Introduction

Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED is currently the widest rectlinear prime in Nikon's modern lens lineup. The lens was introduced in June 2000, replacing an almost two decade old Nikkor 15mm f/2.8 Ai-S. The lens currently retails for ~US$1,100 (as of June 2008) new and for ~US$650 used, making it almost 2x cheaper then its arch-rival's Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM. Still, even at this price, the lens is not going to appeal to mainstream photographers, especially considering that it has some pretty tough competition from the in-house ultra wide zooms like AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 14 elements in 12 groups, including a single ED element and two aspherical elements. The optical formula follows rear-focusing design, with only internal elements moving during focusing. This mens that the overall lens size remains constant at all times. The build quality of the lens is simply superb - the barrel is made of lightweight metal with crinkle type finish applied to the surface. The focusing ring is rubberized and moves pretty smoothly. The focusing ring actually rotates only when the lens is switched into the MF mode, and is locked at all other times. The focusing mode is controlled by an AF/MF ring located directly beneath the focusing ring. In order to prevent users from accidentally switching the focusing mode, Nikon has implemented a push-in knob, which needs to be depressed in order to rotate the AF/MF ring. A simple AF/MF switch would have sufficed here as well, since the whole 'push the knob, rotate the ring' process is a bit awkward.

Image

The lens is pretty bulky, with bulging front element, which makes it impossible to use any front-threaded filters. This is a common trend among such super wide angle lenses and at 670g (23.6oz) and 87 x 86.5mm (3.4 x 3.3in), Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED is about average in weight and size among modern 14mm primes. The lens sports a built-in petal shaped metal hood, which is designed to reduce the amount of stray light hitting the front element and at the same time to protect it from accidental bumps, although one might argue that the hood does not really give much protection since it's pretty shallow. Using a front cap is probably the best way to protect this element from any scratches, although the slip-on cap included with the lens requires some fiddling to put it on or remove.

Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED sports a DOF scale with markings at f/4, f/8, f/11 and f/16. Like all AF-D lenses, AF Nikkor 14mm does not have a dedicated AF motor and autofocusing is possible only on cameras that have a focusing pin that would lock into a screw slot on the base of the lens mount and would physically rotate the elements back and forth until focusing is confirmed by the camera. The lens can still be used on pretty much all post 70s Nikon cameras, it's just you would need to focus the lens manually. AF Nikkor 14mm also supports electronic aperture control - to enable electronic mode, one needs to switch the aperture ring to f/22 (which is marked with a different color) and then lock the aperture ring using a tiny switch located on top of the ring. The aperture ring itself obviously also allows for fully manual aperture control and moves from f/2.8 to f/22 in one full f-stop increments. The ring is a little bit sticky and requires minor force to rotate back and forth. The minimum focusing distance is 20cm where the lens produces the maximum magnification of 1:6.7.

Like all AF-D type lenses, Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D EF is a full frame lens, so when used on APS-C type bodies with 1.5x/1.6x crop sensors, its fied of view will be equivalent to that of a 21mm prime on a full frame body. Because the lens has dedicated aperture and focus rings, it can be easily adopted to a number of alternative mounts, including Canon's EF/EF-S and Olympus' 4/3 systems. The factory box includes Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED lens, front and rear caps, CL-S2 soft case, manual and registration card.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 14 elements in 12 groups
Angular Field ~114 degrees
Minimum Focus 20cm/0.8ft
Focusing Action AF/MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, camera/manual
Filter Size Rear Bayonet
Lens Hood Built-in
Weight 670g/23.6oz
Dimensions 87x86.5mm/3.4x3.3"
Lens Case CL-52 (optional)

 

Field Tests

Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED, like any other Nikon AF-D lens was designed with interoperability in mind. The lens is fully compatible with many older, film Nikon SLR cameras as well as modern digitals. There are obvious benefits and some subtle disadvantages to that approach. On a positive side, the lens combines both manual as well as electronic aperture control and focusing. These two capabilities mean that the lens can be relatively easily adopted to a few alternative mounts, expanding your options for ultra wide primes. Of course once adopted to an alternative mount, the lens would loose some of its more advanced capabilities such as 3D MatriX Metering.

On a somewhat negative side, AF system of the lens feels pretty archaic these days - compared to the modern ultra sonic AF motors, pin-driven mechanical AF is pretty noisy and slow. The AF is more or less accurate - it does hunt occasionally here and there, and even mis-focuses slightly, but this is common for most AF lenses anyway (and strictly speaking, since the lens does not even incorporate an AF motor, should not be counted against this particular lens). Furthermore, since at 14mm the depth of field of the lens is so extreme, it would likely mask most focusing errors. You might even decide to manual focus the lens or even preset it to avoid re-focusing.

Overall image quality was somewhat mixed. The lens showed good performance in the center on both APS-C, as well as FF cameras. Images remained crisp, with well defined edge transitions. However, border quality seemed to suffer, with most noticeable degradation at wider apertures. The softness around borders seemed to be pretty consistent on both full frame as well as cropped bodies, which is somewhat surprising and disappointing, since one should expect somewhat better performance on a cropped body that does not utilize the full imaging circle of the lens.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (14mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (14mm)

 

The lens showed pretty heavy amount of vignetting on a full frame body, which persisted from f/2.8 all the way to f/5.6. Vignetting finally got under control around f/8, which is a little bit too late. Vignetting actually persisted also on an APS-C camera as well, albeit at somewhat smaller degree - by f/5.6 vignetting pretty much disappears.
As expected from such a wide lens, Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED fell prone to flare in situations with bright light sources located directly within or near the picture frame. The flare generally reduced contrast across the frame, but unfortunately, the lens also showed very pronounced degree of aperture ghosting, which persisted throughout the tested aperture range (yes, and even at f/2.8 as can be seen from the image below). Guess the built-in lens hood does not really help reduce flare that much...

 

ISO 200, 1/1000, f/2.8, 14mm (Nikon D3)
ISO 200, 1/1000, f/2.8, 14mm (Nikon D3)

 

Color rendition was pretty good in general, with accurate color reproduction throughout the aperture range. At smaller apertures the lens produced images with well saturated colors, but at f/2.8 images looked a little bit less contrasty, primarily due to the somewhat lower resolving power of the lens itself rather then some inherent flaw. The lens showed some color fringing around borders (pretty much throughout the aperture range) and minor degree of axial chromatic aberration (halation) predominantly at wider apertures. Like any other 14mm prime, the lens also showed pretty heavy degree of distortion, particularly noticeable in the frame corners.

 

ISO 200, 1/5000, f/2.8, 14mm (100% crop)
ISO 200, 1/5000, f/2.8, 14mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras as well as cameras from different manufacturers are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for all types of cameras.

 

Nikon FF: Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED showed very solid center performance on a full frame Nikon D3. Image quality remained consistently good throughout the tested aperture. Unfortunately, border image quality lagged behind and performance never really reached solid levels. Quality around borders at wider apertures was more affected, but even at f/8 and f/11 image quality is not necessarily very impressive. Conclusion? Can't say that overall performance is that surprising here - majority of wide angles, and especially super wides, typically show some degree of softness around borders. Of course this is still not a good excuse, since there are super wides out there that perform quite well across the entire frame - it's just AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED is not one of those lenses.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 14mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 14mm

 

The lens showed good handling for chromatic aberration in the center, where it never exceeded ~0.5px across the aperture range. Border CA however was significantly higher - CA reached ~1.3px at f/2.8, gradually dropping to ~0.9px by f/11. Border CA is higher then desired, but is not completely disastrous for such a wide angle lens.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 14mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 14mm

 

Here are 100% crops taken with a full frame Nikon D3, comparing image border at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 14mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 14mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon APS-C: The overall performance of the lens on an APS-C camera was somewhat of a mixed bag. Center image performance was quite good from f/2.8 through f/11. Regretfully, border performance did not really meet all expectations - quality in the f/2.8-f/4 range was quite unimpressive, even mediocre. And while performance around borders improved slightly in the f/5.6-f/11 range, image quality still lagged the center and did not quite ever manage to reach solid levels. The lens is capable of producing outstanding 11in prints in the f/4-f/11 range and decent 19in prints in the f/8-f/11 range. Conclusion? Disappointing - one would hope that a smaller coverage of a cropped sensor would produce better performance around borders, but that did not quite happen. Quality at wider apertures is especially disappointing.

 

Image

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 14mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 14mm

 

On an APS-C camera, Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED showed good handling of CA in the center, where it reached ~0.6px at f/2.8 and gradually dropped to ~0.3px by f/11. CA around borders was a different story - border CA at f/2.8 approached ~1.5px and never dropped below 1px throughout the rest of the tested apertures.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 14mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 14mm

 

Here are 100% crops taken with an APS-C type Canon Digital Rebel XTi, comparing image border at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 14mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 14mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED did not really show any better performance on a full frame Canon 5D either. Center image quality remained pretty solid throughout the aperture - that's quite consistent. But another consistent characteristic this lens demonstrated is pretty mediocre border image quality. At wider apertures quality is totally unimpressive. Things improve as the lens is stopped down, but even f/8 and f/11 don't bring much relieve and border quality here is still kind of average. Conclusion? There's no such thing as free lunch (or so they say). The lens that did not perform exceptionally well on an APS-C body is not going to be a stellar performer on a full frame body either. Hence AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED is just that - an average performer here.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 14mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 14mm

 

The lens continued to show consistent handling for chromatic aberration even on a FF Canon 5D camera. Center CA was well under control, with peak CA at f/2.8 hovering at ~0.5px and dropping to ~0.25px by f/11. Border CA was again higher - ~1.5px at f/2.8, also gradually dropping with stopped down aperture to ~0.9px by f/11.

 

Distortion (FF) @ 14mm
Distortion (FF) @ 14mm

 

The lens showed pretty heavy degree of barrel distortion on a full frame body. At 2.14%, barrel distortion will be noticeable in general photography, especially around corners, where objects will look distorted/stretched.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 14mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 14mm

 

Here are 100% crops taken with a full frame Canon 5D, comparing image border at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 14mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 14mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

In general, there are not that many 14mm primes available on the market, so you might either have to expand your search to alternative mounts or consider older, discontinued lenses. If you are a Nikon user, then you might want to take a look at a couple of other AF-D lenses, including AF Nikkor 18mm f/2.8D and AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D, both of which obviously offer longer focal lengths then the 14mm Nikkor reviewed here. If you are willing to use a fully manual lens, then you might want to take a look at a couple of discontinued Ai/Ai-S manual focus lenses, including Nikkor 14mm f/5.6 Ai-S, Nikkor 15mm f/3.5s Ai-S and it's older Nikkor 15mm f/5.6 Ai version, and finally Nikkor 18mm f/3.5s Ai-S and its older Nikkor 18mm f/4 Ai variant. One other option for Nikon users is the now also discontinued Sigma 14mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM, which was manufactured in Canon, Nikon, Sony/Minolta and Sigma mounts. You can obviously always expand your search and include ultra wide zoom lenses. Finally, if you're using a Canon camera, you might also want to check out Canon's EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM or its older, now discontinued variant EF 14mm f/2.8L USM.

 

Recommendation

Making a super wide angle lens is not an easy task and lens manufacturers often have to accept one or another trade off in order to bring to market a product that would be reasonably priced and still deliver acceptable performance. Nikon AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED is no exception here and the lens has some trade offs that you need to consider before making a purchase. The build quality and the center image performance are the obvious strong points going for this prime. Chromatic aberration, while not the lowest in the industry, is not strictly speaking the worst among ultra wide angles. Same goes for vignetting and distortion, which are common to any 14mm prime. This leaves us with border image performance, which is rather unimaginative on both APS-C as well as FF bodies. So where does this leave us? If you're willing to accept mediocre to average border image performance throughout the aperture range, then AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED might be a lens to consider. If not, take a look at some of the alternatives.