The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens is the Chuck Norris of wide angle lenses. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s the Chuck Norris+Jack Bauer+James Bond+whatever other badass you can think of, all rolled into one, in lens form. This lens is the reason I upgraded to a full frame camera, and if you enjoy wide angle photography, this lens is the reason you should shoot Nikon and shoot full frame. Its reputation precedes it, and it’s Nikon’s flagship ultra wide angle lens, and one of three lenses that is known as the “Nikon Holy Trinity” of lenses.
Prior to upgrading to my Nikon D700, I had dreamed of this lens, instead settling on a tandem of the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens and the Sigma 8-16mm. The Tokina allowed me to use filters and gave me the f/2.8 speed, while the Sigma 8-16mm gave me a really, really wide field of view. It was a good lineup, but I always knew that I wanted the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 as soon as I could afford it. When my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 finally arrived, I was blown away. Here’s why.
With an aperture of f/2.8, the Nikon 14-24mm is fast enough to use hand-held at night or in low-light situations (like on Disneyland or Walt Disney World dark rides!). This f/2.8 aperture also allows for shallow depth of field photos, which is pretty unheard of for ultra wide angle lenses, which are known for offering substantial depth of field for landscape photography. Thanks to the f/2.8 aperture, you can achieve what I call “ultra-wide angle closeups” where you get close as close as possible to your subject and shoot wide open for interesting shallow depth of field wide shots. The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens can do this and has great depth of field when shooting landscapes, which gives it a lot of versatility.
The next big strength of the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is its image quality. Quite simply, this is the sharpest lens I have ever used, and that includes a number of primes. I was shocked by just how sharp it is, which I did not expect from a zoom lens. It’s tack sharp even at f/2.8, which catches me off guard sometimes, as I find myself stopping down a bit to ensure maximum sharpness, only to remember that I don’t need to do that, because it’s sharp wide open. This is especially helpful when shooting landscapes handheld around sunset. Even though my Tokina 11-16mm was an f/2.8 lens, it wasn’t tack sharp at f/2.8, so I usually stopped down a bit. Doing this at sunset caused me to have to raise my ISO or lower my shutter speed–compromising the image in some regard. With the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, there is no compromising. This lens has a take no prisoners attitude.
Contrast is similarly excellent, and the images you get straight out of the camera with this lens absolutely pop thanks to its sharpness and contrast. In addition to these two qualities, there’s an almost inarticulable “look” that photos taken with the Nikon 14-24mm lens have. Anyone who has ever used both a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 and a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 knows exactly what I mean. While the “look” here isn’t as pronounced as it is with lenses that produce buttery bokeh, the Nikon 14-24mm does have a distinctly polished image “look.”
The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is a rectilinear lens, as opposed to a fisheye lens like the 8mm fisheye I previously reviewed, meaning that straight lines stay straight with this lens. Distortion is minimal, making it a great architectural lens because your straight lines stay straight. What you get instead is perspective distortion, which is great when you want to capture something up close and personal, yet at the same time use the objects or horizon in the background as part of the composition of your photo without losing focus. Fashion photographers and portrait photographers even use this lens due to its minimal distortion–it’s rare for anyone photographing people to pick up a wide angle lens.
Another strength is its exceptional metal build quality (the thing is built like a tank). It feels perfect, albeit large, in your hands with incredibly smooth zoom and focus rings. Speaking of focus, the autofocus is lightning fast and incredibly accurate. Others might consider the large size and heavy weight disadvantages, but I think they add to the substantial feel and well-built nature of the lens. If size and weight do concern you, be warned, this lens is large and heavy.
With a zoom range of 14 to 24mm, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is surprisingly versatile on full frame cameras. At its widest end, it’s really wide (although there is a 12mm lens on the market…of much lower quality). At 24mm, it’s still wide, but can be used for where you’d might use a mid-range zoom, instead, if in a pinch. Of course, all of this is only true on a full frame camera. On a crop sensor camera, the Nikon 14-24mm is not all that wide. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend it for a crop sensor camera. There are more useful wide angle lenses at much, much lower prices.
Price is another “con” of the lens, I suppose. The Nikon 14-24mm lens is expensive. $2,000 brand new expensive. If you’re a professional or someone who really loves wide angle photography, I think the cost is completely justifiable. I had to wait 3 years to get my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, but I consider it some of the best money I’ve ever spent. In that time, the price of the lens increased from $1,600 to $2,000, and future price increases are all but certain. If you treat this lens well, it’s an investment that is very unlikely to lose value.
On the subject of cons, a real con of the lens is the large bubble of the front element. This bubble causes a few issues, all of which are worth discussing: 1) it can’t accept filters because of the bubble; 2) at its widest, when the bubble sticks out the most, the lens is prone to flaring–sometimes even when the sun isn’t in the frame; and 3) it makes damaging the lens easier. For me, the filter issue isn’t substantial. The only filters I use are neutral density filters, and while I love neutral density filters, when I made the leap to full frame, I also purchased the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR, which can accept filters. There are some situations where I wish I could use my neutral density filters on the Nikon 14-24mm, but not many.
Flaring is a more serious issue for me. At night especially, I shoot into and around bright lights. Any wide angle lens will flare when shooting into light, and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is actually not bad with flare when shooting into light thanks to its Nano coating. However, the flare when bright light sources aren’t even in the frame caught me off guard at first (and wasn’t something I experienced with the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, thanks to that lens having a lens hood. I’ve since learned to be mindful of this, and watch for bright lights in relation to the bubble. Since doing this, I have not had many issues with flaring.
As far as the bubble presenting a liability for damage, this is a lingering concern for me, but I just make sure to be extra careful with it. If you are more risk averse than me, you might want to take account of this bubble before purchasing, but, personally, I would never not go for “the best” simply because it presented a little risk.
So, who does this lens best-suit? Anyone who wants the best ultra wide angle lens possible and shoots with a full frame camera. If you love ultra wide angle lenses and shoot Canon or crop sensor, consider going full frame and/or making the switch from Canon. A lot of Canon users actually purchase special adapters so they can use this lens. That seems silly to me–Canon and Nikon are close enough in body quality that if you really want this lens, you should just shoot Nikon. If I really loved prime lenses, I’d be shooting Canon. Each system has its advantages–ultra wide angle photography is Nikon’s advantage. Overall, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is an expensive lens, but it’s well worth it.
Simply put, the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is the best ultra wide angle lens you will ever touch.
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If you’re really into photography, check out my capsule reviews of different photography equipment, accessories, books, and software for Walt Disney World and Disneyland photography. You should probably check out ISO 5571, a podcast I co-host that is entirely focused on Walt Disney World and Disneyland photography.
Do you own the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens? Interested in it? Share your thoughts about this wonderful ultra-wide angle lens in the comments!