Small yet perfectly formed

Over the past few weeks I have been falling back in love with my 20mm lens. Serial number 231270, mine hails from around 1982 and has been with me since about 1992. It’s a miniature marvel at just 235 grams and 50mm in length which, apart from Nikon’s 20mm f/4, makes it about the smallest ultra-wide angle lens the company have ever made. In normal usage the lens focuses down to 0.3m [1ft] but put it on a macro bellows and reverse it using the BR-2/3 reversing-ring and you have a lens with macro magnification of 12-times life-size. That’s pretty much the largest magnification of any lens you can reverse mount.

It’s a gem. It’s tiny. It’s sharp. Hell, even Ken Rockwell loves it.. although he mentions he’d never have used it on a DX camera which I would disagree with. The 20mm on my D300 was a perfect match, coming in at around 30mm and with depth of field at f/16 running from 40cm to infinity it was a perfect ‘around 35mm’ street lens on the DX body.

I guess I never really fell out of love with my 20 but I just haven’t been using it as much of late as I did in the past. It was the lens with which I shot the photo that became my first album cover for a big-name artist; used by Black Box Music for an album by composer Michael Nyman. It was the widest lens I ever owned for my film Nikons, before discovering – more recently – the marvels of sub-18mm rectilinear wides, like the Tamron 14mm I also use. But that Tamron, although awesome, is huge compared to the 20mm f/3.5 and when I want to keep it as small and simple as possible nothing really ever beats the 20.

Here’s a gallery of shots from my beloved 20mm… mostly recent shots but a few older ones too:


Fellow Japan-resident-gaijin-snapper, Mike Martin, has just been polluted by my influence… again.  If Mike had a wife to rail into him about his lens purchases, then she’d have had me killed a while back for switching him on to various bits of glass. We picked him up a 20 in my local shop, in Omori, a week or so ago. He got a great deal on it too and has remarked that his 24mm f/1.4G seems to be having size-envy now the 20 has joined Mike’s family of Nikkors.

Sure, there’s a 2.8 version of the 20mm and there are two AF-D series versions too [in f/2.8 and f/3.5] but I love my old manual-focus AiS cos, to be honest, who needs AF when the travel on the focus from infinity back to 0.3m is so small. And AF hunts. Manual means I can be looking like I’m shooting something straight ahead of me but actually focusing – with more ease, cos I don’t need to get my AF point on the subject – on something on my extreme left or right. I like AF, sometimes. It’s convenient and quick. But it compromises my framing and it slows me down more often than it speeds me up.

Here’s what Ken Rockwell has to say about the 20.

Here’s a wonderful page at Mir, all about Nikon’s range of 20’s

And here’s a great page which will give you an idea of where your serial number comes in the production run of Nikon lenses…



About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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