I have never owned the 14-24 or the 17-35, but wanted a great wide lens for scenics and just because wide is fun if used correctly. My problem was this. When looking at my scenics in Lightroom, I measured the focal length average for keepers over around 5 years. I converted crop to full frame and found that my sweet spot was 24mm. With the 14-24, I'd always be fighting that. I'd always be forced to swap lenses when I tried to go beyond that sweet spot. I need range on both sides of 24mm to be happy. Make sense? That left me with the 17-35 or a prime lens until the release of this new lens. I rented a 17-35 and tried the 20 f/2.8 and 24 f/2.8 and was just not convinced by any of them. I also wanted a pro-quality build. I had planned a trip to the Grand Tetons for June and was going to buy the 24 f/2.8 because I'd run out of ideas when Nikon released this 16-35 f/4.
Prior to this, I've never purchased any piece of equipment without reading everything and allowing the reviews to come out. This time I prepaid and ordered. With trepidation I awaited my new lens. Let me tell you. I should not have worried. This has been one of my best purchases since I switched to Nikon in 1968. I don't pixel peep and don't need to with my copy. It's razor sharp edge to edge at f/5.6 and beyond until around f/16. The only negatives for me are high purple fringing in the far corners at 16 f/4 which are easy to fix during processing. Nikon does it for you if you shoot JPeg, which I don't of course, but all software does it very easily. Mostly, I don't shoot quite that wide or wide open anyway.
This lens almost stayed glued to my D700 during my trip out west and I was extremely happy with its performance in all ways. We Nikon owners have been asking Nikon for constant aperture f/4 zooms with a pro-build like Canon's f/4 L glass for a long time. Nikon is finally answering. Let me tell you about the build of this lens. You've got a magnesium weather sealed body on the 16-35 f/4. The dampening of both the zoom ring and the focus ring feels like the old days or like my 85 f/1.4. I didn't mind shooting in the driving rain and sleet at over 10,000 feet. It was flawless. I don't use protective filters to degrade my images either.
Did I need f/2.8? No. With the clean low light performance of Nikon's full frame cameras and the fact that landscape photographers stop down anyway, one stop slower lens for $500 less money is a bargain, in my mind.
The color, contrast and acuity were perfect as well. There is some barrel distortion at 16mm, but I actually like that a little. Our eyes curve the horizon naturally, and it's not too bad. When I don't want it, both Capture NX and Photoshop CS5 remove barrel distortion almost automatically. Hold the lens parallel and it's pretty much gone at 17mm. I sometimes add a little in post when I like it. In fact, I own a 10.5 fisheye for my D300 and was thinking about a 16mm fish for FX, but this lens allows that look if I want it in post when I add extra distortion.
In use, many improperly use a wide lens like this. They buy it to "get everything in" the picture. That usually gives you fairly boring images. Properly used a wide lens allows you to climb right up into your subject and show depth and space from front to rear... uncompress the subject. It allows this with the depth of field that is needed for this kind of view. You have to make sure and get in tight so as not to have useless background in the image. Even when shooting landscapes, this holds true.
Finally, and this is subjective. There are a few lenses in my kit I consider magical in some way or another. My 60 f/2.8 G Micro, my 85 f/1.4 AFD, my old AI-converted 105 f/2.5, and my 300 f/2.8 AFS VR all fall into this magical category for me. The new 16-35 f/4 AFS VR, so far, is heading for that category in my kit. We will see.
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