Review Nikon AF-S 20mm f/1.8G ED lens

Introduction
In my quest for a new lens / combination of lenses for my Nikon D610, I opted for the ‘prime’ option instead of a zoom.
More on this choice can be found here.

This means I was going to buy a couple of prime lenses that will span the 20-85mm range. All with a f-stop of f/1.8 and I have chosen the 20, 35, 50 (I already owned the 50mm) and the 85mm)

IMAG1488

My second purchase was the Nikon AF-S 20mm f/1.8 G ED  and after about 6 months of shooting it’s time to share my experience with this lens.


My main reason for buying this lens is that I wanted a wide prime lens (not fisheye) with a large aperture for shooting landscapes and other subjects where I like the look of the converging lines this lens creates.

Converging
D610 – f/5.6 – 1/2500s – ISO200

Sometimes the 20mm is also nice when you just can’t step back to get a subject in your frame.

After reading about this lens and reviewing many pictures from others I was convinced this was the choice for me for my ‘starting’ point (focal wise).
Wide enough (I was used shooting with my 18-200 at 27mm equivalent minimum) for me, a large maximum aperture of f/1.8, good reviews and a nice ‘start’ for my focal range.

I tested the lens a couple of times at my hardware store and bought one after the second test, being convinced this was my type of lens.

Build quality
My Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G AF-S feels rather solid. It’s outer body is made of plastic, but certainly does not feel cheap.
Due to it’s large diameter (77cm), it looks like a ‘large’ lens, although it is not particularly heavy at 354g. (the 85mm weights about the same, but looks a lot smaller)

The supplied lens hood is all plastic, but I don’t use it too often, since the lens coatings do a great job reducing lens flares etc.

Autofocus
The AF of this lens is quick and almost silent (see the video below). Even when using the onboard microphone you hear very little sound when using the AF.
The lens has it’s own AF motor and also has the manual override option so you can just grab the AF ring and adjust focus without the need to change a lever on your body or the AF/M switch on the lens.

So far this lens did not let me down focusing.

Manual focus
Being a wide lens, the depth of field is rather large, even at larger apertures.
And therefore, focusing is not as critical as with my 85mm f/1.8.
Only when the subject is rather close, you can really separate your subject.

Bokeh03
D610 – f/1.8 – 1/4000s – ISO100

The AF ring is smooth (smoother than the 85mm f/1.8 AF-D) and nice and wide.
There is a AF/MF switch, but since the lens has the manual override mode, using the AF/MF switch is only needed when the focus needs to stay the same (timelapse, HDR, panorama etc.)

General feel
This lens feels tough and since it has not too many moving parts (prime lens without VR), there is not much to possible take away this feeling.
On my D610 is looks like a large lens, considering this is a prime lens. Especially when comparing it to the older 20mm f/2.8) or my 50mm and 85mm). This is mostly caused by the large diameter of the front ring (77cm).
It’s weight is perfectly fine on my D610 and I’m having no problem reaching for the focus ring or using this combination for longer periods.

Sharpness

The Nikon AF-S 20mm f/1.8G ED   is a very sharp lens. Even wide open the pictures I get are sharp (enough).
Also the corners are rather good, although there will probably be some parts out of focus because you cover a large field of view.


Center sharpness f/5.6 vs f/1.8, 100% image crop


Corner sharpness f/5.6 vs f/1.8, 100% image crop

As these are 100% crops on a 24MP sensor, I doubt I will ever see these details in real prints, but it is clear that the 20mm f/1.8 is sharp enough in the center at f/1.8, but rather soft in the corners. When stopping down it greatly improves throughout the frame and at f/5.6 it is a very sharp lens.


Center sharpness f/5.6 vs f/1.8, 100% image crop

In the example above, the difference is much less between f/5.6 and f/1.8 so a lot of the actual sharpness is affected by the focusing itself.

sharp04ed-center-56
Center sharpness – 1/250 – f/5.6 – ISO200

sharp04ed-corner-56
Corner sharpness – 1/250 – f/5.6 – ISO200

And as the two 100% examples above show, shot at f/5.6, the gravel in the center is very sharp, but even in the corners it is acceptable.

Distortion

This lens does a good job keeping distortion to a minimal. Especially considering this is a wide lens where the zoom lenses usually perform worse.
The in camera distortion correction does a good job correcting the little distortion I see.

Of course this lens has the characteristics of a wide lens, thus distorting parts of the image that are in the corners and giving subjects a barrel distortion on close distances, but that is not a lens flaw.

dist

dist02

Dist06

So shot from the front, distortion is very minimal.

One thing I did need to get used to was the’wide’ effect this lens can (will) have.

Dist03
Not too flattering sight shooting a face close up. 

Dist04
Also I have think about what I’m placing in the edge of the frame. My wife’s body is rather disproportional.

Dist05
Our son is ok in the center, but our daughter on the right is out of proportions. 

The converging effect when shooting from the side might also give some unwanted effects.

Look at the sign below that is a perfect rectangle:

dist07-center

Dist07-Corner
Not so straight anymore when the lens is moved to the right.

Another example from this VW Polo:

dist09-corner

dist09-corner2
I’m sure the guys at VW did not design the polo like this. 

So all in all the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 does a very good job keeping distortion at a minimum, but I do have to pay attention to the edges of the frame.

Vignetting

The Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G AF-S has little vignetting.
It is visible at f/1.8, although not disturbing for me.


A ‘real life’ example of vignetting at f/5.6 vs f/1.8 (mouseover to see the f/1.8)

When shooting a grey sky, the effect is more visible.
The first three shots were taken with the vignette correction off.
Vign-N0-18
f/1.8

Vign-N0-28
f/2.8

Vign-N0-40
f/4.0

And next the same shots but this time the vignette correction was set to N1.
Vign-N1-18
f/1.8

Vign-N1-28
f/2.8

Vign-N1-40
f/4.0

The Nikon 20mm f/1.8 does show some vignetting at f/1.8, but the vignette correction does correct most of it and in a ‘real life’ picture, it’s no problem for me at all. At f/4.0 the vignetting is almost gone.t.

The usage of a filter is no problem. I don’t get any vignetting with my Hoya protector filter that I have on all the time.

Flare and reflections
I have had little problems with flare and reflections. Even when shooting into or in the direction of a light source the results are pretty good.

SunStars
f/2.2 – 1/4000s – ISO100

SunStars02
f/10 – 1/200s – ISO100

The 7 bladed diaphragm renders nice 14 pointed stars, although I very seldom get to see them.

Bokeh

Being a wide lens, bokeh / background separation is not something I think of first when using this lens. Even so, used on a Full Frame body wide open, the 20mm f/1.8 gives some bokeh that can be used creatively.


f/1.8 vs f/5.6 does make a lot of difference (hover mouse to see the f/5.6 shot)

Other than some occasional creative shots I like the 20mm shots being in focus, so I find myself stopping down to f/5.6 or something to get an even greater depth of field.

bokeh02
f/2.2 – 1/2500s – ISO200

bokeh01
f/2.2 – 1/4000s – ISO100

Bokeh04
f/1.8 – 1/2500s – ISO200

Focus

The contrast detection AF on the D610 is faster than with my 85mm and not too noisy (still not usable during recording)

However, it can be used to get in focus before pressing ‘rec’.
I had some occasions where I did not let the AF finish it’s focusing, leaving me with an out of focus shot….

Image quality – Video
I am not too pleased with the overall look of the video footage shot with this lens. It looks a bit contrasty and not as sharp as the footage shot with my 50mm and 85mm (using the same settings).
Also this lens is giving a lot of moiré on my D610

(just look at the video above)

This seems strange, as the timelapse footage shot with this lens does not have this ‘look’.
I’m not sure what causes this.

UPDATE : I’ve found the cause, click here….

Lack of image stabilization

Being used to the Panasonic HC X900 with excellent image stabilization, I do need to adapt my shooting when shooting with lenses without VR.
Just look at the footage above for the effect when shooting hand held, it’s ok for family shots, but nothing more. The lack of VR is less problematic at 20mm then at 85mm, but still I need to make sure I’m using a tripod or use something else to ‘lean on’ to get the best results.

I have recently bought a second tripod (the Revolve 2 in 1) that can convert to a monopod. This stabilizes the footage, but still it is not as good as true image stabilization or a good tripod. (more on the monopod later)

I do find myself shooting video with the 20mm to get the ‘overview’ shots, but usually stick with my 50mm + 85mm lenses for video.

All in all I am very pleased with the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G AF-S for photography.
Having shot almost 3000 images with this lens in about 6 months, I feel confident it will stay in my camera bag for a long time.

Creative
f/5.6 – 1/320s – ISO200

As a ‘non professional’ shooter, the regular price was too high for me, but luckily I found one on Amazon that was ‘cheap enough’ for me to buy (€ 680,-).

creative02
f/5.6 – 1/1250s – ISO200

The lens has very good optics and the only real drawback I am experiencing is the contrasty look when using it for video.
Still the footage is ok, but I am investigating the cause of this.

creative03
f/5.0 – 1/400s – ISO200

The Nikon AF-S 20mm f/1.8 G  ED is on my body a lot of the time and it’s a really nice lens for landscapes, cityscapes, overview shots and some creative ideas
The large max aperture of f/1.8 makes it ideal for low light photography and even wide open this lens performs very well.

Pro

  • Good in low light.
  • Solid
  • Very sharp
  • Very little vignetting
  • Very little distortion

Con

  • Video footage looks very contrasty (UPDATE : click here for the cause.)
  • No VR
  • Lots of moiré on the D610 while shooting video
  • Expensive

5 comments:

  1. Did you compare against the Sigma Art 20mm? I spent some short time with the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 and noticed a strong vignette, but nothing that couldn’t be corrected in post. But, I seemed to notice more distortion with the Sigma Art. I’m spending the next 10 days with the Sigma Art for a much more thorough review on my D610.

    1. Hello Peter,

      No I did not compare it to the Sigma Art 20mm f/1.4 as it was not available when I bought my Nikon.
      I’m not really sure about third party lenses, so they either must be much better or much cheaper.
      For now I’m very pleased with my Nikon. I use it all the time (mostly at f/5.6 where I don’t get much vigette) and it’s a very nice lens.

      If you have your votes ready, please let me know. I’m always curious about new gear!

      Peter

    1. Of course you can. Also your Nikon body will correct for it.
      Photoshop also works magic here.
      But I just wanted to show how the lens performs without correction.

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