An open letter to Nikon 

Dear Nikon, 

Dan Bracaglia here from DPReview.com. It’s been brought to my attention (mostly due to the nagging of coworkers) that the Nikkor 20mm F1.8G lens you’ve loaned us needs to be returned to Nikon ASAP. I guess this makes sense, seeing as we’ve had it for about 20 months now. But perhaps I can convince you, beyond a reason of a doubt to allow us just a little more time with it. I ask because I truly love this lens. And here’s why:

There’s no such thing as a perfect lens, but a lens can certainly be the right tool for a specific job, and to that extent, it’s perfect. Your 20mm F1.8G is just that for me.

I first moved to Seattle about five months before you shipped DPReview the lens. I’d previously been living in New York City and photographing live music. Back then I largely shot with a 17-35mm F2.8 (the lens motor has since died) and an on-camera flash. It was the perfect setup for the rowdy punk rock shows I frequented.

ISO 12,800, 1/160 sec at F2. Edited to taste in Lightroom.

But, after moving I realized I was going to have to switch up my music rig. I became aware that shows in small and mid-size venues in Seattle were well-documented, but shows happening in less traditional spaces, like friends’ basements, living rooms or art/community centers were often not photographed (despite being well-attended). So I launched a photoblog with the goal of documenting my local music community.

Out of respect for these intimate environments, I vowed to leave my flash at home and shoot available light only. And what could be better for documenting in the dark than fast primes? 

When shooting shows with available light, three things matter most to me in a lens: its size/weight (too large = too intrusive), it’s brightest aperture and its focus speed. Your 20mm, Nikon, is a perfect balance of all these things. A look at the Sigma 20mm F1.4 to gives an idea of how big and cumbersome a brighter 20mm lens could be.

And when paired with my D750, the combination is fast-to-focus (using the center area) even in conditions that are often too dark for me to physically see. This is incredibly impressive and useful. Even if I can’t tell whether or not my subject is in focus, I need to be able trust that my camera and lens can. Simply put, when used together the D750 and 20mm F1.8G sing.

ISO 12,800, 1/160 sec at F1.8. Edited to taste in Lightroom.

I've been mostly shooting it alongside your marvelously cheap 50mm F1.8D, which was actually my favorite Nikon lens (shocking!) before I got my paws on the 20mm 1.8G. I use the 50mm for detail shots and the 20mm to capture the tone of the room. Both are coat-pocketable and don't add much bulk to the D750. Moreover both are sharp enough for me by F2.2 and fast-to-focus. The only thing I don't like about the 20mm against the 50mm is the price, which is much more than the quintessential fast 50. 

That’s where the loan comes in. I know, I know, I’m lucky to be able to have access to loaner gear (we do ALSO use the lens for camera testing and sample image shooting), it’s just hard to justify spending $800 on a lens that will likely be soaked in beer within two weeks of my purchase (not that it's ever happened to your 20mm...). I suppose I should be grateful for having had the chance to use a piece of gear and fall in love with it before buying it. After all, the inherent danger of using loaner gear from any brand, is getting attached.

At the the end of the day, maybe I should look at the $800 price tag as less about the cost of the lens and more about the price of being able to continue to document something I love, without drawing much attention. And to that regard, I owe it to myself, my community and you, to pony up and buy one. 

I'll do that, but maybe after just one more loan extension?

Sincerely,

Dan Bracaglia

P.S. Anyone at Nikon want to purchase a slightly busted 17-35mm F2.8 for $800?