Nikon 24mm Lens
A few weeks ago I test drove the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 prime lens on my trip to Death Valley. I ended really liking it and wanted to give you some thoughts about why I did.

A Surprise Test Drive
It was weird because I had absolutely no interest in using this lens. But our video team at Kelby Training had the lens (it’s a popular video lens) and it turned out I could borrow it for a few days, so I did. One of the reasons I really wanted to try it out was because you constantly hear talk of how prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses. I figured I could put it to the test against my Nikon 16-35mm lens at 24mm, and compare the results.

My First Time Using It
The first day I used it was when we went to shoot the sand dunes in Death Valley. I was a little worried that I’d have this prime lens on, and wouldn’t be able to zoom. While I had my 16-35mm lens with me, I wasn’t crazy about having to change lenses on sand dunes. But I decided to go for it anyway. I had it on right from the start and was amazed that an hour later, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I hand’t zoomed. It was actually pretty cool. For my style of landscape photography, being fixed at 24mm seemed to work out just fine. That actually fits with what I already knew though, because I rarely shoot my 16-35mm at 16mm. Personally, unless I have something really close in the frame that I want to accent, I find 16mm makes everything off in the distance too small. So I find myself shooting at the longer end of the 16-35mm, and composing so that my foreground elements are there, but also the background elements of my landscapes still make an impact.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I shot these photos at Trillium Lake in Oregon. One photo is at 16mm and one is at 35mm. You can see how Mt. Hood gets really small and becomes much less part of the photo at 16mm. But at 35mm, it’s feels like a larger part of the photo.

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BTW… This is a VERY personal choice and style. I personally like the 35mm image better for my style. Many of you may prefer the other one. That’s totally okay :-)

What I Liked About The Lens
Well, you already know that I liked not zooming. I never felt the need for a different focal length that morning and ended up keeping the lens on until I replaced it with the 70-200mm, for some tighter more abstract photo of the dunes.

But the main thing I REALLY liked about the lens is something that is VERY specific to my style of shooting. It’s the sun-star it produces when shooting into the sun. Personally, I love shooting into the sun for my landscape photography. Especially when the sun is just about to come up from behind the horizon (or mountain) or set behind it. To me, it represents a very specific point in the day. A moment that only happens once in the place you’re standing. It’s like a perfect moment captured in time and held still. For me, it adds something of a dynamic element to landscapes.

Because of the blades and shape of the aperture, your wide aperture lenses like f/1.4 and even up to f/2.8 tend to have very nice looking, orderly sun-stars (when shot at higher f-stop numbers like f/16 and f/22). Here’s a couple of examples from the trip where I used it. If you wait until the sun is just coming up, or just setting this is the look you get. And when I say just coming up, I mean, within the first 10-20 seconds – after that I starts to get bigger and brighter.

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Now here’s an example using my Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens. It may not be a huge difference. But to some one who really likes shooting into the sun, the shape of that star burst (and the differences) is very noticeable.

Monument Valley

Was It Really Sharper?
Here’s what surprised me the most. I’ve heard for many years that prime lenses are sharper then zoom lenses. And I’ve actually seen that some of them are. Take my 85mm f/1.4 as an example. It’s sharper then if I set my 70-200mm lens at 85mm and take a photo. As I mentioned before, this was one thing I really wanted to test out with this lens. While I’m not an overly technical person, I decided to do a test. I set my camera on my tripod and took a series of photos with the Nikon 24mm prime. Then I changed to my 16-35mm lens, set the focal length to 24mm and took the same set of photos. Heck, I even put the 14-24mm on and the 24-70mm on to test them at 24mm too. When I opened the photos in Photoshop and put them on top of each other, I couldn’t tell any noticeable difference. Again, I’m not a techie person, so I don’t look at things like chromatic aberration, diffraction and all of those really techie things that only other photographers (not the rest of the world) notice. But from what I could see, there wasn’t anything close to a noticeable difference to warrant buying a lens like this because it’s sharper. It may be true for other prime lenses, but not this one from what I’ve found.

Would I (personally) Buy The Lens?
Here’s the magic question… would I buy this lens? For me, the answer is no for several reasons:

1) Why buy an f/1.4 lens if you’re not going to shoot it at f/1.4. Seriously, that’s part of what you’re spending your money on (almost $2000). I don’t shoot weddings and events. I think it’s a lens with a large aperture of f/1.4, meant for low-light situations, and shallow depth of field to isolate subjects from the background. Not to mention, it’s great for video DSLR because it’ll give a very cinematic feel to the video. But for landscapes and what I tend shoot, it’s overkill.

2) While I love the shape of the sun-star that it produces, having a dedicated lens for just that is something that I’ll have to wait until I’m a rich doctor to own :-) Right now, it’s not worth the extra money, weight in my camera bag, not to mention the downside of not having a zoom lens if I need it.

3) It’s a heck-of-a lot of money to spend on a fixed prime lens because I “kinda” liked not zooming. You know what? I kinda like having an extra $2000 in my pocket too. So if I ever feel the need to not zoom, I’ll tape my lens so it’s fixed at 24mm so I can’t zoom ;)

What Lens Do I Use?
I wrote about it a while back and it’s probably due for an update blog post, but I use the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens. It’s proven to be a great landscape photography lens, and plenty sharp enough.

Thanks for stopping by. If you’ve got any experience with the lens, I’d love to here about it. Have a good one!