Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8G ED Wide-Angle Lens Hands-on Review

Here's my hands-on review of the Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8G ED fast, wide-angle prime as a travel photography lens.

I’ve been intrigued by the Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8G lens for a while. I like wide, fast, primes. My stuck-on-a-desert-island lens is the Nikon 24mm ƒ/1.4G. but there are times that I’d love to reach for a something a bit wider without going whole hog into the distorted world of the 16mm fisheye. And as much as I’ve tried, I just never have been able to get into using the 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 consistently for travel photography–I’ve always just found it too bulky and cumbersome to justify a place in my main travel kit, and most of the time I end up leaving it at home when hitting the road. Back when I was shooting film, I used to love using a trusty Nikon 20mm f/4 AI manual focus, a wonderful lens I originally learned about from admiring the work of master landscape photographer Galen Rowell–it was one of his staples.

The Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8G has been out for a few years now, but somehow I hadn’t gotten around to shooting with it. I recently got around to fixing that.

With the lens hood attached.

While not quite as fast as the 24mm, this one is close. It’s also physically smaller and lighter, which are plusses for a travel lens. But those virtues do come with some cost. This lens is by no means light and flimsy, but at the same time it doesn’t have the rugged built quality of the 24mm, a lens that has taken a lot of knocks on my travels and is still going strong.

First, the basics: Its formal name is the AF-S NIKKOR 20mm ƒ/1.8G ED. It’s a 20mm prime with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and a minimum aperture of f/16. While it’s definitely not a pancake lens, it is smaller and lighter than some of the other fast, wide primes. It has two aspherical elements in its design of thirteen elements in eleven groups, it has Nikon’s Silent Wave autofocus system, a 7-blade rounded diaphragm, and it takes 77mm filters. It works with full-frame or cropped sensor bodies; on a DX-sensor camera it has an effective focal length of 30mm, making it a good option for mildly wide photojournalistic style shooting. I’ve been using it on a full-frame Nikon D810.

Design and Build

The 20mm is lighter and smaller than some of the fast 24mm and 35mm primes–and is definitely a lot smaller than Nikon’s 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 zoom. But it’s also significantly bigger than a typical 50mm prime.

It weighs in at around 12.5 ounces (355 grams) and measures a little over 3 inches in length and diameter (3.25 x 3.17 inches / 82.5 x 80.5 mm).

It has two aspherical elements in its design of thirteen elements in eleven groups. The diaphragm is a rounded 7-blade design to encourage smooth bokeh.

It works with full-frame or cropped sensor bodies; on a DX-sensor camera it has an effective focal length of 30mm, making it a good option for mildly wide photojournalistic style shooting.

It takes 77mm filters.

There’s no zoom or optical stabilization, so the only switch on the lens is the manual/auto focus switch.

Shooting with the 20mm ƒ/1.8G

It’s an easy lens to use. By that I don’t just mean that its controls aren’t complicated–I mean the whole package. It’s small and light enough to not be a hassle to take with you. Its focusing isn’t the snappiest I’ve seen on a lens, but it’s quiet and true. I haven’t run into too many quirks that you have to shoot around like distortion, vignetting, lens flaring, or chromatic aberration. It has a useful aperture range, works well in low light, and has pleasant bokeh. And with a close focusing distance of under 8 inches, it can handle subject both near and far or a mix of both. And it’s sharp. Wide open it has the kind of softness and vignetting you’d expect and well within the range I’m comfortable with, but as you step down the aperture those issues recede quite quickly.

In short, it’s just a comfortable lens to use.

Photos Taken with a Nikon 20mm f/1.8

In the hope that it’s useful to someone else to see some photos shot with this lens under real-world conditions, here’s a small selection of sample images I’ve shot with it. I’ve posted a larger collection separately.

All of the photos here were shot on a Nikon D810 in RAW. They were processed in Lightroom, but I haven’t applied any of Lightroom’s lens corrections to them. So any issues like vignetting or chromatic aberration are as shot.

You can click on each image to open a full-size version if you’d like a closer look.

Photo taken with a Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8 lens at ƒ / 1.8.

Photo taken with a Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8 lens at ƒ / 2.2.

Photo taken with a Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8 lens at ƒ / 1.8.

Photo taken with a Nikon 20mm ƒ/1.8 lens at ƒ / 8.0.

What’s in the Box?

In addition to the lens itself, there are front and rear lens caps (models LC77 for the front and LF-4 for the rear), a plastic bayonet hood (model HB-72), and a soft lens pouch (model CL-1015).

AF-S NIKKOR 20 mm ƒ/1.8G ED Instruction Manual

You can find the instruction manual here.

Where to Buy

You can find them at major camera retailers like B&H Photo, Adorama, and Amazon. If you’re in the UK, you can also find them at Jessops.

You can also often find used copies. I buy most of my used photography gear from KEH.

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