Nikon 28mm f2.8 AIS v Olympus 28mm f2 v Zeiss 28mm f2.8
[published january 2006]

So what is the best 28mm lens? Is it the so-called ‘Hollywood’ edition Zeiss f2? Te Nikon f1.4? Surely the Leica 28mm Super Elmarit is in the top three? Quite likely each of these in their own way can lay claim to some kind of superlative, but for argument’s sake let’s assume that your critical shooting is done at f8 or f11 and distortion correction is also a priority (in which case you probably shoot buildings of some kind). Alternatively, let’s assume the budget won’t stretch to these exotic beauties – what then?

Fortunately there is a B-team of 28mm superstars that at middling apertures rival or even exceed the performance of their A-list counterparts, and cost little more than a bag of chips… enter the cast:

Nikon 28mm f2.8 AIS (typical used value: $150-300)

This is a pretty special lens: eight elements, Close Range Correction, and a minimum focus of 20cm. Having been in continuous production for more almost 26 years there are lots of them about, and the early ones are usually rated on par with the very best.

Olympus 28mm f2 (typical used value: $400-600)

The f2 is a real ‘it’ lens – legendary, fast, glamourous, discontinued. To this day accused of being Olympus’ sharpest lens, it is almost impossibly smaller and lighter than its slower f2.8 competitors at just 245g. A nine-element design with a close focus distance of 30cm, it too features a floating element for uncompromised close range performance.

Carl Zeiss Contax 28mm f2.8 (typical used value: $200-350)

A classic (by which I mean ancient) Distagon, this 280g seven element design has also stood the test of time, still topping by some margin photodo’s MTF rating for f8 performance in a wide angle lens. Unlike the others, however, it omits a floating element and only focuses down to 40cm. But it has all the typical Zeiss virtues: very high resolution and accutance, excellent geometry and CA correction, and finely crafted to boot.

But how do they perform?

All images shot with a Canon 5D in RAW, processed in 8 bit via DPP and converted for web with BoxTop Pro.