First look: Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 G

Nikon 14-24mm v Canon 24mm L v Sigma 12-24mm


> See also: Nikon 14-24mm v Canon 14mm L II Review

> See also: Nikon 14-24mm v Canon 16-35mm L II v Contax N 17-35mm Review

> See also: Nikon 14-24mm v Contax N 17-35mm v Contax 21mm f2.8 Review

As eagerly anticipated parcels arrive across the world, initial samples are appearing online: everyone wants to know about Nikon's groundbreaking ultrawide zoom, the 14-24mm f2.8 G. Most copies of this lens are destined for use on the Nikon D3: the fruitage of many years furtive full frame development in order to rival Canon's dominance of the high end DSLR market. In a rare example of joined up thinking (please take note, Canon!) Nikon released a brand new killer app with their brand new killer camera: the 14-24mm was designed from ground up to be the perfect full frame (FX) ultrawide – a feat which still eludes Canon despite their many accomplishments. So naturally, in the long standing spirit of this website, we were keen to be the first to trial it on a Canon full frame because we hope very dearly that this lens – and this lens only – will be the reason to buy a 1Ds III.

This is not a full review: only a single aperture was tested, chosen to provide some common ground between the two comparators selected for perspective. As recent tests showed, there are many ways to shoot at 24mm – even the humble 24-105L is on the money: however, our lens of choice here is the 24mm f1.4 L which stands a clear notch above anything else at the focal length. At f5 its performance is superb across the frame, improving a little in the corners one stop down, but comparing very favourably to the legendary Zeiss 21mm even at this aperture. It's not perfect (there is awkward field curvature, near-field performance isn't in the Distagon's class, neither does the colour rendition have its clarity and 'freshness') but there's nothing better. Shooting the Nikon zoom against it was a hiding to nothing: pitting a zoom, at its weak extremity, at a difficult aperture, against the best prime available – at its f5.6 sweet spot.

The Sigma 12-24mm illustrates how difficult a feat this is: 24mm / f5.6 is the best way to make this otherwise impressive lens look terrible. Once again forcing the new Nikon onto the back foot, we backed the lens out to its other extremity and denied it the camouflage of diffraction to shoot at 14mm / f5.6. As you no doubt know, many ultrawides perform relatively similarly at f11 (though the best still distinguish themselves), but they're worlds apart at f5.6. Thus with one incisive thrust we hope to reveal something of the character of the new lens. Rest assured we'll be putting it through its paces more thoroughly in forthcoming weeks.

The other big news is that development is nearing completion of the Nikon G-Canon EF adaptor which allows this and any other Nikon G lens to be mounted on Canon DSLR bodies – with full aperture control. Please note that this brief test was conducted with a prototype adapter uncorrected for registration; final production versions may further increase sharpness and reduce apparent chromatic aberrations. More on this later . . . .

Resolution & Drawing Style: Zone A (centre frame) at 24mm f5 / f5.6

Sigma 12-24mm at 24mm f5.6 centre frame Nikon 14-24/2.8 at 24mm f5.6 centre frame Canon 24mm f1.4 L at f5.6
Sigma 12-24mm at 24mm f5.6 Nikon 14-24mm at 24mm f5 Canon 24mm L at f5.6

Remember what I said about the Sigma? It's pretty shoddy at 24mm, needing to be stopped down well beyond f5.6 (its maximum aperture at the long end) for serviceable results. For this quick test, I didn't exhaustively check the focal plane and try to compensate for field curvature, so the Nikon is focused slightly closer than the Canon. Careful examination of the full frame, however, gives confidence that both lenses outresolve the 5D centre frame at this aperture. Full marks.

Resolution & Drawing Style: Zone C (corner frame, middle distance) at 24mm f5 / f5.6

Sigma 12-24mm at 24mm f5.6 centre frame Nikon 14-24/2.8 at 24mm f5.6 centre frame Canon 24mm f1.4 L at f5.6
Sigma 12-24mm at 24mm f5.6 Nikon 14-24mm at 24mm f5 Canon 24mm L at f5.6

Out in the extreme corner of the frame at a distance of approximately 15m, the Nikon zoom delivers a truly astonishing rendition. Though it can't quite match the sheer resolution of the Canon L prime, the beautiful microcontrast and limpid clarity of those nano-coated optics shines through. Bear in mind, too, that the Nikon's focal plane is positioned a little closer than the Canon lens': nailing the focus precisely might even have given us some of the mesh texture evident in the L capture. When you consider that the Nikon covers a similar range to that of the sludgy, yellow Sigma, its performance is all the more impressive. But that's not all . . .

Resolution & Drawing Style: Zone C (corner frame, near field) at 24mm f5 / f5.6

Nikon 14-24/2.8 at 24mm f5.6 centre frame Canon 24mm f1.4 L at f5.6
Nikon 14-24mm at 24mm f5 Canon 24mm L at f5.6

Even more amazing is the Nikon's close up performance. Note the way even the L prime loses its resolving ability in this near field bottom right corner: despite being in focus, resolution is not maintain all the way into the corner – a typical problem for any wide angle at close distances. The Nikon 14-24mm continues to re-write the rules: somehow delivering extremely crisp detail all the way to the cornermost pixel despite this sample being no more than 1.5m in front of the lens.

Thus far, then, we might reasonably conclude that the 14-24mm is as good as the 24L at the long end. I'm going to say that again, because if that really pans out to be true, it would be almost beyond belief: the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 G appears to be as good as the Canon 24mm f1.4 L.

Next, we look at the Nikon's 14mm performance alongside the Sigma 12-24mm . . . >




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