This year, I’ve spent a lot of time shooting with various setups, everything from Sony to Panasonic. I’ve tested out many bodies and lenses during my pursuit of the ideal landscape photography setup.
Each system has had its pros and cons, but there’s one thing I’m certain of now, Nikon’s 14-30mm f/4 is one of my favorite lenses for landscape photography – and beyond that – I think it’s one of the best landscape lenses ever made.
The 14-30mm f/4 is not the sharpest lens ever created, and to be honest, it does have shortcomings. However, going across the board, the lens checks every box and it is only $1,300. It is a jack of all trades and has some very unique qualities that are almost impossible to find across the industry right now.
Let’s go through why I love this lens so much and I’ll also touch on what I wish was better.
A major factor in my adoration of the 14-30mm f/4 is the shear size of the lens. It’s insane! It only weighs 485 g (~ 1 lb) and its 3.35 inches long. Here’s the 14-30mm f/4 on my Nikon Z7 next to a Sony 24-105mm f/4 mounted on a a7s III:
It’s hard to overstate the size and weight because of what the lens offers, 14mm on the wide end with range up to 30mm. Generally, lenses that offer 14-16mm on the wide end, even at f/4, are large, bulkier lenses.
And more so, lenses offering a true 14mm FX perspective generally have a bulbous front element, making the use of filters impossible without a filter attachment system (which adds a lot of size and weight).
The 14-30mm f/4 does not have a bulbous front element and takes 82mm threaded filters, which is great for those scenes requiring a polarizer or ND filter.
The build quality of the lens is also excellent. The lens is sealed and I’ve put it through the paces from a 11-day backpacking trip in Alaska to getting soaked with salt water on the coast.
Things I don’t like about the build are the external zoom extension and the focus by wire design, which is seen on many mirrorless lenses. I miss having a focus meter and being able to focus mechanically, like on my old Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8.
These downsides aid to the small build of the lens though – always trade-offs.
The image quality of this lens is spectacular. It is sharper in the center and corners than my old 14-24mm f/2.8 ED. That says a lot since the 14-24mm was once considered the best wide-angle ever made. It really is an innovative lens.
At f/8, center sharpness is excellent, while corners are a little soft, but as I said, still sharper than the old 14-24mm f/2.8.
Now, things had to happen behind the scenes for Nikon to pack 14mm into this lens with a flat front element. Those behind the scenes happen in the form of digital corrections that are built into the lens profile and are not able to be changed. Corner distortion and vignetting is corrected via these profile fixes. The lens is actually a tad wider than 14mm, but the profile corrections and cropping bring it to a true 14mm FX perspective.
Now, I think the image quality of this lens is fantastic and we will get to comparisons shortly, but there are image quality shortfalls of this lens.
The biggest, in my opinion, is the sun star. Nikon’s DSLR glass produced excellent sun stars. I know sun stars are subjective, but I think the new Nikon mirrorless line produces some of the worst sun stars out there. I think it’s an important consideration for landscape photographers, as we shoot into the sun a lot and images with a sun star are often dynamic and attention grabbing.
I’ll attach some examples below. One thing I’ll add in this lens favor though is its coatings and ability to handle flare. You can shoot straight on into the sun and minimal or non-existent flare. So, although the sun star lacks, the flare control is the best I’ve ever seen on a lens.
Below are two examples of the sun star, taken at f/16. These are unprocessed RAW files with the ‘Camera Standard’ profile. Notice how there is little to no flaring. I find it’s best to stop down to f/22 on this lens, versus the old 14-24mm f/2.8, which produced awesome stars at f/11-f/16.
Some will take the ‘f/4’ as a downside too. I’ve used the 14-30mm f/4 for astrophotography and I’ve gotten great results using single exposures and tracking methods. No doubt f/2.8 is great for astro, I just take the size and weight benefits every time over f/2.8.
I think the 14-30mm f/4 is such an incredible lens because it’s hard to find a similar lens with equal performance. Nikon’s new 14-24mm f/2.8 is one of the sharpest lenses ever made. It does take a massive 112mm filter too. The downside of that lens is the extra weight and $2,400 price tag.
Canon just released the RF 14-35mm f/4. That lens does have a similar size and weight profile, but initial verdicts are not positive. The corrections needed to correct for black corner vignetting and distortion are quite drastic, meaning that after corrections, the lens is closer to 15-16mm than 14mm. The lens is so recent it has yet to have an Adobe profile so I’m interested to see how that affects its performance.
But, as of now Canon’s 14-35mm f/4 is the only thing that comes close, and it takes 82mm filters. A future comparison is needed, the 14-35mm f/4 is so new and still having stock issues. All signs point to the 14-30mm f/4 performing better and offering a wide perspective though.
Canon’s 15-35mm f/2.8 is great. I tested this lens last week in the Tetons and really enjoyed it. The image quality of the 15-35mm is excellent in the center of the frame. It is sharper that the 14-30mm f/4 at f/8. The corners though are very similar between the two lenses, which surprised me since the 15-35mm f/2.8 is Canon’s flagship wide-angle right now and priced $1,000 more than the 14-30mm f/4.
See the RAWs below @ 15mm f/8 at 200% (note color difference between Nikon and Canon):
Overall, the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 is better in the center, but is it $1,000 better? I don’t think so. And remember, you get an extra 1mm on the wide end with the 14-30mm f/4.
Sony does not have a direct competitor right now with the 14-30mm f/4. I’m not sure why because they have everything else. But, they do not have a lightweight wide-angle zoom that takes threaded filters.
They do have the EF 14mm f/1.8. The 14mm is a miraculous prime. It is sharper across the frame than the 14-30mm f/4 and it offers f/1.8 for astrophotography. It is also extremely lightweight and small, it weighs less than the 14-30mm. Its downside is it requires a filter attachment system and it doesn’t offer any flexibility in terms of focal length since it’s a prime. But, no doubt the 14mm 1.8 is amazing.
Sony has a lot of great wide angles, the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, the 12-24mm f/2.8 and f/4, and the 16-35mm f/4. All of these lenses don’t offer what the 14-30mm f/4 does though – ultimate portability, 14mm on the wide end, and the ability to take threaded filters.
Although many of the Sony’s check one or two boxes, nothing Sony has achieves all 3…yet. I will say the 12-24mm f/2.8 is the greatest wide-angle lens available right now, but it is larger and more expensive ($3,000).
Nikon’s new S-line 14-24mm f/2.8 is one of the best wide-angles available right now. It is sharper and better in almost every way than the 14-30mm f/4. Except it is $1,000 more expensive and a little bit bigger. It does offer f/2.8 and it also takes threaded filters (big 112mm filters).
The new 14-24mm f/2.8 is fantastic though and offers the best possible image quality. I think the sun star is weak and about the same as the 14-30mm f/4, but that’s really it’s only downside next to its slightly larger weight and profile.
Which Nikon lens is ‘better’? That’s tough, I opt to save the $1,000 for the lighter and smaller 14-30mm f/4. I think if the 14-24mm f/2.8 did have a better sun star, that might push me to that lens, but it doesn’t, so I’m still all in on the 14-30mm f/4.
I’ve spent two years shooting with the Nikon 14-30mm f/4 and I love it. It’s a fantastic lens. I wish the sun star was better and more similar to the old 14-24mm f/2.8, but that’s my only qualm with the lens.
At $1,300, it’s reasonably priced for what you get – professional performance at 14mm through 30mm and amazing compactness. Sony and Canon do have better lenses in terms of spec A or spec B, but they don’t have anything that quite competes with the 14-30mm f/4 (let’s see if more favorable reviews pop up for the 14-35mm f/4, I’m hoping to test it out when it becomes more available).
I’ve been thinking of switching systems, but the 14-30mm f/4 keeps bringing me back to Nikon for now. It’s the ultimate landscape photography lens.
The Sony lenses entice me the most, but I’ve gone through using a filter attachment and lugging around a heavy f/2.8 lens, and having the 14-30mm f/4 has been a dream.
If you are a Nikon shooter, I recommend checking this lens out. And if you’re still shooting on a DSLR body, I think this lens alone is worth the switch to mirrorless.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.
Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.
As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.
You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t miss the next session of BCJ Live!
Managing Your Photo Library (rescheduled)
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, Jan 25th, 2022
11 am – 12 pm Mountain Time