Some camera lenses stick around for a long time for a simple reason — they were made great in the beginning. This is usually down to nailing the optical qualities, build, and the message getting out that they are extraordinary lenses. One such lens in this camp is the Nikon 28mm f/1.4D.
This is not a cheap lens, but you are buying into something that delivers top-notch quality and sharpness throughout the range. Made between 1994-2006, the reputation of this lens bumped up the price significantly. While still expensive, the price of this lens has dropped in recent years. While newer versions have come out, the 28mm f/1.4D remains a strong contender, so let’s see if it’s still worth the money.
The Nikon 28mm f/1.4D is equally effective on a DX camera which gives a 45mm angle of view. This offers a more generic focal length and arguably, acts as a great all-rounder. As for technical specifications, here is the lowdown.
11 elements in 8 groups, with one precision ground aspheric element, focusing in three groups. In the lens is a nine-sided straight diaphragm blade which stops down to f/16. Filter size is 72mm, with a total weight of 520g.
The outside of the lens is pretty straightforward, with a ridged focus ring, simple distance scale, and aperture markings. There’s also a switch for flipping between auto and manual focus.
The Nikon 28mm f/1.4D in Use
First stop is the focusing on this lens. The AF speed is reasonably fast considering the age of the lens. All the focusing is done internally and once in manual mode, the focus ring only requires half a turn to hit the mark.
As for making the most use of the f/1.4 aperture, your chosen camera needs to be properly calibrated to really nail that shallow depth of field. Once everything is dialed in, the depth of field really sings.
This moves onto the bokeh or background blur. The aspheric element has a large say in the quality of the background blur. It’s relatively pleasing most of the time, but you have to be careful with the complication of colors —basically not to make everything too busy. However, one of the reasons for buying into a lens which is capable of such a shallow depth of field is quality bokeh. In this respect, the lens doesn’t disappoint.
As for anomalies in the lens, barrel distortion is kept to a minimum as is the same with ghosting and flaring. Pointing the lens at direct sunlight doesn’t show any of the common flares or blobs of light which were once associated with an f/1.4 lens.
As for sharpness, there are no complaints even when the lens is wide open. The corners are sharp at f/1.4, which is a definite one up on other Nikon lenses. This is a definite advantage with this lens, as there isn’t the usual stopping down needed to get ultimate sharpness.
At the other end of the aperture spectrum, images are sharp across the frame. The only thing you really need to stop down for is the falloff of light or darker corners which go away by f/2. Even when wide open, the light falloff is pleasant and gives a subtle vignetting. This is a creative way of looking at things, rather than from a technical point of view.
One other advantage of the very wide open f/1.4 aperture is its low light performance. Some have said over the years that the lens can produce a slight cyan color cast in certain lighting conditions, but this can be easily remedied with an A2 filter. Colors are generally rich and full of contrast with no complaints about the initial renditions.
How Does It Compare?
As with all things in life, new versions come out and as the Nikon 28mm f/1.4D has been around for some time, this is the case with this lens. The Nikon 28mm f1.4E ED is a worthy alternative, with fantastic optics but a reasonably high price tag. It’s more of a straightforward lens, but still provides top-level quality with which you cannot argue if you’re a Nikon camera owner.
The Nikon 24mm f/1.4 G AF-S is also a great contender for less money and works arguably as good in daylight conditions. There’s also the option of the 35mm f/2.0D AF which gives reasonable optical quality, good depth of field and arguably much better than older 35mm f/1.4 lenses.
|Nikon 28mm f/1.4D||Nikon 28mm E ED|
|Aperture||f/1.4 – f/16||f/1.4 – f/16|
|Elements||11 elements/8 groups||14 elements/11 groups|
If you really want a very shallow depth of field, a relatively wide focal length, and quality optics, then you still can’t go wrong with the Nikon 28mm f/1.4D.
Standout features are the low light performance and fantastic optical quality. Having a focal length of 28mm means you can get low shutter speeds, which will be a definite advantage if you take lots of evening time images.
The other advantage of a 28mm lens is that it has plenty of depth of field, much better than a 50mm lens with the same aperture. Even when shooting handheld at really low shutter speeds, you’re going to get keeper images the majority of the time.
The lens may be showing some of its age, especially in the digital world, but its optical qualities still shine through today, which is a testament to its original build quality. Due to the lens’ reputation, these are hard to get hold of, especially on the second-hand market, but they are every inch worth the effort.