I've used this lens extensively in the past 20 years. It was permanently fitted on my FM2 when I was a photo reporter for a local newspaper. A wide angle like this one is very useful in many situations where you need to show all in one frame while you're involved in an interview, very close of what's happening. Like school teachers on strike surrounded by scores of yelling children, or people complaining about the poor condition of the small flat they rent.
At 2.8, it's relatively fast and still very comparable in size with the 50mm 1.8. Zooms that fast are quite chunky and heavy. And expensive as well. A prime is a different way of the zoom. Because you have to choose a focal length and stick to it for a while, it forces you to think beforehand about your point of view, what you mean to say about particular situations or people. It's like when you write an article, you need to choose an angle. A wide-angle means being close to the subject. A zoom is a more technical choice. Or is it laziness ?
So, how does that 24mm behave ? At full aperture, the image is not really at its best. Tiny details look a bit fuzzy but the situation doesn't worsen on the edges and the good contrast gives a general impression of a rather good image. Actually, it compares to the 50mm AIS at 2.8, which is not bad.
At f/4, the center gets better, with new details visible, sharper letters on the sticker and the map. But the edges are still in the mist.
At 5.6, the center is the sharpest this lens can give, almost on par with the 60mm at the same aperture. The edges are getting better, but still a bit soft.
At F/8, the image quality is high and rather even on the whole field.
I a nutshell, this lens gives a good image quality, is perfectly usable at full aperture but is no as appealing when you look at the edges.
If you rule out zooms, like I do, what other choice do you have ? Well, the 24mm 1.4 AF-S looks awesome. Extra fast, superb image quality (as far as I can say from reviews here and there), but it won't work properly on my FM2 (G is bad), and costs about 2000 €, about six times the price of the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AF. Not as dear as the 1.4, the Zeiss Distagon 25 mm f/2.8 with a ZF2 mount has merits and may be worth consideration.
Click on the images to see them full size.
24mm Center f/2.8 (full aperture)
24mm Center F/5.6
24mm edge f/2.8
24mm edge f/5.6
You may read my review about the 35mm AIS, to compare with an other wide angle:
And the 60mm f/2.8 to know about the test setup.
The 50 mm is often considered as the normal prime, with good reasons actually: