Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Nikon 24mm f/1.4 ED AF-S SWM Lens

The Quick

Finally, Nikon has a wide angle prime lens. What was once only available to canon shooters is now available for Nikon too… and even better IMO. This highly anticipated lens performs as solidly as it is built. Though it costs a few pretty pennies it won’t let you down – as long as you know how to focus it…

The Build

In keeping with the majority of Nikon’s pro line it’s a metal casing with plastic accents. Totally solid build, and the lens hood is a really convenient size. Being that there’s no zoom the only ring on the lens is for manual focusing, which is pleasant and easy to engage. I do wish Nikon would stop removing their aperture rings, and being that this is a G lens – there isn’t one.

It’s also got a 77mm thread, which makes it very convenient for filters if you use them. Also, helps when you have a handful of 77mm lens caps all over the place.

The Use

When I first heard about the 24 1.4 getting released I was filled with excitement. Thing is – I had no idea why I was excited. I was perfectly happy with my 24-70mm f/2.8 and couldn’t imagine trading off  46mm worth of zoom range for the ability to shoot at f/1.4 Well, once I got this thing fixed on my camera my eyes were opened.

 

It’s a wonderfully sharp lens – even wide open. I shoot with this thing all day long at 1.4 and almost never ever stop it down. I mean, if I wanted to do that then what’s the point ? Might as well just go for the 24-70 (which is incredible sharp itself) if I want to shoot at anything other than f/1.4. I notice very little Chromatic Abberation and it handles flare a little too well  for my tastes. What can I say? I’m a bit jealous of the flare canon lenses are able to create sometimes.

 

The focus speed is a little slower (not as slow as the 35 1.4G) than I would have hoped to a lens of a fixed focal length. It’s also a little tricky. I’ve read numerous reports about users have focus issues with this lens and I too wasn’t getting very reliable focusing all the time. But, what I though was perhaps a bad lens copy, or an issue with calibration ended up being just the way it works with such a wide angle lens being used wide open. It did wonderfully at subject within 15 feet of me, but beyond that you really need to make sure and lock onto something got high contrast, or use af-assist of some kind. A bit of practice keeping this in mind and focusing is no problem.

The bokeh this thing creates is some of my favorite. It’s really got that elusive x-factor that so many of nikon’s lenses have. It’s just very “not-distracting” and pleasing in almost any scene :

It’s a very contrasty lens and as I mentioned early is does an incredibly good job of retaing its contrast in heavily backlight scenes.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you can still get some cool flare, but in general the Nano Crystal coating protects against this.

My favorite use for this lens is as a portrait lens with expansive, or pattern heavy backgrounds. It really does a great job of intensely or sublet isolating my subject, and it’s just sharp beyond belief.

Here’s a collection of various photos I’ve made using this lens.

(Click an image to view it larger)

The Tips

This isn’t specific to this lens at all, but it’s certainly a tip to consider when buying any fixed focal lens.

One thing I did early on to try and figure out which focal lengths I’d be most comfortable shooting with was arrange all of my photos from an entire year by focal range and a zoom lens (I used the 24-70 nikon lens). This let me see where I naturally tended to spend the most time on my zoom lens. I found it was at 24mm 48mm and at a distant 3rd place 70mm. Thus, it’s not surprising I feel most comfortable shooting with my 24mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.4 lenses.

Transitioning from using zooms to using prime lenses can be a bit stressful when starting out, but after a few months I’ve finally done it and now I rarely use a zoom – unless to keep things interesting. I’ll also tell you that after you’ve been shooting just fixed focal lenses for a while breaking out the old zoom lens makes life so easy it feels like cheating.

The Conclusion

The whole reason you buy this lens is to shoot at f/1.4. If you’re not the type of person with the desire or skill to shoot at f/1.4 all the time I’d recommend the much more versatile and less expensive Nikon 24-70f/2.8G. For the first year that I owned this lens it literally did not leave my camera. Even the hotly anticipated Nikon 35mm f/1.4G didn’t knock the 24mm off my top 3 fav list. I will say that these days I reach for the 24 much less than I used to. I think I’m just in the middle of a 50mm kick right now, and I have no doubt that I’ll return to the 24mm much more often in the future. Still, I did use it for this portrait at yesterday’s wedding:

Summary

Rating

If you shoot Nikon and you want a wide angle prime lens… this is pretty much your only option. So buy it. Now.

  • Price
    $1,999
  • In my gear bag?
    Yes
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. LOVING the blog dude!!! Soooo sweet. Cheers!

  2. It is an amazing lens. Capable of surviving half-submersion in the ocean…trust me I know. Wonderful review dude!

  3. This lens is pretty sweet, but you saw Ryan B.’s tilt-shift model… so we know its not THAT tough :) I’m torn over the price on this one. I think I’m going to try the Sigma 24/1.8 (macro) first and upgrade to this beauty if I fall in love with the focal length but not the IQ on the Sigma.

  4. Michael Mendonca says:

    Great great reviews. I’ve really been considering investing into this lens. I was wondering if you have ever used the Sigma 24 1.8. I know its not as good as this, but do you know how it compares in performance?

  5. Thanks for your 24mm 1.4 review. I have the 24-70 and use it often. Wasn’t sure about the purchase of a 24mm lens. An f1.4 aperture is the reason, so I rationalize. I do have a Zeiss Distagon 18mm lens but its manual focus is problematic for me, frankly, my eye sight needs a bot of help trigger. Will be selling the Distagon. Loved your review, it was quite useful. Thanks!

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