Wide is a good term in photography. Wideangle, wide aperture, wide dynamic range, wide range of cameras. I support them all. My latest acquisition is majoring on the wideangle. Meet the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (SWM N AS M/A IF if you are being pedantic).
This is the lens I had in mind when I bought a D800 body at the end of last year. I’ve been shooting with a D300 and 12-24mm wideangle lens for several years and I wanted to keep the same super wide lens setup on a full frame D800. The D300 uses a smaller sensor than full frame so the 12-24mm lens is roughly equivalent to an 18-35mm field of view, so a 16-35mm lens is spot on, with a bit more wide thrown in for good measure.
It turns out that pretty much nowhere in Europe has stock of the 16-35mm lens new, but I managed to find a used one in perfect condition in my local independent camera store for a couple of hundred below the price new. Result! So the D300 and 12-24 were duly traded in and I became the owner of a serious piece of new hardware. This lens is epic. Properly, properly Epic.
This lens is also properly huge but it balances really nicely on the D800. It is also high-tech in a way that none of my other lenses really are. Sure, I’ve got lenses with exotic ED glass in them, aspherical elements, pro-spec build quality and weather sealing. But this lens brings all that and adds vibration reduction which means ‘F8 and be there’ in just about any lighting conditions as I can handhold this thing at 1/10th of a second and get sharp images.
Now, a glance at my flickr feed shows that I have been shooting a lot of black and white recently. It’s not that I think monochrome is better, it just gives me a much higher hit rate than colour. I find it easy to ‘see’ in black and white and compose images which are interesting geometrically and tonally. Colour complicates things. Too many signals, too much noise, either way I find it overwhelms my intuition and i’m left with mediocre images. So my recent digital upgrade is an attempt to give me a damn good shot at improving this (I may even try some colour film sometime soon).
So after a quick check over and a large caramel latte I
found a workshop and cued the music took my new lens for a walk around the city.
The first thing that stuck me, this lens is sharp. Combine that with 36 million pixels and the results are pretty astounding. I’d become used to accepting softness as a necessary side-effect of shooting wide and compressing a vast scene into a tiny little rectangle of light, but suffer no more, the latest in optical technology seems to be keeping up with the latest in sensor technology and together they dance an intricate ballet.
The images here have been a bit post-processed in Lightroom as they were a bit flat due to the lighting conditions. I’ve adjusted the contrast and curves and applied a digital graduated filter to pull some texture back into the sky, but all this is just pulling the data the sensor has captured back into a viewable range and making it look pleasing. There is a slight HDR look to some of the images (a church I have sinned under in the past!) but these are my first steps towards developing my own proper colour photography style, so be gentle.
Regarding the rest of the lens performance points. It distorts noticeably at 16mm, but this is gone by 18mm or so (and corrected easily/automatically with Lightroom). The VR works very well and helps avoid the usual stressing over aperture and ISO as shutter speeds can drop to 1/15th or 1/10th sec without leading to visible camera shake. It’s sharp all across the frame, middle, corners, edges, everywhere. Pin sharp. These images were all shot at f5.6 or f8 and I see nothing to complain about.
I guess I’m seeing things slightly skewed as my D800 is still new to me and this combination of camera and lens is a big step forward from my previous gear. Not cheap, but definitely worth it. I’ve not abandoned monochrome, or film photography (especially as I may have accidentally just ordered a twin lens reflex medium format camera!) but I think I’ve just taken my first few steps towards learning to think in colour.