|Nikon's 12-24mm f/4G ED-IF
AF-S DX Zoom
by Gary W. Stanley
It was the first week of November and I was leading another tour in Zion National Park, Utah. The folks on the tour still hadn't been able to close their mouths as they stared at Zion's great canyon walls. They were in awe and somewhat puzzled. "How do you go about photographing a place like this?" "They don't make a lens wide enough to capture all the beauty of Zion."
Well, they were right! After many trips here, I can say first hand that a place like Zion can tax just about anyone's photographic skills as well as their equipment. My problem was I was still working with the lenses that I had been using with my film cameras, and now with the smaller format of digital, my widest lens, an 18-35mm on my F100, is now a 27-42mm on my D100. And I'm in Zion?
I made good use of the equipment I had while on the tour, but trust me, I had already established a new wish list. At the top of that list was Nikon's new 12-24mm f/4 designed specifically for their digital cameras.
It's now early April and I just returned from our spring tour in, you guessed it, Zion again. Only this time my camera bag contained a new secret weapon - my own personal Nikkor 12-24mm. While in 35mm terms this is still only an 18-36mm, it was perfect for 99% of my wide-angle needs. I find that the problem with going too wide is that in your final image your grand landscape will, by nature of the lens's very wide angle of view, make everything appear so very far away. However, if used correctly, it can make for very dramatic looking landscapes.
Let's quickly give you a rundown on Nikon's own list of features, and then I'll give you my personal test drive.
1. The lens is optimized for Nikon digital SLR camera sensors. 2. 2x zoom ratio and variable angle-of-view from 99 degrees at 12mm to 61 degrees at 24mm (with D1-series & D100). 3. Comparable to that of an 18-36mm lens in the 35mm format. 4. Smaller image circle (the size of the image that is projected by the lens onto the sensor) enabling smaller lens diameter, and optimal image quality from center-to-edge-to-corner of the image. However this also means the lens can't be used with a film camera - it's digital only. 5. A Silent Wave Motor enables ultra-high-speed autofocusing with accurate, powerful and super-quiet operation. 6. Two Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements for minimized chromatic aberration. 7. Three Aspherical lens elements for low distortion. 8. Internal Focusing (IF) design for smoother focusing. 9. M/A mode enables instant switching from autofocus to manual with virtually no time lag even during AF servo operation. 10. Rounded diaphragm to make out-of-focus elements appear more natural. 11. 11.8" close focusing distance throughout zoom range.
I found this lens to be well made, though not very heavy at about a pound; yet it had none of that plastic feel of the less expensive 18-35mm lens. At 3.5" long by 3.2 inches wide it's not a large lens either. It takes 77mm filters, which I already have (as do most Nikon shooters). And hard lens hood is included.
The lens performed well and most importantly was tack sharp. Flare can be a problem with ultra wide-angle lenses. To combat this tendency Nikon designed the 12-24mm with the Super Integrated Coating (SIC). Sic coating minimizes ghost and flare providing improved color reproduction.
This is a fun lens to work with because it allows you to be more creative, more willing to experiment. I found myself looking around for strong foreground subjects to add depth and drama to a sweeping landscape. The close focusing distance of just 12 inches is a real plus here, giving you tremendous freedom in choosing your subjects.
I've mentioned before, as I get older, I get smarter, or at least I like to think that I do. Instead of those days when I carried every lens and accessory known to man, in a big bulky camera bag, I've now scaled things down a bit. On most trips like this, all I carry is the 12-24mm, the 24-120mm VR (test coming next month), and the 80-400mm VR. The 12-24mm is a perfect compliment to this very lightweight package. I took our tour group up the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion, with the 12-24mm mounted on my camera, my tripod, and the other two lenses in my photo vest.
I did find a couple of things about this lens a bit unusual, and found it to be the case with the 24-120mm as well. Because I manually focus everything, I found the M/A mode a little hard to get used to. The focusing ring never really hits a stopping point, it just keeps turning, so I had to pay special attention when focusing manually. Very wide angle lenses can be hard to focus, because everything seems so far away, so I was a little uncomfortable with it at first until I recalibrated myself to it. Because I do manually focus almost everything I really appreciate the well damped precise feel of the focusing ring on this lens (and the zoom ring for that matter). It's what we've all come to expect from pro-level lenses but it's still worth mentioning.
What I found annoying however was that the focus and zoom rings on this lens are opposite my 80-400mm VR, so I was constantly grabbing the wrong ring to focus and zoom. It's not a big thing when shooting landscapes, because, I'm usually not in a hurry. However, I use the 80-400mm quite a bit for wildlife, so it left me feeling a bit uneasy. Thankfully the other two big VR lenses, the 70-200mm and 200-400mm are set up like my 80-400mm, so that's not an issue. I will be talking to Nikon about the logic of this before the 24-120mm test.
Does it bug me enough to not like the lens? Absolutely not! Overall performance is so good I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this lens to anyone. As far a price goes, I've seen street prices ranging from $950 US to $1,100 US depending on the dealer and your relationship with them.
I'm happy now, and quite pleased with my new toy. I feel like I've got a complete package, something that I can live with. Well at least until the next time Nikon comes out with something new!