Low light / wide angle full frame lenses
I want to start doing more low-light photography, including night-time sky photos. I currently own a Nikon 14-24 f2.8 and I'm considering supplimenting this with a prime to get better low light performance with my D800. While I will use this lens in other low light situations, the night time photos is my first target use. Note, I will be using a tripod for this use, so that may influence my options.
There seems to be a huge number of options, looking at both new and used lenses. What I think I'd like is a prime in the 24 to 28mm, f1.4-f2 range. This type of lens seems to be fairly exotic (aka expensive), so I'm also open other more affordable options.
I'd be interested to hear comments on whether I'd notice a big improvement between a fast prime over the 14-24 f2.8, or is the speed difference of a f1.4 worth the additional cost over an f1.8? I know that these are very subjective questions, but I'm interested in your experiences. Are there other options should I be considering?
In looking at some options with available new lens, has anybody got any experience is comparing the Nikon 24 f1.4 with a Carl Zeiss 25mm f2? I naively assume that the Zeiss lens may have better IQ, which may offset the speed advantage of the Nikon, but are either of these assumptions really true?
I realize that this is in the Nikon autofocus forum, but I'm open to non-Nikon and manual focus options.
Thanks for reading
#1. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 0blw Nikonian since 18th Jun 2004Thu 04-Oct-12 07:30 AM | edited Thu 04-Oct-12 07:32 AM by blw
I'll mangle a saying we have in the computer business... Fast, high performance, cheap: pick any two.
I do have to ask just how much different IQ you think could there possibly be in night sky photos that aren't taken at 1000+mm focal lengths? There are no details to be captured, so pretty much any lens north of a coke bottle will produce equivalent IQ.
At any rate, I don't know which of the three lenses you mention are the best, but I can say with some certainty that they're all top-caliber, and even the "worst" of them is highly likely to outperform almost anything else you can contemplate. I don't think there's a "big" difference between any of them in terms of IQ - how could it get much better than the 14-24?
There is a big difference, though, between f/1.4 and f/2.8 - that's as big a difference as between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and nobody thinks f/5.6 is fast unless we're talking about 800mm lenses.
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#5. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 1gearsau Nikonian since 29th Sep 2004Thu 04-Oct-12 06:37 PM
Well said. Love my 14-24mm f2.8, and I also love my old slow 800mm f5.
I used to shoot motor sport with the 800mm f5.6 as well,on Kodachrome KR64.
#2. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 0
For the situation when you're using a tripod, I'm not clear what benefit you're expecting from a faster lens. The difference between f/2.8 and f/1.4 is two stops, so you'd be able to use 1/30th instead of 1/8th - or 15 seconds instead of 1 minute. On a tripod, this makes virtually no difference.
Can you explain more about what you'd be shooting, in what circumstances, and what you're seeking that the 14-24mm does not give you?
#3. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 0
If you are going to be photographing night skies in dark wilderness areas, a fast lens that is sharp wide open could be more important than a tripod. I envision images of the Milky Way or northern lights being the prime subject for a fast lens.
A wide lens is going to be used for capturing a big night sky - or big foreground elements accented by the sky. Exposures are typically going to be limited to 15-20 seconds to minimize any star trails while still maximizing color and light. So I agree - a faster lens is a good idea.
A tripod won't fit the need if you are trying to capture night sky images without star trails since exposure times are limited. A good tripod and cable release is a given - but does not do the full job. For images with star trails, a fast lens is not that important.
The tradeoff with all these lenses is performance wide open or near wide open. The Zeiss 25 f/2 is reported to be a very good lens near wide open. The Nikon 24 f/1.4 is also good near wide open - so you pick up a stop. And both of these lenses are going to be better than a 14-24 until you stop down to f/3.2 or so.
My take is the Nikon 24 f/1.4 would have a small advantage since it is fastest and has good wide open performance. But the difference is quite small and would only be important if you are getting the most from your 14-24 and need to get 1.5-2 stops more light for dark sky night images. And that one stop is relevant for some sky elements - it lets you get twice as much light in your 15-20 second exposure. For other compositions, your issue is not fast glass but is sharpness and all of these lenses are quite good.
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#4. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 0
I have the Nikon 14-24/2.8 and the Zeiss 25/2.0, but I don't own the Nikon 24/1.4. Both the Nikon 14-24 and the Zeiss are outstanding lenses. They are both very sharp across the entire field of view, even wide open. The only shortcoming of the Nikon 14-24 is that it exhibits focus shift when stopped down, otherwise, its IQ is pretty much on par with the Zeiss. The Zeiss might have a slight edge in micro contrast and its color rendering is different, whether you like it better than the Nikon color, depends on your subjective taste.
There are, however, some points aside from IQ to consider. I like manual focus very much and this does not work very well with AF lenses, but is excellent with the Zeiss using LiveView. I also like the bokeh, the close up performance and the additional stop of the Zeiss. The Zeiss is smaller, lighter, less intrusive and can be used with filters. I like f/2 lenses better than the f/1.4 versions, they are lighter and the f/1.4 often show pronounced field curvature wide open.
I don't take very often pictures of the night sky, but I attach a capture of the milky way taken with the Zeiss using a D700, f/2, 8s, iso 3200. Pl. note the 8 flashes of the anti collision lights of the plane, their frequency appears to be exactly 1/s.
Attachment#1 (jpg file)
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#6. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 0
Thanks for all the responses. As I said, I'm just starting out in this area, and your feed back is very useful. I'm probably underestimating what the 14-24 can actually do. Initially, I'm looking to do images that include a fairly large sky area, and capture stars without any noticeable trail. Something similar to Tristan's shot. Here's a some images that I took last year in Hawaii.
I realize that with a better appreciation of what's required and some more practice, I could take the same type of shot, but without noticeable star movement.
I fully intend to use the 14-24 over the winter and gain more experience, but if I know there's a 'better' lens out there, I can start saving and keep my eye on the for sale forum.
Attachment#1 (jpg file)
#8. "RE: Low light / wide angle full frame lenses" | In response to Reply # 0
If you're trying to freeze star motion and leave terrestrial objecst in the frame (which rules out an equitorial mount) and collect more light from very dim subjects like the Milky Way, then there is no substitute for fast aperture, and the 24 f/1.4G is King.
To demonstrate... You can generalize your max exposure time pretty well using the "500 Rule" which states that to freeze star motion, your longest exposure will be 500/(fx equivalent) focal length. Applying to 14mm, we get 36" max. At 24mm, it's 21".
Now, the longer exposure at 14mm (which is allowed by the lower magnification at the wider focal length) provides 71% more light compared to 24mm, but f/1.4 is two whole stops (400% more light) than f/2.8, so 71% shorter exposure but 400% more light means 285% more light (or put another way, the 14/2.8 requires 2.85x higher ISO).
Brief summary, these are equivalent exposures, with a just fast enough shutter to freeze star motion and provide the same amount of brightness to stellar objects like the Milky Way (provided you have a dark sky):
14mm f/2.8 36" ISO 3600
24mm f/1.4 21" ISO 1250
See the issue? That's why I say the 24 f/1.4G is King, plus it's coma-corrected so you get sharper stars near the edges.
If you're happy with your camera's performance at ISO 3600 then I guess it's a wash, but I'd still take ISO 1250 if it was an option.
The 28 f/1.8G falls between these two, which makes it a really nice compromise for the price, but the corners do suffer as does coma performance. The Zeiss 25/2 is a good option as well, but being a full stop slower than the 24/1.4, it doesn't really come close.
For me, the 24/1.4 is too expensive to justify the cost, given how often I do this kind of shooting. However, it's a relatively cheap rental, so my approach is to carry the 28 f/1.8G for "opportunistic" shooting, and rent the 24/1.4G for special astronomical events like meteor showers.
edited to add: Fisheye lenses can be fun for this kind of shooting as well. In fact, I'd recommend renting a 24/1.4 and a 16mm f/2.8 fisheye just to play around and see the possibilities.
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