After waiting a few months, my Nikon 24mm f/1.4G finally arrived on Friday. Once again, I ventured out to Walt Disney World to give it a first trial run.
What I Want from the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
My purpose in getting the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is the same as it was for my other fast primes – the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. I want outstanding bokeh to isolate subjects, critical sharpness and great color. Low light performance is an added bonus. I'm happy to say that the Nikon 24mm does not disappoint at all.
Some people questioned me as to whether I really needed a 24mm and 35mm fast prime. To be honest, I just didn't know at the time I bought them. Nikon had some great deals on lenses at the time without the usual requirement to purchase a body. I snagged up a bunch of lenses and saved $1,000 over the normal price at B&H. Now that I have them both, I can see how my usage of them will differ.
On a full frame camera, 24mm is wide. During most of my time wandering around Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, it was too wide. I actually found the 35mm lens much more useful as I was still trying to decide my best usage of the 24mm.
They both have the same aperture size and excellent bokeh. The differences between them boil down to focal length, angle of view and filter size. The Nikon 24mm uses a 77mm filter, just like all of my other professional lenses up to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. The 35mm lens uses a 67mm filter thread, though, which leaves it as the odd man out for some creative endeavors.
I find that the quality of images from Nikon's Prime Trifecta to be outstanding, so the difference boils down to using that quality in different situations. I wanted the Nikon 85mm for portraits, and I find the 35mm is my preference for environmental portraits. The 24mm lens, at least from my initial testing with it, is for grandeur. I'll show you what I mean at the end.
Look behind Buzz Lightyear and the annoying little water bottle and you'll see some great bokeh breaking up a busy background. The lights resolve into pleasant circles and the rest of the scene fades away into a creamy blur. Yet, all of the foreground elements are still sharp and in focus. On the other hand, there's a good bit of vignetting along the edges at f/1.4. It seems to clear up by f/2.8. That leaves me wanting to compare background isolation at f/2.8 between this lens and my Nikon 24-70mm lens. I didn't buy this lens to shoot at the same focal length and aperture of a lens I already own, but now I'm curious how they render the same scene.
I took this as a test shot while waiting for the Main Street Electrical Parade to begin so I could evaluate my exposure. First, this lens is a light magnet. The scene is much brighter than what I saw just sitting there. The second thing that surprised me was the color. The sky was a dull, overcast and dark grey due to the storms in Central Florida. What I got out of the camera (above) was much more desirable than reality.
Everything from the color of the sky to the backlight on the streets was much more vibrant than reality. That tells me I can pick up details in circumstances where it doesn't appear that I should have a shot. Sometimes it's worthwhile to give it a shot instead of talking yourself out of it.
Low Light Performance
The Haunted Mansion is nearly impossible to shoot because it is the Mack Daddy of dark rides. Your eyes adjust better than any camera (which is in stark contrast to what I experienced on Main Street). It's difficult to find enough light to even focus on anything you see, much less get anything usable as a result. I shot this at f/1.4 and ISO 25,600. It's cropped down and I've run it through noise reduction. Not perfect, but I'm amazed to get anything in that dark environment. Having a shorter focal length helps eliminate camera shake, but there was a lot of empty space around the original image.
Another low light example that surprised me was on Main Street with a shot of balloons.
To the naked eye, these balloons looked rather lifeless and poorly lit. I snapped a shot anyway and was surprised to find they did a great job of reflecting light from the buildings. It's also an example of how you can use a wide angle lens to push in on a subject and still get the surrounding environment to put it in context.
Wide open shots are not the sharpest part of your lens, which is why I'm pleased with the results from this shot. As with the gargoyle shot on my 35mm First Look, this one went through Photoshop. I thought I would show this guy as it would appear in a final result to keep some continuity with the previous first look post.
While I like the sharpness on my subject, I'm a bit concerned about that blue tint added to the trees in the background on the right. I'll have to do a bit more testing to see if and when issues like that appear.
At the beginning of the day, I was thinking this lens was too wide. By the end of the day, I found it's purpose. You may recall that I said it was “grandeur” earlier in the post, but I didn't really explain. Well, this is what I mean.