Ultra wide for night photography


Carmen was suggesting me to write a post about how I decide to buy a new important element for my photo gear. So today topic is : finding a solution for shooting night/aurora images.

I have Nikon 16-35 F4 which was decent in the recent trip in Lofoten but a bit too slow. I ended up taking 15-30 seconds exposure at ISO 3200 or 6400 and  I would have definitely liked an extra stop too keep the iso at 1600 or to have shorter time during moving Northern lights. Other options that I have and I could are NIkon 24-70 F2.8 which is fast enough but not wide enough or Nikon 28MM f1.8 which is even faster and can be a decent solution if I can take 2 or more shots and combine them in a panorama. So the new lens should be good quality, sharp across the frame, with good control of coma and vignetting. F2.8 is a must as well.

1. The first obvious choice is Nikon 14-24 – a giant in the world of ultrawide lenses. probably the best ever made. I know Canon people buying this lens and using it with an adapter, and that is saying a lot about the reputation and the quality of 14-24. Optically, you can’t go wrong with it. Amazing sharpness and very well corrected aberrations. The two negative points are the price (about 1650 Eur in Denmark) and the ability and easiness of using filters. Of course, using it for night photography does not requires filters, but…its a shame to buy such a monster and use it only few times per year, given that Denmark is not exciting enough in terms of night photography opportunities. In terms of filter, there are 3 choices and you could read this good article of Ian Plant listing them in a blog post. Its a bit old post and some things have changed since then (like the Lee 150SW mark II) but it clearly states the 3 solutions existing in the market with pros and cons. They are all expensive, they are all bulky but the main criteria for me are the leakage of light/flaring and the filters available.The winner in my opinion seems to be Lucroit system from Hitech which scores pretty well at light leaking and has a very good selection of Hitech filters available (although I have seen lately some images shot using this system that clearly show a huge amount of flaring : here and here

2. Second choice is the new Tamron 15-30 F2.8, a very welcome addition to this market. According to the guys from LensTip, it is a great lens, on par with Nikon 14-24. The price is also about 25% cheaper (1250 eur in Denmark) but I would still wait for the DXO Mark review of it and more reviews from seasoned pro before bitting the bullet and buying it. It has the same problem with filters as 14-24 and it seems that  Lucroit-Hitech guys thought about it and it is fully supported by their system. Some minor negative points when comparing it with Nikon 14-24 is that sometimes, with third party lenses, you need to return few copies before you get a good one; also a classic lens like Nikon 14-24 hold better resale values over year if properly taken care of.

3. A cheap but still very decent choice that I cosider is the Samyang 14mm (or Rokinon how it is marketed in other places, and especially the second version of it). Price wise is by far the most attractive, costing around 400 Eur in Denmark. It is a good compromise for night photography having decent sharpness, especially in the center of the frame and quite good correction of coma (again Lenstip guys turned out to be quite helpful. Also comparing it with the 16-35 mm lens I currently own, I can see that it is definitely not  worth in terms of sharpness but lacks a bit in transmission and is much worse in terms of distortion according to DXO Mark in depth review. On the negative side: it requires manual focus (but its definitely acceptable for night photography) and it cannot take filters at all. The sharpness is also not so good at corners when shooting wide open.
So tough decision and a problem I do not have a solution yet. Please feel free to comment using your experiences especially regarding filter systems for Nikon 14-24 and/or Tamron 15-30.

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