see from the above full shot of the wall, the 4mm has a complex distortion signature which makes it pretty hard to fix in Photoshop/Lightroom.

Distortion is complex. This 4mm has barrel distortion in the middle, but pincushion at the far corners of film or an FX digital camera. On an FX body, you will see the ‘moustache’ pattern with a slight barrel in the middle which can sometimes be annoying when shooting architecture. With the distortion it also means you can play around more and use it to your advantage however again, if you want simple distortion then you should look at the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8

Example Shots

The shot below is an architectural image that was corrected in Photoshop, nearly all the distortion was removed, look closely and you will see a small amount remaining. The lens is sharp even at f/2.8 however there is some minor corner softness.

Architectural walkway in Glasgow, UK

The shot below is an example of an uncorrected shot, in this image the lines are not so important and the distortion is not really apparent.

Grand staircase in Glasgow, UK

Conclusion

Strong

+ Built to last – build quality is professional
+ Sharp
+ Resistant to contra light
+ Mid performer on chromatic aberrations

Weak

– Price
– Complex distortion
– Don’t buy for DX, get the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 instead
– No front filters

The 4mm f/2.8 comes with a large price tag – around £1,200 GBP however its one of those lenses you will still be using in 10 years and it will be performing just like the day you bought it. There are several options in the same price range – the main one being the 14-24mm f/2.8 which beats the 4mm on sharpness and distortion however the 14-24mm is massive which may or may not bother you.

DX users will want to go for the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 which will provide great quality at more than half the price. I’m going to carry on shooting this lens for urban exploration and landscapes seeing how things go. I’m happy with the lens however have been left wondering what the 14-24mm would have performed like – something I was not left feeling when I bought the Tokina 11-16mm for DX.

References
Photozone.de – 4mm-f28-d-ed-review–test-report
Ken Rockwell – http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/1428.htm
Nikon USA – http://www.nikonusa.com/Find-Your-Nikon/ProductDetail.page?pid=1925#tab-ProductDetail.ProductTabs.TechSpecs


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