discontinued, used ones are a decent wide angle alternative.
in September 1993, this 640g wonder is something you used
to find in almost every pro bag (today, most have switched
to the slightly better and certainly wider 17-35mm AF-S).
angle of view: 62°-94°
close focus: 20" (50cm)
filter thread: 77mm
(Discontinued in 2002)
always loved wide angle lenses. Ninety percent of my pictures have
been taken at one extreme or the other (17-28mm or 200-720mm). Until
recently, I didn't even own a 50mm lens, and I rarely carry one
The Cuernos, Patagonia, Chile. F5 with Nikkor 20-35mm, -1.7
stop fill flash, Fuji Velvia
I made the switch from Minolta to Nikon in the early 90's, I had
to find a replacement for my wide angle staple, the Sigma 21-35mm
f/3.5-5.6. At the time, the two natural choices were the 20-35mm
AF Nikkor and the Sigma 18-35mm that replaced the 21-35mm. I bought
both. (I also bought a 14mm Sigma f/3.5
for those times I really wanted to go wide.) I kept the Nikkor.
Nikkor has a fixed f/2.8 aperture, with a minimum aperture of f/22.
Focusing can be as close as 1.7 feet (.5m). The IF in the name indicates
that it is an internal focus lens, meaning the front element does
not move during zoom or focus. The D in the name means that focus
distance is used in flash and metering calculations by the camera.
manual zoom and focus rings are separate, and easily distinguished.
At the front of the lens, you'll be screwing in 77mm accessories
(Nikon's larger standard, shared by several other large front-element
lenses). If you have to know, there are 14 elements in 11 groups,
but I challenge anyone reading this to make an intelligent comment
about how that might impact a buying decision (hint: the more glass
elements in a lens, the more likely that flare and ghosting are
a problem; but since this zoom is somewhat mid-range in the number
of elements, it's hard to generalize anything out of the design).
have to buy the optional hood (HB-8) and lens pouch (No. 62). You
do, however, get the hard case (CL-46) and a set of Nikon lens caps.
primary drawback to the lens is size (especially if you're comparing
it to the fixed 20mm f/2.8). From the front flange of the camera,
the lens will stick out 4.1 inches (105cm). And it adds over 20
ounces (640g) to your carrying burden. Part of this is due to the
metal barrel and other metal parts on the lens (read on
is a good thing).
way of comparison, the Sigma 18-35mm is much lighter (the
specification sheet doesn't say, but I'd guess in the 10 ounce range).
(The recent 18-35mm Nikkor is also lighter.)
The Sigma uses 82mm filters and comes with the lens hood. The downside,
of course, is that it has a maximum aperture of f/3.5; this drops
to f/4.5 at the "telephoto" end.
knows how to make lenses that handle well. The focus and zoom rings
are easily distinguished, have a silky, "attached" feel
to them, and both go from one extreme to the other in lens than
a quarter turn. Yes, I said a quarter of a turn. Brilliant. Better
still, the button to switch from manual to automatic focus is right
behind the focus ring at 2 o'clock (facing the camera, 10 o'clock
from the viewfinder position). The way I hold the camera, this button
hits naturally under my middle finger.
aperture ring has the usual Nikon feel--at slow speeds it clicks
in at each aperture, at high manipulation speeds the stops are not
as well-defined. For shutter-priority use or mounting on an F5,
the little minimum f-stop lock gives most Nikon users fits, and
I'm no different. Keep a fingernail long if you want to have a chance
to use this switch, as it's so close to the bigger zoom ring (and
most Nikon viewfinders have an aperture-viewing overhang), that
most users won't be able to get their finger into this space.
caution: the rear element is highly curved and sticks back past
part of the bayonet. On one side a "hump" protects the
element from stray fingers, but on more than half of the diameter,
it is easy to accidentally touch or bump the rear element. This
isn't a problem with the front element, as it is recessed enough
behind the filter threads that you won't often find yourself touching
lens hood bayonets onto the front of the lens, and is made of cheap,
almost flexible, plastic. Getting the bayonet lined up is helped
by a small white dot on both parts. Unfortunately, you won't see
the dot on the lens unless you're behind the camera--if you try
to put the bayonet on from the front, you won't see the dot. On
the plus side, you can leave the hood on and get the lens cap on
and off if you have small fingers like I do.
Sigma lens, by comparison, is an all-plastic barrel and has a cheap
feel to it. The manual focus ring doesn't feel like it's connected
to anything, although it obviously works. The front element of the
Sigma is also highly curved and sticks out right to the extent allowed
by the lens cap. Fortunately, it's smaller than the diameter of
the lens at this point (something I don't quite understand--tell
me why it had to be 82mm out front). The Sigma is so light in heft
compared to the Nikkor, you'll wonder how it can even take decent
pictures. But it does.
can I say? The Nikkor takes great pictures when my brain is engaged
(all lenses take bad pictures when my brain is elsewhere).
Autofocus action is fast, though not AF-S fast (typical with most
wide angle lenses). With full frame cameras at f/2.8 you'll see
corner falloff, but this gets better and is mostly gone by f/5.6.
Again, this is to be expected with a lens this wide (94 degree field
of view!). Some users of the 20-35mm have reported seeing significant
color fringing in the corners, but I think this is slightly sample
dependent. Color fringing was minimal on my sample, though, as with
most very wide angles, present to some degree at the very edges.
is a problem with this lens if you point it at the sun, as it is
with most zooms. Keep the hood on, and watch carefully for indications
that you're getting flare when you include the sun in or near your
shot. My Minolta and Sigma lenses had higher flare levels, but if
you really want to be as flare free as possible, you'll want to
consider a fixed focal length Nikkor, like the 20mm
AF Nikkor f/2.8.
thing I love about this lens is how little barrel distortion it
has, at any zoom setting. [Note: a lot of people go into a store,
mount the lens on a Nikon body, then remark at how much
barrel distortion they see. What they don't know is that most Nikon
viewfinders have a bit of barrel distortion in them. The only way
to tell how much distortion is in the lens is to look at pictures
taken with the lens.] Assuming that you keep the camera level, straight
lines near the edge of the frame will look like straight lines,
having only a itsy-bitsy amount of curve. The Sigma is also pretty
good, but not nearly as good as the Nikon--my shots with the Sigma
often show visible barrel distortion, especially at the widest focal
bets are off if you start doing things like getting close to vertical
subjects and angling the camera up, as you would expect. Any wide-angle
without a shift capability will show extreme perspective distortion
in such a situation.
that most of my pictures taken with this lens have a "snap"
to them. I've never done a perfectly set up direct comparison, but
pictures taken with the Nikkor appear to have more contrast than
those taken with the Sigma in the same situation. Part of this can
be attributed to better flare control.
the Cokin P filter holder to hold Singh-Ray graduated filters. On
some wide-angle lenses, you need to be careful that the holder doesn't
show up in the picture (I can't use this on the Sigma, for instance).
With the lens at 20mm and focused in close, you'll see the edge
of the holder. I modified a P holder
to only have one slot, and this solved the problem. I've even mounted
a thin polarizer and the modified P filter holder on the 20-35mm
and managed to not vignette.
noted, the Sigma has more problems with flare, and the pictures
taken with it, while quite good, don't quite have the punch as the
ones I get from the Nikkor. In situations where I can control the
light and am not shooting into the sun, either lens will do just
fine. Otherwise, I want the Nikkor. Of course, there is that small
$1000 difference in price.
final word about performance. I have no way of measuring actual
focal length or aperture. But taking out a 20mm, fixed focal length
lens and comparing it to the view on the 20-35mm zoom gave me the
same angle of view. I highly question the 18mm setting of the Sigma,
however. It is a little wider than the 20mm the Nikon provides,
but I don't think it is a true 18mm. It also seems a bit short of
35mm at the other end. If I had to guess, I'd say the Sigma is a
19-33mm zoom. Still not bad, but not quite what's advertised.
down the 17,000 foot (5100m) pass on the backside of Huascaran in
the Peruvian Andes, I came to a strange
forest of red-trunked trees I'm tempted to call a glade. The bad
news was that this entrancing ecosystem was also perched on the
side of a very steep, rocky hill. I had lent my walking stick to
a woman who was having trouble scrambling down the rocks (they were
bigger than she was!). I had the N90s and the 20-35mm hanging around
my neck for taking pictures when I lost my balance, fell down a
rock face, and to my dismay, watched the camera define a beautiful
arc from my body to a rock as I hit bottom. The blow was pretty
severe, and the lens hood did a nice ejection from the lens, landing
twenty feet away.
I had just totaled a lens that had cost me US$1600. I looked at
the lens. I looked through the camera. I tried focusing. I took
a picture or two (not a very good one, since I was still shook from
the fall). I looked closer at the lens. The filter ring had a slight
dent in it, but that's the only damage I could find. I went to retrieve
the lens hood, expecting to find it shattered. No way. It had a
nice chunk gouged out of one of the front "wings", and
another cosmetic scar that went from the gouge to the place on the
lens where the filter ring was bent.
far as I can tell, the hood absorbed the brunt of the initial blow,
and like an air bag, slowed the lens down enough so that when it
hit the rock, it did so with only a glancing blow. I never had the
nick fixed (and still use the "damaged" hood), and haven't
seen any difference in photographs taken before, or after, the incident.
My first two cars cost less than this lens. An F100 body costs
less than this lens [now that it's only available used, that's
no longer true]. My last computer cost less than this lens.
You can buy and process over 150 rolls of film for the cost
of this lens. This last puts things in prospective. If you shoot
a lot of film (hundreds of rolls a year), this lens will pay
for itself, eventually. If you're a casual shooter who doesn't
know what a brick of film is, go for the Sigma until you can
tell what's missing from your pictures.
You're already carrying a heavy camera body (N90s, F4, F5), are
you sure you want to nearly double the weight? I can't believe
the amount of gear I carried through 100 miles or more of 10,000-17,000
foot (3000-5100m) trekking. My only consolation was that several
others carried more!
Size. Ever tried to buy a 77mm circular polarizer?
Expect to pay US$100-150 for a good one. And you won't find
one of these at any old photo store. Even my favorite local
pro shop (formerly Keeble & Schucat in Palo Alto, CA, now
Dan's in Allentown, PA) doesn't always have them in stock
depth of field scale. Yup, that's right, a US$1600
lens with no DOF scale. Instead, you get this nifty cut-it-out-of-the-manual-and-assemble-it-yourself
scale. Right. And where exactly do I carry this flimsy excuse
of a tool? Of course, at 20mm and f/22 focused at 2 feet, infinity
is still within the circle of confusion!
Solid. Heck, mine survived a full on rock attack.
Once state-of-the-art, now just really good.