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.