I’m a sucker for wide-angle lenses. And when it comes to it, sometimes the wider, the better, and while the 28mm is an excellent lens to work with, sometimes you want something that little bit extra. The trouble is that the wider and faster the lens is, the more expensive it is on the used market. And some lenses have a cult following around them, which drives up the price. So often have to compromise on focal length, speed, image quality, or cost. Well, I can certainly say that by going with some of the less expensive lenses in the Nikon manual focus catalogue, I certainly haven’t had to compromise on image quality. While being an older version and only being an f/2.8, I can say that I have no complaints about the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8. This lens had a bit of catch up to play when it joined my kit last year and became a popular choice in my 52-Roll project and became a second favourite next to the Nikkor 35mm f/2.8.
Make: Nippon Kōgaku K.K.
Model: AI Nikkor 24mm 1:2.8
Focal Length: 24mm
Focal Range: ∞ – 0.3m
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22, 7 Blades
Structure: 9 Elements in 9 Groups
It will be no surprise to say that the build quality on this lens is superb. Like any lens of its age and manufacture, it has an all-metal construction from end to end. The construction does make the lens a bit heavier and longer than its modern counterpart, but it doesn’t throw off the balance of my smaller Nikon cameras, such as the Nikon FE. And it is a perfect match for my Nikon D750. The aperture ring carries a satisfactory click for each stop, and they are clearly marked, and the ring moves smoothly and is accurate to work. The focusing ring has a slight rubber texture and a good grip making for easy function and smooth focusing. For focusing, you can get in reasonably close to your subject (with some drawbacks), and focusing end to end is fast. The Nikkor 24/2.8 also has a metal filter ring and follows the standard 52mm filter size. The optics have an excellent coating for good colour retention and contrast and doesn’t have too much issue with flare, but you can add a Nikon HN-1 hood to help with any potential lens flare. When shooting this review, I did not have such a hood and began searching for an HN-1.
The image quality produced by the Nikkor 24/2.8 is superb! Images are sharp, clean, and only a couple of concerns that I can see with the optics. The first thing I noted is distortion when you’re focused in close. I’m talking less than a meter away from your subject; there is slight barrel distortion, but nothing that cannot be fixed in your post-processing (I left it in to show off the distortion). You have to have a keen eye to spot it, so not a deal-breaker on the lens, and I’ve seen worse. The second item of note is that there is some fall-off at the corners when you’re shooting the lens at f/2.8, again minimal fall-off and nothing serious that could affect the overall image quality and could even play into photos shot at f/2.8. Once you have the lens stopped down to f/4, it has vanished. As for image sharpness, right from f/2.8, there’s no softness on the subject in focus, and you have an excellent depth-of-field right off the bat, especially when shooting along a common focal plane; images are sharp! You will get an increased depth-of-field as you stop the lens down further. And by the time you hit f/8, unless you’re focused in close, you’ll have a good portion of your frame in focus and that only increases once you get into f/11 to f/22. And the images stay as sharp, if not more, as you stop the lens down. The lens’ out-of-focus rendering is nothing overly special or unique, but the subjects have a smooth, creamy appearance and are still pleasing. Like any wide-angle lens, there is a tendency to flare due to a strong off-axis light source, but I haven’t seen anything too bad. The Nikon HN-1 hood is the perfect match for the lens if you are concerned.
There are two primary applications I use the 24mm lens for, the first being landscape and urbanscape work, where I need to get the big picture, show a bit of context. The second is similar architecture. I enjoy showing off the grand sweep of beautiful buildings or wide-open spaces inside. With only a slight distortion when you’re focusing in close, the Nikkor 24/2.8 is the perfect match for these subjects. But you don’t have to limit yourself to these only, while you can use the lens for portrait work, I experimented with getting in close to a subject with a wide-angle lens. I can see this working better for environmental work or group photos. And because of the wide-angle and fast aperture, it works great for indoor low light settings where you can get those faster shutter speeds without compromising your depth of field too much. I would also choose this lens as part of a three-lens travel kit or as a fast wide-angle prime to complement a kit lens. Being an AI lens, the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 will work perfectly on almost every Nikon camera out there. I primarily use the lens with a manual focus camera; it works perfectly on my Nikon D750 with full open-aperture matrix metering (manual and aperture priority mode only). And if you have an older camera that requires a direct coupling, the lens still has a claw to get that link.
The Low Down
When buying a fast wide-angle lens for your manual focus Nikon kit, most people will gravitate towards the newer AI-S version of the lens. Aside from minor changes to the lens’s exterior, the AI and AI-S versions are almost identical in optical qualities. And for the most part, because it is an f/2.8 lens, there is only a slight difference in the cost between the AI and AI-S versions. The AI and AI-S options run between 120 to 150$ on the used market. Of course, you will pay more if you go for the f/2 version of the lens. And it is reasonably easy to find for sale on auction sites or your favourite used camera dealer. Excellent addition to anyone’s Nikon manual focus kit if you’re looking for something wide but not too wide.
Don’t just take my view on the Nikkor 24/2.8, check out these other reviews.
Happy – Review of the Nikon 24mm 1:2.8 (AI)
Nikon – The Thousand and One Nights No. 14: Nikkor 24mm f/2.8