This may be before you were born, but I can recall the excitement that greeted the first practical 24mm lens for 35mm SLRs. It was the Nikon Nikkor 24mm of 1967. It used nine elements and had taken the better part of ten years to compute… by hand. It transformed photojournalism as it could be used at full aperture and its close-focusing performance was surprisingly good thanks to the then very snazzy internal moving groups.
Let’s jump to today. I’m as excited now as I was then about Sony’s brand new 24mm E-Mount lens, the ultra-fast f/1.4 GM. It’s the eighth in Sony’s line of premium G Master lenses so it has a high bar to attain. Its stand-out feature is apparent when you unpack the gem: it is surprisingly small. It sits about half-way between the first Nikon 24mm that weighed only 240g (but was f/2.8) and the current f/1.4 competition (from Nikon, Canon, and Sigma) that weigh 650g or more. The Sony weighs 445g – only two-thirds the weight of the competition – and it’s also about two-thirds their bulk.
Impatient readers, interested only in lens reviews to fuel their Gear Acquisition Syndrome, may like to skip to the ‘Sony 12-24mm f/4 Wide Angle Zoom’ section below. However, I think the bits of history and technology I share first are a bit more educational, and I invite you to indulge me.
When Super Goes Ultra
Photography has long had a love of wide-angle optics – those that offer a wide field of view as a result of short focal length. It was fairly easy to turn lenses used for telescopes or projectors into optics that could be used for the first cameras. So the need for lenses for portraits and still-life was met very early on. But the most popular other subject was landscape. For that, the early lenses were frustratingly narrow in field of view. That’s why the first panoramic cameras appeared as early as 1845. Things limped along for years until Paul Rudolph’s Anastigmat ground plan of 1890. It’s the grand-father of modern asymmetric wide-angle lens designs.