Thursday, July 9, 2009

ultrawide day lens review 1: Nikon AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G

Introduced as a companion lens to the D5000, the AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G now becomes the widest rectilinear lens (15-36 equivalent) in the Nikon stable, ousting the former AFS 12-24/4 DX. It doesn't bear the gold ring though, which suggests somewhat lower expectations might be in order.

Like all of our equipment reviews, this one will be from a practical photographer's standpoint and experience. There won't be 100% crops or resolution charts unless there are some real optical exceptions going on; go to DPR or SLR Gear for that. I'm more interested in how the lens draws when I'm trying to make images with it, not how many lines it resolves or whether f5 is sharper than f5.6.

Rain, Mumbai
Nikon D90, AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G

Optical performance

Although the spec sheet reads suspiciously like the Tamron 10-24/3.5-4.5, the internal configuration is different: 14 elements in 9 groups against 12 elements in 9 groups for the Tamron. This is a good thing, because the Tamron is a bit of a dog. Unfortunately, the Nikon 10-24 doesn't come close to the AFS 12-24/4 DX, let alone the AFS 14-24/2.8 N. The two samples I tried show serious concave field curvature, most noticeable at the wide end. This is to say that if you use the center point on a subject at infinity, the corners will be soft. But if you use the edge points, then the depth of field takes care of the center and the whole lot looks pretty decent. Just to make sure it wasn't the camera's AF system out of whack, we tried it on two D90 bodies to be sure - both of which focus perfectly with other lenses - still no dice.

The good news is that when properly focused, sharpness is decent from wide open, but peaks around the point where diffraction starts taking over - f11 or so on a 12MP DX body.

The bad news is that there is quite a lot of lateral chromatic aberration on corner highlights, and some seriously weird higher order distortion going on: this isn't a lens you'll be able to correct for using the Camera Raw tools.

Contrast improves markedly when stopped down, suggesting internal flare.

No point talking about bokeh because you can't throw anything out of focus with a lens this wide and slow.

Interestingly, though billed as a DX only lens, the 10-24 will cover the full FX frame from 15mm upwards with some vignetting. As you might have expected, the corners are crap though.

Crap, that was my stop! Mumbai
Nikon D90, AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G

AF performance

It's fast enough, given infinity to close focus (a bit under 0.24m) is barely a sixth of a turn. More worrying is that with the D90, autofocusing on a subject at infinity yields anywhere between 5m and infinity on the ring scale - the depth of field is just so great that precise focusing is tricky. At least it has a distance scale, though.

Catching up on the news
Nikon D90, AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G

Build quality

Plastic, all plastic. I suspect some of the lens elements are plastic too ("moulded hybrid aspherical"). The front takes 77mm filters and the same hood as the 12-24, 17-35 and 18-35; not quite deep enough and a pain to store because it's so wide. You'll need it though, because this thing flares like the Shuttle on landing. The lens mount is metal, and the zoom ring is rubberized, though the focusing ring is urethane-coated plastic. Said urethane coating isn't terribly durable because it's already peeling and I don't remember storing the lens together with anything else in the same compartment. There is a rear gasket, though I doubt the rest of the lens is sealed. In short: standard Nikon consumer-grade, though it appears the focusing ring is a bit worse than normal. (I've never seen the urethane coat peel before).

Taxi man, Mumbai
Nikon D90, AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G


At US$850 new here, I'd skip this one and get the older 12-24/4 second hand for bout US$700 instead. It's better built, optically much better (sharp into the corners, minimal lateral CA, no field curvature) and you don't give up that much on the wide end. The 10-24 is in no-man's land: it's expensive, not as good as alternatives (the Tokina 11-16/2.8 comes to mind - it's all metal AND f2.8!) and used value is likely to plummet like a brick once people discover the older one is better. Buy it only if you absolutely need 10mm on DX - since such people are far and few between, and usually shoot professionally, I'd suggest the 14-24 on a D700 instead. Personally, all my wide needs are served by the excellent Voigtlander 15/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar Asph II (to be the subject of another review) on the M8, which has none of this optical silliness and is about the same size as a Nikon rear lens cap.

Reflections, Goa
Nikon D90, AFS 10-24/3.5-4.5 DX G

No comments:

Post a Comment