Reviews |Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S

Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S Review

A superb lens for landscape, cityscape, astro and interior photography

Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S review
Review

Price when reviewed

£999

$1046
Check current price

Our Verdict

Nikon’s lens engineers are reaping the rewards of the company’s shift to the larger lens mount and the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S is another great lens. It’s quite long for a 20mm lens, but it keeps distortions under tight control and captures impressively sharp images throughout the aperture range.

When used at wide apertures and close to the subject, the Nikon Z 20mm F/1.8 S delivers attractive, natural-looking out of focus areas. And when closed down to around f/5.6 or f/8 with more distant subjects, you can achieve front to back sharpness.

For

  • Fast aperture
  • Weatherproof
  • Excellent sharpness

Against

  • Big for the focal length
  • No focus distance scale

Wider than a 24-70mm and more affordable than the Z 14-30mm or Z 14-24mm.

What is the Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S?

As it has the Z mount, the Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S is designed for use on Nikon’s mirrorless cameras. It produces an image circle that covers a full-frame sensor, but as the manufacturer uses the same mount on its APS-C (DX) format Nikon Z50 as it does on its full-frame cameras like the Nikon Z7 II and Z6 II, it can also be used on the smaller format camera.

At the time of writing, the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S is the widest prime lens in Nikon’s line up. The next widest is the Z 24mm f/1.8 S. If you want a wider lens you have to go for a zoom such as the Nikon Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S (£2,499/$2,397) or Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S (£1,149/$1,300). Both have a smaller maximum aperture and cost more than the Z 20mm f/1.8 S, with the 14-24mm f/2.8 retailing for more than twice the price.

There’s also the Nikon Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR, but that only covers an APS-C (DX) format sensor which means it has an effective focal length of 24-75mm.

You can also find the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S at Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Specification

  • Product type: Wide-angle prime lens
  • Announced: 12th February 2020
  • Mount: Nikon Z
  • Format: Full-frame (FX)
  • Focal length: 20mm
  • Maximum aperture: f/1.8
  • Minimum aperture: f/16
  • Construction: 14 elements in 11 groups (including 3 ED elements, 3 aspherical elements, and elements with Nano Crystal Coat)
  • Coatings: Nano Crystal Coat
  • Focusing system: Internal autofocusing
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.2m
  • Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.19x
  • Stabilisation: Yes
  • Number of diaphragm blades: 9
  • Filter size: 77mm
  • Weight: 505g
  • Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): 84.5 x 108.5mm
Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S review

Features

Constructed from 14 elements in 11 groups with three ED elements, and three aspherical elements, the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S is designed to take advantage of the large size of the Nikon Z mount.

It’s also weatherproof and has an internal focusing mechanism that means it neither changes length nor rotates during focusing. Both of these points are of interest to landscape photographers who, as well as wanting to shoot in any weather condition, are likely to want to use graduated neutral density or polarising filters.

With a closest focusing distance of just 20cm from the sensor, the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S  has plenty of potential for high-impact foreground subjects with lots of background visible for context.

Nikon supplies a petal-shaped lens hood with the lens.

Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S review

Build and handling

With a length of 108.5mm / 4.3-inches, the Z 20mm f/1.8 S seems quite long for its focal length, but its weight of 505g isn’t excessive and Nikon has given its mirrorless cameras excellent grips.

The majority of the lens barrel is occupied by the broad focusing ring which can be customised to adjust the focus manually or set aperture, exposure compensation or sensitivity (ISO) when the focusing is set to automatic. I usually opt for exposure compensation, but I also like being able to adjust the aperture using the ring.

There’s no dedicated control ring nor any buttons on the lens barrel. However, there’s a switch that can be used to swap between manual and automatic focusing.

Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S review

As we’ve come to expect now, the manual focusing is by wire so there’s no physical feedback when the closest or further focusing points are reached. When manual focus is selected, a distance scale appears on the screen or in the viewfinder as soon as the focus ring is rotated.

When the lens is set to autofocus, rotating the ring quickly adjusts the selected feature.

It only takes a light touch to rotate the ring, so if you prefer to support the camera close to the lens mount, it’s easy to turn it with your extended left index finger.

Performance

Nikon’s Z mount lenses have impressed us to date and the Z 20mm f/1.8 S is no different. It delivers wonderfully sharp images and even with the Auto distortion control option in the menu of the Nikon Z7 II set to off, there’s just a slight suggestion of barrel distortion visible in images with strong linear patterns. Activate the Auto distortion control and it’s gone from raw files as well as Jpegs.

Similarly, if the Vignette control is off, there’s slight corner shading that’s visible at the widest aperture settings, but it’s by no means dramatic. Even with the Vignette control set to ‘Normal’, there’s a slight hint of vignetting in some images shot at f/1.8 if you look for it. But it’s not a noticeable feature of most images shot in normal photographic conditions.

Whether the Vignette control is on or off, closing the aperture gradually reduces the corner shading and it’s completely gone by f/4.

Even wide open the Z 20mm f/1.8 S produces impressively sharp results and there’s very little drop off towards the corners. Comparing images shot throughout the aperture range reveals that the sharpest results are produced at around f/5.6-f/8. If the camera’s Diffraction compensation if off, images shot at f/11 look very slightly less sharp than those shot at wider apertures, and closing down to f/16 loses a fraction more detail, but it’s nothing to be concerned about.

Switching the Diffraction compensation on makes the impact of diffraction only just noticeable at f/16.

I’d have no hesitation on using the Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S at any aperture setting, but thanks to the depth of field that’s captured at f/5.6 when the focus point is at 2-3m or more, there’s little reason to close down to the minimum aperture unless it’s very bright or you want to extend the exposure time.

Chromatic aberration doesn’t appear to be an issue with the Z 20mm f/1.8 S and I was unable to find any examples of fringing around high contrast edges. Coma distortion, which turns pinpoint highlights into comet shapes, is also controlled very well and the bokeh (the appearance of out of focus areas) is very attractive.

Even when the sun is close to the edge of the frame, flare isn’t a significant issue with this lens.

With the lens mounted on the Nikon Z7 II, focusing is swift, silent and accurate.

Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S Sample images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Nikon Z 20mm f/1.8 S.

Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S Image Gallery

You can also find the Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S at Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Verdict

If you’re looking for something a bit wider than a 24-70mm lens for landscape photography, the Nikon Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S makes a great choice with the added bonus of being a little cheaper and 2.3EV faster than the Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S. That wide maximum aperture makes it attractive for low light – whether that’s inside or outside shooting the night sky.

It’s an impressively sharp lens that delivers great results whatever aperture you shoot at.

A depth of field scale would be a nice addition, but if your focus point is beyond about 2.5m and you’re shooting at f/5.6 or f/8, the sharpness should extend to infinity.

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Curtis
Curtis
1 year ago

The bokeh is extremely unpleasant to look at. Hurts the eyes.