Nikon 20mm f/1.8 Review
Every great lens has a story behind it. A story of how it came to be in the artist’s hands, and what made it appreciated and treasured forevermore. This is one of those stories. This is the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G.
The year was 2016, and I was on the hunt for the perfect wide-angle for travelling. I had been through almost every wide-angle lens offering from Nikon, Sigma and Tokina.
Something was always amiss – whether it was edge-sharpness, bad chromatic aberration or the weight of the lens.
I was doing a trip to India with a difference; I was participating in The Rickshaw Run – arguably the dumbest way to travel through India. In monsoon. Unassisted. Dirty and dusty, rough-as-gutsy.
I was shooting on the Nikon D750. My kit needed to be light and discreet. I knew that I would have light-challenging situations and I wanted a lens that could keep up. I needed to be able to shoot hand-held with total sharpness and a quick focus.
Furthermore, dust, wind, rain and harsh conditions meant that I’d never do a gear change.
On a good day, it’d be like a go-kart ride. On a bad day, it’d be like going through a carwash with the windows down. It was the 20mm on the D750 for the entire 15 days on the road.
I had no idea I’d love the lens after everything I was about to put it through.
Nikon 20mm f/1.8 Specs
Nikon have crammed the goods into this one:
- 20mm f/1.8 FX (Full-frame)
- Wide Angle
- Prime Lens
- Nano coating
- Internal Focusing
- 77mm thread
- Weight: 355g
- Under 9cm tall
Nano coating is something I’ve come to look for in a Nikon lens. It provides superior contrast and punchy colours.
This is great in bright shooting conditions, especially outside of golden hours. It also reduces flare and ghosting.
It is symbolized on the lens by the gold N, which appears of all the best Nikon lenses.
Considerations: So many have gone down the path of acquiring the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 over this lens. The reason I didn’t get the Sigma was the weight – at 950g it’s almost a kilo! That was too much when I had to fit everything into two duffel bags.
Build & Ergonomics
At just under 9cm tall, the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G is unassuming in its size and presentation.
It has a simple barrel with your standard Nikon markings, a focal length window and a long-gripped focusing ring. It can be shot in Manual or AutoFocus mode and you can choose which via a simple switch on the edge of the barrel.
The lens has Nikon’s gold-ring of professional goodness, so it’s part of that exclusive drool-worthy lineup of glass.
While the front element is slightly curved, it doesn’t impact the ability to attach extra filters or attachments.
In the box is a lens hood HB-35 and a Nikon-branded soft drawstring sack for keeping the lens in your bag when it’s not in use.
Small and quiet, the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 doesn’t draw attention to itself. It allowed me to blend in (as best as possible) and shoot the action without looking like I had BIG expensive gear in my hand.
As far as shooting with it goes, it feels like it’s almost not even there. The AF is as fast as you’d expect it to be for a wide-angle.
The close focusing distance is exciting for shooters needing to cram as much detail as possible into a photograph.
I stuck my lovely lens into a barber shop and came away with the most priceless expression of the whole trip. This one’s a keeper.
and at 100% crop…
Shooting from the backseat of the Rickshaw was also a treat with the Nikon 20mm f/1.8.
It allowed me to get close but still capture a scene while passing some of India’s characters.
This lens has been updated from its predecessor for the FX sensor, so I can only speak to its performance in this crop.
Lens vignetting is hardly noticeable at f/1.8, and at higher apertures, it disappears.
Distortion is minimal, but this is not unexpected due to the fact that this is a wide-angle lens. In most cases this is easily corrected in post-production.
Bokeh isn’t usually something I’d review on a wide-angle lens, but if you like that softness around a shot at f/1.8, it’s there. Given the short focusing distance of 20cm and infinity after 1 metre, anything shot close will be out of focus rather than bokeh.
Colours with the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 are rich and punchy. This can be changed in post-production, but if straight-out-of-camera is important to you, this lens won’t let you down.
Let’s have a look at some more images from the trip and see how the lens performed.
If you wish to read more about my trip to India and the Rickshaw Run, browse to my blog and scroll back to August 2016.
Nikon 20mm f/1.8 Review | Conclusion
Fast-forward to 2019. It’s three years later and I can say for certain that I am still loving this lens. In fact, I have put my Nikon 16-35mm f/4 aside in favor of the 20mm f/1.8 as my primary landscape lens.
It now takes pride and place in my kit, especially for shooting, well, everything.
The reasons I purchased this lens all those years ago still stand true. Versatility, portability and the quality of the images it produces on both cameras is still excellent.
Having upgraded to the Nikon D850, this lens shows its worth with the high-resolution sensor and proves itself daily as to why it’s still in my bag. It took a beating in India, but it keeps on going.
This lens is fast enough for wide-angle action shots at weddings, inside at low-light such as concerts or events, and as always, front and centre for a landscape.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It blows its competitors out of the water on weight alone.
It’s sharp, easy to stash in a bag for travel and accepts filter attachments. What more could you want?!
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.