Vibration Reduction – VR II
Some photographers question the necessity of optical stabilization in wide-angle lenses. The trend is, however, quite clear. Lens manufacturers incorporate their respective stabilization technologies in an increasing number of wide-angles. Tamron has recently released 10-24mm stabilized version. Nikon hence finally released it first DX stabilized lens too. I personally appreciate such a development.
When shooting landscapes, it is often necessary to stop down the aperture to around f/8 and higher in order to have both the foreground and the background decently sharp. While keeping the ISO at base level and shooting around or even after sunset, you easily get shutter speeds around 1/10 sec. This is where optical stabilization comes very handy. With 24 MP and higher resolution camera, the old wisdom of hand-holding the fraction value of the focal length does not hold anymore (this rule of thumb was rather meant for FX bodies anyway).
Do not be surprised that VR switch is nowhere to be found. With the fully compatible bodies (see chapter 2), VR function can be turned on/off through in-camera menu. I am not very happy about this, since quite a few compatible bodies (such as D7100) do not support this feature and hence VR cannot be turned off. Bummer for such a wide-angle, which is often used on tripods. What is more, one can easily forget about the in-camera setting, and easily shoot with VR off and not knowing it (see my remark on missing focus mode control). It has no VR modes like “Normal” and “Active”, which I personally do not miss, since I hardly ever change VR from Normal to Active.
So how does the vibration reduction work in this “ten-twenty” lens? I was shooting with 10-20mm hand-held most of the time and used a tripod only for very few shots and some side-by-side testing. Thanks to vibration reduction, I was able to shoot at slower shutter speeds. Typically, 1/10 of a second was not a problem. Slower shutter speeds resulted, however, in mixed results. I got a few decently sharp 1/6 sec photos.
Since I had windy weather conditions most of the time, I could not really tell whether the slight blur was due to my hand-shake (and hence sub-optimal optical stabilization) or simply caused by motion blur of the subject (not possible to get around, no matter how great the VR is). It helped if I could stabilize the camera against a tree or any solid object. Then, even the shutter speed of 0.4 sec still gave me a perfectly sharp result.
I also realized that in general I got better results with D7100 or D750 rather than with D5300. I believe this is related rather to the size and grip of the camera (and hence rather to how stable my hand-holding is). So there are many factors influencing this. VR is a great piece of technology (and it ever gets better), but one must pay attention to holding technique anyway.
Overall, the Vibration Reduction (VR) system in this lens works rather well, though I am not as excited as some other photographers were in other reviews of this lens. I would judge the advantage as cca 1,5 – 3 EV thanks to VR.
The partly compatible bodies, such as D7100 do not allow disabling of VR when shooting on tripod. I realized, however, that having the VR on while shooting very long exposures (up to 30second) was not a problem and did not result in a blurry image, as I would expect (this was the case with other stabilized AF-S lenses, such as 55-300mm, which produce slightly blurry images when VR is on while exposing on tripod).
It is hard to achieve any bokeh with wide-angle lens featuring slow aperture, but since one can focus quite close, some bokeh is possible after all. You can see the result below:
Keep in mind that bokeh is not the most important aspect for choosing a wide-angle lens with slow aperture. The quality of bokeh this lens produces is (subjectively) good. I found that my older Tokina 11-16mm has a more chaotic kind of bokeh.
Vignetting appears throughout all focal length, most pronounced at 10mm. Stopping down the lens to f/8.0 helps a lot, and at f/14 light fall-off finally disappears. Not a perfect result. Vignetting can be, however, easily corrected in most of the post-processing software programs.
Ghosting, Flare and Shooting Against the Sun
In wide-angle zoom lens category, one of the very crucial features is how the given lens can handle a direct sun light or any other strong source of light. Shooting against the low sun yields some of the best landscape shots during sunrise and sunset. Due the very wide perspective, it happens quite often that the sun is either directly in the frame or is illuminating the front element side-wise (and hence affecting the optical performance). How does the lens fare in such situations? Extremely well!
Even if this lens does not feature any high-end Nano Crystal Coating, it still does a great job of dealing with direct light. When the sun is in the frame, I could not really get any nasty ghosting, flare or any significant loss of the micro-contrast. Here, the lens shined in comparison to other lenses, outperforming both the Tokina and older Nikkor 10-24mm, but even the fixed prime FX Nikkor 20mm AF-S f/1.8 lens. Side light hitting the front glass is often more challenging to wide-angles, but not even here I could spot any major troubles.
The only slight disappointment here is the way this tiny lens renders the sun stars. This is important especially for architecture photographers who put a lot of weight on how the lens renders pointed sources of light. So unlike the excellent prime lens Nikkor 20mm AF-S f/1.8, this zoom lens does not paint a distinct sun star, the shape is more distracted and the rays of light can be even curved. In this respect, the 10-20mm is much more similar to the older 10-24 zoom, Tokina is far better in this respect. Getting small sun stars is still possible, but only when the bright source of light is very tiny. This means that the sun has to be partially shaded by other objects.
The Nikon 10-20mm AF-P lens has some amount of chromatic aberration (CA) both in the corners and the center of the frame. The amount tends to be similar or slightly higher as the older 10-24mm Nikkor lens. I also observed noticeable green and pink edges in the blurred background edges when focusing on very near objects in the foreground. However, it is nothing critical, this amount of CA is very easy to fix in Lightroom and Photoshop. The aberration performance is still very good for a consumer lens of this class.
Distortion is usually quite pronounced in DX wide-angles, regardless of the producer. Nikkor 10-20mm lens is no exception: at the shortest focal length of 10mm, there is a noticeable amount of barrel distortion(+3,55%). The amount decreases to a very good level at 14mm (+1,17% distortion) and is almost non-existent at the longer end (+0,26 %). A very good result. Sadly, at the time of writing this review, no camera profile for LR was available.
Regardless of this, correcting the distortion manually is not very difficult in Lightroom.
Usage on FX Bodies
I was actually quite shocked to realize that this tiny little lens is usable on a FX body with some (expected) caveats. In the focal range of 13-20mm, albeit with some heavy vignetting, it is possible to use the vast majority of the FX sensor (without much cropping). The edges are (especially at 13mm) quite soft, but that is compensated by very good center performance. I found myself in situations when I was glad I could mount this lens on my D750 and get some very good results. Take a look at the below image samples: