The Attraction of Going Really Wide: Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8G

Want to cram more image into your frame? Hey, just use a wide angle they say. Wrong. Yes, you do get more into the frame but your image becomes too full of stuff and loses impact. You just get a kinda content overkill ;-) Please read on for some tips you might wanna consider to get more interesting images with wide-angles and more fun outta your photography!

Parking red Vespa, captured with Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8G @f/8, 1/40sec, ISO 80

In general 3 main things to keep in mind when going “really wide”:

  1. Go Closer

  2. Stay Level

  3. Kill or Fill Foreground

“Go Closer”? If you think you’re close enough, go even closer. The wider the lens’s field of view, the closer you need to go. Reducing the distance to your subject changes the images’ perspective, exaggerating the size of objects closer to the camera vs. similar sized further distant objects. This makes the image look much more dynamic, especially when going closer is combined with an unusual point of view. In above image with Vespa and below with a Façade the main subject was just a couple feet away from the lens!

Restaurant façade in Bayreuth, seen with Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8G @f/8, 1/125sec, ISO 64

The wider the angle, the more the image is also sensitive to holding it level (on the roll axis): “Stay Level” means youse need to pay close attention to that horizon! Most modern cameras have a virtual horizon function which you can use to determine if the camera is being held level, even if you point the lens up or down (pitch axis). My D850 has a nifty little LCD indicator for roll and pitch, directly visible in the optical viewfinder - great feature!

Keeping the camera level is key to prevent slanted horizons, but pointing the lens straight ahead (i.e. not pointing up or down) also gives you an expansive foreground for your trouble, overwhelming your image with a big empty space. Resulting images tend to come across a bit boring. This empty space can be blanked out by going lower or higher than eye level and slanting the camera up or down, e.g. by bringing the camera close to the ground or moving up to a higher vantage point. But then you risk getting crazy converging vertical lines. So you need to find the right balance and get the converging lines to support the image content: In the image below the camera was actually just about a foot off the ground and pointing the lens up captured those beautiful old façades and church towers, with the converging vertical lines helping to convey the narrowness of medieval cobbled streets:

Alleyway with city church in Bayreuth, seen thru Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8G @f/8, 1/40sec, ISO 80

So “Kill or Fill Foreground” means you either gotta “kill” the foreground by the above mentioned going low & pointing the lens up, or “fill” the empty space with something of interest (like the Vespa or the flowers in the first two images). Apart from the obvious health benefits of bending down or climbing ladders ;-) the resulting unusual points of view make your images look more interesting. An articulating LCD screen on your camera’s a big asset here, preventing you having to get down into the dirt! See another example below contre-jour autumn image I took in the park. I wanted to keep the trees more or less parallel to prevent them “closing up” the top of the image. The stark shadows cast by the sun coming thru the trees were used to “fill” the foreground:

Autumn sun coming thru the trees, with Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8G @f/8, 1/40sec, ISO100

Concluding, Nikon’s AF-S 20mm f/1.8G is a fantastic “really wide” proposition. Wide enough to create amazing, dynamic perspectives, but not too wide as to look like an “effect lens” (I once had a 16-35mm zoom which had a for my taste far too extreme angle of view and distortion at 16mm)

This one makes it easy to capture interesting & attractive wide-angle images (provided you go close enough ;-) and delivers amazing image quality (among the best I’ve come across actually). Next to having dust & moisture protection on board it is still quite compact for it’s reasonably large max. aperture of f/1.8 and has the added bonus of allowing attachment of 77mm filters!

Only fly in the ointment is its rather mediocre build quality (compared to my f/1.4 primes): The focus ring feels a bit rough, has a too short throw and does not really allow precise manual focussing, due to the lag in the focus-by-wire system

Overall however, I can highly recommend Nikon’s Nikkor AF-S 20mm f/1.8G, at an absolutely fair price of around 800$ it is quite a bargain and a compact, versatile, valuable addition to your kit. Enjoy & many thanks for visiting!

Best regards,


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