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Nikon 12-24mm F4

Nikon 12-24Intro: When the digital SLR's hit the market, all zooms that were wide angle on 35mm film cameras suddenly became more like mid-range zooms on these new SLR's. This was due to the smaller digital sensor size (APS). This smaller sensor effectively crops the image that the lens is able to provide. Typically this crop factor is around 1.5, though this varies slightly from each manufacturer. What this crop factor means, is that a 17-35mm lens on a digital sensor will now give the same field of view as a 28-53mm lens on a 35mm body.

Nikon gives their APS sensor the name DX. With the introduction of the 12-24 F4 DX lens, the effective focal length becomes 18-36mm, bringing us back into the wide-angle range. Note however, that all DX lenses cannot be used on 35mm bodies. This is due to their smaller image circle which is projected onto the CCD. On a 35mm body, the images from a DX lens will suffer from severe vignetting. The Nikon 12-24  DX lens suffers from vignetting all the way to 18mm. After 18mm the harsh vignetting goes away, but there is still significant light falloff all the way to 24mm.

Feel: Physically, the Nikon 12-24mm DX is quite large and fairly heavy, but feels solidly built. Not quite sure if the build is up to the $1000 price tag, but after 2 years of heavy use I have yet to encounter a problem, so I would hazard a guess that it is.

The lens has a Manual or Manual/Auto focus button. In the M/A mode, the auto focus can be overridden just by grabbing the focusing ring. In Manual mode, you can only focus using the focusing ring. The lens has AF-S focusing, quick and hunt free, with a minimum distance of 30cm.

Performance: The lens focuses super fast, and does not hunt in dark areas, especially on a Nikon D200. body, though D70 performance was also very good.

The lens is quite sharp throughout the entire zoom range, with some barrel distortion. The distortion is most pronounced at the wide end of the zoom range and is mostly gone by 20mm. It can be corrected in Photoshop almost all the way. There remains some element of wavy distortion in straight lines toward the edges of the image. This is not normally noticeable, unless you are shooting architecture. This type of distortion with an element of pincushion towards the edges is called moustache. It is fairly hard to fix perfectly, so if you plan on using this lens for architecture, or anywhere where straight lines are a constant presence, I would look for something else..

Some samples are reported to suffer from some chromatic aberration and some don't. I have yet to see any produced by mine, but the problematic images that I have seen can be fixed easily in Photoshop. Another issue is vignetting. Even very thin filters produce some light falloff, and a circular polarizer causes very clear vignetting. Using a step-up ring and then attaching larger filters helps quite a bit, but it means having filters in the 82 or 88mm range which can be very pricey. Nikon recommends using an NC filter at all times to protect the front element, but this causes varied amounts of image clipping in the corners, depending on the brand and thickness of your filter, not to mention the added problem of flare. The lens has no problem with flare without a filter so I don't see the need for it, nor do I use one. Filters tend to reduce contrast and introduce a possible element for flare and other visual defects. For front element protection the lens hood is almost always sufficient. The only time I would use a front filter is in hazardous environments; beaches, windstorms etc.

Summary: This lens has excellent sharpness, contrast, and fast focus. It produces some distortions at the wide end which, though correctable in Photoshop, add to the time spent in front of the computer instead of behind the camera. There is some chromatic aberration visible at 12mm, though once again it can be fixed in post- processing. It is a fairly large lens, and heavy. It is also a bit overpriced given some of it's drawbacks.


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