This is an in-depth review of the new Nikon 28mm f/1.8G ED lens that was announced in April of 2012 together with the Nikon D3200 DSLR. Lately, Nikon has been busy releasing great and affordable fast prime lenses. First, it was the excellent Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, which turned out to be a better buy than its bigger brother, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G. Then Nikon surprised us with the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G, which also turned out to be a phenomenal lens. And now we have the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G, which despite a difference in focal length could be a great alternative to the very expensive, but superb Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.
The Nikon 28mm f/1.8G lens is a professional-grade lens for enthusiasts and professionals that need high quality optics of a fixed wide-angle lens with a large aperture of f/1.8 for low-light situations and shallow depth of field to isolate subjects from the background. The lens is designed for both FX and DX sensors (equivalent of 42mm on DX). Nikon has incorporated the latest technology and optical formulas to this lens, including AF-S silent-wave focus motor and Nano crystal coating. With its focal length of 28mm, the lens is not as wide as the 24mm f/1.4G, making it a little more suitable for general everyday photography.
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G lens, along with image samples and comparisons to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.
1) Lens Specifications
- Prime wide-angle perspective and fast f/1.8 aperture delivers great low-light performance.
- Nano Crystal Coat effectively reduces ghost and flare.
- 2 Aspherical Lens Elements virtually eliminate coma and other types of aberration.
- Rear Focus (RF) provides smooth and fast autofocus while eliminating front barrel rotation and lens length changes.
- Quiet focusing with built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM).
- Two focus modes selectable – M/A and M
- Rounded 7-Blade Diaphragm renders natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 28mm
- Maximum Aperture: 1.8
- Minimum Aperture: 16
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 53°
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 75°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.22x
- Lens (Elements): 11
- Lens (Groups): 9
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- Aspherical (Elements): 2
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.85ft.(0.25m)
- Rear Focusing: Yes
- Filter Size: 67mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions: (Approx.) 2.9×3.2 in. (Diameter x Length), 73×80.5mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight: (Approx.) 11.6 oz. (330g)
- Supplied Accessories: LC-67 Snap-on Front Lens Cap, HB-64 Bayonet Lens Hood, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-0915 Semi-soft Lens Case
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Handling and Build
Similar to the recently introduced Nikon prime lenses, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G has a solid build, with a plastic exterior and a metal mount. Weighing almost half of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, it is a relatively small and lightweight lens that is easy to carry and handle. Like its other f/1.8G counterparts, it also comes with a rubber gasket on the lens mount, which provides good sealing against dust making its way into the camera (the rubber gasket definitely helps not only in reducing sensor dust, but also in reducing the amount of dust that could potentially end up inside the lens). It has a much smaller and less round front element than the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and a thinner barrel, making the lens less bulky in comparison. A smaller barrel also means a smaller filter thread – the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G takes 67mm filters. Thanks to the rear focus feature, the front of the lens never extends or rotates during focusing, which means that you can easily use polarizing filters without worrying about constant readjustment. The lens comes with the HB-64 bayonet lens hood, which sits tight and does not wobble once mounted. The M/A and M switch on the side of the lens allows autofocus with manual focus override and full manual focus operation. The latest Nikon DSLRs like Nikon D3200 immediately recognize the focus position and provide notifications on the information (“I” button) screen.
As expected, the lens balances well on Nikon DSLRs (I tested it on Nikon D3200, D700, D800E and D4), although it might feel a little too light for high-end heavy DSLRs like D4. The focus ring is very wide and smooth, making it easy for manual focus adjustment. On the flip side, it feels a little too loose and not damped enough when compared to other modern AF-S lenses. There is a little lag between when you turn the focus ring and when the focus actually moves, which is especially noticeable and annoying when trying to focus in live view mode.
Here is how the lens compares to the highly acclaimed Nikon 24mm f/1.4G:
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
Similar to other f/1.8 lenses, the autofocus speed on the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G lens is good. I would say comparable to the AF speed on the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. Thanks to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology, autofocus operation is also pretty quiet, much better compared to old and noisy screw-type AF-D lenses. I tested this lens in both daylight and low-light situations on multiple DX and FX cameras and autofocus was accurate at the maximum aperture of f/1.8 (make sure to fine tune your lens if needed). Be careful with this lens when stopping down, since the lens has quite a bit of focus shift (see Focus Shift and Field Curvature section below).
As with any other lens, keep in mind that shooting at very large apertures in low light situations can be challenging for the AF system of your camera. If you cannot consistently get accurate focus in daylight, your lens sample might have a front/back focusing issue.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
Something new that we will be doing going forward, starting from this review, is assess the performance of lenses using Imatest software. I had the pleasure of visiting Norman Koren, the founder of Imatest in Boulder, CO this week. After a lengthy conversation and product demo (I will be publishing his interview within the next few days), I purchased Imatest software with a very large test chart that is specifically designed for high resolution sensors like the one on the Nikon D800/D800E. Now we will be able to put some numbers to our tests, although we will still continue to provide 100% crops of images for reference. Measuring things like distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting will now be much easier, thanks to Imatest.
So how did the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G perform? Here are some sharpness numbers for your reference (move the mouse over each bar to see the values):
As you can see, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G starts out pretty sharp wide open, even in the corners. The corners improve significantly stopped down to f/4 and get very close to the center sharpness, although the mid-frame does look worse in comparison. This is due to the donut-shaped field curvature issue the lens exhibits – sharpness is good in the center, gets a little worse in the mid-frame and is good again in the corner.
Compare the above result to the excellent Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, which shows no signs of serious field curvature issues:
5) Focus Shift and Field Curvature
The Nikon 28mm f/1.8G lens was somewhat of a pain to test, because it has several optical problems. First, it has a focus shift issue. While focus shift is normal in fast aperture prime lenses, the bad news is that this lens has a combination of focus shift and field curvature. The donut-shaped field curvature is fairly evident at all wide apertures, all the way to f/8 (as evidenced by the above chart, which shows weaker mid-frame performance).
I have now tested three samples of the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G (which is why this review took forever to complete) and all three showed the above optical issues, with slightly varying results.
What does this mean for field use? Since cameras acquire focus with lenses at their maximum aperture (in this case f/1.8), stopping down the lens to f/4-f/5.6 will put your focused subject slightly out of focus, moving the focus plane back – result of focus shift. In addition, the area that appears sharp in the center will not distribute evenly across the frame – result of field curvature. This is generally not a huge problem for landscape photography (most of these issues are gone by f/8-f/11), but could definitely be problematic for other uses.
Take a look at this sample image that shows focus shifting from the center to back when going from f/1.8 to f/2.8:
Keep in mind that focus shift actually gets worse at f/4 and f/5.6 when compared to f/1.8.
Despite the fact that the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G is a wide-angle lens, the shallow depth of field at f/1.8 yields good looking bokeh. Although the quality of bokeh is not as great as in some Nikon portrait lenses, it is still quite good when compared to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G:
Wide open, the bokeh on the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G looks less busy than on the 24mm f/1.4G. The outer edges of background highlights seem to be smoother and less defined. Stopped down to f/2.8, both lenses look about the same. I like the rounded 7-blade diaphragm, which looks better than the straight 9-bladed diaphragm used on older Nikkor lenses.
Here are some image samples showing the bokeh rendering of the lens:
Most prime lenses heavily vignette when shot wide open and the same is true for the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G, so no surprises here. The good news is that as you stop down to f/2.8, vignetting decreases significantly. At f/4.0 vignetting is decreased to about half a stop in the extreme corners. The bad news is that from there on it stays about the same, at about half a stop no matter how much you stop down. Take a look at lens vignetting at different apertures (the below numbers are computed as a mean value from all four corners of the frame):
And here is a a graph that shows the spread of light falloff across the image frame, when shot wide open at f/1.8:
Fortunately, these vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, so it is that big of an issue.
8) Ghosting and Flare
Thanks to Nano Coating and clever optical design, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G handles ghosting and flare as good (if not better) as the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G. Take a look at the below comparison samples:
One important thing to note here, is the sun star characteristic of both lenses here. The Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is known to produce busy-looking sun stars (thanks to the 9-blade diaphragm), while the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G has much less points in comparison, which in my opinion, looks better.
As expected from a wide-angle lens, there is some visible barrel distortion on the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G. Imatest measured 1.25% barrel distortion, which is a little worse than the 1.02% barrel distortion exhibited by the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G. It is really nothing to worry about and the problem can be easily fixed in Lightroom using the Lens Correction sub-module (the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G is supported by the latest version of Lightroom). Here is a sample uncorrected image taken by the D3200 that shows slight distortion:
10) Chromatic Aberration
All chromatic aberration tests were performed using RAW images (CA correction turned off both in camera and in post-processing). The Nikon 28mm f/1.8G exhibits lateral chromatic aberration in the range of 1.75px wide open to 2.07px at f/8 in the extreme corners. Here are some results from Imatest:
I would not worry much about lateral chromatic aberration, as it can be fixed in Lightroom using the Lens Correction module.
When it comes to Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration (LoCA), the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G handles it really well. Take a look at the below LensAlign crop that shows a small amount of LoCA:
Stopping down the lens to f/2.8 and beyond completely gets rid of LoCA.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests and comparisons.
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto
- ISO: 100
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D800E FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect. After each successful focus acquisition, focus was switched to manual to prevent camera refocusing
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, no lens corrections or extra sharpening applied
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11.0 and f/16.0 apertures, but the last two are excluded from all comparisons due to diffraction
- Nothing was moved during testing
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 28mm f/1.8G Center Frame
At f/2.8, we see a sudden spike in sharpness in the center. Vignetting is reduced significantly at this level. Sharpness is increased further when the lens is stopped down to f/4.0:
Stopped down to f/5.6, the image is already very sharp and we do not see a dramatic improvement, although f/8.0 does seem like a sweet spot for this lens in the center.
Please note that all of the above shots have been compensated for focus shift (focus was reacquired on each image). Without focus shift adjustments, images at f/2.8, f/4.0 and f/5.6 are visibly softer and show signs of aberration.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 28mm Corner Frame
Let’s see how the lens behaves in the extreme corners. Aside from a high amount of vignetting and visible amounts of lateral chromatic aberrations, the corners seem to be a little soft wide open and at f/2.0, as seen below:
Stopped down to f/2.8 we see much less vignetting, but as sharpness slightly improves, chromatic aberrations are now even more visible. At f/4.0, however, we see a dramatic improvement in corner sharpness:
At f/5.6 and f/8.0, sharpness is improved, but not by a huge margin as evidenced in the below crops:
Let’s now see how the lens compares to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.
Compared to Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
The Nikon 24mm f/1.4G (see my Nikon 24mm f/1.4G Review) has been my reference lens for sharpness ever since it was released back in March of 2010. It has amazing clarity, colors and sharpness across the frame that no other Nikon lens can match. Although I have provided the test results from Imatest earlier in this review, let’s take a look at how the actual crop samples look like in comparison.
13) Nikon 28mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 24mm f/1.4G Center Frame
At f/1.8, you can see how sharp the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is in the center when compared to the 28mm f/1.8G. If we compare the wide open performance of both lenses, then the 24mm f/1.4G is only a bit sharper in comparison.
By f/2.0, there is a noticeable difference in sharpness between the two lenses.
The Nikon 28mm f/1.8G improves dramatically at f/2.8, but it is still not even close to the amazing crispness and clarity of the 24mm f/1.4G.
By f/4.0, we can see that the difference shrinks quite a bit and the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G starts to catch up.
And even more so at f/5.6.
By f/8.0, the sharpness difference between the two is fairly small.
14) Nikon 28mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 24mm f/1.4G Corner Frame
Now let’s see how both compare in the extreme corners (Left: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G, Right: Nikon 24mm f/1.4G):
Although the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G has more pronounced vignetting at f/1.8, it clearly has less lateral chromatic aberration in the extreme corners. As a result, the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G appears worse in comparison. I played with the Lens Corrections module in Lightroom and removed CA from both images, then compared the crops side by side. The Nikon 28mm f/1.8G still appears sharper. Let’s see what happens when both lenses are stopped down more.
Stopping down to f/2.0 does not help the 24mm f/1.4G as much – it still appears softer in comparison.
At f/2.8, however, the lenses change places. Although the 24mm f/1.4G still shows a rather significant amount of lateral CA, the overall sharpness of the corners is better on it. You can see this yourself by importing both images to Lightroom/Photoshop and removing CA. I must, however, acknowledge the fact that the 28mm f/1.8G has a much better control of chromatic aberrations in comparison.
The Nikon 24mm f/1.4G improves its corner sharpness even more at f/4 – now it is noticeably sharper, especially after CA is removed.
The Nikon 24mm f/1.4G suffers from CA at f/5.6 and f/8.0, but still offers slightly superior sharpness.
15) Nikon 28mm f/1.8G vs Nikon 24mm f/1.4G Summary
As you can see from the above crops, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G is clearly inferior to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G in the center and yet often matches or beats it in the corners. The lens starts out somewhat sharp in the center, then gets a little worse in the mid frame, then gets better again in the corners, thanks to a donut-shaped field curvature problem.
When looking at lens performance, one needs to be very careful on how sharpness data is assessed. Had I solely based my review on crops from the center and a single corner, I would have highly praised the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G and said that it is almost as good as the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G at one third the price. It clearly isn’t.
16) Compared to Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR
Some of our readers have requested that I provide a comparison between the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G and the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR at 28mm, to see how close or far the performance would be. Here is a sharpness comparison between the two lenses, measured by Imatest:
As you can see from the above charts, the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR does not even stand a chance at 28mm against the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G prime. That’s what the performance difference typically looks like when you compare zoom and prime lenses.
Many of us got pretty excited when Nikon announced the 28mm f/1.8G lens earlier this year (April of 2012). Not only because wide-angle fast aperture lenses have been long overdue for updates, but also because Nikon has been releasing excellent, yet affordable f/1.8 lenses lately, like the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and Nikon 85mm f/1.8G (both have been highly praised by us and many other photographers).
At just $699, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G costs three times less than the excellent, but extremely expensive Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and offers overall relatively good performance. It handles distortion, longitudinal and lateral aberration, ghosting and flare extremely well and in some ways even better than its big brother, the 24mm f/1.4G. It produces beautiful images with excellent colors and despite its 7 blade diaphragm, it actually renders bokeh a little better than the 24mm f/1.4G at largest apertures.
During the extensive lab testing process, I discovered that the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G suffers from several optical problems. It has pronounced focus shift, as noted earlier in this review (clearly visible at f/4 and f/5.6 apertures). While there are some ways to get around the focus shift problem (by fine-tuning the lens to a specific aperture or by using live view for focusing), all those workarounds can be painful to deal with in the field. Focus shift is not a new optical problem – it has been there on many Nikkor lenses (in fact, I will be updating all lens reviews on our site with focus shift tests). However, what worsens the focus shift problem on the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G is pronounced, dougnut-shaped field curvature that is clearly visible when photographing a flat surface. I tested three samples of the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G and all three showed these optical problems. So at this point, I strongly believe it is an optical design issue with the 28mm f/1.8G, not a sample variance.
One important thing to note here, is that I performed all tests on the Nikon D800E DSLR (which I will be using for all lens reviews going forward). With a high-resolution 36.3 MP sensor, the Nikon D800E shows many lens flaws that might not be as evident on lower resolution DSLRs like the Nikon D4. While these optical issues can be clearly seen on the D800/D800E, they are not as noticeable on a lower-resolution camera. Before the Nikon D800, I used the Nikon D700 and D3s camera bodies to test all lenses. Things like focus shift and field curvature were not looked at with so much detail, as I have done in this review. I will soon be updating other lens reviews with more data from detailed tests and I will also use Imatest for lens performance analysis, similar to what I have done here. I am sure I will find some serious flaws in many popular Nikkor lenses.
So if you were thinking of getting the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G as a wide-angle lens for your D800, keep the above notes in mind. If your intent is to print large at maximum resolution and have good center to corner performance at large apertures, then the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G will clearly be a better, but expensive choice. For landscape photography (where you will be shooting primarily between f/5.6 and f/11) or if you will often be down-sampling your images to 10-12 MP, the 28mm f/1.8G could be a great addition to your bag. I shot most landscape photos you see in this review at f/8 and they turned out to be very sharp, center to corner (obviously, good technique and understanding of DoF is always important). I applied a little bit of sharpening in Lightroom and the images look superb. In addition, Lola and I used this lens in a couple of events and as you can see from some of the image samples in this review, the lens performed quite well in those environments as well. For DX cameras, with an equivalent focal length of 42mm, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G could be used as a great general-purpose lens, offering a wider field of view than the popular Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX lens.
Would I recommend this lens? Absolutely. Despite its optical flaws (which many other lenses have as well), the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G is a great addition to the f/1.8 family. Once you understand its limitations and learn how to work around them, the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G could produce beautiful images.
18) Where to buy and availability
You can order your copy of the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G lens for $699 from B&H (in stock as of 07/25/2012).
19) More image samples
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Nikon 28mm f/1.8G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
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