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.
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!
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.