Review: Nikon 20mm f2.8D

This is a lens I’ve owned for a long time. There are lots of reviews of it from different authors such as and Thom Hogan, two sources I respect, so why am I rattling on about it?

Nikon 20mm

I’ve owned my copy of the Nikon 20mm f2.8 lens since 1996 and I’ve lived with it through film and digital. I’ve actually had a lot of problems with this lens and Nikon service hasn’t been totally helpful  for other reasons.

The Story begins in 1996 when I bought the lens in Qatar in the Middle East, where I was working at the time. I used it with the F90x and I was smitten by it. Super wide, this lens is challenging to use successfully, but I learned though shooting with it regularly. I burned a lot of film going up the learning curve, but eventually made some very successful images with it, and continue to do so to this day.


Qatar Dhow Nikon 20mm
Nikon F5 with 20mm AFD – copyright Jason Pitcher 1998
My first issue with the lens came in 1998. I was using the lens in the autumn of 1998 on the north slope of Alaska. I was shooting early frozen ponds with it and about 2 frames into a roll of Velvia the aperture froze open. The weather was cold, but not that cold and the other lenses I was using at the time didn’t have any problems. I warmed the lens up and tried it – no aperture. This killed the idea I was shooting, the nearest camera repair facility being a very long way away. I took the lens home, shipped it to Nikon and they repaired it. I got it back and used it intermittently, then in 2001 it did it again! This time I was in a hurry and dropped it off at a local repair facility. Quick turnaround and I got it back in working order. Something had come loose, they fixed it and I’m up and running. I switched to digital in 2003 with a D100. This was only a equivalent 30mm lens on this camera, so I didn’t use it much. 2008 and a D700 is in the bag. With the resumption of full frame I dragged the lens out of the closet and took it up in anger. March 2009 I was in Segovia in Spain, shooting a cool store front and chimping I noticed the corners of the frame were horribly distorted and soft! This was not right, results form this lens had been crisp from edge to edge. I was not a happy snapper – this lens had let me down yet again!
This time I sent the lens to NikonUSA with the original worldwide warranty documents. A few weeks later, the lens is back and sharp from corner to corner. Now it’s 2010 and I’m using the lens again. It really is a joy to use. Then it happens again! The aperture locks open, this time not doing anything special and I had alternatives. I take it to a local repair place, who promptly send it to Nikon. I then get an email from Nikon saying that the lens is a grey import and they won’t repair it! Many phone calls later I finally convince them that this is the same lens they repaired in 2009, that they had the warranty paperwork then and hadn’t returned it and that this was the 4th time I’d had the lens in for repair! Finally, they repair it and ship it back to the shop, just in time for me to not get it in time before a big trip to Tuscany. I do have the lens back, it does work, for now, but I’ve about had it. I love the results I get from it, it’s small, light and a joy to use, but it seems to know when it’s important to work and crap out just at the wrong time. I’m just about ready to eBay it, along with a 28mm AFD f2.8 that I just don’t use and put the cash towards a 14-24mm f2.8. Now that is going seriously superwide!
I’ve got a love hate relationship with this lens. It may just be my sample that has issues, but 4 times in 14 years? Not what I expect of Nikon….

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