This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D IF-ED, a variable aperture zoom lens that was released a long time ago, in year 2000. The lens has been recently replaced with the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED, which I recently reviewed and praised for its superb performance. I decided to post this particular review, because it might be useful for those that are considering purchasing the lens at a bargain price, now that it has been replaced and will soon be discontinued. Plus, I have all the data I need for a detailed review.
The Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D was never a very popular lens. Although it was generally a pretty good performer (for its price) on film and earlier APS-C cameras, it was known to have rather poor corner performance, visible distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration problems. With the introduction of high-resolution full-frame and APS-C cameras, these optical problems got amplified even more, making it a difficult lens to work with. In this review, I will be comparing the Nikon 18-35mm to its AF-S replacement and will spend some time talking about features, handling and optical performance of the lens.
1) Lens Specifications
- Wide-angle to standard zoom versatility
- 77mm screw-on filter thread
- ED glass and aspherical lens elements are utilized for superior optical performance and reduced chromatic aberration
- Internal Focusing (IF) design
- Focal length: 18-35mm
- Maximum aperture: f/3.5
- Minimum aperture: f/22
- Lens construction: 11 elements in 8 groups (with 1 ED and 1 aspherical lens elements)
- Angle of view: 100° – 62° (76° – 44° with Nikon DX format)
- Closest focusing distance: 0.33 m (1.1 ft.)
- Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.15x
- No. of diaphragm blades: 7
- Filter/attachment size: 77mm
- Diameter x length (extension from the camera’s lens-mount flange): Approximately 91.4 x 81.2 mm
- Weight: 370 g/13 oz.
- Supplied accessories: HB-23 Hood, 77mm lens cap, Rear lens cap
2) Lens Handling and Build
The barrel of the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D is all plastic, something one would expect from a consumer-grade lens. At just 370 grams, it is a very lightweight lens when compared to other ultra-wide angle lenses. Zoom and focus rings are plastic, covered with rubber rings for better grip. The lens mount is metal, with CPU contacts for autofocus operation and sending distance information to the camera. When compared to modern wide angle zooms, it is a pretty compact and lightweight lens. Take a look at the below image for a size comparison (From left to right: Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D, Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G, Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR):
Being an Internal Focus (IF) lens, the front of the lens does not rotate during focusing, which is good for using polarizing filters. The 77mm filter thread is plastic, similar to what you see on all consumer and many modern pro-level lenses today. The lens does extend a little when zooming out to 18mm and is at its shortest length at 35mm. The focus ring located on the front of the lens is pretty narrow and does not feel as dampened as on pro-level lenses. The zoom ring moves smoothly when going from 18mm to 35mm and vice-versa. Like on all AF-D lenses, there is an aperture ring close to the lens mount for manual aperture control. On all modern cameras, you would have to set the lens aperture to f/22 to be able to change aperture directly from the camera. There is an aperture lock lever right on the ring to lock aperture at f/22 and prevent it from accidentally changing.
Unfortunately, being an old lens, there is no rubber gasket on the lens mount for weather/dust sealing purposes. Try to keep the lens mount clean in order to reduce potential dust and other debris from entering the lens and the camera. The lens is not weather sealed in any way, so I would recommend to keep it away from dust, rain and humid conditions. The lens ships with a plastic petal-shaped hood, which sits relatively well once attached.
Overall, the build quality is not bad, but obviously not as good as on professional Nikkor lenses.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
Although the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D lens has an old screw-type focus, its focus rotation is very minimal, so the AF speed is very fast – even faster than on the new AF-S version. Unfortunately, being an AF-D lens, it will not autofocus on entry-level Nikon DSLRs such as Nikon D3100/D3200/D5100/D5200 with no built-in autofocus motors. In addition, it is much noisier than the new AF-S lenses and there is no way to override focus by simply rotating the focus ring – you will have to switch to manual focus on the lens first in order to be able to focus manually.
When it comes to autofocus accuracy, the Nikon 18-35mm seems to be quite reliable. It may not be as accurate as pro-level f/2.8 levels in low-light conditions, but it is still solid in most situations. I primarily used the lens on the Nikon D800E camera body and the lens did not need to be calibrated with AF Fine Tune.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
As I reveal below, the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D is far from being a stellar lens. Aside from a number of issues such as “wavy distortion”, chromatic aberration and heavy vignetting, the resolving power of the lens is very weak outside the center area, especially in the corners. The lens is so bad in the corners, that I would not consider using it on a full-frame body. On APS-C / DX cameras, the lens does not look as bad, since the corners are not used and the performance in the corners looks similar to what we see in the mid-frame. Personally though, I would rather use the excellent Nikon 16-85mm VR lens if I were looking for a DX lens in the same price range. I measured the MTF performance of the lens using Imatest software and so far this lens has been the worst performer for FX – see below for more information.
5) Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D MTF Performance
Let’s take a look at the resolving capabilities of the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D in detail. Here is the lens performance at the short end of the zoom range, at 18mm:
The lens starts out pretty well and gets to very good performance at f/5.6 in the center. The mid-frame performance is much weaker than the center, but gets decent at f/5.6 and very good by f/8. Corner performance is very bad pretty much at all apertures, with its highest performance at f/11.
Here is the lens at 24mm:
The overall performance of the lens is slightly worse at 24mm. Center performance is weak wide open, but gets very good at f/8. Mid-frame performance drops compared to 18mm, with its peak performance at f/5.6-f/8. Corners still look pretty bad at all apertures.
And finally, here is the lens performance at 35mm:
Things look a little better at maximum aperture at 35mm, but the overall performance is still pretty weak across the frame.
Just like many other ultra wide-angle lenses, this lens is not really designed to yield beautiful bokeh, due to its small maximum aperture and short focal range, which results in large depth of field. At f/4.5, bokeh options at the longest focal length are still quite limited. You would have to get your subject extremely close to be able to get some subject isolation.
If you want to get better bokeh on wide angle lenses, try fast-aperture primes like Sigma 35mm f/1.4.
The Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D suffers from heavy vignetting issues at 18mm. At f/3.5, vignetting is quite bad, reaching 2.79 EV in the corners. Take a look at the following chart, measured by Imatest:
Vignetting levels improve significantly at 24mm and are at the lowest level at 35mm.
And here is the illustration of the worst case scenario (18mm, f/3.5):
If you are planning to use a standard polarizing filter on this lens, it will vignette heavily in the corners at 18mm (corners will have to be cropped).
8) Ghosting and Flare
The lens can exhibit pretty nasty flare, depending on the position of the sun and aperture. Take a look at the following image sample, shot at f/8:
Take a look at the lower right corner of the frame – flare, strong in orange color is quite evident there. Ghosting is also pretty noticeable across the frame in tinted green and blue colors.
While the Imatest charts below indicate pretty moderate levels of barrel distortion, the measured distortion levels are actually inaccurate, since this lens exhibits a very nasty case of curved or “wavy” distortion. First, take a look at the following graph charted by Imatest:
And now take a look at what the chart actually looked like when I photographed it at 18mm:
Take a look at the top line – ideally, the line should be straight, if a lens does not have any distortion. As you can see from the image, the line is not only curved, but it is irregularly curved – it first starts out flat, then starts curving at about 1/4th of the way, eventually taking a spherical shape, then it straightens back into a straight line again towards the end. This type of distortion is practically absent on modern lenses, but I have seen it a couple of times on older AF-D lenses.
The bad news, it is practically impossible to fix this type of distortion. If you try to fix distortion in the middle of the frame, the corners curve out, as shown in the “corrected” image below (+8 in Photoshop Lens Correction):
When the lens is used on APS-C cameras, the straight area is not in the frame, so distortion can be more or less fixed in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Also, pay attention to the lower line – this particular lens sample suffers from misaligned optical elements, so it is impossible to make both lines appear straight, or consistent. I have seen this on a number of lenses before, so it is not a rare occurrence, unfortunately.
10) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration levels are high, averaging over 2 pixels at 18mm. CA levels drop down as you zoom in towards 35mm:
Lateral chromatic aberrations are generally not a problem and can be easily fixed in Lightroom and Photoshop. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is also under control, which is good news.
11) Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D vs Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G @ 18mm
Let’s take a look at how the lens compares to its replacement at 18mm:
The difference in sharpness is pretty obvious – the old 18-35mm AF-D is optically poor across the frame in comparison to its replacement.
12) Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D vs Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G @ 24mm
Let’s compare the lenses at 24mm:
The Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D is even more disappointing at 24mm.
13) Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G vs Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D @ 35mm
Finally, here is a comparison at 35mm:
The Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D recovers a bit at 35mm, but again, the performance difference between the two is very obvious. In summary, there is simply no comparison between the old and the new lens.
There is no point of comparing the lens to the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR, since you will see a similar pattern as above.
As you can see from the previous sections of this review, the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D IF-ED is a poor lens optically when mounted on a full-frame camera. While it can reach good resolution figures when stopped down to f/8 in the center, its mid-frame performance is rather weak and its corners are even worse. The lens also suffers from nasty distortion, heavy vignetting and chromatic aberration levels. It does not look as bad when mounted on APS-C cameras though (since the corners get chopped off), so distortion and vignetting issues are generally not an issue. Simply put, the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D IF-ED is not designed for modern high resolution full-frame DSLRs like Nikon D600 and D800.
If you are looking for a good lens for your DX camera, I would recommend the Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens instead. Not only does it give you a better range, but it is also superior in the corners and has built-in image stabilization / vibration reduction.
15) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D lens for $609 (as of 08/02/2013).
16) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating