Photography / Hands-on Review

Wide-Angle Zooms for Nikon DX: 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 versus 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5

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While strolling through Midtown Manhattan with my family over the weekend, we stopped for a few minutes at the courtyard of the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, the main branch of the New York Public Library. It was one of those moments during the golden hour in which the light was hitting the architecture just right, and I’d wished I’d had my camera with me. This library never stood out to me as a prime subject to photograph, but now I’d seen it in a new light (pun intended). So, on Monday, when I was asked to review the new Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens, I knew exactly where I was headed to test it.

Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens

As a proud owner of the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5, I was pretty surprised to see that Nikon was offering a DX wide angle zoom for less than half the price of that lens, even if it is somewhat slower and a not quite as long. The truth is, I don’t need my wide-angle lenses to be super fast anyway, since I’m mostly shooting landscapes and architecture, and mostly on a tripod. I was curious to see how this new and affordable 10-20mm stacked up against the 10-24mm in other ways, such as sharpness, autofocus speed, and size.

Once I received the lens, I was pleased to find it quite small, and light. Weighing slightly more than 8 oz, the 10-20mm feels as light as a feather, versus the 16-oz 10-24mm to which I'm used accustomed. I noticed that the 10-20mm has a 72mm filter thread, rather than the 77mm thread on the 10-24mm. So, I picked up a 72-100mm adapter ring, to allow me to use my 100mm filter holder and ND filter set with the 10-20mm lens.

Despite its wide field of view, the lens is equipped with Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization. While it’s not quite as important with a wide-angle lens as it would be with longer focal lengths, image stabilization helps to minimize the appearance of camera shake for sharper handheld shooting. This feature marks an advantage over the 10-24mm.

The 10-20mm also features the pulse stepping motor autofocus system, as indicated by the “AF-P” in its name. I immediately noticed its fast, quiet, and smooth focusing performance, which is a benefit for video and photo applications. My 10-24mm uses the less quiet, less smooth Silent Wave Motor “AF-S” system, so I noticed the difference right away.

Architectural Photographs © J. Tables

Regarding its optical design, three aspherical elements are used to control spherical aberrations and distortion throughout the zoom range for sharpness and clarity. Additionally, a Super Integrated Coating has been applied to control lens flare and ghosting when working in strong lighting conditions. In practice, the lens is very sharp, even wide open, although I found it the sharpest in the f/8-f/11 range.

When I first arrived at the library, I found the composition I saw the last time from the courtyard area. It was a view up some pillars on the side of the building, with some trees at the top of the frame. I noticed some clouds above the building, and I wanted to lengthen my exposure time to capture their movement. So, I set up my compact Manfrotto tripod, screwed the 72-100mm adapter ring on to the lens, and attached my filter holder along with a Lee Big Stopper 10-stop ND filter. Once I had everything attached and set up on the tripod, I really appreciated the small size of the 10-20mm. I often use a smaller-sized tripod, and it can feel a bit unsteady with a larger lens, especially if you’re using square filters. Not an issue with the Nikon 10-20mm.

10mm, 15 seconds, f/13, ISO 100, Lee Big Stopper 10 stop ND

Next, I headed inside the library to capture some of the building’s interior architecture. I love shooting interiors with wide angle lenses, and the Beaux-Arts architecture of the library building seemed to make it a worthy subject. I found a composition that extended down a hallway, with chandeliers on a molded ceiling, and a stained-glass window to the outside, at the end. I took my tripod out of my backpack, and began to mount my camera, when sure enough a security guard came up behind me and asked, “Sir, what you doing?” Apparently, tripods are not permitted inside the library, so I decided to go ahead and shoot handheld from here on in. Did I say I didn’t need my wide-angle lenses to be fast? Whoops. With a maximum aperture of just f/4.5-5.6, I was forced to crank the ISO a bit higher than I would have with my 10-24mm which opens up to f/3.5. Not a huge deal, but not exactly ideal, either. However, the 10-20mm does maintain a fairly high degree of sharpness when shot wide open. The VR image stabilization undoubtedly made a difference here, as well.

After what I considered a successful outing at the library, I headed home and shot a few cityscapes, using the Empire State Building as a subject.

After shooting a few interiors, I went back outside because I wanted to test the lens using some smaller apertures. I wanted to see how well the lens maintained its sharpness at smaller aperture settings, for increased depth-of-field, and for trying out some fun “sun-star” effects. I took some shots of the front of the library, facing the sun, with some buildings in the background and off to the sides. Although the lens was at its sharpest at f/8 or f/9, it remained very sharp at f/10 and f/11. While it was a bit less sharp at settings f/14 and higher when pixel peeping, especially on the edges, it never was in the "unacceptable" range for me. Also, a pretty good sun-star can be made with apertures starting at f/11, thanks to a 7-blade diaphragm. Although, it's not the most "defined" sun-star I’ve ever seen, for lack of a better description.

The Nikon 10-20mm uses three aspherical elements in its optical design to control spherical aberrations and distortion, although I did notice some distortion, especially at shorter focal lengths when shooting buildings and other objects with straight lines. At the time of this article, Adobe Lightroom did not have a correction profile for this lens, which I hope they will have soon. However, there was quite a bit of chromatic aberration that was really noticeable along the edges of buildings, but this was easily corrected using Lightroom’s “remove chromatic aberration” feature.

The Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens does produce chromatic aberration that is really noticeable along the edges of buildings, but this is easily corrected using Lightroom's "remove chromatic aberration" feature.

To wrap up in a word, the Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens offers excellent performance at an extremely affordable price, even sporting some advantages over its more expensive big brother, the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5. I hope you enjoyed this review of the Nikon 10-20mm for DX cameras, please ask any questions you may have about this new lens in the Comments section, below.

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