I think we all do a lot of work with zooms these days and the current thinking is that zooms have caught up with prime lenses (single focal length lenses...) and so there really is no reason to own anything other than each camera makers holy trinity of ultra wide, wide to slightly long and medium to about 200mm telephoto zoom lenses with their f2.8 apertures. Hmmm. I'm not always convinced.
It's got nothing to do with sharpness or test scores but my reticence to put everything into the zoom lens box is more about size, weight, handling and maybe even native contrast. With a little bit of micro-acuity thrown in for good measure.
I've been buying single focal length lenses for both the Nikon full frame system and the Olympus OMD system because I think they can be more fun to shoot and that usually translates into more interesting images. I'd recently added a 135mm f2.0 Nikon manual focus lens and a 35mm f2.0 Nikon manual focus lens to my shooting collection and as I looked at my inventory of lenses for the full frame system the two focal lengths I felt I was missing were a 28mm and a 24mm.
I'll confess that I've never before liked the 28mm focal length. I always felt that it was too long to be strikingly wide angle and too short to isolate primary subjects in the way I'd trained myself to like. But I'm always trying to improve myself and I've seen some really good work done by friends who insist they shot it with 28mm lenses. I have no reason to think they might be lying to me so I decided to start looking around for something in that range to play with. There is the newish 28mm 1.8 G lens from Nikon and it looks nice, in a very pedestrian sort of way. I thought I might just save up for the inevitable Zeiss Otus 28mm f1.4 that's sure to hit the market in time to keep five more bloggers afloat writing "first impressions" reviews and "hands on" reviews, as well as "my review at two weeks."
Then I figured if I waited until after the launch of the 28mm Zeiss Otus it would be followed in short order by the Sigma Art lens and I would have to wade through the new, "My Otus versus Sigma 28mm comparison" reviews before I could make up my mind. Since the pursuit of extreme optical sharpness is more of a dilettante's pursuit I decided to give my avaricious mind a break and think about other stuff instead. So I took Friday off from optical musings and dedicated myself to narrowing down the field of digital audio recorders that are actually convenient to use. But that's another blog...
By Saturday the joy of spending every waking hour with family was growing less alluring and I decided to head over to Precision Camera to torture the sales people with endless questions about digital audio recorders. But every trip to Precision starts with a quick peek at the used camera case for older, film camera and manual focus lenses. Then it progresses to the case with more modern, auto focusing lenses and usually devolves into something totally tangential to my original mission.
I made it to the modern, used lens case and narrowed down the lovable lenses from a large field of slow zoom lenses that span vast focal length ranges. I was left with two; a 35mm f2.0D lens and a 28mm f2.8 D lens. I played with the 28 for a few minutes, bargained a bit with my exhausted (worn down by the holidays) sales associate and paid a bit over $100 for a nice, clean example of this particular beast. Oh yeah, I also bought another microphone but that's not particularly relevant here.
I took the lens home and read a few reviews that told me it was quite sharp in the center but less sharp and somewhat mushy on the sides. I laughed a bit, wondered who was so concerned about the corners of a wide angle frame and stuck my new purchase on a shelf.
Today a cold front hit. Rain poured down this morning and thunder and lightning kept us out of the pool (we swim outside year round). When the rain slowed down I decided to do a long Sunday walk and I looked around for something fun to shoot on a dark, damp and chilly day. The Nikon D750 and the 28mm 2.8D non-perfect lens seemed like a perfect combo.
I'm betting that most people think of dark and stormy days as crappy times to shoot images and test a lens but I can't think of a better time to do so. You get to use medium apertures (f5.6) and you don't have to worry about huge contrast ranges. Plus you don't have to get all sweaty when you are out walking around. It was 42 (f) this afternoon, and I know that for you living in Colorado or areas of north Texas and New Mexico, that 42 doesn't really count as "cold" but for us in Austin it's comparatively a deep freeze after our near 80 degree Christmas Eve.
I'll start out by saying that I think this lens is pretty groovy and that I think I'm ready to play in the arena of wider lenses. I actually didn't find the focal length that long today. Don't know why. I guess some people get fatter when they get older while others learn to adapt to wider focal length lenses.
As far as handling goes the lens is a dream. Small, light and relatively bright, it's a pleasure to carry and nice to look through.
A quick note on viewfinders: When I wrote about focusing manual lenses on AF DSLRs I got some suggestions to try using viewfinder magnifiers made for the various Nikon cameras. I ordered a DK17M for the D810 and a DK21M for the D750. They magnify the viewfinder by 1.2 times which gives you a little more leeway in diopter adjustment and magnifies the viewfinder image. While it doesn't really help with AF focusing the viewing is more fun. I also used the magnifiers in conjunction with a Rokinon Cine 85mm f1.5 this week and was able to discern sharp focus more easily. Thanks to the people who made this suggestion.
I mention the magnifiers because it makes the view bigger and that's more fun when composing images. The downside for people who wear glasses is that the whole finder is not visible without moving your eye around to see the edges and the corners.
So, the viewfinder image with the 28mm f2.8 was bright and clear. How is the image quality? Well, sadly, Ken Rockwell doesn't like the lens and thinks that the 24-70mm is sharper. But I found it to be pretty darn good-to-wonderful just walking around and shooting the way I like to shoot. I've set the D750 up with auto ISO to use 1/100th of a second as the lower limit for shutter speeds and I pretty much set the lens at f5.6 for the whole day. While the ISO may go up and down as long as it stays under 3200 ISO it all pretty much looks the same after I post process it. (more below...)
While Photozone.de and Ken Rockwell bitch about the corners and edges I found that the edges were quite sharp if I kept the lens stopped down to f5.6. I didn't test it wide open but I'm guessing that most of us use a lens like this on 3-D objects and we mostly want the center subject matter to be exquisite and we have various levels of interest in other parts of the image as it ripples away from our primary subjects. I shot an image of this mural about art in Austin and looked pretty closely at 100%. It all looked very sharp to me. Seems to me that a 28 is all about foregrounds and backgrounds, I can't think of a 28mm lens designed for use on 35mm cameras that is optimized for flat field macro work.
In fact, I found the lens delightfully sharp and, more important to me, I found the contrast to be very good, with great micro-acuity and above average nano-acuity. Used on a camera like the D810 I would have no fear in using images of 3-D objects from this lens for my premium, "Hyper-Platinum-Collector's Prints." See my storefront to order... (don't look too hard, we don't really have a storefront).
When I shoot with single focal length lenses it takes my brain a while to get dialed in but once I do I kind of automatically look for scenarios that work well for the focal length. This particular 28mm lens seemed to have a lot of character and it pushed me to get looser with my shooting. So loose, in fact, that I changed from using the single point AF modality to using the automatic, all points AF system in the camera. A nice way to give your brain a vacation as you walk around town.
I hadn't been to the Graffiti Wall in a while but I knew it would be a great place to try out this lens. Be sure to click on the image above (anywhere in the image) to see it larger. I've uploaded the files at 2100 pixel wide images so you won't see them at 100% but you will see them at a decent size for screen viewing.
The image above showed me that the lens is fun to shoot from the hip. You can focus quickly with a wide angle lens that has a short focus ring throw and the depth of field at 28mm makes up for little faux pas. The color in the images is crisp and saturated and the detail is certainly satisfying for me.
I think the lens has a little bit of barrel distortion but it seems pretty consistent and not like the mustache distortion on some of the more complex lenses. It's easy to fix in Lightroom and I can imagine that the various Nikon software tools would automatically correct for distortion. I only corrected raw files but didn't see a need to correct Jpeg files; perhaps my camera corrects for them automatically.
I guess one could get out their digital loupe and really squint at the files looking for the ultimate in resolution and perceived sharpness but I will say that just looking at the images on a well corrected, 30 inch monitor leads me to believe that the lens is as sharp as I would need it to be for professional work. Even wide open at f2.8 the central area of the frame is nicely sharp and contrasty. One only needs to stop down to bring in the corners and far edges. The wonder of using digital cameras is in the post processing software, and with that in mind I ran a few images through my copy of DXO (9.3?) and evaluated the images as well. With some time spent sharpening and correcting the images in that program I would be hard pressed, comparing lenses at f5.6, to understand how much better a lens might need to be. Since this one handily passes my criteria I'm just going to put it into the mix and run with it. Just thinking what a fun combination the 28, 50, 85 and 135 would make, and how much I can do with them.
Now I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a nice, clean 24mm f2.8D and maybe a 20mm as well. We'll see what the New Year brings. In the meantime I hope we all get more of the message below.....