|Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 AFS
by Jim McGee
Damn this thing is wide! When you fit a new zoom lens to your camera the first thing you do is run it through it's zoom range from lock to lock. The images below give you an idea of just how much that zoom range covers with this lens. It's one hell of a difference going from 17mm to 35mm.
Being a heavy user of my 20mm and 24mm primes I had looked at this lens and wondered whether I would really use all that range if I had it on my camera. After all, at 17mm you're talking about an angle of view that encompasses 104° vs. 62° at 35mm or 94° for that 20mm in my bag. Does anyone really need that much lens?
The answer, at least for me, turns out to be yes. Like any big kid with a new toy I tended to overuse the wide end with the first few rolls of film I shot with this lens. I found out that not only could I use all that extra space in my compositions, but I found that there were compositions that I had never thought about before because I simply didn't have the range at my disposal.
With use I found myself backing away from the 17mm end a little and doing more work in the 20mm to 35mm range, dropping down into the really wide end of the scale only when I felt it gave me the dramatic effect I was after.
There are a couple of things you need to be aware of with a lens this big. The first is that it encompasses so much that you need to pull your eye away from the viewfinder momentarily to check that the full frame is clear of unwanted people or elements. At 17mm things will shrink from view in your viewfinder that will be quite visible in a print that's enlarged to 11x14 or larger. You also need to be especially aware of your horizon and whether the film plane of your camera is parallel to the scene. If it is, this lens renders straight lines straight without distortion (left). Get it wrong and trees will be curving into or out of your photo at the upper edges. Trust me, I made this mistake more than once.
The lens takes a standard 77mm filter size, so it will swap filters happily with your other Nikon pro lenses. A pleasant surprise was that our slides showed no vignetting with a polarizer - even at 17mm. But stacking filters (which we didn't get a chance to try) might cause some slight vignetting.
Another pleasant surprise was that even at these wide angles, this lens showed no signs of flare with or without the scalloped HB-23 hood which is included. Credit Nikon's use of ED glass. It focused quickly and quietly, as you'd expect with an AFS lens. You have the option of touching up focus manually if you choose, or switching the lens to manual only. Focus is internal so there is no rotation of the front of the lens, a blessing for those using polarizers or graduated filters.
You expect a pro lens in this price range to produce tack sharp images and this lens delivers. All images were sharp, showing great detail, and as a result of the wide angle, tremendous depth of field. No compromises here.
As for the feel of the lens, both zoom and focus rings are well damped and operate smoothly, their rubberized grips providing good purchase. The aperture ring moves into place with a positive feel and an audible click. The M/MA switch which switches between manual focus and autofocus with manual override is a bit stiff to keep you from bumping it accidentally but clicks over smoothly when engaged.
But you do pay a price for all this optical performance. There's a lot of glass in this lens. It packs a little over a pound and a half into a small package that feels a touch front heavy. Nothing terrible but it does take a bit of getting used to.
And there is another price to be paid. Street price on this lens is running around $1,500 - $1,650; so while it will weigh down the front of your camera, it will certainly lighten your wallet.
There is no doubt that this is an excellent lens - capable of producing some stunning images. If you're a Nikon user and you're Jonesing for a lens out at the far edge of wide angles we'd have no problems recommending this lens as the way to scratch your itch.
text and photography copyright © 2001 Vivid Light Publishing