A lot of our readers have been asking me about the new Nikon 18-35mm AF-S lens that was recently announced. I had a chance to use this lens a while ago for over a month and I never got a chance to fully review it. Ahead of the upcoming Nikon 18-35mm review (posted on 07/27/2013), I would like to provide some data for our readers and compare the lens performance to the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR. The below information only contains sharpness numbers and does not include all other optical tests such as vignetting, distortion, chromatic aberration, etc. – I will only provide a summary of my findings for now. The full data with illustrations and sample images will be provided in the full review.
First of all, I have to say how surprised I was to discover the performance of the new Nikon 18-35mm. The day I received the lens, I took it out with me for a spin on the D800, expecting to see pretty mediocre performance. But after taking some shots and analyzing them in detail in the center and the corners, I realized that this lens might be another winner, similar to some of the cheap and excellent f/1.8 lenses that Nikon has been making lately. Images were crisp and full of details in the center, with only weaker corners. I was curious about how much the lens is actually capable of resolving, so I put it in my Imatest lab along with the Nikon 16-35mm and tested both. When Imatest spit out the initial numbers, I could not believe what I was seeing – the 18-35mm was pretty much on par with the 16-35mm in center resolution and outperformed it in the corners. I then went back and did it all over again, very carefully. Again, the 18-35mm showed the same impressive results.
Here are my test results at 18mm:
Now let’s compare it to 16mm on the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G:
Obviously, this is not at the same focal length, but 18mm is pretty close anyway, so there isn’t a world of difference between those. As you can see from the above charts, the 18-35mm slightly outperforms its bigger brother in the center and the corners, with weaker mid-frame (due to more pronounced field curvature). Stopped down to f/8, there is no difference between the two lenses.
Here are both lenses at 24mm:
At 24mm, both lenses increase in center resolution. Center and mid-frame performance is somewhat comparable. However, have a closer look at the corners – the 18-35mm again outperforms the 16-35mm at larger apertures. When stopped down to f/8, the 16-35mm is very sharp throughout the frame though and that’s where its corners pick up.
Lastly, let’s take a look at 35mm:
Both lenses are rather weak at 35mm, especially in the corners. Performance seems to be almost identical between the two, with perhaps a very slight resolution advantage on behalf of the 18-35mm.
Now keep in mind that the above lenses have quite different characteristics. The 16-35mm still has richer features than the 18-35mm. First, it is wider by 2mm, which is a big difference for a wide-angle lens. Second, it has excellent VR (image stabilization), which is extremely useful for shooting at very slow shutter speeds. The 16-35mm also has Nano Coating, which not only helps with ghosting and flare, but also produces better colors. And lastly, the 16-35mm feels like a solid lens in hands, while the 18-35mm feels a little “plasticky”. Still, at $500 difference in pricing, the 18-35mm seems like a new bargain wide angle lens for Nikon! Considering the impressive resolution figures above, this lens will do nicely on both FX and DX cameras, including the new Nikon D7100.
Update: a full review of the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G has been posted.