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In the early days of zoom lenses, i

The Beginning of the Wide Zoom

In the early days of zoom lenses, i.e. the 1970’s and 1980’s, by far the majority of zooms were the short telephoto type such as 80-200mm/f4. It wasn’t until 1993 before Nikon introduced it first constant f2.8 wide-angle zoom, the 20-35mm/f2.8 AF-D. It covers the highly popular slight wide to super wide range during an era when the 20mm was regarded as a really wide lens for 35mm film.

The Introduction of the 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S

In 1999, when Nikon introduced it first DSLR the D1 with a 16x24mm sensor now called the DX format, they also introduced a new 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S zoom lens mainly to compensate for the small DX sensor. While this new lens can cover the entire 35mm film frame, 17-35 on the D1 is roughly the equivalent of a 25-50mm lens for 35mm film. The initial purpose for the 17-35 was to regain the wide-angle converge on the DX sensor. In fact, for a while one could purchase the 17-35 only along with a D1 body. However, the 17-35mm became a very popular general-purpose wide zoom and is particularly suitable for landscape photography from 35mm film to the current FX sensor DSLRs.

The Ultra Wide Zoom 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S G

In August 2007 when Nikon introduced its first full-35mm-frame DSLR the D3, along with the D300, Nikon also added two new zooms: the 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S and 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S. Those two, in conjunction with the existing 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR lens, provides continuous f2.8 coverage from 14mm all the way to 200mm.

While I have both the 14-24 and 17-35, personally I think the 17-35 is by far the more versatile lens between the two. On an FX body, 17-35mm covers from super wide to a slightly wide lens. That 2x zoom range is extremely convenient to have and can essentially cover all your wide angle needs. It has an aperture ring so that it is fully compatible with all Nikon film SLRs dated back to 1977, and it can accept 77mm front filters such as circular polarizers (mainly for blocking reflections and glare) as well as rectangular graduated-neutral-density filter, both are very popular among landscape photographers.

The 14-24 is an excellent super-wide zoom that has very little barrel distortion even at 14mm. It has Nikon’s latest nano coating so that it is highly flare and ghosting resistant. However, its zoom range is essentially limited to the super-wide range and is missing the very popular 24, 28 and 35mm focal lengths. Therefore, it is best to have it in conjunction with other lenses such as a 24-70mm/f2.8. It has a bulging front element that is somewhat vulnerable, and that is why it has a built-in, non-removable lens hood around the front to protect it. I have accidentally touched that front element a few times but fortunately all I needed to do was to clean the lens. However, a major side effect is that it is impossible to use any front filter on this lens, which can be an issue for a lot of landscape photographers. Unlike some Nikon fisheye lenses that also have a bulging front, this lens also has no rear gel filter slot either.

While the 17-35 provides very good corner-to-corner performance all the way down to 17mm, the 14-24 is even a bit better in where they overlap. This lens really shines in the ultra-wide range.

My recommendation is that for by far the majority of photographers, the 17-35 can be the only wide-angle lens they need on the FX format, although they can perhaps add a fisheye. The 14-24 is mainly for those who love ultra-wides; for them, this is a wonderful lens. However, you’ll still need a more moderate wide lens to cover those more common focal lengths.

At this point both the 14-24mm/f2.8 and 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S are available. There are rumors that production for the 17-35 has already stopped, but it is certainly still in stock at various camera stores.

A More Affordable Option

Besides the constant f2.8 wide zooms, Nikon also has an 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-D. It is slower but at around $500, it is a more affordable option.

The DX Option