Nikon 35mm f/1.8G FX Superb Performance Sample

Having been testing lenses extensively for the past few years, I have seen all kinds of optical defects on even the most expensive / exotic lenses that cost thousands of dollars. One of the most common issues I have seen so far is lens de-centering, where a single optical element or a group of elements are not properly aligned with others, resulting in uneven performance across the frame. Some lenses have very slight de-centering, which only software like Imatest can reveal, while others have very noticeable de-centering (particularly lower-end zoom lenses), where a portion of the frame would always appear less sharp in images. Then there are other optical issues that also impact the overall contrast and sharpness of lens. And testing lenses with all kinds of optical issues can often be a challenging task.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED

But every once in a while, I get a sample lens that just stands out from the group in terms of optical performance. A lens that is optically near-flawless, an “indigo child” of its line, with perfect optical alignment that result in test scores that are just hard to explain. As I was testing the new Nikon 35mm f/1.8G FX lens, I discovered that the particular sample I have been testing is one of those! With a slightly worse performance than the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, this lens turned out to be one of the sharpest lenses I have tested to date. Well, not as a whole, but in the center frame. And it had zero de-centering issues, because when I lined my setup perfectly across the test chart, I did not have to move anything. Just take a look at this guy for yourself:

And compare it to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, which before this lens had the crown for the best center performance among 35mm primes:

Yup, my sample turned out to be as sharp as the Sigma at the maximum aperture in the center and even sharper in the mid-frame at some apertures. The Sigma had more consistent performance stopped down than the Nikon, but that’s still pretty darn good for the Nikkor!

Now for many of you, the above figures might not mean much, so I am providing some center crops at the maximum aperture for comparison (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.8G FX, Right: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art):
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G FX @ f/1.4 Center Crop Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art @ f/1.4 Center Crop

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G FX has noticeably more chromatic aberration, but its sharpness is amazing at f/1.8. Corners also show much more pronounced chromatic aberration levels than the Sigma, but if you are willing to deal with it in post (which is literally a single click in Lightroom), then you will be happy with what you can get with this lens.

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G is far from being a perfect lens, with its rather noticeable field curvature in the mid-frame, fairly low corner performance at large apertures, visible distortion and the above-mentioned chromatic aberration issues. And I would not expect every sample to be as good as the one I tested, since it is not in the league of “pro” lenses to have that performance consistency. However, I see a lot of potential value in this gem for those that do not want f/1.4 or the weight of the Sigma Art. Plus, no focus inconsistency issues to deal with, which some of our readers that own the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art have been complaining about. I will do my best to catch up with reviews as soon as I can, but thought this mini-review would be helpful to those who have been waiting.


Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Bilal

    Thanks Nasim.

  2. 2
    ) AutofocusRoss

    Nasim, thanks for the article, that issue about ‘de-centering’ of a lens element is something that I haven’t heard much about elsewhere. I was using my 50mm 1.8G over the weekend here, and it truly yeilds amazing quality paired with a 24mp sensor (my D5200) I would love to see how it does on the D800, where it would function AS a 50mm rather than the (effectively) 75mm I am getting on a crop sensor.

    I’ve found f5.6 – f8 to be the sweet spot on this lens, notwithstanding tip top performance wide open, with the throwing of background bokeh into a wonderful milky mist, behind the main subject.

    The 35mm you tested would, of course, be (effectively) a 50mm lens on the D5200 due to the same crop factor issues. I was thinking of getting one, with the cost being reasonable, why not?

    That said, you would think, after all this time, after god knows how many millions of camera lenses Nikon (and Canon, and everyone else) have made, over all these years, that issues like de-centering would be banished forever. You can understand CA and optical distortion, the laws of physics cannot be defeated, only fixed in post, but the de-centering is a manufacturing tollerance issue – maybe they take the view that most will not enlarge beyond 10×8 and fix the factory testing tollerances accordingly?

    What do YOU think is the cause of this problem, such as it is? is the unsharp portion of the image constant or does it swap around with focus point, and / or aperture, what is your feeling about the results?

    • 4
      ) AM I Am

      For DX, I’d rather buy the DX 35mm f/1.8G. It’s an excellent performer on DX and you’ll save $400.

      • 5
        ) Sven

        And interestingly, the DX lens actually covers full frame – I use it on my D800 sometimes when I want to travel ultra light.

        What I’d want to see (c’mon Nasim, I bet you can do this one for us ;-) is a MTF test of the $200 DX 35mm f/1.8G vs. the $600 FX 35mm f/1.8G, both of them on full frame. Because even full frame users could save $400 here.

    • 9
      ) Jim

      Thanks Nisam for bringing the topic of lens decentering to our attention. The folks at LensRental.com have also recently written rather extensively about lens decentering and show some examples of both “better” and “poorer” examples. It is an interesting read if you want additional practical information.

  3. 3
    ) Pascal

    Interesting read Nasim!
    A 35 mm lens is on my wish list for quite a while, even though I have a 16-35 / f4. I find 35 mm to be a great universal walk around lens.
    Quick question, would you be able to see a lot of performance difference between the Nikon and the Sigma at f8 and f11? According to the graphs, the Sigma is slightly better in the corners and mid frame but would I be able to see that (without pixel peeking)?

    Thanks,
    Pascal

  4. 6
    ) David

    Hello Nasim,
    Thank you for the info about the 35mm f/1.8g FX. I have the 28mm F/1.8G FX, and agree with your review of that 28mm lens. I prefer the 28mm focal length, but worry about its inherent optical problems. I usually travel light with a D800 or D610, 85mm f/1.8G, 28mm F/1.8G, and a 16mm F/2.8 Fisheye. I often use the fisheye for ultra wide angle shots and then later “straighten the lines” in DxO Pro Optics. How much better, in your opinion, is the 35mm as compared to the 28mm?
    Thank you,
    David

  5. 7
    ) Jaz

    Waiting patiently… This mini review is good enough to make me feel excited for the full review. Hoping it would trigger my urge to get a unit of this lens soon! :D

    Thanks Nasim!

  6. 8
    ) Keith R. Starkey

    You go, Nasim! That’s right: the 35mm 1.8 DX is the bomb, the killer of all lenses…WAIT! FX? (Sigh!)

    Well, you must have made a typo, Nasim, when you wrote “FX.” Surely…SURELY you were talking about the DX, right???

    Ha!

    Well, I’ve got the DX and it’s doing the job fine, but I’m definitely going to get the FX if I ever get an FX format body.

    Thanks, Nasim (even if you made a typo, because the DX version is the best lens on the planet because I have it and can’t afford anything more and don’t know when I’ll ever get an FX body and…well, I could go on!)

  7. 10
    ) Chris Zeller

    Thanks Nasim!

    I’m looking forward to the review. I’m trying to decide which 35mm to get to replace my 35mm F2 and thought the Sigma had it nailed based on your last preview. This is not surprising given the good performance of the 50mm f1.8. I’m eager to see the typical performance of this lens to know what to expect.

    Thanks

  8. 11
    ) Phillip M Jones

    I have the 35 F1.8 DX lens and it a great Lens and relatively inexpensive as well

    • 17
      ) Tonio Loewald

      As I understand it, the 35mm f1.8 DX only works at f3 or wider and suffers from significant vignetting, but is actually sharper than the new (FX) lens.

      • 21
        ) Keith R. Starkey

        Nope, it works at 1.8 and with no vignetting.

        • 23
          ) Ertan

          35mm DX only works on FX bodies without vignetting when you focus very close distances. Focus more than about 1 meter and you’ll see a lot of vignetting. Still, it’s a nice lens that I use on D800 if you want vignetting.

          • 24
            ) Keith R. Starkey

            I’m sorry, I got lost in the flow and thought we were talking about the 35mm DX on a DX body! Silly me!

            • 25
              ) Phillip M Jones

              Yes we have to be careful. Nikon makes so many duplicate lens for both Platforms. I run into this all the time on Nikonians Forum. Often a conversation starts about a lens and after you’ve stuck your neck out and posted something you discover they are talking about FX lens. When there is a version also for DX cameras as well which is what I have (a D3200). Its odd most conversations are about mostly DX Cameras and FX Lens.

  9. 12
    ) Carmelo

    Thank you, Nasim, for your first test results about this lens! Is it possible to make a comparison with the Nikon 35mm/1.4G, too?

  10. 13
    ) Dirk

    Why are all Nikkors so much suffering from CA… and seem so many third party lenses to outperform the Nikkors in this aspect? Strange. Sorry, but… I do disagree that post is the solution to solve this issue, it’s just poor lens behavior and in some isolated cases it may even ruin your picture more than you want to.

    • 18
      ) Tonio Loewald

      CA is relatively easy to fix in post, so it’s a question of trading off things that are hard or impossible to fix against things that are easy to fix. No lens is perfect since they’re all trying to do a bunch of impossible things (e.g. deflect different wavelengths of light by the same net amount, evenly distribute light on a flat surface, have no internal reflections, etc. etc. etc.)

      • 20
        ) Dirk

        ‘CA is relatively easy to fix’, no this is not the way, it is poor, it is a disaster. If Sigma – to put a name on it – can design a 35mm F1.4 that even wide open is very resistive versus CA, sharper than its Nikkor equivalent, made in Japan and is quite a bit cheaper, even outperforming this newer 35mm F1.8, one stop slower and still more expensive, something is terribly wrong with Nikon. Both companies have to fight against the same physical & optical laws. My impression is so much that Nikon is paying more attention to the stockholders than to the true client base, often faithful to this same brand for decades. Will that stay, with all those shiny, advanced mirrorless-cameras, sometimes far better finished products? Look at the Nikkors in my bag of ten-twenty years ago, and the present AF-G’s, well? It’s a shame Nikon cannot manufacture to the same mechanical standards anymore. Why are they in the digital age of very refined design, engineering and simulation-software applications also for optical-design purposes, not capable to achieve the same optical formulas as the best in class, say it, a small company like Sigma? Even the already so-so designed Df has to do with a plastic imitation of the 50mm F1.8 with no rings. It is us, that have keep companies like Nikon sharp, if we’re not buying this kind of fake or below expectation stuff, they have to change.

        • 22
          ) Andrew

          Fixing point spread functions is cheaper than fixing CA optically. The entire industry is moving in that direction. All mirror less cameras employ software correction. No exceptions.

        • 26
          ) Ashar

          Unfortunately there’s just no way you can be competitive on the current market when you produce products with excellent build quality and great durability. Production has to be fast, efficient and cheap. Not much room for error or delay. ‘Lean’ come to mind, but there are several other systems. Focus is on efficiency. The same trend can be seen in almost every other branch, including the one I work in. I understand it, but I also feel we have lost something that will probably never return and I sometimes wonder how far we can push it before people (especially the older generations / version 1.0 to 1.9 ha, ha) start to fall apart. We seem to be turning ourselves into robots (until the real ones will take over). Anyway, I think CA is relatively easy to fix. Maybe not all of it, but most. This new Nikon 35mm f/1.8G for FX is lightweight and compact. I wouldn’t want to carry the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 or the Sigma 50mm f/1.4. It’s a choice you have to make for yourself. Optical quality or compactness and low weight.

  11. 14
    ) Don

    Thanks, Nasim. Cool lens. Any chance for a similar review for Canon, specifically the EF 35mm f/1.4L USM? I don’t have a Nikon camera. I just looked at your “Lens Reviews” link to see if it might be there, but I don’t see any Canon lenses, just 50 links for Nikon lenses; 6 for Fuji; and a few ones for Samyang, Tamron, and Zeiss. Thanks!

  12. 15
    ) John King

    That’s very good news about the performance of your sample of this lens. One more comment about fixing CA with software in post– my tests indicate that some CA corrections can also reduce overall sharpness in the entire image. I use CA corrections very selectively.

    I’m pleased that many commenters have good samples of the 35mm f/1.8 DX lens. The copy that I bought was so badly de-centered I sent it to Nikon Service who claimed that it was “within spec”. It was a very poor lens that performed worse than the 18-105 at the same focal length.

  13. 16
    ) gregorylent

    gear is so crappy compared to years past .. sure, the innards are better .. but i am regularly spending around us$2000 on body and lens repairs with nikon … some of it “my fault” (see that scratch there? that means you dropped it. sir) to simple part failure, or in the case of nkon india faulty service that no one will stand behind.

    love photography, not a huge fan of the direction the equipment is going

  14. 19
    ) preston

    To your point about it being smaller and lighter than the Sigma 35 f/1.4, wouldn’t it make a ton of sense for Nikon to release updates of the f/2.8 D lenses for those that want smaller and lighter but don’t need the speed or DOF (or price) of the current primes? This would be a fantastic way to differentiate themselves from Canon and make lots of people looking for DX primes very happy (since these would balance better than the FX 1.8′s and match the design ethos of smaller and lighter for DX). The D primes just don’t have enough resolving power for the current high pixel density sensors.

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