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Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G ED N Review – A Dream Lens For Astro-Landscape Photographers?

January 16th 2015 10:05 AM

SLR-Lounge-Nikon-20mm-f1.8G-ED-N-650The Nikon 20mm 1.8 AF-S G ED Nano

Buy the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 AFS-G ED Nano on B&H here – $796

Finally, someone created my dream lens!  (Well, almost.)

The day Nikon announced that the next lens in their affordable AFS-G prime lineup would be a 20mm f/1.8, I jumped for joy.

nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-08Nikon D750, Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G, FotoPro C5C Tripod
330 exposure, 30 sec @ f/2.8 & ISO 800
SLR Lounge Preset System V6 for Lightroom

True, primes of this focal length are not for everyone, and especially at an f/1.X aperture. Indeed, most casual shooters would be better off with an f/2.8 or even an f/4 ultra-wide zoom.  Landscape photographers who spend all their time at f/11 probably won’t bat an eye, and portrait / wedding photographers who need good low-light performance are probably already content with their f/2.8 zooms.

OK so, I just spoiled the review, sorry! However if you’re like me, you’re going to want to keep reading / watching, because this lens could be a real treat.  Enjoy!

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Nikon D750, Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G, FotoPro C5C Tripod
100 sec. @ f/11 & ISO 200
SLR Lounge Preset System V6 for Lightroom

Pros

  • Stunning overall sharpness
  • Flawless stopped-down sharpness (Ready for a ~50 megapixel FX sensor?!)
  • Amazing sunstars (A first in forever for Nikon)
  • Ultra-lightweight and very compact (And yet…)
  • …Accepts 77mm filters!

Cons

  • Mediocre / decent corner sharpness
  • Significant, though gradual, light falloff
  • Difficulty focusing with precision at infinity
  • Plastic construction unacceptable for a select few
  • Pricey, considering its limited practicality

 Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G Sample Images

nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-01 nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-02 nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-05 nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-13 nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-09 nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-04

03-performance-4-stars

I’ll give this lens four stars for performance because for most folks, it’s going to seem downright awesome, if not perfect.  However since this aperture and focal length combination is moderately exotic, I have to acknowledge those who shoot things like astro-landscape photography where performance is really pushed to the limit.

And, considering the slightly under-whelming corner sharpness, coma, and overall light fall off / transmission issues, any die-hard landscape-astrophotographer will feel that this lens could be a little better.

Overall though, (like all the other Nikon f/1.8 AFS-G primes) this lens is incredibly sharp and has almost no flaws in average shooting conditions; Chromatic aberration is well-controlled, flare is well-controlled, and the sunstars are a breath of fresh air compared to previous Nikon ultra-wides.

nikon-20mm-crop-sample

13-design-4-stars

What can I say? Nikon gets oh-so-many points just for being the first (between Canon and Nikon, that is) to make a prime lens wider than 24mm in, well, forever.

One of the biggest design flaws of most other lenses in this range, for me, is that they either require 82mm filters, (Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L mk2) …or they don’t even allow filters at all.  (Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8…)

So right out of the box, hitting 20mm and accepting 77mm filters makes this lens a winner for me.  The rest of the design is awesome too – the focus ring is nice and big, yet not easy to accidentally bump.  The design is plastic, yes, however I’ll wait to talk about that in the “Quality” section of this review…

I do have to knock off a star, however, for Nikon’s continued habit of making manual focus so difficult on its modern lenses.  Simply put, nailing focus on stars at f/1.8 is a matter of extreme precision.  Seriously, I’m talking about a fraction of a millimeter on the focus ring and your shots could be completely blurry at 100%. This will cause a lot of grief for serious astrophotography shooters, and I wish Nikon would improve the “focus throw” of its modern lenses.  I’m sure that videographers will agree with me when I say that this is one huge selling point of Rokinon’s lens lineup: each of their lenses has tons of focus throw, making them a delight to use.

In fact, if I weren’t a wedding photojournalist, if I were a cinematographer or just an astro-landscape photographer, I’d trade this autofocus Nikon for a manual focus Rokinon version in a heartbeat if it had better focus throw.

nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-07

08-features-4-stars

This lens would get five stars for features if it were a matter of comparing one prime against another, since it does deliver “the goods.”  It’s a wide-angle prime that offers an aperture few other lenses can.  Off the top of my head, all I can think of are the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 (a lens which is completely un-usable wide open through f/4 or so) and the Leica 21mm f/1.4. (A ~$7,500 lens!) Like I said, compared to the alternatives in its aperture and focal range, it’s a hands-down winner.

However, “features” are not just limited to a specific focal length.  And considering the abundance of great ultra-wide zooms that cover 20mm, plus the fast 24mm primes available, the 20mm 1.8 G loses a star for features.

In other words, a zoom would be more practical for most casual photographers, and a 24 1.4 prime would be more desirable for anyone who shoots general low-light photojournalism and portraits.

nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-03

nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-06

18-quality-4-stars

While some folks miss the all-metal construction of yesteryear’s Nikon AI-S lenses, I’m very happy with Nikon’s current lineup of high-grade plastic f/1.8 G primes.  I’ve heavily abused my Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G for over a year now as a full-time wedding photographer, and it is still as rock-solid as day one.

However, if you’re a landscape photographer who likes the ~20mm focal range, you’ve heard about the legendary Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon.  And compared to that all-metal beauty that can only be described as the Rolex / Lamborghini of wide-angle lenses, this Nikon 20mm does lose a star for overall quality.

Like I said, I’d give this lens five stars for quality if every other photographer out there were like me, but I have to consider all types of photographers when writing these reviews, and I know there are some who are even more abusive of gear than I am. Be at least moderately gentle with these new Nikon primes, because “they just don’t make ’em like they used to…”

nikon-20mm-18-g-review-astro-landscape-lens-10

23-value-4-stars

As such a speciality lens, it’s hard to justify the price for anyone other than those who really do need what it offers.  If you’re just a casual shooter, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G is $100+ cheaper, has a better all-around focal length, and offers superior corner sharpness. Same with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G, and it’s $200 cheaper!

If you’re a serious astro-landscape photographer, a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 also offers superior corner sharpness, and costs $250+ less than the Nikon.

Plus, there are all kinds of rumors that Sigma is working on a 24mm f/1.4 Art, which we all know will probably offer nearly flawless image quality and yet shouldn’t cost more than $100-300 above the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G‘s ~$800 price tag.

Combine that with my hopes that Rokinon will get around to developing a ~16-18mm f/2.8 that accepts 77mm filters and costs ~$500, and well, the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G‘s $800 price tag is at least a reason for buyers to think twice. Or thrice.

Conclusion

32-overall-score-4-stars

Buy the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 AFS-G ED Nano on B&H here – $796

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Despite its shortcomings across the board, I’m definitely buying this lens.  I might wait until it gets a ~$100 rebate in 6-12 months, but I’m definitely buying it.  As an astro-landscape photographer who is sick of f/2.8 lenses that don’t accept 77mm front filters and/or have ugly sunstars, I’m on cloud nine, or at least cloud 8.5.

There are a few reasons why you might consider an alternative, or wait and see what Sigma does in the ~20mm range in the next ~6 months, but overall, I highly recommend this lens.

Take care and happy clicking!
=Matt=

For more astro-andscape photography images and geeky camera talk, be sure to visit my personal blog, astro-landscapes.com.

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Comments [27]

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  1. Andronesi Marius

    I want to use it for Wedding / event, is it ok? … wait a review .Thanks !!!

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  2. Basit Zargar

    nice one

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  3. Douglas Steimle

    Looks like an excellent lens, except for those corner sharpness / coma issues. Nikon never seems to pay much mind to coma correction… As a DX shooter, though, I’d happily pay for a good fast ~12mm for crop-sensor. Doesn’t seem like it’ll ever happen… but I can dream.

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  4. Rafael Steffen

    Can you imagine pairing this lens with a D810!

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  5. Peter Nord

    I’ve got the old 20 f.2.8 manual focus which has the hard infinity stop making it really convenient for shots in the dark. For all night meteor shooting, I just aim it straight up, run the focus to the stop, good to go. It has lots of flair though. I was shooting in a sculptor’s studio. Said I could change lenses to get rid of the flair. Oh, no, they loved the flair. It never made such beautiful sun stars as the new one.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yeah, Peter, that is one thing I did really love about the old AI-S lenses; fantastic for focusing on stars. I had the 24mm f/2.8 AI-S and it was a delight to use.

      If the wide-open performance was just a little bit better on either of those lenses, I’d probably just buy one of those. Unfortunately, at f/2.8 the new 20mm f/1.8 G just rocks…

      =Matt=

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  6. David Hall

    Outstanding review and great imagery.

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  7. robert garfinkle

    To Stan and Matthew –

    Thank you both for good direction and comments.

    I could have kept the 28mm; t’was a good ship as they say – I was very happy with it, used it just about all the time. and that was a main motivator to get the 20mm, along side great reports from people, I wanted wider!! Heck, I’d go for a fisheye too, yet never will give up the 20mm for that.

    it was the general commentary thrown my way, that of cheap – heard from others. I honestly don’t have the experience to know the difference, and in a big way not really concerned, as I am very careful with the equipment anyway. I know that there will be a day when excrement occurs and stuff gets knocked around, even to he point where it might get damaged, and I, to a fault into obsessive behavior, get the equipment cleaned (by Authorized Photo Service in Morton Grove, IL – one of two Authorized Nikon service centers in the Illinois region; these people rock, do excellent work, and happen to be just 30 minutes from where I live and directly in the path of where I work, excellent!!) –

    having said that, I’ll say this. the three comments I do hear as well is 1. lighter, 2. nano-coated, and 3. sharp, sharp, sharp. but I am so sure more so than advertised / highly spoken of accolades; just use it…

    If there was anything I was trying to imply from watching Nikon’s trending behavior mixed with a small amount of what I thought was “relevant experience” is – I see a general shift in business philosophy even in the last 3 years with, from what I understand “typical” marketing behavior, which is generally upsetting their customers, and getting hit in the gut myself with 2 out of 3 camera’s not making it either out of the box (technically DOA; D810) or failing within 6 months (D7000). It’s more observation than complaint.

    I, at the moment, would never step away from Nikon, as my gut says, they are more about raw imagery than gimmick / fancy features – and that I like.

    you guys note, there are more products out in the sea that don’t have the Nikon name which are great too – thanks, I have to step out of the Nikon box and try / leap-o-faith on other’s words…

    just loungin’ around, have a good day folks

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  8. Holger Foysi

    This lens is definitely on my list. Light, fast, very good center quality even wide open, very nice for landscapes when stopped to to 5.6 and above, nice sun stars and again, because this is important for many: light and portable. You may get better quality buying expensive Leica and Zeiss lenses, but I don’t see an obvious difference when comparing prints. For me this lens is a winner and worth the money. Prices are coming down anyway soon.

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  9. robert garfinkle

    Matthew discusses build quality – they just don’t make them like they used to…

    Matt is not the only one who comments about a newer approach taken by Nikon, “cheaper?”

    I remember the 80 – 400 lens re-release, you know, the Nano / SWM upgraded version. Whilst everyone loved the overall concept of the feature upgrades, the general commentary that followed was a “cheaper” build, and on quite a few of these upgrades, a jump in price compared to similar legacy models.

    Even the new 300 F4 PF seems to be of similar build, more expensive… I would not knock it, I’m gonna get one of those for sure.

    But what do we do here, or is it find less expensive, better built alternatives?

    actually, if Matt or anyone else wishes to comment; like I said, one of the reasons I picked the 20mm 1.8 was star photography, but after looking at the wide open aperture sample images I’m concerned that the lens might be a challenge leading to frustration or be completely useless for that type of photography – now, having said that, is there a recommendation for star photography that’s a better choice? My thinking is, I want an extremely fast lens, as fast as I can get it, with a short short focal, right? but key factor is at a wide open setting I would like sharp detail. This 20mm does not look like it honors that.

    at any rate – I’m gonna try this lens, still excited about it –

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    • Stan Rogers

      Have you considered the possibility that they’re making them *better* than they used to? Brass was okay — except that you would need to “cold soak” your gear unless you wanted them to change dimension in optically-significant ways during long exposures at night (and remember to let them re-acclimatize after handling, or use gloves). Same thing in reverse during the daytime in sunlight; your lenses would get longer on you, and if you were using wide apertures on long lenses, you needed to keep an eye on focus even when set up on a solid tripod shooting exactly the same subject over a period of several minutes. White lenses *partially* solve the heat problem; they can’t do anything about the cold. Well-designed composites don’t have that problem (or, rather, they don’t have that problem to an optically-significant degree).

      As for the “cheaper” part — yes, they probably are. But I owned several approximately-one-thousand-dollar lenses that were not long, fast telephotos back in the day. That “day” being the late seventies and early eighties, so adjust for inflation and make them $3000-3500 lenses today. And though they were top-notch lenses at the time, and definitely would fall under the “specialty pro equipment” category, they would be absolute crap by today’s standards with fewer, less difficult to grind elements, no motors, primitive coatings and only rarely (and quite expensively) low/anomalous dispersion glasses/crystals. Apart from the super-teles, we’ve been riding a huge wave of cheap for a long time now. Studio gear is the same dollar-cost now as it was back then, and most of it is so much better that any comparison is silly. A $70 Yongnuo today will run rings around the $300 Sunpak and Metz potato mashers of the good old days. Lenses haven’t been *quite* as cheap, but they haven’t been keeping up with inflation either. (And there’s no point bringing bodies into it, since back then even the most sophisticated bodies didn’t do very much.) Yes, $3000 today hurts, but it doesn’t hurt any more than $800 did back then. Hey — you’re the guy who chose the expensive hobby.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Robert, I must admit, if you’re a stickler for perfect corners, and as an astro-landscape photographer probably also care a lot about coma, …then you might want to consider one of two alternative options:

      1.) The Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 costs less than the Nikon 20mm, has better focus throw, and better corner sharpness at equal apertures. It does have abysmal light falloff wide open, but then again anything f/1.4 and wide angle is going to…

      2.) Wait and see how good the rumored Sigma 24mm f/1.4 is going to be. My bet is that it till have the sharpest corners of all, with low coma, but still plenty of vingetting.

      Personally I’m going to go for the 20mm because I’ve always been bothered by how “almost wide enough” 24mm seemed to be to me when shooting astro-landscapes.

      To me it seems like a non-issue, because 90% of the time I’m shooting wide open on such a lens it will not be for stills, it will be for timelapse that is getting cropped to 16:9 as well as down-sized to 4K or 1080p, thus making any problems the 20mm has far, far less of an issue.

      =Matt=

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    • Matthew Saville

      Stan, I’m with you- this new generation of lens design is indeed BETTER. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about 100% of the high-grade plastic / carbon fiber stuff I’ve used lately, including both the D5300 and D750 which pioneered the plastic / half-plastic body arena. Plus, all of my high-grade plastic f/1.8 G primes (I’ve reviewed 100% of them, and heavily abused a number of them) have treated me very well…

      =Matt=

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  10. robert garfinkle

    Here we go –

    I just purchased this lens – exciting, can’t wait to put it to test – winter has to subside…

    I did purchase this for star shooting, uh, thanks for the warning on focus – I’ll be careful, promise.

    yet I purchased it for more than star shooting, as I heard nothing but stellar reviews (and to keep the tone of this article, well, “almost” stellar)…

    but I’m ok with a 4 star lens, and yes, will baby this thing –

    the one drawback I heard which I found out after the fact, it’s not weather sealed – and that is a concern for me.

    Now, I did basically sell my 28mm 1.8g to help pay for the 20mm – if anyone want’s to chime in on the fact that I may have made a mistake, I’m all ears…

    I am hoping the 20mm will do me like the 28mm did, in the sense that in using the 28mm I just so fell in love with wide angle shots, and the 28mm had remained on my camera, for 95% of my shots over the last year – I could just about do anything with it. I did toss on the Nikon 85mm 1.8 for a few shots here n there, yet went back to the 28mm.

    and so, hearing so many positives about the 20mm, just said hey, lets do a switch.

    I have no real report for prolonged use. I have just a few shots taken with it, and they just look spectacular.

    eyes all excited to use it further…
    :)

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    • Matthew Saville

      I think that for general, casual journalism, 28mm is a great wide angle range. 20mm is too wide for more traditional group photos, you know, close-up shots of 3-5 people’s faces. But IMO, that’s what DX crop mode is for, I have it programmed onto my DOF preview button and I use it all the time; it would turn this 20mm into a much more respectable 30mm lens for “hey can you take our picture?” type moments at weddings.

      However, having said that, 20mm is just fantastic and highly desirable, compared to 28mm, for serious landscape and travel photography. You won’t regret the purchase, unless as I mentioned in the review, you’re also considering a lens like a 16-35 f/4 for travel. But anyone who does astro-landscapes will be hard-pressed to justify an f/4 zoom lens, lol. Right now the only zoom I own is a 24-120, which I only use for daylight landscapes of course, unless it’s a full moon in which case stars go into hiding anyways…

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  11. Brandon Dewey

    Ive been waiting for this review. I’m thinking about picking up one before this years milky way season.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      This lens is a gem for the price tag and it will be like having a 30mm on a DX sensor! Sweet!

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    • Rafael Steffen

      This is one of the best reviews of the year!

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    • Matthew Saville

      I’d have a bit of a hard time paying $800 for a 30mm DX lens, as an astro-landscape photographer, since the Rokinon 16mm f/2 is a dedicated crop-sensor lens with incredible sharpness and an equivalent 24mm focal length. Anyone who shoots astro-landscapes on a crop-sensor, that Rokinon 16 2.0 should be their 1st or 2nd purchase!

      =Matt=

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  12. Eric Sharpe

    I will definitely be renting out this lens, and seeing what I can do with it.

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  13. Aaron Cheney

    Another excellent and thorough review with absolutely stunning imagery to accompany. I definitely want this lens.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Thanks Aaron! What would you use this lens for, and what alternatives have you considered?

      =Matt=

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    • Aaron Cheney

      Well to start out- I am currently using an older Canon 5DmkII that has a pretty high shutter count. After a lot of research and great articles from yourself and others from slr lounge about Nikon products I have decided to switch over and use a D750. It is a goal to be switched over to Nikon by mid-late next year. I love using good prime lenses and in fact it is what I use most of the time. I would use this lens for weddings and for landscapes. An alternative would be a 28mm f1.8 for the cinematic feel. It is a very different lens than what you reviewed here. I like how thorough you were with this lens basically treating the review as if the lens were in our hands. I also like it’s wider reach and your examples of wedding photography in darker lighting.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Aaron, one of the great things about Nikon is the DX crop mode. I wouldn’t buy a 28mm for wedding photojournalism, simply because I could pop the 20mm into DX crop mode and get a 30mm shot at ~10 megapixels, which is more than plenty for general candids and details.

      You might consider a 3-lens kit, as I have: The 20mm, a 35mm, and an 85mm.

      Personally I’ll be going with this Nikon 20mm 1.8, then the Sigma 35 Art, and then the Nikon 85 1.8 G. I prefer the Sigma 35 Art over the Nikon 35 1.8 G because I use that focal range for a lot of family formal shots, and I really like being able to shoot group photos wide open at f/1.4 to be able to really kill the background, as long as there’s only one row of people LOL.

      Combine these three primes with my other new favorite lens, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4, and I’ve got a general coverage kit that can lick any wedding. Throw in a 70-200mm if you’re that kind of person…

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    • Rafael Steffen

      What a great article!

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    • Aaron Cheney

      Thank you so much for all of your advice and input. I truly appreciate it. I now have a list of lenses to get when I transition over to Nikon. Like I said before, I love using primes and would have no problem using them for an entire wedding coverage. It is currently what I am doing while using my 24-105 f4L for longer coverage. The only time I would use a 70-200, right now, is inside a Catholic church where there are strict rules with shutter noises. it would allow me to stand further away and not bother the priest as much. But with newer cameras having silent shutter modes, I could happily get away with using primes at closer distances. Again, thank you so much for all of your help!

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