I have been very fortunate to shoot with the 14-24AFS since their announcement with the D3. While I’ve had the most time with the 24-70AFS, it’s the 14-24AFS I have fallen head over heels for. Yeah, that’s not really a technical review or any type of user report comment, but having a 14mm in the arsenal again is like having your cake and eating it too! This is one sweet, versatile lens! It feels so good in the hand, very well balanced and a barrel diameter that easily slips into the palm. The lens barrel is all metal with the scalloped lens shade sounding like the same dense material as the shade on the 24-70AFS. Both the zoom and focusing ring have that stiff, smooth feel Nikon lenses of old were known for.
The 14-24AFS is a IF lens, but the massive front element travels back and forth between 14-24mm. When zoomed to 14mm, the front element is extended out all the way to the front of the shade. The 14-24AFS has a new design feature, high-performance Nikon Super Integrated Coating in conjunction with Nano Crystal Coat which does reduce flare. I compared the flaring of the 14-24AFS to the 14AF and without a doubt, the flaring was less in the 14-24AFS and occurred later, at a slightly greater angle than in the old 14mm. But it is not “flareless.” The scalloped lens shade is maxed out on coverage at 14mm, it leaves no room for your hand to add any greater shading.
The front scalloped shade also does not accept any filtration (you can see I have it protected with a LensCoat and use their Hoodie for a lens cap). You can’t use a 4×6 split grad either. The shape of the shade which you can see below does not permit the filter to lay flat against the front element. The scalloped shade shape permits light to stray in from the rear of the filter. This in turn causes a ghosting or flare reflection to be seen by the lens. While you can’t compact the exposure using a split grad, there are other methods. Shooting with the D3 for example, you have the advantage of utilizing its Active D-Lighting (Shooting Menu) which does extend the range of exposure (but does take buffer space and may introduce noise) which only slightly helps not being able to use a split grad. Taking two images, one for shadow detail and one for highlight and merging them in Photoshop is a snap with this lens since registration is dead on (High-Low Merge).
The 14-24AFS is not, not a lightweight lens. Weighing in at 35oz (over 2lbs!), you’d best have you handholding technique down pat. I mention this because the 14-24AFS screams for precise placement for killer photographs. Excellent handholding technique along with using the Virtual Horizon in the viewfinder makes the 14-24AFS a great working tool.
What about sharpness? I pushed the 14-24AFS, shooting it from its minimum focusing distance of 9” to infinity and every point in between at every focal length. I can honestly say the edge to edge sharpness is what Nikon is legendary for producing. I remember seeing a portrait long ago taken with a Nikkor 55f3.5 where you could count every hair in the moustache and see every sun bitten pour on the cowboys face. You shoot with this lens, you’d better brush up on your Photoshop retouching skills because the 14-24AFS splits the hairs and shows all the grandeur in a subject just like that 55f3.5. The combination of the lens’ quality and the quality in the D3 file simply takes my breath away.
What about distortion? Shooting wide at 14mm, you might be worried about barrel or edge distortion. At its minimum focusing distance to infinity, I pushed photos with straight elements at the edge of the frame. It’s not perfect for folks real up close but with a small distance or at 20mm, the nose doesn’t grow. It was total fun seeing these images in the viewfinder with straight lines. After about two weeks of pushing the 14-24AFS to the extreme in this regard and it proving itself, I never hesitated to use the lens to its extreme. Compared to the older 14mm, the 14-24AFS has the same if not better performance in regards to distortion. Don’t confuse the leaning in of straight lines when you point the lens up or down as distortion. That’s just perspective.
You might have read in the 14-24AFS press release about “Engineered to Nikon professional D-SLR standards to effectively resist dust and moisture.” I can report that I put this statement to the test in Montana during a couple of rain and a snow storm (and a bunch of dust photographing bighorn sheep). The lens took a licking and permitted me to keep on clicking.