The Nikon landscape lens dilemma

The Nikon landscape lens dilemma
By Robert on 01 Nov, 2014

The bane of all landscape shooting Nikon 14-24 f2.8 owners is the inability to use creative filters on the front due to the lack of filter thread, permanent hood and rather bulbous lens glass. Finding myself as a 14-24 f2.8 owner in that same position I admit this dilemma caused many months of head scratching and soul searching before I found my solution.

For all those who don't like reading here is the lens solution I chose...the Nikkor 16-35 f4.
Anyone else who would like to hear what I based my decision on should read on.

Nikon FX cameras leave us with really only three wide angle lenses to choose from.
Those being:

Nikon 14-24 f2.8
Nikon 16-35 f4
Nikon 17-35 f2.8

The dilemma isn't made easy with the fact that the 14-24 2.8 is one seriously awesome lens. It's super wide...I mean extreeeme wide, unbelievably sharp and handles distortion very well for the level of wideness it achieves. Personally I love this lens even with it?s filter issue and weight similar to that of a large brick, but feeling creatively restricted when out in the field I decided a solution was needed for wide angles shots with filters. I mostly found myself resorting to using my Nikon Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 for landscape photography, which is a fantastic lens for general photography and specifically portraits, but I found the 24mm frequently too long for many of the shots I was taking. Trying to get nice foreground interest into a picture was difficult in many situations as they were mostly out of the frame.

My first thought was the special system from Lee specifically designed for the 14-24 but there are many reasons stacked against buying into this extra system. The first is that it is just that... an extra system, meaning that I would then need to carry two separate filter systems with me in the field, my standard 100mm Lee system and identical filters in the 150mm format, which makes for plenty more weight to carry around in my back-pack. The second is that the price tag, as with most Lee products is really, really hefty and they are virtually never in stock....anywhere. I just couldn't see that this system would be a solution and I believe Lee don't make a Big Stopper in the 150mm format which is a filter I love to use.

This reduced my choice to two alternative lenses, the Nikkor 16-35 f4 and the 17-35 f2.8.
Anyone in a similar position will probably have searched the net and found a myriad of conflicting opinions between these two lenses...making the choice really quite hard. Not having the luxury of being able to thoroughly test drive both lenses my decision had to be built upon research and then the plunge, a tried and tested system of mine but so many conflicting opinions on the net made this hard. The main thing for me is both of these lenses have a 77mm filter thread meaning I could attach my complete current Lee filter system.

Nikon 17-35 f2.8 vs Nikon 16-35 f4

The Nikon 17-35 f2.8
I admit my finger hovered over the Ebay 'Place bid' button on more than one occasion, but I felt an inhibition to finally click. Whilst being a professional lens with proven track record there were some things which concerned me. The first is that I have never used my 14-24 f2.8 outside wide open at f2.8. It's an unbelievable lens for indoor work, such as photographing cathedrals, but for landscapes I'm usually at f8 and above.
The 17-35 is also not the newest of lenses, is widely unavailable in many stores and is quite expensive ranging from around the £900 to £1400 mark. That felt like a lot of money for what felt like a slightly dated lens with a f2.8 aperture I probably wouldn't use.
Image quality was obviously a concern and I had found content on the web about how soft this lens is around the edges at around 17mm which was probably the biggest factor for me against this lens.

The Nikon 16-35 f4
Being a newer model and not having the f2.8 max aperture I felt like this could be a better alternative to the 17-35. I'd read Ken Rockwell's review claiming it to be even better than the 14-24 but in comparison found articles claiming it to be a lot softer.
I also like that extra millimetre against the 17mm which admittedly isn't much, but when your back is up against a wall then every mm counts.
Probably the biggest thing stacked against this lens is the apparently huge distortion at 16mm and the use of plastics for the body parts instead of the metal of the 'professional' range of Nikkor lenses I was used to.

Eventually after many moons of research and deliberation I opted for the 16-35 f4.

The purchase and first impressions.

I decided the f2.8 aperture for landscape photography was unnecessary and that I could manage the distortion at around 16mm in post-production quite easily. The 16-35 comes in a little cheaper too at around £830 which was nice but at the time of purchase was hard to track down in the shops. As with most Nikon lens products, once out of stock a fairly long delivery time can be expected, but after ringing around I found a shop with one in stock.

First impression out of the box was how light it was on comparison the the 14-24 2.8, due to the fact that it has considerably less glass and the plastic body components. Whilst I didn't really mind lugging the 14-24 brick with me, this reduction will certainly please my knees on longer walks.
After the first test shots I can confirm that the image quality is every bit as good as the 14-24, in fact I can't fault the images at all. The distortion at 16mm is there but isn't as bad as I expected and can be easily addressed using Lightrooms Lens Correction tool.

All in all I feel I made the right choice and I hope this insight into my thoughts helps others with the same dilemma.

There is an update to this blog post which you can read here

Robert Rhead

About Robert Rhead

Robert Rhead is a English landscape photographer, UX/UI designer, web developer and graphic designer. He currently holds the LRPS certificate from the Royal Photographic Society, has won English and international photography awards and has featured in various high-profile photography and lifestyle magazines.