Nikon 35mm f/1.8G Lens Review

bythom nikon-g-primes 35mm.jpg

From left to right: 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm f/1.8G (this is a single shot, so sizes are to scale).


Things are more like they are now than they ever were before — Dwight D. Eisenhower


What is It?

The 35mm f/1.8G is one in a continuing series of Nikon’s redesigned primes. We now have 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 lenses, with very similar feature sets and all designed using Nikon’s newer approach to lenses.

Aside. One thing is clear from this series, someone at Nikon didn’t get the message about video in DSLRs. We don’t have an aperture ring or E-type electronic aperture functions, nor do we have focusing well suited to video. Sad. 

bythom nikkor 35mm-f1.8.jpg

Primes don’t tend to be complicated lenses. The pertinent things you’ll want to know about the lens being reviewed are:

  • Maximum f/1.8 aperture, minimum f/16, with a 7-blade aperture diaphragm
  • Minimum focus of about 10” (0.25m) with an almost 1:4 maximum magnification
  • 10.8 ounches (305g) and only about 2.8” long (72mm)
  • 11 elements in 8 groups, with 1 aspherical and 1 ED element
  • AF-S focus (no support for cameras without screw-drive motors in the camera, i.e. the low-end consumer DX models)
  • No VR, no tripod mount, simple MA/M switch
  • 58mm filter ring
  • The HB-70 lens hood and CL-0915 soft pouch come with the lens

There’s a wide focus ring and a minimal depth of field scale (markings for f/16 only). 

Nikon’s page for the lens is here. The lens is made in China and retails for US$530. 

Source of the review sample: personal purchase. Results compared to one other sample lens available to me.


How’s it Handle?

This lens is probably a bit bigger than you’d expect for a 35mm f/1.8, though it is the smallest of the wide angle group of 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm f/1.8’s Nikon that produced. Since you’re almost certainly using it on an FX body (the 35mm f/1.8G DX would be better for DX bodies, and less expensive), that’s not going to be an issue. The lens feels light, though dense, so it’s not exactly a burden to carry. 

The focus ring on the lens rotates a bit more than one-quarter turn from minimum to infinity focus. On my sample the ring feels somewhat rough and is somewhat noisy, though there are no glitches in rotation as I’ve found on some recent Nikkors. There’s not enough discretion or directness for fine tune focus precision, in my opinion. Note my comment about video, above. On top of the discretion problem, focusing isn’t exactly silent, either. 

One peeve with all the f/1.8 lenses I have that relates to handling is the differing filter size: 77, 72, 67, 58, 58, and 67 for the 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm respectively. This means you need probably at least three sets of filters, maybe four (I’d probably handle the 72 and 77 requirements with a 77mm filter and 72-77mm step-up ring.)


How’s it Perform?

Sharpness: Nikon’s new lens design system seems to produce lenses that are consistently very good to excellent in terms of acuity. While we don’t get the exceptional results you see with, say, the Zeiss Otus lenses, recent Nikkor primes have been well-behaved and well balanced. 

The sharpness measurements here bear that out: nothing exceptional to write about, but also nothing problematic to write about. Best aperture is probably f/2.8 (the corners come into sharpness just a bit more at f/5.6 but the central area goes down a bit at f/5.6), but frankly I’d rate both center and edge performance as very good pretty much at every aperture from f/2 upwards (though f/16 is certainly pushed down by diffraction on my D810). 

f/1.8, however, is a bit weak. Even stopping down to f/2 improves performance visibly, and f/2.8 gives you another substantial improvement. Overall, though, even at f/1.8 this lens is better than the f/2 lens that preceded it, and quite usable.  

Chromatic Aberration: lateral CA is certainly present, but it’s very consistent just above the one pixel mark (on a D810) at every aperture. Easily corrected, and is corrected by most recent Nikon bodies shooting JPEG. Longitudinal CA is very present, with substantive green shift beyond the focus point and magenta forward. By f/4 this is minimized, but it’s present to some degree at every aperture. This is fairly typical for fast prime lenses, actually, but it can be problematic in some photographic situations and is difficult to remove.

Vignetting: Probably the worst characteristic of the lens. It vignettes substantially at f/1.8 (almost 2 stops). By f/2.8 the vignetting is mostly ignorable. Again, many modern Nikon’s have the ability to correct for this in JPEGs, though at f/1.8 you’ll almost certainly have to use the High setting.

Linear Distortion: Just over a percent barrel distortion, and it appears that this is mostly free of complexity, so again, easily corrected should it prove troublesome. I do note just a hint of mustache distortion in the extreme corners, but I suspect that this is ignorable.

Bokeh: I’d characterize the bokeh, even wide open, as busy and irregular. The Latitudinal CA is part of the culprit, but my sample also has a lopsided aperture diaphragm as I stop down. Nothing terrible here, but this is not a lens you buy because of its bokeh.


Final Words

DX users should just get the very fine 35mm f/1.8G DX lens.

The problem I have with the 35mm f/1.8G for FX users is this: it’s not in my wheelhouse. It’s not wide enough for my landscape work, and I don’t do enough indoor event work to need the focal length. The lens is just enough better than my 35mm f/2 was, so I kept it, though I don’t use it often.

The 35mm f/1.8G is an excellent lens with only two things that are likely to cause you concern: the vignetting wide open and the lower performance at f/1.8 (resolved almost immediately at f/2). The vignetting is correctable in post processing (or even in camera with many Nikon DSLRs). But if you’re buying this lens for low light work, the f/1.4G might be a better (more expensive) choice.

I think whether you purchase this lens depends a lot upon how you put together your FX prime set. For me, that would be 20mm, 24mm, 50mm, 85mm, and maybe the 28mm or 35mm to fit the gap between 24mm and 50mm for certain types of work. 

Still, I’ve always personally felt that 35mm was a little too close to 50mm to warrant carrying both. Either I was in situations where I needed to be closer (couldn’t back up) or I wasn’t. In the former, I’d rather have wider (24mm, or maybe 28mm) than less wide (35mm). 

So it really boils down to a personal choice here. If you need a 35mm fast prime, this Nikkor is pretty darned good. Not truly exceptional at f/1.8, but hard to beat at f/2.8. It’s not something you’re going to regret buying in terms of performance (with the minor notes I made above).

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