The Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED ($1,080 direct) delivers the widest angle of any zoom lens for Nikon’s APS-C D-SLR camera system. It delivers a field of view that’s equal to a 15-36mm lens in traditional 35mm photography. Shooting at a 15mm angle isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of an ultra-wide perspective, it’s a lens to consider adding to your Nikon kit. The lens is impressively sharp in the center, but it’s not perfect; the edges suffer unless you narrow the aperture, and there’s quite a bit of barrel distortion at the 10mm focal length. Also, it’s on the pricey side if you’re the type of photographer who doesn’t often shoot wide.
There’s no quibbling with the build quality. It’s as solid as other modern Nikkor lenses with a metal lens mount and a tough polycarbonate barrel, with rubberized rings for manual focus and zoom adjustment. The 10-24mm itself is rather squat and wide, measuring about 3.4 by 3.3 inches (HD). It weighs in at just over a pound and its big front element is compatible with 77mm filters. There’s no rotation when zooming or adjusting focus, so using a circular polarizing filter is not a problem. The rubberized zoom ring is wide and at the front of the lens, with a narrower manual focus ring behind the focal length markings, closer to the mount. There’s only one control switch, which toggles between manual and autofocus, available. There’s no built-in stabilization, but that’s typical for such a wide angle design.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the lens when paired with the full-frame Nikon D800. The 10-24mm doesn’t cover the full-frame sensor, so we set the D800 to its 15-megapixel DX crop mode for testing. It is possible to shoot the lens on a full-frame body without this crop mode, but that delivers images with extremely soft edges that give way to a black vignette in the areas of the frame that the lens doesn’t project light onto. It can be a neat effect for the right image as you can see from some of our sample photos, but our choice of an FX body was simply because we don’t have a Nikon DX body in the lab at this time.
A score of 1,800 lines per picture height using a center-weighted testing method is what we require for a photo to be considered sharp. The 10-24mm betters that number at 10mm f/3.5, notching 1,897 lines, but that’s largely in part due to a very, very sharp center (2,342 lines). The outer edges of the frame are a noticeably blurry 660 lines. Stopping down to f/5.6 brings the edge quality up to 1,277 lines, and they hit 1,428 lines at f/8. The average sharpness of the frame is around 2,300 lines at both of those apertures. Barrel distortion is also an issue at 10mm; the lens shows 4.8 percent. This can give images a mild fish-eye look, but it’s fairly easy to correct—if you use Lightroom as a workflow application you’ll be able to do so with a single click. Soft edges and wide-angle distortion aren’t anything new when looking at lenses with such an ambitious field of view; we saw similar results when we tested the Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DS HSM, another lens that really needs to be set to f/8 for the best results. The Nikkor isn’t quite as wide, but its center is noticeably sharper and its aperture is more ambitious.
Zooming to 17mm narrows the maximum aperture to f/4. The lens isn’t quite as sharp here, notching just 1,680 lines. Again, the edges are to blame; the center of the frame tops 2,000 lines, but edges hover around 870 lines. It’s a different story at f/5.6, where the overall score hits 2,365 lines and the edges manage 1,663. At f/8 the lens is sharp from edge-to-edge, notching an average score of 2,340 lines. Distortion is a nonissue at this focal length.
At the maximum 24mm focal length the aperture drops down to f/4.5. Average sharpness here is an acceptable 2,026 lines, but edge performance is still weak at just 930 lines. Stopping down to f/5.6 improves the overall score to 2,289 lines and brings the edges up to 1,429 lines. At f/8 the lens manages 2,281 lines across the frame, with tack-sharp 1,881-line edges. Again, distortion isn’t worth talking about.
For most shooters, the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED isn’t a lens that will get every day use. The 15mm-equivalent field of view is great for dramatic wide-angle shots, but it can be a tricky one to use effectively and an even harder focal length to master. We would have liked to have seen better edge sharpness at wider apertures, especially when you consider the $1,080 price tag. And the zoom lens doesn’t really impress until stopped down to f/8. That’s not out of the ordinary for a lens that goes this wide, but if you crave an ultra-wide perspective it’s a limitation to take into account when capturing images. The Sigma 8-16mm lens is another option if you want to go even wider, but it’s not as sharp as the Nikon lens.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc