On being Ruthless

Traditionally we understand the term ‘ruthless’ as being without pity or compassion; a lack of care for the feelings of others. Many years ago I was introduced to another , less loaded, connotation. That being to do what needed doing quickly and effectively without any prevarication, self doubt or any self indulgent angst. It presupposed of course that the act was indeed necessary.

My Nikkor Z 14-30mm F4 S has been returned. I’ve quickly navigated the self doubt related to expectations, the self doubt related to my own technique and the general hesitation about the size of such a decision for such a high value item.

In my earlier review (here), I judged that it was a good lens but no better. It certainly didn’t meet the high standard set either by Nikon’s publicity or the two other Z lenses (50mm f1.8 and 24-70mm F4) that I already own. However the more closely I looked, the more it became apparent that there was a deeper flaw with this lens. I don’t have the skills to judge whether there is a design, manufacturing or software flaw but the lens that I had was distinctly asymmetric. The right hand side of the image (when in portrait orientation) was substantially inferior to the left. This effect was not confined to the extreme corners either.

Once that seed is sown into the mind, I can’t use a lens without the nagging feeling that the final image will be flawed. Further, there is the irritation that the price paid does not even begin to match the optical quality delivered. I can get similar edge sharpness from budget lens offerings. Even more irritating in some ways is that in the range 14-18mm, I got better results from the ( significantly flawed) Nikon 16-35mm F4.

I considered a number of options and eventually returned the lens to my dealer to be checked over. Their test equipment showed no deviation from the designed performance and no definite prospect that another version may perform better. In light of this my payment was refunded and the process moves on.

Given that I have 24mm on the wide end of the zoom and the PC-e and that even on my 16-35mm I rarely used the widest focal lengths, I’ve bought a s/h Nikon 20mm f1.8 on Ebay as an interim solution and have arranged to try out the Zeiss 18 & 21mm Milvus lenses.

As listed in the caveats at the beginning of the review there are so many variables in the performance of lenses and many (like musical instruments) go well beyond the realms of the purely scientific. I may have had a poor sample of the 14-30mm. I may get a good or poor sample of the 20mm. What is undeniable is that I have lenses that I enjoy using and in which I have absolute faith and others which I sell on. Understanding the limitations of any lens is crucial. Using a Nikkor 85mm f1.4 ais  or a 50mm f1.2 ais is a wonderful process providing one understands the distinct aspect of the output when wide open. There are however no circumstances when it’s ok to have one side of the frame sharp and the other mushy.

I used to think very highly of the Nikkor 20mm f4 and 3.5 ais lenses but they have not stood the test of time especially with the Z7. The 20mm f2.8 version has survived better and is usable; the last one I had was not significantly worse at 20mm than the 14-30mm. Time will tell whether the newest version of the 20mm will be a stayer or will it go.

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  1. Dayve Ward
    May 15, 2019

    Hi Mike,

    Great update. I think it’s true that a delayed review certainly give more time to find the good and bad in a piece of equipment. Sometimes you don’t see these things on it’s first or second outing.

    I agree with you about the QC which appears to be lacking. To have such an expensive lens showing this amount of distortion doesn’t fill one with confidence.

    There are a lot of factors involved with lens quality including the end user’s expectations. Mine, like yours I expect, are high (and why not). It’s a big investment which we want to work for us for many years.

    Wishing you well,

  2. Mark
    May 16, 2019

    Interesting insight hopefully it was just on the one lens as I look to upgrade to a z7 and pur base this lens for landscape work. I have cancer so need sto reduce the weight of my kit hence the upgrade

  3. MikeP
    May 16, 2019

    Cheers Mark, without a doubt some people have received exceptionally good copies of this lens. I hope yours is much better than mine.

  4. MikeP
    May 16, 2019

    Cheers Dayve, I agree. At this price point we should receive a guaranteed level of quality. That’s one of the things that higher prices should bring, stricter quality control.

  5. Sandy Weir
    July 05, 2019

    So how are you getting on with your Nikon 20mm f1.8 G lens, Mike? It does seem to be receiving positive comments online; I certainly hope so as my purchase arrived by courier only yesterday. I hope to test the lens in ‘the field’ very shortly. Best wishes, Sandy

  6. MikeP
    July 07, 2019

    I’ve been astounded by the quality of this particular example. It knocks spots off the Zeiss 18mm Milvus which I currently have on loan.

  7. Sandy Weir
    July 08, 2019

    That’s good to hear Mike re your Nikon 20mm f1.8 G lens, thanks.

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