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A farewell review: The Nikon 28mm f/1.4E ED

As of the day of writing, I no longer own this lens. I thought it would be fitting to write a farewell review of the marvelous Nikon 28mm f/1.4E ED. Why did I sell it? I think it is best to address this from the start. In the end, it came down to a trade-off that has been present in many of my recent posts; weight & bulk vs. good enough. You see, I adore the Nikon 28mm. It is one of the best lenses I have ever owned. Perhaps the best lens, period. However, I acquired an alternative in the Leica Q that is almost as good but is much lighter and portable. This is why I parted with the Nikon 28mm. This doesn't take anything away from this beautiful piece of glass. If you accept it for what it is, you will love it.

Razor sharp wide open in harsh conditions [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

Throughout this post, I will reference the Leica Q, the 28mm option that works best for me. But I mostly want this post to celebrate the Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED. It deserves it. Especially since there is so little available elsewhere on the internet. Nikon announced this lens back in 2017, right when the shift to mirrorless was accelerating. The 28mm F1.4E is an F-mount lens. I've used it on a Nikon Df with its native F-mount and a Nikon Z6ii through the FTZ converter. It is a shame this lens was launched as the DSLR era was ending. It never got the appreciation it would have received otherwise.

'T is the season [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

This lens has the goldilocks combination of being razor sharp without it becoming too much and has a lovely smooth transition out of focus with beautiful bokeh for a 28mm at wider apertures. Stop the lens down, and you get clarity that doesn't get harsh anywhere. A lot has been said about the 28mm focal length since it became the standard for most people because of smartphones. I find it works best in combination with another lens, something like a 50mm or a 75/85 mm. This is also how I shoot my Q, which is why I want the weight to be low, as I will carry another camera and lens most of the time with it. In the DSLR days, the Nikon 28mm would make for a great combination with the Nikon 58mm F1.4.

28mm is great for environmental portraits [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

The large aperture of this lens helps a lot when shooting in darker conditions. I also like how it renders the out-of-focus areas at night. I took the shot below while walking around the Museum district in Amsterdam. The different museums vary quite a bit architecturally, and you can use some of the reflections creatively. It is one of my favorite spots in Amsterdam to shoot.

Using the bright aperture [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

Another thing this lens does really well is sun stars. The points of the star are tight and don't spread out too much. Flare is well-controlled, and I find most of the images I took against the sun to be very pleasing. I like this example below from the narrow streets of Dubrovnik, where the light at the start of the golden hour provided an excellent opportunity to use a sun star.

Narrow streets of Dubrovnik [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

Are there no drawbacks at all then to this lens? There is one that is consistent. The images from the Nikon 28mm are very bright, too bright. I usually dial down the highlights a little for most of my shots. With the Nikon 28mm, however, I had to downgrade the highlights, particularly on very sunny days significantly. I’ve seen this both on the traditional F-mount cameras and on the Z6ii I’ve been using, so it must have something to do with the lens. As drawbacks go, this is probably the only one I can think of. The Leica Q is notably easier to control in comparison.

Highlights are hard to control [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

Let's look at the tradeoff I made with selling the Nikon 28mm in favor of the Leica Q. I am sharing a few test shots below to show you the difference in quality. The Q is a great performer and well above my minimum bar of what I look for in a 28mm. However, there is no denying that the Nikon 28mm is a class better. Even at 1.4 vs. the Q's 1.7, it is sharper.

Comparison; Nikon left, Leica right
Wide open; Nikon left, Leica right
At F5.6; Nikon left, Leica right

When you put the Nikon Z6ii with the FTZ adapter and the Nikon 28mm F1.4 next to the Leica Q, the difference is pretty straightforward if you value weight and portability. The Nikon combo comes in at 1475 grams, while the Q weighs only 640 grams. That is a noticeable difference.

Size matters [Leica M10, Voigtlander 75mm F1.5]

I wonder where Nikon will go with their 28mm options for the Z system. They have chosen to build 1.8 and 1.2 options and no longer make 1.4 lenses. The 50mm 1.2 remains the only one as of the day of writing, but I understand there will be an 85mm coming as well. For 28mm, the only native option for the Z system is the tiny 28mm 2.8, which is more meant as a semi-pancake lens and perhaps most aimed for use on the Zfc. For now, if you want a large aperture 28mm on your Z camera, you will need to use the 28mm F1.4E with the FTZ adapter.

Sharpness [Nikon Z6ii, Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED]

I will stick with my Leica Q but I am happy I had the chance to shoot with the Nikon 28mm F1.4E ED. Without a doubt one of the best lenses from the DSLR era.


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