Resolution differences of Nikon pro UWA zooms

Started Feb 14, 2013 | Discussions thread
anotherMike
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Re: Resolution differences of Nikon pro UWA zooms
In reply to chazphoto, Feb 15, 2013

If you're discussing this in context of the D800E, I have some unfortunate news for you: there is NO single "perfect" UWA zoom, and the test sites aren't going to be as much help as you'd like.

What you need to do first and foremost is figure out specifically what focal lengths along the wide angle spectrum you consider a priority, and secondly, what *distance* ranges / compositions you are most likely to shoot. Once you've got those two things figured out, you can start to consider which lens is most likely going to fit YOUR needs as opposed to performance on a test chart or somebody elses needs. I don't say this trying to be arrogant or to put down others opinions - when I got my d800E, the first thing I did was to go through my lenses and start getting serious about which ones were going to perform the best for my situations (focal length preferences and distance/compositions I typically shoot). I got a wakeup call with all the wide angles. Wide angles are the toughest lenses to design, and none of them are perfect - I can list off flaws with the Zeiss 21/2.8 even, and that's a pretty seriously good lens. Wide zooms are even tougher, and the area of concern is the corners and edges. Most any of the wide zooms are going to do the job in the center zone IN their respective 'good focal lengths'. Thus, a 17-35 at 24mm, a 16-35 at 24mm, a 14-24 at 15mm are all going to be really nice in the center. The problem comes into play at the corners and at the focal lengths the lens isn't at it's best in. Thus the 17-35 gets beat (badly) by the 14-24 at the wider end, the 14-24 at distance and 24mm might get beat by the 16-35 but up close it's different, and so on. The test sites are only reporting flat test chart performance at closer distances - largely irrelevant if you're shooting distant landscape scenes or night skylines, right? So there is no perfect answer. If you're really concerned about getting the right one, you'll have to rent them and see for yourself. When I discuss wides I try to give an idea about performance at distance vs close and where (focal length wise) the lens is strongest, but even that can be scene dependent - some of the lenses have strong field curvature that will considerably "help" corner sharpness in one scene but then 'hurt' corner sharpness in another.

Broadly speaking, personally I think this way:

17-35: Older lens that doesn't have the nano-coat "look" (clarity/purity/contrast) of the newer wides, but is still pretty decent in the 20-24mm of the range. Corners likely to be an issue on a d800E. I'd skip it if ultra wide (17mm) or 35mm performance is critical. I'd probably get a 16-35 instead if I needed a zoom that was decent in the middle at most things.

16-35: Not much at 35mm compared to other options, noticeably so. Peaks at 24mm, can compete with about anything there. Still pretty decent at 20mm. Lots of distortion at the wide end, flares like crazy at the wide end (worse than 14-24 in many cases!), field curvature galore. Another lens that I think performs best at longer distances and in the middle of the focal length range. I'd take this over the 17-35; when I had both, in my tests I preferred the 16-35, particularly at longer distances where the 16-35 can shine.

14-24: Flare is an issue, but can be controlled. Cool tonal balance, very strong, bold contrast, quite sharp wider end of the range, IMO it peaks at 15mm. Excellent through 20mm. Has some forward corner favoring field curvature that can present difficulty with distant corners. Not my favorite at 24mm and distance, but is acceptable at 24mm and closer in. Honestly it's the only lens of the three I've kept (I've owned them all) mostly because of exemplary performance in the ultra wide end of the zoom range, even though I personally don't shoot much at 15mm. The filter thing doesn't bother me because I only use polarizers and a polarizer on an ultra wide isn't something that's recommended. The guys who use 10 stop ND and such are out of luck here.

I'm not a fan of the third party wide zooms; far too much sample variation and generally they don't have the contrast of the 14-24 due to their coating technology not being up to par with Nikon (or Zeiss), but that's just me. Some folks like the Tokina, but I've heard horror stories on the sample variation/reliability of that lens, so I'll pass myself.

I've moved on to a 14-24 and prime kit whereas prior to the 800E I was an all-zoom on the wide side of things for a long time. But me. I'd strongly consider renting.

-m

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