Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G Lens Review

Discussion in 'Digital Camera News' started by Jerry Jackson, Mar 27, 2009.

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  1. Jerry Jackson

    Jerry Jackson Administrator News/Review Writer

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    Among DSLR shooters, there are two types of people: photographers who prefer using zoom lenses and photographers who prefer using primes. I am most certainly a member of the latter group. Prime lenses use a fixed focal length, meaning you cannot "zoom in" or "zoom out" when composing your image, but most prime lenses offer superior image quality and a wider aperture range than zoom lenses. I've switched from one camera brand to another over the years, but regardless of which brand of camera I was using a prime lens was the first lens I purchased for every camera.

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    Nikon is widely respected for making fantastic lenses, but in recent years Nikon has placed far more emphasis on zoom lens development than prime lenses. That's why most people where surprised when Nikon recently announced their latest lens, the Nikkor AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G prime lens. This low cost, high performance lens was designed specifically for the many Nikon D40, D40X, and D60 owners who needed a fast prime lens at an affordable price. Is the new Nikon 35mm lens as good as it sounds? Let's take a closer look.

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    BUILD AND DESIGN

    Lens Mount
    Nikon's recent announcement of a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens with auto focus compatible with the D40, D40X, and D60 took the photography world by surprise. The AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is a completely new design for Nikon-mount DSLRs with APS-C sized sensors (DX format). This $199 lens was developed specifically to address the lack of cheap, fast primes for owners of the D40, D40X, and D60 DSLRs.

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    What separates the Nikon F mount on the D40, D40X, and D60 from all other Nikon DSLRs is the removal of the in-body focusing motor. All "AF-S" lenses use an exclusive in-lens the Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM), which means the entry-level D40, D40X, and D60 bodies can only autofocus with AF-S lenses.

    Construction
    The Nikon 35mm is a fast-aperture prime, designed to give DX-format Nikon users the classic normal angle of view of a 50mm lens on a Nikon FX-format DSLR or a 35mm film camera. In other words, back in the days of 35mm film cameras most manufacturers included a 50mm lenses as the "kit lens" with your new camera because 50mm was considered the "normal" focal length (similar to what the human eye sees). Today, most DSLRs come with a low-cost zoom lens as a "kit lens" but many photographers still want a "normal" prime lens with a fast aperture. That's where the new AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G comes in.

    This compact lens has a solid overall build quality (much better than most lenses in the $199 price range) and takes up less space in your camera bag than the standard 18-55mm kit lens that came with the D40, D40X, and D60. The included lens hood helps shade the front lens element and prevent flare, but given the 1.5x crop factor for DX bodies and lenses, the hood could have been twice as deep (and twice as capable of reducing flare) without hurting image quality.

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    Markings such as a distance scale in both feet and meters or basic depth of field scale are completely missing from this lens. One feature that's worth mentioning is that the new 35mm lens uses fully automatic diaphragm control: you can't manually select the aperture by turning the diaphragm collar on the lens because there is no diaphragm collar.

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    Optical construction is all-glass with eight elements in six groups, and one aspherical element. The filter diameter for this lens is 52mm which is perfect for Nikon DSLR owners who use the 18-55mm kit lens as well.

    Handling
    As noted, APS-C style sensors in the Nikon "DX" cameras have a 1.5x crop factor, so this 35mm lens performs like a 52.5mm lens on DX bodies. The shorter focal length range makes this prime absolutely perfect as a "normal" lens for general use, and the f/1.8 aperture means you can create soft, blurry backgrounds or capture a great image even in near darkness.

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    The 35mm focal length and f/1.8 aperture has also become quite popular for photographers who are trying to replicate the look of old 50mm lenses from the old film days. The minimum focusing distance of just 12 inches means you can get close to your subject and still get a fantastic shot.

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    PERFORMANCE

    Auto Focus
    The new Nikkor 35mm lens is driven by Nikon's new AF-S in-lens focusing system rather than a traditional in-body screw drive focus system. This typically means focus is quieter and often faster than lenses using in-body focus motors. The new 35mm lens is indeed very quiet, but autofocus speed didn't seem particularly faster than what we've seen with older Nikkor lenses on other Nikon bodies. Still, the AF-S 35mm is quite fast and makes an excellent lens in low light environments where a standard kit lens just can't get a focus lock.

    As mentioned previously, I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of a distance scale and/or depth of field scale on the side of the lens. It would have been nice if Nikon included a simple distance scale so photographers have another way to check the focus, but to be perfectly honest most people using Nikon D40, D40X, and D60 cameras don't even know what a distance scale looks like and would never use it even if this lens had one.

    Manual Focus
    Focusing manually with the new Nikon 35mm lens on an AF-S camera like the D40x or D60 is much easier than with older Nikon lenses and bodies. Since the lens doesn't use a screw drive for autofocus there is no need to disengage the autofocus clutch in order to use the manual focus ring. Simply turn the manual focus ring on the front of the lens to adjust focus. That said, there is a standard M/A and M switch on the side of the lens in case you want to disable the autofocus and just use manual focus.

    The manual focus ring on the new 35mm lens isn't as smooth as what I've seen on many other primes such as the Pentax DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited. In fact, the manual focus ring on the Nikon feels rough ... almost like it's being turned over a series of stripped plastic gears. The manual focus ring has a "throw" of about 100 degrees, so moving the ring from the closest focus distance to infinity takes a little more than a quarter of a rotation.

    Image Quality
    The sample images in this review were taken with a Nikon D40X in RAW/NEF mode and processed using ACR with no significant changes to the default settings. It's worth noting that Nikon Capture NX2 generally produces image files with more contrast and sharpness than the default settings in Photoshop. In any case, we believe these sample images are representative of what an average Nikon camera owner can produce with this lens ... even if they don't know how to post process images.

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    Even at the widest aperture of f/1.8, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is exceptionally sharp from one edge of the frame to the other with just a little corner softness. When stopped down to f/2.8 or more, even the extreme corners are virtually as tack sharp as the center.

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    The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G renders colors that are hue accurate, bright, and nicely saturated. Contrast was generally good, but not as impressive as what we've seen from other 35mm lenses such as the Pentax DA 35mm Macro Limited. This glass should be more than capable of resolving any detail needed for high resolution digital image sensors such as the 10 megapixel image sensors in the D40X and D60.

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    Flare and internal reflections are very well controlled. Chromatic aberration and color fringe around high contrast lines is also well controlled from f/2 and greater, but wide open at f/1.8 we often saw color fringing on high contrast edge demarcation areas in our images. Most prime lenses have excellent control over barrel or pincushion distortion since they have a fixed focal length. Unfortunately, the new Nikon 35mm showed visible distortion, with vertical lines "bending" outward as seen with the bars in the sample image below.

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    Vignetting (dark corners) was negligible at all apertures with and without the hood. The seven-bladed diaphragm renders exceptional bokeh, and the f/1.8 aperture gives you genuine out-of-focus backgrounds and foregrounds perfect for isolating your subject in the frame. Overall, despite the color fringing when shooting wide open and the visible distortion, this lens has excellent optical build quality ... especially considering the price.

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    CONCLUSION
    As I indicated at the beginning of this review, I am probably a little biased in favor of prime lenses when it comes to photography. Until someone discovers a way to make an affordable zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 there will always be a place for prime lenses. The ability to isolate your subject with shallow depth of field or take photos in extreme low light environments makes this lens a must have for serious photographers. The 35mm focal length also works well as a general purpose lens, though the noticeable barrel distortion is a little frustrating to see in a prime lens.

    In short, the new AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is an amazing lens with fabulous edge-to-edge sharpness, great bokeh, and an outrageously low price. In terms of overall sharpness and aperture range this lens is superior to several lenses that cost more than twice as much! Nikon finally delivered a fantastic prime lens for average consumers who own the D40, D40X, or D60. If you own one of these cameras, this lens belongs in your camera bag.

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    Pros:

    • Affordable prime lens for AF-S cameras
    • Excellent edge-to-edge sharpness
    • Fantastic bokeh for selective focus
    • Great color

    Cons:

    • Prone to color fringing and chromatic aberration when wide open at f/1.8
    • Obvious barrel distortion
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 28, 2015
  2. gnohz

    gnohz New Member

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    According to some other reviews, it was found that there were quite bad chromatic aberration when the f number was increased above 2.8. When wide open, it should have the least aberrations if I'm not wrong.
    May I know if this is true? :)
     
  3. Jerry Jackson

    Jerry Jackson Administrator News/Review Writer

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    There are a lot of websites that test lenses using Imatest software or another synthetic benchmark designed to measure line widths per picture height (LW/PH) and the pixel width of chromatic aberration. While such tests are absolutely valid (and our editorial staff often reads many of them) we generally take a more "real world" approach with reviews.

    In general, chromatic aberration is only a problem if it's significant enough to become distracting in an image. The most distracting type of CA is generally Longitudinal Chromatic Aberrations (color fringing) since Lateral CAs is extremely easy to fix (in fact some DSLRs correct lateral CA automatically ... as do some RAW converters such as Nikon Capture NX2).

    In my opinion, the CA observed from using this lens is generally only visible under close inspection ... and even then rarely becomes distracting. The barrel distortion is far more obvious and distracting to the average person (though this too can be corrected in post processing software like Photoshop).

    The edge-to-edge sharpness, accurate color reproduction, fast apertures, and generally good contrast make this lens extremely attractive ... particularly given the low price tag.
     
  4. gnohz

    gnohz New Member

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    Hi Jerry,
    Thanks a lot for the quick reply and the information :)
    If you are wondering, the review that I saw was from here.
    http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/nikon_35_1p8g_n15/page3.asp

    Also, I was rather disturbed after having seen some sample photos from users (and also from the dpreview samples) who have bought the lens due to the very obvious chromatic aberrations present, so I was wondering if it is really that bad.
    I am aware that this lens is sharp, has good contrast with a very attractive price tag and I am planning to get one after sorting out these issues :)
     
  5. opj

    opj New Member

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    Seriously Jerry? So I must be a young novice since I didn't drop the cash?

    I actually painted focus points on my Nikon D60 kit lenses because of this major disappointment. A sad move for Nikon I say. I guess I can assume full counter-clockwise isn't infinity on this lens either?

    Besides that comment, thanks for the review, it will help me make my purchase decision.
     
  6. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    Fair enough, though in Jerry's defense I'll point out that he did say "most" D40/D40X/D60 users. Given that his current Nikon of choice is one of the smaller bodies (I can't remember if it's a D40X or a D60...), I doubt any criticism was implied - merely a reflection of the fact that many entry-level DSLR buyers are, in fact, casual shooters.

    dr
     
  7. Jerry Jackson

    Jerry Jackson Administrator News/Review Writer

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    David took the words right out of my mouth. There are many experienced photographers out there who want distance/dof scales on their lenses ... and some of them may even use a D40, D40X, or D60.

    But the D40, D40X, and D60 represent 80 percent of all current Nikon DSLRs that have been sold worldwide ... and "most" of that large consumer base consists of people who are going to keep the lens in AF mode and won't bother to check the lens for a scale reading.

    Still, there is a big difference between "most" and "all."
     
  8. AaronM

    AaronM News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    So how does it compare to the other similar lens, the Sigma 30mm f1.4??
    A
     
  9. Jerry Jackson

    Jerry Jackson Administrator News/Review Writer

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    That's a dangerous question to ask a multi-system owner like me. ;)

    The lenses that I've used that are similar to the new Nikon lens include:

    -- Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 USM L
    -- Nikkor AF 35mm f/2 D
    -- Pentax SMC DA 35mm f/2.8 Limited
    -- Pentax SMC-FA 31mm f/1.8 Limited
    -- Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC
    -- Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG

    The new Nikon 35mm f/1.8G has the same amount of barrel distortion as the Sigma 30mm (approximately 1.7%) but more than most of the other 28-35mm primes. Nevertheless, the new Nikon 35mm has some of the best edge-to-edge sharpness and some of the least vignetting of any of the direct competition. The new 35mm 1.8G is also the CHEAPEST of any of these lenses.

    Obviously, the Pentax 31mm, Sigma 30mm and 28mm are wider focal lengths, but if you're willing to consider the 30mm you might as well look at the 28mm.

    I had the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and ended up selling it when I had the chance to buy a Sigma 28mm f/1.8. The Sigma 28mm seems to have less distortion and better real world sharpness at all available apertures compared to the 30mm 1.4 (at least my copies of those lenses).

    I had to stop down the Sigma 30mm to f2 or more to get an acceptably sharp image most of the time. I usually end up doing that with the Sigma 28mm as well, but it seems sharper wide open at f1.8 than the 30mm was wide open at f1.4 or stopped down to f1.8.

    The Pentax 31mm is a fantastic lens in every respect, but it has a little more obvious vignetting wide open at f/1.8 and is MUCH more expensive than the new Nikon lens.

    In terms of CA, the new Nikon 35mm lens isn't the best, but it's not noticeably worse to my eyes than what I used to see from the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ... which is a $1,200 lens!

    The only two negative issues I have with the new Nikon lens in terms of image quality are obvious barrel distortion and "sometimes" visible CA. Again, barrel distortion can me annoying, but it isn't the end of the world and can be fixed in Photoshop. The CA isn't always a problem and is roughly the same amount of CA as I used to see when I was using a $1,200 lens.

    Considering this lens only costs $199, it's fantastic.
     
  10. rolo

    rolo New Member

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    Does this lense work with Nikon D50? I'm thinking it should work, but some sources said that it won't work? It makes me confused. Help is greatly appreciated.
     
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