Battle of the bulge. Nikon 14mm vs 14-24mm

 

It seems I’m turning into one of those pixel-peeping types lately.. but this time it’s for a practical reason…
I’m doing a lot of aviation photography lately which includes high quality 360 panoramas and stills of business jet interiors. These jets are typically quite compact so photographing the interiors is quite a challenge. Up until recently I was using my trusty Nikon 17-35mm on a Nikon D800E but for some shots the 17mm was just not wide enough.
To take things a little wider, I managed to acquire one of Nikon’s older prime lenses, the Nikon AF 14mm F2.8 D. Despite being seriously weighty, the 14mm is relatively compact, even with it’s bulbous front element and fixed hood. This lens gives me that tickle of extra image width I need to allow some cropping or composition inside the planes. Like all ultra wide lenses though, there is some heavy distortion at the edges of the frame, especially when shooting from odd points of view. I’ve noticed some colour fringing around the extremities of the image but nothing that can’t be corrected. All in all, despite being discontinued, the lens has performed very well and given some shots that I couldn’t have made with the 17-35mm.

The 14mm is good, but it is also restrictive in the jobs I’m doing. I don’t always need the extreme of 14mm so having some flexibility without a lens change does speed up my workflow.  The  flexible 14mm alternative comes in the form of the more recent Nikon AF-S 14-24 F2.8 G. It has the ultra-wide plus plenty of flexibility. Nowhere near as compact as the prime, this similarly bulbous fronted lens has many photographers drooling over it, even Canon users go the extra mile to fit this lens (with adaptor) onto their cameras. Some say it is one of the best lenses that Nikon produce.

So here I am. I have both lenses in my bag, what else can I do than make a couple of test shots with them to see just how the new kid stacks up against the old boy.

I’m not a technician, I’m a photographer. My observations are just that. MY observations. My tests are out of my own curiosity and directly linked to the work I do. This is also why I didn’t do wide open 2.8 tests, the jobs I need the lens for are shot at F8 or smaller. Please do not expect charts, graphs or any finite words of wisdom. Enjoy.

All the following images are screen grabs of the 1:1 views within Lightroom4. Resized to 900px to fit on the page. The full sized comparison images can be downloaded via a link at the bottom of this article.

1. Overview
Ok, first up. A comparison overview of a street scene. Ghent city.  Just glance at the 2 shots. Nothing really to dislike in there, some noticeable vignetting on the left (14mm) image and some difference in distortion between the 2 shots.

2 – Top Left detail
At the top left of the image there is a fair bit of difference between the 2 lenses. The 14mm clearly has some colour fringing going on and the vignetting is affecting the image.
There is a distortion difference too. Bearing in mind the camera was in a fixed position, I just swapped lenses. The column under the ‘b’ is noticeably wider and more stretched in the 14mm image. Sharpness-wise, not a lot in it  I think.

3. Middle – Right detail.
Looking at the bike in the comparison shots, the 14-24mm has a nicer black point as well as being less distorted. The details in the buildings are a lot sharper than the 14mm. Generally I think the colour, contrast and overall feel of the 14-24mm are shining through here. The prime’s image just feels soft and washed out.

4. Mid frame
Not really a whole lot to split the 2 lenses here. The relief detailing of the carved figures looks crisper and more defined in the 14-24mm shot but in general, the 14mm is not displeasing in any way.

5. A general detail
For me, the 14-24mm is scoring gold here. These are the details I need in my work. Definite crisp and clean edges on the right, compared to an image on the left that would probably be sufficient with a bit of tweaking and sharpening.

6. Middle of frame, bottom edge.
Ok, this one has me confused. The detail of the 14mm prime image is far superior to that of the 14-24mm. pretty much the same shots with the same settings and suddenly such a vast difference. Almost different enough to be disturbing. As I’ve mentioned though, these ‘tests’ are of a random scene. I’ve yet to use this newly acquired 14-24mm on a job. I’m certainly going to do a few more shots though before I commit it to a critical task. Ok, my focus point was dead centre of the overall image but to have such a difference in the foreground between the prime and zoom? <gulp>  This is the danger of looking for faults and pixel-peeping 😉

 

So. To sort of conclude.. The Nikon 14mm might be a discontinued lens but it is obviously still very capable, even on the megapixel monster of the D800E. There are obvious differences between it and the newer Nikon 14-24mm. More colour fringing, heavier distortion at the extremes, less contrast. I hate to say it, but all are fixable in post.

However, it could also be said that I’m testing apples with pears here. A prime lens vs a zoom lens at one of its extremes. Hardly a fair comparison is it?  But considering that I need an ultra-wide lens for my work, this is what I have available in the Nikkor lens range. If you look at it again from that prime vs zoom perspective. Wow, that 14-24mm really is one piece of kit. Worthy of the acclaim that many attribute to it. A zoom lens that is overall better than a prime lens? How often have we been able to say that?

For those insistent on having a peep themselves, the 2 original files in JPG can be downloaded here.

As usual, comments and feedback are always welcome.
I hope you enjoyed reading.

 



  • Bob Owen - Good and useful review Rob, thanks for doing the legwork.

  • Gianluca - Thanks for the review!
    I’ve the 17-35 and I’m looking for something wider.
    I guess the higher sharpness of the 14mm shown in the last picture is due to the field curvature of the lens. Field curvature could be a nice thing when shooting interiors…

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