I am still finding my way with this year in review. Slowly ideas come up how to structure it. I want it to be a fun and informative experience. I may have to rehearse a bit though. (Clearly eye`m out of my comfort zone, & it`s felt that we`re pretty much still in warm-up mode).
To keep my levels of dopamine high, I have decided to create the actual review images while the review sessions are ongoing; I will add to the sample gallery from the archives over time, but I will seek to combine the reviews with “fresh” material first off. Naturally, I will go for “real-life” shots as a main focus. These are the shots normally done, not test shots. And I was, for a change, pleased when the cat woke me up early. Today the sun is shining. There has been heaps of grey weather around here lately, so having a bit of actual light and contrast served well for photographic adventures. And oh btw., for new readers; january is “month of the classic MF 20mm f2.8 Nikkor”. Sturdy old workhorse up for a closer inspection.
Now, because it can`t be any different, I know already that I will re-work the final reviews throughout the year, improve upon them, make them easy to read (and to be of actual use on a practical level). If a particular lens has special interest to you, you then might want to return for a re-read at the end of the year.
Ok, let me get on topic of this month`s lens. We`ll look into CA, chromatic aberration; “color fringing”, at a later point. Just note here that it can be viewed as part of the term “distortion”. Meanwhile, let`s take a closer look at how well the lens is corrected respectively. Does it render lines straight or all wrinkled, “curly”, does everything twist and turn?
Selfies. Yes, you can use it for portraits too. That`s sweet, but we were to discuss that other kind of distortion.
Do you see it? I took the shot handheld, 1/60 of a sec., if memory serves me correct, and around two meters from the wall to be in the closer-range area, gave it a try at shooting it straight. Well, let it be known that you better do photographic test shots using a tripod; at best you perform testing in a controlled environment. This example is only to showcase “the grid”, and it was shot at f/5.6 – but I may have been slight off in focus. And I might have been shaky. If the edges are not sharp, I would be to blame for it. But that is not what we`re looking for here (we`ll come to the issue of “sharpness” soon enough). Admittedly, the wall is not super straight in reality, and perhaps you already have noted that I must have been joking just a sec. ago. The lens makes the wall bend up and down, in and out. It does exhibit quite an amount of distortion. And here comes a crucial one; anyhing on the heavier side than other lenses in it`s class? No, the answer is no.
Next to doing the 12 Nikkors in 12 months, I intend to address, lacking a good term here, what “culture in photography” could be all about. My aim this year is to help anyone looking out to learn about focal range, key aspects of a lens (and cameras), and most importantly: how to differ A from B when building a tool set for visual creation. What do I need for actual picture making? I can reveal this much already: not always the latest gear on the market. Rest assured. Also, if you`re not into shooting bugs or fine texture, or better: close-up photography, then you probably won`t need any of those Micro-Nikkors (as lovely as they are). There is a reason why I put this section in here. On a broader level, I will be talking plenty more about “distortion” in photography. But for now I don`t want you to think that this lens is a weak performer, already early on. Had I forgotten – as reviewers sometimes do (especially when on someone`s paycheck), that the level of distortion in the 20mm Nikkor is no big deal in comparison to other lenses, you may have thought of it as useless. The thing is, you won`t find any “normal” wide-angle lens not exhibiting distortion. Not even some exotic Leica lens. The above example is a “theoretical shot” – me pushing the limits of the lens, and such shots are not likely to occur in “real-life photography”. If you want your lines as straight as possible, the advice is to go for a special purpose lens. You go for a lens that is build for that kind of picture making. In this case, Nikon offers a 24mm with perspective control (a “PC lens”). It will give the “tilt and shift” mechanism, straighter lines – better overall correction according to the photographer`s needs. In other words, there are no lenses out there to hunt down that covers every aspect of photography. Yes, the 20mm Nikkor has it´s flaws, but within the range of normal behavior, and it is often stated to be the best all-rounder of the 20mm Nikkors. (Don`t hang me for it though. I do remain to test the even older f/3.5 20mm Nikkor; it is suggested that it has less of an issue with flare). Regardless, I consider the f/2.8 20mm Nikkor AIS to be a pro caliber tool for picture making. It sure does deliver crisp images and a perspective with a suck to it.
Not long ago a brand new f/1.8 G-type 20mm Nikkor was released, and I am eager to get my hands on one for testing. The AF-D f/2.8 20mm supposedly has the same optical formula as the MF version, but I`ve only used that a long time ago, and on film. It did perform splendid on slide film. Of course, it was not as nicely build as the manual Nikkor. The newly released one I find interesting. Given it`s light-gathering capabilities, I wonder how it tackles CA, coma, vignetting and corner to corner sharpness. Does it have that swing? It sports “nano coating”. Is that any good? When you go looking for that dream lens of yours, if you`re going back and forth between, let`s say, two different 20mm lenses, you just note that the differences aren`t always that BIG, and what you`d want to learn about and seek for in a lens relates to: “fingerprint”. Chances are that you will be using the tool if you buy one; so, how does it feel in use? How do you resonate with the soul of the lens? (Yes, I actually just wrote that). In a consumer`s market, the latest lens is always the best. As an example, Nikkor lenses of recent years, “pro caliber”, often offer “nano coating”, and I see photographers exchanging their old lenses for these newer ones. At this point I could go on for hours, so I`ll better close it down for now. But first I will mention “lens coating” as well, because nano coating is created with digital photography in mind, enabling the light to go from the rear of the lens and hitting the pixels of the sensor perfectly. That is nice. And it works. But it does change the soul of the new Nikkors in comparison to the old ones. And the old ones still shoot well on a sensor, and they`re magnificent on film. If you ask me, nano coating brings something unwanted to the fingerprint of a lens; toning it down, introducing a somewhat more sterile look. Flaws in a lens sometimes are the most rewarding aspect of it; and contrary to current lens market trends, it`s a good thing with personality. Image capturing is not always done best with the latest gear available. Buy used, and you`ll save yourself a lot of money. You might even end up with pro gear for a treat. It`s out there.
Earlier we had the “theoretical shot”, so I better end quickly this onslaught of words and show you a few examples of the lens performance in real-world situations; note that distortion levels are at a minimum, of no actual importance. To sum it up, this 20mm, and the 20mm focal range in general, is great fun to use. If you have the chance, don`t hesitate to try it out:
Or.. as I like to do framing:
The 20mm was paired with the Nikon D3s for all shots. I do shoot raw, but maybe I should mention that I convert the files to jpg with Nikon Capture (NX2), it only applying settings from the camera in use during the shoot to the final output. I am fine-tuning and exhibiting my jpg`s, you could say. I don`t use any noise reduction, and basically I make use of only levels, (read: adjusting contrast). A wee bit of sharpening is also applied afterwards (in PS). Lately I have worked on shortening my work time in the digital dark room. I simply am too bored by it. Shooting slides is much simpler in that regard. Furthermore, this review series won`t be about comparing dynamical range of a sensor, or to bring various MTF lens charts to the table etc. – there are plenty of other sites for reads like these, and I will lead you to those sites anyway when time is due. No, my only interest is to give you a feel of photography on a level that gives you access to the used market, a close feel of the tools I know and use on a daily basis, to make you aware of the importance of comparing many reviews related to the lens of your desire, and always, most crucially, to remember to have “sender & receiver” in mind during research. Don`t worry about my visual examples. They will be plentyful in describing the various things to take note of in a lens. If you don`t know any wide-angle lenses yet, and if I have raised your attention towards it, or if you`ve learned about what could be of importance in such a lens, then I have succeeded in the task I have set myself up for.
To close it on a funny note; song and lens born around the same time, ever wondered if she wrote the following tune as a tribute to this my beloved 20mm Nikkor? Wow! as Kate sings it. How did I end up writing so much, yet so little. Well, I better not answer that. Just let me thank you if you`ve been sturdy enough to stick with me this far. More on the 20mm later.
Have fun in photography – all ways,