Nikon 20mm f/1.8G Review: A Comprehensive Overview

Contents

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Overview

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED is a wide-angle prime lens with a large angle of view that’s ideal for landscape, architecture, environmental photography, and astrophotography.

The box contains the lens and useful accessories. The LC77 front lens cap and an LF-4 rear lens cap protect your equipment when it’s not in use. When you’re shooting, you can use the HB-72 lens hood. The CL-1015 soft lens pouch is perfect for carrying it around safely.

Specifications

Here are the f/1.8G ED’s specs.

  1. Mount type: Nikon F-Bayonet
  2. Focal length: 20mm
  3. Maximum aperture: f/ 1.8
  4. Minimum aperture: f/ 16
  5. Format: FX/35mm
  6. Maximum angle of view (DX-format): 70°
  7. Maximum angle of view (FX-format): 94°
  8. Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.23x
  9. Lens elements: 13
  10. Lens groups: 11
  11. Diaphragm blades: 7
  12. Nano crystal coat: Yes
  13. ED glass elements: 2
  14. Aspherical elements: 2
  15. Super integrated coating: Yes
  16. Autofocus: Yes
  17. AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
  18. Minimum focus distance: 0.66 ft. ( 0.2m)
  19. Focus mode: Auto, Manual
  20. Filter size: 77mm
  21. Accepts filter type: Screw-on
  22. Approx. dimensions (diameter x length): 3.2 in. (82.5 mm) x 3.1 in. (80.5 mm)
  23. Approx. weight: 12.6 oz. (355 g)

Lens Features

The lens has 13 elements, including some special ones. Two aspherical lens elements counter spherical aberration issues. Another two elements are extra-low dispersion, increasing sharpness and contrast.

The aperture ring has seven blades, which is pretty typical for lenses of this line.

Handling

The construction is standard for Nikkor prime lenses. The exterior is polycarbonate with a metal mount. A rubber gasket on the lens mount keeps dust out of the camera. Don’t underestimate the plastic construction – the polycarbonate holds as well as metal does and is much less likely to dent.

Handling-wise, it feels solid to hold, just like any Nikon lens. If you’re hand-holding your camera, supporting the lens barrel in your off-hand feels comfortable.

Note the dimensions and weight – this is a small, light lens. Most 16mm-35mm zoom lenses are twice as heavy and a lot bulkier. In contrast, you can comfortably toss the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED into just about any kit. In other words, you can carry this wide-angle lens everywhere you go.

Focus

The focus ring is nice and thick, so manual focus adjustment is quite easy. However, the lens has very little “focus throw”, as the focus ring only covers 80 degrees. Even small motions on the ring can knock the lens out of focus.

You can toggle between manual focus and automatic with a switch on the side of the lens. Auto focus with manual focus override is marked MA, while full manual focusing is marked M.

The f/1.8G ED uses Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor technology, which lives up to its name. The lens also focuses very quickly – going from near focus to infinity takes only 0.5 seconds. Focusing accuracy is quite good overall.

Aperture And Shooting Quality

This is what you read Nikon 20mm 1.8 reviews for. How well does it shoot?

Let’s start with the max aperture. f/1.8 is a lot more open than other wide-angle lenses in this category. With an aperture this large, you can create a very shallow depth of field. You also get better low-light performance compared to similar wide-angle lenses.

But aperture size isn’t the only consideration. We also have to consider how well the f/1.8G ED shoots, depending on the aperture it’s set to.

Overall quality is pretty good. The f/1.8G ED captures the best sharpness in the range of f/2.8 to f/5.6. An aperture of f/4 produces the sharpest centers, while the middles and corners are best at f/5.6. Keep this in mind while you’re shooting. You can certainly use the other apertures as your shot requires, but if you’re concerned about sharpness, setting the lens to an aperture in that range will serve you best.

Be careful when shooting at f/1.8. At that aperture, the lens captures average sharpness and has vignetting problems, especially when set to infinity focus. If you want that effect, however, by all means, use the aperture.

Bokeh

The Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED is an interesting choice for bokeh. Wide-angle lenses are not normally the first choice for bokeh, as it wastes their excellent depth of field. Further, the f/1.8G ED’s aspherical lens elements distort background elements, turning them onion-shaped.

On the other hand, the lens’ fast aperture is a plus and out-of-focus highlights look excellent. The Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED shoots these highlights better than zoom lenses and lower-end primes, even when it’s stopped down.

One more consideration is the close focusing distance. Remember, the f/1.8G ED can only go to 0.4 meters (1.3 feet) before it hits infinity. With this in mind, you’ll have to stand at closer distances to your subject to isolate them from the background.

So, should you use the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED for bokeh? It does produce surprisingly good bokeh for a wide-angle prime lens, so if you see the opportunity, don’t hesitate. The results may be better than you’re expecting.

Filters

The Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED accepts 77mm filters onto a filter thread in front of the lens. This is a great advantage over other lenses of similar focal length because they either don’t accept filters at all or only take 82mm filters. 77mm is a much more common size.

Another benefit from a filter perspective is that the f/1.8G ED has a rear-focusing system. All the moving elements are in the rear of the lens, so you won’t need to readjust your filters after you change focus.

There’s one minor weakness, though. The filter thread is plastic, so be careful when you’re switching out filters as overuse may wear out the thread.

Corrective Features

A good lens can correct any potential distortions that come up in shooting. This section of our Nikon 20mm 1.8 review will break down how the lens does this.

Chromatic Aberration

The f/1.8G ED has some degree of lateral chromatic aberration, but this is easily corrected. Minor post-production work will take care of that, and the most recent Nikon cameras with JPEG capability will do it automatically.

Longitudinal aberration is also present, with a shift toward green behind the focus point and toward magenta in front of it. This is typical for a lens like the f/1.8G ED, but it’s much more difficult to remove than lateral chromatic aberration. We recommend shooting at f/4 to minimize the problem.

Lens Flare

The Nikon Nano Crystal Coat helps reduce ghosting and lens flare. Shooting against a bright light source won’t have much effect on the image, but a light source in the corner will still produce some flare. Mind how you frame your shots, and don’t forget to snap on the lens hood as needed.

Barrel Distortion

Barrel distortion is about 1.06%, which is about the same as Nikon’s other wide-angle lenses. This is easy enough to fix. Lightroom has a lens profile for the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED already included, or your camera can do it. Nikon’s newer range of cameras automatically fixes barrel distortion on their own. On the whole, this isn’t much of a problem.

Use Cases

An important part of this Nikon 20mm f/1.8 review is going into what it’s good at.

As a wide-angle lens, the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED has a large field of view and excellent focus. If you’re an architecture or landscape photographer, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of it. Other possible large-composition shots are big crowds and events, as well as portrait shots where you capture the background along with your subject. Wide-angle and ultrawide lenses do well in all these applications.

However, this also means that their performance isn’t as good when you’re trying to focus on one element out of a large composition or shooting a specific subject from far away. Consider what kind of photos you’re going to take before you invest in the f/1.8G ED.

Macro Shots

The combination of focal length and angle of view means that you can get close to a subject while still capturing the scene they’re in. It’s almost kind of like macro photography, another area where the f/1.8G ED produces great results despite not being strictly a macro lens.

Videos

Videographers and vloggers can also get good use out of the 20mm f/1.8G ED. It’s nice and light, so you won’t get tired as easily when carrying it around. There’s no chromatic aberration when shooting into the sun and very little lens flare, making it easier to use in brightly-lit areas. 

The short focal length isn’t as much of a disadvantage, either, especially for vloggers. The large angle of view lets more of the scene into the frame than other lenses with longer focal lengths.

However, the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED does have some focus breathing, which may be an obstacle for videographers. Try it out first to see if it’s a deal-breaker.

Comparing Nikon 20mm Lenses

Nikon offers a similar lens, the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S. We’re going to take a look at how it compares with the f/1.8G ED. We’ll refer to them as S and G, respectively.

The S is a professional-grade lens, while the G is more of an amateur lens. The S is a lot more expensive than the G, costing over $1,000, while the G typically isn’t priced at more than $800.

There are, of course, some similarities. Both have the same focal length, max aperture, and compatibility with 77mm filters.

Performance-wise, the S outstrips the G in almost every way. The S, with the aperture set to f/1.8, is just around as sharp in the center as the G at f/4. Corner sharpness is also excellent with the S – its worst corners are only a little below the G’s best corners.

The biggest difference is the lens mount. The S is a Z-mount lens, which means that you have to have a Nikon Z-series camera to mount it. It cannot be adapted to any other camera system currently on the market. On the other hand, the G uses the older Nikon F-mount, and plenty of adaptors allow a Z-series to take F-mount lenses. If you have a Z-series, you can use both lenses. If not, you can only use the G lens.

The Final Verdict

After reading through our Nikon 20mm 1.8/G review, what’s the verdict?

Overall, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED is an excellent, easy-to-use wide-angle lens. Optically, it provides excellent image quality and any faults are easily corrected in post-processing.

Despite being a wide-angle prime lens, it can do well outside of its ostensible niche of landscape and architecture photography. Its ability to create a shallow depth of field and capture large compositions means that it can also do well with macro photography and portraits.

Even better, it brings all of this capability in a small, portable, easy-to-carry package. There may be other lenses that deliver sharper performance, but it’s rare to find something so capable, so versatile, and yet so light as the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED.

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