Test & Review | The New NIKON AF-S NIKKOR 28MM F/1.4E ED
The following is a guest post by Marko Marinkovic.
Shooting and testing Nikon’s new 28mm 1.4
Last year I was fortunate enough to earn a Nikon Ambassador badge. I took this as a recognition of my work from an institution I admire for making the best tools to meet my creative needs. A few months later, Nikon representatives asked me to shoot and test the new Nikon Nikkor 28mm f-1.4E ED. I took on the challenge and, about a month later, found myself getting lost in the souks and surroundings of Marrakech.
Searching for great light to emphasize on the qualities, and trying to find weak spots of this new member of my gear bag was fairly easy. Doing it with a high fever and fighting the rainy forecast, however, wasn’t as much fun. Nevertheless, I came back with a set of images to portray the lens which, for me, sets a new professional standard for documentary, portrait, and landscape photography. You’ll find out why I think so if you keep reading.
28mm Lets You Get Close. So close you can feel it
When it comes to lens choices, my approach is simple. I love both the 24 and 35mm focal lengths for my wedding and documentary work, but ever since the 28mm f/1.8G was released it was used it as my primary lens for its versatility. All of the images used in this article were taken with the new Nikon 28mm f/1.4E ED lens and edited to taste.
WHY 28MM AND NOT 24 OR 35 FOR ME?
Things tend to get personal when you’re using this lens. I shoot two Nikon D750 cameras on my weddings, and one of them has a 28mm on it the whole time, while the other is usually shifting between Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. In most cases, my images are worthless without the context, and I love the way new 28 adds context to every shot if you choose so. If not, you always have the option to get closer and narrow things down using shallow depth of field. Paired with impressive autofocus performance and beautiful bokeh it made me smile me every time I checked the shots I took.
I was privileged to test shoot the new Nikon Nikkor AF-S 28mm 1.4E ED for @nikoneurope in Marrakech earlier this year. A lot of my fellow photographers asked around the assignment, but I had to keep my mouth shot until now. See my subjective and short review of this beauty with more images on my blog and a peek through my stories. Link is in the profile. #nikonambassador #nikon28mm
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This focal length is, quite simply, a bit wider than 35 and slightly narrower than 24, and this happens to fit my style perfectly, and these few millimeters matter to me a lot; you are able to fit a lot into a frame without overflowing it or distorting the corner elements. It’s not as wide, therefore not as supernatural and much closer to a human field of view. Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” and with a 28mm you will be able to get really close to your subjects; not only physically close but emotionally close.
The adaptability of this lens is so amazing that it allows me to shoot documentary, landscapes, and portraits without the need to unmount. The new 28mm can focus rather close, but not as close as the older 1.8 brother. However, that difference is only 3cm and it allowed me to make some interesting proximity shots.
It’s commonly known that 50mm length fits into so-called “normal view” that matches what our eyes see while focusing straight ahead, but once you take peripheral vision into account, 28mm fits human field of view much better. This is why it feels so natural using a 28mm lens – hat you see through a viewfinder is closely matched to what you see through your eyes. This is the reason why, if I had to choose one lens to use – it would be this one.
What about the performance?
My approach to shooting rarely makes me stop down more than f/2.8. I would say with confidence that 95% of my shots are shot wide open, just like the ones I used for this article. I’ll guess that most readers will try to draw the comparison or question the difference between the two 28’s. While it’s not as compact nor as lightweight as the G version, it absolutely outperforms it in every other aspect.
I’m not really a pixel peeper and some things matter to me more than others, but that being said I’ll always value autofocus speed over wide open sharpness, or color rendering over contrast, as it takes me less time to sharpen and add contrast it in post production. I also believe that sharpness of the lens usually has more to do with the person using it than the lens performance itself.
Everything I say here is strictly subjective as I didn’t submit this lens to proper studio testing. Instead, I took it out in the real world paired with a D5 to see what it has to offer in conditions I find myself in on my shoots. And it has surpassed my expectations. That being said, it’s up to you to trust my judgment or not. I’d definitely suggest trying one out and drawing your own conclusion if you’re having any second thoughts.
I have to state the obvious. Creating a lens is always a matter of compromise. Why? Because it’s a matter of physics. Taking from one value to gain another is definitely is one of the biggest struggles of lens manufacturers. To simplify this in my mind, I see it like this: Every lens has a value of 100 distributed over several key elements such as weight, autofocus speed, distortion, sharpness, contrast, bokeh, build quality etc. The role of a lens manufacturer is to distribute that value of 100 perfectly and try to match the needs of their users. This is a really tough role. My hat goes down to true heroes of our craft, the lens engineers who, not only manage to distribute these numbers immaculately but managed to do it so that you’re left with the impression they cheated somewhere – but didn’t.
The build quality of this lens is a great compromise between robustness and weight. Those of you shooting for long hours will probably be pleased with the fact that it doesn’t weight a ton. On the downside, it is significantly larger and heavier than the older 28mm 1.8G which is the curse of having a professional lens with wider aperture and, overall, far better performance.
Distortion is barely noticeable and easily controlled. Vignetting wide open is not an issue either, while autofocus speed when you pair it with a D750 or D5 is significantly faster compared to the older 28mm or a 35. The focus ring could use a bit of a shorter spin for my taste, but will probably be welcomed by videographers. That said, I’m not buying this lens to focus manually.
It produces very pleasing bokeh which makes for smooth results and great subject differentiation. For a wide angle lens, this aspect is definitely one of the key elements of focus. It is also one of the reasons why I named this lens ‘revolutionary’ earlier in this text. I tried hard to produce chromatic aberration by shooting highlighted or shiny metal objects on Moroccan markets and failed to find unpleasing results. Sharpness across the frame is spectacular and doesn’t ask for a stop down at any point. Also, uncommon for a wide angle lens and like it’s older sister, the new 28 1.4 is able to focus relatively close (0.92 ft / 0.28m from focal plane), which allows the use of interesting perspectives and compositions.
Should you get one?
Whether you should go ahead and pre-order one for yourself depends on your choice of lenses and way of shooting. There is no product or service made to please everybody. If you are a professional looking for an upgrade of your old 28 2.8 or 28mm 1.8G – this is the lens to go with. If your main go-to lenses are 24mm or 35mm you should absolutely try it out. For those of you using zoom lenses such as 16-35 or 24-70 I’d suggest checking the exif data to see which focal length you most commonly use. If you’re on the wider to medium range, I’d give it a try and see if it fits you.
It’s no secret that movies are very inspirational to a majority of photographers out there, and you’ll often hear that Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg love to use a 28mm lens. The reason for this is storytelling. 28mm simply is an amazing focal length for it, and videographers will appreciate this lens a lot. Paired with close focus abilities, shallow depth of field and smooth focus ring, it brings refreshment in this area of work as well. As I mentioned earlier, if you try to balance size, speed, weight, price and optical performance, you won’t get any further than this. The only question is – do you like the focal length it gives you?
You can pre-order the new Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.4E ED here.
Client: Nikon Japan/Worldwide
Creative Director: Soichi Hayashi
Talent: Fatimazahra Elhorre, Ena Cucek, Ivana Cirjak, Luka Smetisko
Photo Assistant: Ivana Cirjak
About The Author: Marko Marinkovic
Marko Marinkovic is a wedding photographer from Croatia who has been shooting full time since 2012. Marko’s work has been featured in international magazines and publications such as The Bride, Rangefinder, and National Geographic, among others. His wedding work has earned him the recognition of Rangefinder Magazine who selected him as a rising star in wedding photography. Marko is also currently a Nikon Ambassador.