Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G vs Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D @ 18mm
Here’s how the lens compares to its predecessor at 18mm:
The difference in sharpness is pretty obvious – the old 18-35mm AF-D is quite poor optically. Its center sharpness only gets at a good level at f/5.6 and the lens suffers from heavy dome-like field curvature that impacts the sharpness of the mid-frame and the corners severely. The corners never quite recover, even at f/11. By far, this is one of the worst lenses I have tested in my lab. The corners are extremely poor, something I would consider “unacceptable” on a full-frame camera body. It is not as bad on DX, where corner sharpness is pretty close to what the mid-frames look like above.
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G vs Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D @ 24mm
Let’s compare the lenses at 24mm:
The Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D is even more disappointing at 24mm, with poor center performance wide open. Mid-frame and corners are still poor at large apertures and only get better at f/11.
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.
Without a doubt, the old Nikon 18-35mm AF-D is poor sharpness-wise, with a number of optical problems. Its center sharpness is not good wide open, often requiring to stop down to f/8 to get good results. Its mid-frame and corners are very poor and never quire recover, even when stopped down to f/11. Worst of all, the old 18-35mm suffers from really nasty distortion problems, where distortion is not linear in the center, in a “wavy” pattern. It goes from a straight line to a circular shape, then back to a straight line again – this type of distortion can be difficult to fix in post-production.
In summary, there is simply no comparison between the old and the new lens.
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G vs Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR @ 16-18mm
Let’s see how the Nikon 18-35mm AF-S compares to my favorite Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR optically (see my review of the 16-35mm). Here is a comparison of lenses at 18mm and 16mm (shortest focal length on both lenses):
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.
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G vs Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR @ 24mm
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.
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G vs Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR @ 35mm
Finally, here are both 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” in comparison. Still, that’s a difference of $500 in pricing between the two!
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