Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S Review with Sample Photos
Nikon has completed their lineup of truly impressive, flagship-grade prime lenses with an f/1.8 aperture. That’s right, with full-frame Nikkor Z, f/1.8 seems to be the new f/1.4! All of the lenses we have reviewed so far have been incredibly sharp, solidly built, and overall up to Nikon’s highest standard for professional work. In this Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S review, I’ll talk about what I think this particular lens is perfect for, but also where it may not be the best option.
The Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S joins the Nikkor 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 S as one of the best collections of f/1.8 primes ever assembled, in my opinion. Some photographers hear the “f/1.8” and they automatically think about low-quality lenses that are made for amateurs. However, Nikon absolutely did not go that route with any of these lenses. As I mentioned, all of them are high-quality, flagship optics with impressive image quality and build quality alike.
If you’re looking for something even better, then there might be additional f/1.2 primes or f/1.4 primes from Nikon, eventually, but for now, there weren’t any on the roadmap the last time I checked. Alternately, if you’re looking for something more affordable than the ~$1,050 price tag of this Nikkor Z S-line lens, your options will be very limited to other optics which simply don’t offer the same level of quality in literally any regard. Want the spoiler alert? I’m going to highly recommend that you either get this 20mm lens, or its slightly more affordable 24mm little sibling. Depending on the type of photography you do, one of them will likely be a perfect all-around wide-angle prime for you.
Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S | Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 20mm FX, (30mm DX) 94°
- LENS MOUNT(S): Nikkor Z full-frame (and DX APSC) mirrorless
- APERTURE & RANGE: F/1.8-16, rounded 9-blade
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: Multi-focus system, twin stepper motor,
- MANUAL FOCUS: Yes, electronic, no focus distance scale
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 14 Elements in 11 groups, 3 aspherical, 3 Extra-Low Dispersion, Nano Crystal Coat, Super Integrated Coating
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal, high-grade plastic,
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.19x, 7.87″ (20 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 77mm, 1-piece plastic hood
- SIZE: 3.33 x 4.27 in (84.5 x 108.5 mm)
- WEIGHT: 1.11 lb (505 g)
- PRICE: $1046.95
(B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S Review | Who Should Buy It?
At over $1K, this is actually the most expensive f/1.8 prime lens that Nikon makes! It may not seem like much of an investment compared to some of the other professional Nikkor lenses that cost well over $2,000, but let’s be honest, a thousand dollars is a lot of money.
So, while there are literally no competitive alternatives on the Nikon Z mount that really stack up, (more about that later) …just because this lens is one of the best 20mm f/1.8’s I’ve ever reviewed doesn’t mean it’s right for the photography subjects you shoot or your creative style.
Wedding & Portrait Photography
NOTE: I had this lens for testing during a “lockdown”; there were no weddings or portrait sessions booked for me to photograph! So, I’ll be speaking from 15+ years of experience as a wedding and portrait photographer.
If you’re a photojournalist of any kind or a portrait photographer, you might not want 20mm, 24mm might be a little better suited to your needs. No problem; the Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S is virtually the same lens, just a little less wide, and also $50 cheaper at $996.
Of course, hopefully, you know your creative style as a wedding or portrait photographer, and if you know you really like being close-up in the action, and if you’ve often found yourself say, for example, wishing you could go a little wider than your 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, then you might actually like this lens for those subjects! Just don’t compose any human subject too tightly in the frame, or too close-up, because the distortion of any ~20mm lens is going to be quite wonky.
Fashion, Editorial, & Commercial Photography
If you do very high-end professional work, whether it is fashion portraits or product photography, then you probably will want to be working at longer focal lengths to avoid distortion on your subjects. When it comes to investing in Nikkor Z lenses, you should be starting at the opposite end of the line, with something like the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S, and then going wider as needed.
Honestly, you might prefer a wide-angle zoom instead, since you’ll most likely be working stopped-down anyways; Personally, I would toss the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S in my camera bag and be perfectly happy!
Candid & Street Photography
For all types of candid photography, having a wide-angle prime lens that allows you to either get up-close with the action or capture a sweeping view, is a really useful tool. Add to that the f/1.8 aperture, which allows you to capture photos in very dim lighting conditions and also blur the background nicely for candid portraits and other detail photos, and you can create some truly unique images.
Once again, however, before I recommend buying this lens, I have to remind you to make sure you want 20mm instead of 24mm. I won’t repeat myself in telling you why, though! (Out of curiosity, please leave a comment below and let me know if you prefer either 20mm or 24mm, for which photography subject, and why! Thanks in advance.)
If you want corner-to-corner sharpness, and a lens with very low distortion, plus a physical build quality that is rugged enough to take the abuse of the wilderness for many years, then this is your dream 20mm prime. It’s pretty much perfect for landscape photography.
I’ll talk more about the image quality next in the Pros & Cons section, but suffice it to say, this lens is a great choice. Yes, it’s a bit large and expensive for any landscape photographer who literally does all of their work at f/11, and to be quite honest, as a photography nerd I’d be tempted to just sacrifice a tiny bit or corner sharpness and get a gorgeous looking classic 20mm lens like the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS, on the FTZ adapter. But, that’s just me and my nostalgia.
Besides, many landscape photographers these days are also photographing the same landscapes at night, at faster apertures, and this is where the modern native Z-mount glass really shines…
Nightscape & Astrophotography
Indeed, this is where the lens truly excels! Very few fast-aperture lenses, especially wide-angle primes, have good image quality in the corners. Most of them, including large, heavy, exotic lenses like the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art, simply have poor sharpness, bad coma & astigmatism, serious vignetting, and quite a bit of field curvature.
With that said, this is one of the best wide-angle prime lenses I’ve ever tested in each of those regards. Excellent corner sharpness, with minimal field curvature. Low coma & astigmatism, in fact, it’s virtually gone by f/2.8. And although there is of course some vignetting, the built-in profile corrects it quite nicely without adding too much noise/grain due to significant shadow recovery, unless you’re using extremely high ISOs and severely under-exposing your images.
Long story short, if you are an astro-landscape photographer who shoots Nikon, you should be considering this lens!
Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S Review | Pros & Cons
I already mentioned that this lens is extremely well made and has excellent image quality. There are a few subtleties that I will now expand on. Basically, the lens is impressively sturdy, but has a rather minimal design, and is just a little bit bigger than I would have expected it to be as a mirrorless design with a relatively modest aperture. Either way, it is definitely worth the investment.
Even when I mount this lens on the 45-megapixel Nikon Z7 II or Z7, the image quality is excellent. Sharpness is about as good as it can be throughout almost the entire image frame, and the only way to see any real difference between f/1.8 and f/4 or f/8 is to look at the last few pixels of the extreme corners, at 45 megapixels.
Oh, and due to faint field curvature, if you set focus perfectly for the dead-center of your image frame, you won’t actually be achieving maximum focus at the extreme corners. Above is a worst-case scenario example.
Honestly? Considering the price tag (and the size & weight( of this lens, I would have liked to see it be TRULY FLAWLESS, with a perfectly flat plane of focus, and absolutely excellent sharpness in the corners that out-resolves even 45-megapixel sensors. Unfortunately, I am a reasonable person; I know that to achieve such perfection would have required making the lens even more exotic, and therefor bigger and more expensive. All in all, I think Nikon achieved an optimal balance of sharpness for the portability and price of this lens.
If you’re an astro-landscape photographer, be sure to set focus on your stars for somewhere around the rule-of-thirds area, and you’ll get excellent center-to-corner results such as you see below:
Vignetting & Distortion
Distortion and vignetting are quite low, and if you turn on the in-camera correction profile, (which carries over to Adobe Lightroom seamlessly, by the way) you will not see any distortion and very minimal vignetting.
For those of you who love to blur the background of their images, this lens’ rounded aperture blades will render very smooth, aesthetic background blur, even when you’re working with some of the most “busy” cluttered backgrounds, such as wire textures or twigs.
Colors & Contrast
On any of Nikon’s mirrorless cameras, with their gorgeous NEF raw files that play nice with Adobe Lightroom nowadays, this lens will render absolutely gorgeous colors and contrast. Honestly, I am often downright shocked at how little my Nikon mirrorless raw images need to be edited these days!
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
The other technical aspects of image quality are impressive, too; there are very few artifacts overall, such as color fringing, chromatic aberration, and coma or astigmatism.
Remember to set focus off-center, not dead-center, for optimal image quality evenly throughout the entire frame when photographing the stars!
Sunstars & Flare
Flare effects are minimal, thanks to all the exotic coatings Nikon has put on this lens. Sunstars are quite excellent. As I mentioned earlier, though, if you really are obsessed with sunstars, then consider one of the older Nikkor 20mm primes, because their aperture blades produce the most gorgeous needle-sharp sunstars I’ve ever seen.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
As a 20mm wide-angle lens, actual magnification or reproduction is not this lens’ strong suit. Having said that, you can still focus close-up enough with this lens to really blur the background and isolate a subject, and really fill the frame with most ordinary small objects.
This Nikkor Z does not lose any image quality when focusing at its closest range, which is not something that can be said for some of the older wide-angle lenses. Although, to be honest, Nikon has been the pioneer of optical designs that remain very sharp even when focused close-up, they have been working on such wide-angle lenses for literally decades, and were/are well ahead of virtually all the competition.
Durability & Weather Sealing
Nikon is using the “S-line” name to denote that this is a truly professional-grade lens. It has weather sealing, and overall feels solid enough to serve you well for many years. Everything about it is smooth and well-made, too, a subtle blend of minimal, modern, and maybe even some faint retro vibes.
This is one of Nikon’s high-end lenses in terms of autofocus; it has twin AF motors that are able to make focusing very snappy and very accurate. Simply put, as long as the camera body itself has the autofocus technology to nail focus in low light, this lens is up to the task of locking onto and tracking your subject.
Manual Focus Performance
This lens has a very large, smooth-operating focus ring, and the electronically-controlled precision is excellent. The lens doesn’t have a focus distance window, like a few of Nikon’s highest-end flagship lenses, but considering that the lens’ goal is to be as compact as possible, I think that’s fine.
This Nikkor f/1.8 prime lens is the highest priced f/1.8 prime lens that Nikon has ever made, and for good reason. It is that good. It really comes down to this, though: 20mm is a unique focal length, so if you don’t really need a 20mm prime, there are many other lenses you should consider first, and you might wind up with “only” $500-750 left to spend on a 20mm prime.
If you decide that a full-frame mirrorless 20mm f/1.8 is exactly what you need, just keep saving up until you can afford this lens. Otherwise, consider instead the Nikon Z 24mm f/1.8 S for ~$1K, or one of the wide-angle zoom lenses from Nikon that covers this focal length, even though they cost more.
Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S Review | Compared To The Competition
20mm prime lenses are definitely a specialty item; most photographers will either prefer a zoom that covers this range, or a 24mm lens. Therefore, we just don’t have very many other 20mm prime lenses to consider!
There are a handful of Nikon F-mount (DSLR-made) 20mm primes that are quite good, and there is a grand total of one other (third-party) native Z-mount 20mm f/1.8 prime lens which isn’t very good. I’m only going to mention the lenses which I believe you should remotely consider.
The Nikon AF-S 20mm f/1.8 G ED is quite good, (our review is here!) and quite affordable if you have the FTZ adapter. However, this modern Z-mount Nikkor is definitely sharper, has better autofocus performance, and has more professional durability.
The one thing I truly love about the F-mount Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 is the absolutely gorgeous sun stars it creates, which harken back to the early days of manual focus lenses.
Nikon makes a couple of other 20mm f/2.8 prime lenses, both of which are very old, and a bit more affordable. Honestly? I’m very nostalgic for the classic manual focus Nikkor AIS 20mm f/2.8, it just looks really cool, and the image quality is…not bad! So, if you like manual focus lenses, and especially if you like classic pin-point sun stars for your cityscape photography, it’s a unique specialty lens.
Of course, if you’re open to using the Nikon FTZ adapter, there are a few third party options, from the giant, exotic, pricey Sigma 20mm f/1.4, (~$900) to the modest, compact, affordable Rokinon/Samyang 20mm f/1.8. (~$490)
Again, to be honest, none of these lenses are as good as this new Nikkor Z S-line lens. They’re not nearly as sharp except in the image’s dead-center, and their overall physical qualities make them sub-optimal investments as well, in my opinion.
What alternatives do I actually recommend? Aside from lower quality, low-budget options, I suggest considering a zoom lens that covers the 20mm range, simply because I know what most photographers are going to actually want to use in the real world. Also, I’ve reviewed both the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S and the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, and they are both great lenses. They both cost more, but they’re both excellent investments that cover almost the entire range of what most photographers will want in a wide-angle lens.
Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S VS Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G
Of course, for those of you who are interested, we can also consider an entirely different mount, just for fun. I highly doubt that a 20mm prime lens will be the reason that any photographer chooses one entire system/mount over another, let alone switches from one to another, but, sure, let’s talk about the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G, why not!
Basically, the Sony 20mm f/1.8 is a very nice and compact lens with an aperture ring and a customizable Fn button, for about $800-900, depending on if you can find it with “instant savings”.
Other than those specs that might be in favor of the Sony, the two lenses are pretty similar in their performance. That is to say, they’re both absolutely excellent, very sharp, with almost zero flaws until you start looking in the extreme corners.
For all you astro-landscape photographers out there: both of these 20mm f/1.8 lenses have a faint bit of field curvature when shooting wide-open through about f/2.8, unfortunately. However, neither has much coma/astigmatism at all, even wide open, which is truly impressive! The bottom line for me as a nightscape photographer is that I would love to own either of these lenses, it would simply depend on which system I owned in the first place. I would not switch systems for either of these lenses alone.
Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S Review | Conclusion
Here’s the bottom line: This is a great lens that offers high-end flagship performance and durability, but it comes at a relatively high price compared to most f/1.8 primes you’ve seen. That’s because this really is a professional lens!
If 20mm is what you’re looking for, this is one of the best primes on the market. There are a lot of great alternatives out there, though, including Nikon’s f/2.8 and f/4 zooms which cover 20mm with excellent image quality, and other lenses that “only” hit 24mm, if that’s all you need.
So, do you know for sure whether or not an excellent 20mm prime is right for you? Or, do you have any additional questions? Leave a comment below.
Check Pricing & Availability
The Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S is available for $1,495.95 from these trusted retailers: