Le Roi est Mort!
Yes, Roy is dead. For many years the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 reigned over wide angles. For some months after its launch, the review we wrote back in 2007 was attached to the wall in Nikon’s R&D HQ in which we demonstrated its superiority over the erstwhile wide champion, the Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Distagon.
For an unreasonable time period, Nikon’s benchmark was unchallenged: it was cherished by Nikon shooters and adapted by Canon users. Even in 2020 it remains Nikon’s premier full frame wide. However, Canon rose to the challenge with the frankly astounding 11-24mm, and those who could afford it, bought it, and didn’t look back.
Several iterations of Tamron and Sigma ultrawide zooms tried and failed to dislodge the king from its throne, until Sigma unveiled the 14-24mm f2.8 Art and with it previously veiled wide aperture detail.
On balance, the Sigma 14-24mm now sits at the top of the heap with regard to overall proficiency but you might be surprised to see how and where the venerable Nikon matches or even still outperforms it, as the following pictures reveal.
Broadly speaking, the Sigma is significantly sharper at f2.8 at all focal lengths. It’s sharper in the corners at f4 at all focal lengths. However, at f5.6 the Nikon is equally as good centre-to-corner at 14mm and a little sharper centre frame at 24mm. The Nikon’s acuity dips in the mid-section of its zoom range, whereas the Sigma is consistent. At f8-f11 the Sigma is still a little sharper from 14-24mm, and its superior coatings give it better flare resistance. It’s also slightly better corrected for geometry and has much less chromatic and lateral aberration. It’s even better at handling point light sources: rendering them with minimal haloing and even the suggestion of a hazy divergent-ray sunstar at f11-16 – although, to be fair, sunstars aren’t the strong suit of either lens.
Altogether, it’s just a more sophisticated design.
However, we must abort the coronation of a new king because there’s a new lens that beats down the superb performance of the 14-24mm and smashes it to bits, and takes those bits and grinds them into powder, and adds water and oil to that powder to make an emollient preparation that it uses to treat its sensitive parts. More on this shortly.