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Lens Reviews

Nikkor AF 20/2.8D Review

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs)

Keywords: wide, angle, lenses, nikon, nikkor, 20mm, 14mm, 17_35mm, f5, ilford, xp2, huefingen, germany, 80_200mm, hb_4, bokeh, donaueschingen, film

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The 20mm/2.8D AF lens is interesting, whether on 35mm film or on FX digital format. With it you can go out taking landscape shots without getting fish-eyed while still getting more or less the whole view at 94 degrees. You can also use it for "environmental portraits", having a humble object somewhere in the middle of the frame and all of the interesting surroundings too.

Sunrise over the Baar. Click for 1024 x 768

May 1999 - caught the sun rising at 05:30. It had been raining heavily in the night, hence the interesting clouds.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 20mm/2.8D on Fujichrome Velvia.



I don't have a whole batch of lenses, but I have some good ones. I consider the small 20mm AF Nikkor being one of the most useful. I use it a lot, both for landscape and when I want to have a compact combo on the shoulder.

Due to the construction of this lens, you achieve a total depth of field (DOF) at F22 - from your feet to the horizon. Some say that this lens is a tad sensitive - I guess the complex construction in a small, physical package is the reason.

The Nikkor AF 20mm/2.8D

The 20mm weights only 270g and is 52mm long. Overall very compact.

The lens takes 62mm filters, which are definitely cheaper than the 77mm ones you need to use for its wider sister, the Nikkor AF 18mm/2.8D. The 18mm costs more than double compared to this lens, yet you don't have to be afraid that you're saving on image quality - you're not.


As I've already mentioned, the 20mm is really useful for a lot of things: Landscape (no surprise), environmental portraits and even action photography. There's a tendency in the industry to get more wide angled and lots of pros are using both wide primes and the great 17-35 zooms to allow them to get really wide. The latest AF 14mm/2.8D prime Nikkor is a par example of this trend.

The channel in Hüfingen. Click for 1024 x 768

The channel in the city of Hüfingen, Germany. May 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 20mm f/2.8D on Ilford XP2 Super.

The build quality of the lens is OK. I am not overly enthusiastic, but it feels OK. Maybe my somewhat negative feelings have to do with the low weight of it, fooling me to draw false conclusions while comparing it to the 80-200mm f/2.8D ED IF AF glass monster.



To reduce flare, I use the HB-4 hood at all times. A little hard-plastic thingy coming in all black making the lens some 89mm wide in all. As with nearly all hard Nikon hoods, it fits perfect, twisted some 15 degrees onto the front bayonet. Due to the wide angle of this lens, I wouldn't recommend you using it without the HB-4.

The focus ring is rubber covered and moves gently. According to my Preisser digital Digi-Met measuring device, the lens extends 1.88mm when moved from eternity focus to 0.25m.

The aperture can be locked at F22 using the well known slide-lock existing on most AF Nikkors. The aperture markings are: 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 and 22 so there are no surprises here either.

Peeking into the front of the lens, you're confronted with a protective piece of glass which covers a pretty small, convex lens not much wider than 23 mm in diameter (again, according to Preisser). This is a huge disturbance for someone who's used to "lots of glass and not much of black metal". The image reproduction quality of this lens is then relying on the correct distribution of light through this silly little opening.

Despise the weak look, I have gotten a whole bunch of good shots using this lens and I wouldn't like to live without it.

Vignetting is not visible, as long as you're not underexposing a piece of white cardboard. Color reproduction and the sharpness are great. Regarding "Bokeh" - well, to be honest I have no idea, but I guess there are better lenses for "Bokeh" (the nifty look of out-of-focus areas).

My sample seems to have a tad of a problem at the edges when used fully open - the edges are then not really sharp when studied carefully. I believe this to be an anomaly of the sample I have and not a general problem (remember, I bought it at eBay - there was most definitely a reason why the lady was so friendly)


Think small, think wide, think 12 elements in 9 groups and you have this lens.

A backyard in the city of Donaueschingen, Germany. June 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 20mm/2.8D on Ilford XP2 Super.



Before you buy a used one of these beautiful babies, make sure you don't get one of the football versions: Check it out before you buy it, or you might be a sad Nikonian. I have heard there's a whole bunch of half-wrecked 20mm's on the used market - but then, it might be only another rumor spread by evil folks.

Here's the data:

Number of elements 12
Number of groups 9
Aperture f/2.8 - f/22
Focus range 0.25m - infinite
Filter diameter 62mm
Weight ~270g
Street price $400 USD (USA)

Now, go and get one. You won't be disappointed!

Happy shooting!


Philip Greenspun has a nice page about the 20mm with some good shots taken with it (and one not so good taken with a broken 20mm lens).

Leonard Foo has a review on the Nikkor AF 20mm/2.8 in his lens report. Speaks generally about the non AF version.

In a user driven lens rating, the 20mm/2.8 got a total of 71 points out of 100 possible points. Beaten only by the Leica Elmarit-R 2.8 19mm and at least at par with the Canon EF 2.8 20mm USM.

Nikon USA's product info on the 20mm/2,8 D

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Originally written on November 12, 2012

Last updated on September 1, 2016