This is an in-depth review of the new professional Nikon 35mm f/1.4G prime lens that was announced in September of 2010. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is a professional-grade lens for enthusiasts and professionals that need the highest quality optics of a fixed wide-angle lens with a large aperture of f/1.4 for low-light situations and shallow depth of field to isolate subjects from the background, making it an ideal candidate for many types of photography, including portrait, wedding, landscape and astrophotography.
The lens incorporates the latest optical technology destined for both FX and DX sensors (equivalent of approx 52.5mm on DX), yielding amazing clarity and contrast in most challenging lighting conditions. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G follows the release of the excellent Nikon 24mm f/1.4G lens, having similar lens characteristics. Although the lens exterior and construction seem to be almost identical, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G has a simpler optical design when compared to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G (more on this below). The focal length of 35mm is a good compromise between ultra-wide angle lenses and standard lenses – it is not too wide or too long. As for the lens interior and optics, Nikon integrated the latest technology into this lens, including AF-S silent-wave focus motor and Rear Focus (to eliminate front barrel rotation and lens length changes) and enhanced the optical formula of the lens by incorporating Nano crystal coating and Super Integrated Coating (SIC) to reduce ghosting and flares. The lens is of high quality build, similar to other AF-S Nikon primes and is sealed against dust and tough weather conditions. Thanks to the 9-blade diaphragm, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G renders background highlights in a round, circular shape and the maximum aperture of f/1.4 makes this lens a great portrait lens for both images and video, especially in low-light conditions.
In this review, I will provide a thorough analysis of the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens, along with image samples and comparisons against Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/2.0 ZF.2 and other Nikon lenses like Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS, Nikon 35mm f/2.0D and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G.
1) Lens Specifications
- FX-format, ultra-fast classic wide-angle lens.
- Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX-format D-SLRs.
- Rear Focus (RF) provides smooth and fast autofocus while eliminating front barrel rotation and lens length changes.
- Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Rounded 9-blade diaphragm renders a more natural appearance to out-of-focus image elements.
- Nano crystal coat further reduces ghosting and interior flare across a wide range of wavelengths for even greater image clarity.
- Aspherical lens element virtually eliminates coma and other types of aberration, even when shooting at the widest available aperture.
- M/A focus mode switch enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
- Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 35mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 44°
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 63°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.2x
- Lens Elements: 10
- Lens Groups: 7
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- Aspherical Elements: 1
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.98 ft.
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual
- Rear Focusing: Yes
- Filter Size: 67mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.27×3.52 in. (Diameter x Length), 83×89.5mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 21.2 oz. (600g)
- Supplied Accessories: LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, LC-67mm Snap-on Front Cap, HB-59 Bayonet Lens Hood, CL-1118 Semi-Soft Case
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.
2) Lens Handling
Just like other Nikon professional prime lenses, the new Nikon 35mm f/1.4 lens has a very high quality build. The outer barrel is made of plastic, but feels just like the expensive Nikon metal lenses, most likely due to the lens weight. It is designed to withstand tough weather and is well-protected on the outside against dust and moisture. I shot the lens in very dusty conditions in Utah with high winds and in one case ended up with plenty of dust and sand all over the lens during a hike through a sandy area of Arches National Park. It continued to function well without any problems. I wiped off the dust/sand with a regular brush and then thoroughly cleaned it with a wet piece of cloth after the hike, after which I used it for two more days without any mechanical or other failures. I also exposed it under light rain for a short period of time and it performed flawlessly throughout the photo shoot. So if you shoot in extreme conditions a lot, you can certainly count on the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 – it will surely survive. The only thing you have to be a little careful about, is changing the lens in very dusty/windy conditions. Since the lens is equipped with the Rear Focus feature, the front of the lens never moves or extends (which is good, especially for using filters), but then the rear element moves in and out during focusing. If you really need to change the lens in such conditions, I would get used to rotating the focus ring to infinity and then changing the lens. See the short review video below for more information.
The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G has a total of 10 optical elements with 1 aspherical element and weighs a total of 600 grams, which is almost what the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G weighs. In fact, side by side, both lenses look almost identical, as seen in the below photo:
The lens is much bigger and heavier compared to other Nikon 35mm lenses such as Nikon 35mm f/2D and Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS, making it the biggest and heaviest 35mm prime produced by Nikon to date. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4 feels very solid in hands and the focus ring is conveniently located in the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. The lens comes with the “HB-59” lens hood, which is a little bulkier than the “HB-51” that comes with the 24mm f/1.4G. It snaps on the front of the lens and sits tight without wobbling like some other Nikon lens hoods.
Here is the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G compared to other 35mm lenses, including the Zeiss Distagon 35mm ZF.2 (from left to right – Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, Zeiss 35mm f/2, Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS, Nikon 35mm f/2D):
As you can see, it is the biggest of the bunch – the Nikon 35mm f/2D is tiny in comparison.
My biggest complaint about the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is its non-standard 67mm filter thread. I don’t know why Nikon decided to push for 67mm instead of 77mm, but looking at the lens construction, I do not think that it was technically impossible to have a larger filter thread on this lens. The barrel size seems to be about the same as on the 24mm f/1.4G (which does have a 77mm filter thread), so all they had to do was increase the front of the lens to support 77mm filters. Since this is an expensive, pro-level lens, it should come with a standard 77mm filter thread.
3) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
When it comes to autofocus performance, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G behaves very similarly to the 24mm f/1.4G and other recently announced Nikon primes. The lens snaps into focus fairly well even in low-light situations, but the speed clearly lags behind the AF-D counterparts (see the AF performance comparison in the video). If you compare AF performance to the Nikon 14-24mm or Nikon 24-70mm lenses, you will see the difference right away – the latter autofocus faster. When the lens focuses, it virtually produces no noise, due to the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology in the lens. You will only hear a short lens snap when it gets to infinity and minimum distance marks.
As for AF accuracy, I tested the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G with Lens Align Pro to make sure that it does not front focus or back focus on both D700 and D3s I was using during the tests. So far I have been pretty lucky when it comes to autofocus accuracy with lenses, but the 35mm had a very minor front focus issue, as can be seen from the below crop:
Once I dialed +2 in AF Fine Tune, the focus issue was taken care of and I had no problems with focusing on both camera bodies:
I tested the lens in both daylight and low-light situations and autofocus was quite accurate, even at maximum aperture of f/1.4. Focus tracking works very well, with the lens getting accurate focus almost every time in AF-C (continuous) mode. Here is a shot taken in low light, at 1/40th of a second @ f/2.8 ISO 1600 on Nikon D3s:
Click here to see the full JPEG version of the shot (80% Quality @ 3.6 MB).
As with any other lens, be careful when shooting at very large apertures in low light situations. If you cannot consistently get accurate focus, make sure that the lens sample you have does not have a front/back focus problem as shown above.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
As I reveal in my sharpness tests further down in this review, the performance of the 35mm is outstanding. Center sharpness is top notch, even wide open, while the corners start out a little weaker at f/1.4, but get much sharper by f/2.0 and beyond. Unfortunately, there is plenty of vignetting at maximum aperture and distortion can get a little weird when shooting close subjects (see Distortion), which is a nuisance, but more or less fixable in post-processing. Contrast and colors are superb as can be seen from other image samples posted on this review. You can see many examples of lens sharpness taken in a controlled environment, along with comparisons against other lenses.
Click here to download the full-size version of the file (5 MB).
When it comes to bokeh, the Nikon 35mm yields a pleasant bokeh, somewhat similar to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G. Wide open, bokeh is not as pleasing with some harsher highlights, but stopping down to f/2.0 improves bokeh significantly. At f/2.8 and beyond, the background highlights look very nice and smooth. This behavior is expected from a wide-angle lens, so there are no surprises here. Here is an example of bokeh shot at f/2.0:
And here is another shot at f/2.8:
As for vignetting, the lens does show a rather heavy amount of vignetting wide open @ f/1.4 and the corners get considerably dark toward the edges. As you stop down to f/2.0, vignetting decreases significantly, but still remains visible. At f/2.8 vignetting starts to disappear and by f/4.0 onwards it is almost completely gone. Take a look at lens vignetting at different apertures:
This type of behavior is expected from large aperture lenses, especially when they are mounted on full frame cameras. Other Nikon 35mm lenses and the Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/2.0 also show heavy amounts of vignetting at maximum aperture.
Here is the worst case scenario at f/1.4, as illustrated by Imatest software:
7) Ghosting and Flare
When compared to previous generation Nikon 35mm lenses, ghosting and flare are controlled well, thanks to the Nano Crystal Coat. The amount of flares and ghosting will depend on where you position the light source in the frame. Shooting directly at the sun, you will most definitely get some flares and ghosting if the sun is in the middle of the frame, as seen below. As you move the light source towards the corners, the size and length of ghosting/flares can get dramatically bigger, so take this into consideration when shooting in the field. If you see a strong amount of ghosting and flares, try moving the light source in your frame to see where the effect is minimal and acceptable. Take a look at this shot of the Mesa Arch at f/8.0:
Unfortunately, I could not move around much to change the position of the light source due to the number of photographers that were there, standing pretty much shoulder to shoulder. I do, however, like how the lens renders the sun in a star shape when you shoot at smaller apertures.
When compared against the Zeiss Distagon 35mm ZF.2, Nikon handles ghosting and flares better, in my opinion. Take a look at a similar image shot with the Zeiss:
While Zeiss shows a minimal amount of ghosting and flares at largest apertures, stopping it down to f/8.0 and beyond can yield some nasty flares. Note the left bottom corner of the frame, where you can clearly see a large orange blob that is taking almost half of the frame and changing the color of the rock. There are also some purple colors right under the star-shaped sun.
Please note that both images were taken without any filters. Using UV and other filters can potentially introduce more flares and ghosting to your images.
I noticed that the amount of distortion on the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is a little higher than on the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, which is a little disappointing. I was expecting less distortion on a longer focal length lens, but unfortunately, it is not the case. There is a slight amount of barrel distortion that is clearly visible when photographing straight objects. Take a look at this image shot at a distance of 2 meters:
If you use Lightroom, dialing +7 in distortion under “Lens Corrections” will take care of the distortion problem. Hopefully Adobe will soon release a profile for the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, so that both distortion and vignetting issues could be eliminated with a single click using Lightroom 3 Lens Correction, but meanwhile, you will have to manually fix the issues in Lightroom/Photoshop.
It is worth noting that in a couple of cases, specifically when shooting at close distances less than 10-15 meters, distortion did not seem to be symmetrical across the frame. While the effect was only barely noticeable, if you are into architectural photography, I recommend investigating this potential issue further more before you decide to keep the lens for professional work. This is not an issue for all other types of photography.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration is controlled well, but somewhat noticeable in high-contrast situations. There is a very noticeable longitudinal chromatic aberration (which is the effect of color fringing in front of and behind the focused area) present, especially when shooting at large apertures. Once again take a look at the Lens Align Pro crop:
See how the color on the front of the chart (where the number 6 is) is purple, while on the back of the chart it is green? That’s the effect of longitudinal chromatic aberration. While lateral chromatic aberration can be easily fixed in both Photoshop and Lightroom, this type of longitudinal CA is extremely tough to deal with in post-processing software due to different colors. But don’t worry – most wide-angle lenses have a similar problem, so once again, no surprises here.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests.
10) Sharpness Test
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 3000 Temp, +10 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D3s Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- 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, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted (-.20 to +.033) to make sure that all images have the same brightness level
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
Here is how Imatest measured the lens performance in a lab environment:
11) Sharpness Test – Nikon 35mm f/1.4G Center Frame
As can be seen below, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is a tad softer at the maximum aperture of f/1.4, but gets much sharper at f/2.0 in the center. By f/2.8, the center sharpness stays the same all the way to f/11.0, which is excellent:
The first image looks darker and of different color due to heavy vignetting at f/1.4.
12) Sharpness Test – Nikon 35mm f/1.4G Corner Frame
The corner performance of the lens is extremely good. Wide open to f/2.8 the image is just a little softer, but at f/4.0 and beyond the corner performance is very close to center performance as can be seen below:
To make the comparison more usable, I had to adjust the exposure of the first shot by a good stop (due to vignetting) and even after that it appears darker than the other images.
These image crops are meaningless without a comparison against other lenses. Let’s move on to lens comparisons.
Compared to Nikon 35mm f/2.0 D
Let’s see how the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G compares against the old classic Nikon 35mm f/2D. If you are impatient and want to see my conclusion, skip over to the bottom of this section.
13) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D Center Frame
Let’s take a look at how both lenses perform wide open (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Nikon 35mm f/2D @ f/2.0):
No need to compare both lenses at f/2.0 – as expected, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is sharper at f/1.4 than the Nikon 35mm f/2.0 D at f/2.0.
Let’s see what happens when both lenses are stopped down to f/2.8 (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/2.8, Right: Nikon 35mm f/2D @ f/2.8):
Once again, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G clearly outperforms its AF-D counterpart at large apertures. What about stopping both down all the way to f/8.0? Let’s take a look (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/8.0, Right: Nikon 35mm f/2D @ f/8.0):
Both look equally sharp to me.
14) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D Corner Frame
Just like in the center frame, the corner sharpness difference is very apparent at all apertures, especially wide open (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Nikon 35mm f/2D @ f/2.0):
The situation does not improve for the AF-D at f/2.8 – it is still considerably softer than the AF-S:
Sadly for the AF-D, it never really gets very sharp in the corners, even when stopped down to f/8.0 and beyond:
15) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D Vignetting
When it comes to vignetting, both lenses show about the same amount of vignetting wide open:
Once the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is stopped down to f/2.0, it clearly takes the lead and shows significantly less amount of vignetting when both lenses are at f/2.0.
16) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D Distortion
Distortion on both lenses is about the same, with slightly more distortion on the 35mm AF-S:
The difference is negligible – both will look the same if you dial +7 for AF-S and +6 for AF-D in Lightroom.
17) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D Conclusion
As you can see from the above comparisons, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is clearly a much sharper lens than the Nikon 35mm f/2D. Wide open at f/1.4, it beats the 35mm D at f/2.0 in the center, while dominating the corners at all apertures, even when stopped down to f/8.0. Without a doubt, the 35mm AF-S is a much sharper lens than the AF-D version. When it comes to vignetting, both lenses show about the same amount of corner darkening, but the 35mm f/1.4G clearly takes the lead if compared at f/2.0. Distortion levels are about the same, with the 35mm f/1.4G having slightly more barrel distortion. As for chromatic aberration and flare/ghosting issues, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is again the winner, due to a better optical technology and Nano Crystal Coat. The same thing is with the background blur (bokeh) – as expected, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G takes the lead here too. The Nikon 35mm f/2D has a 7 blade diaphragm, which results in heptagon-shaped bokeh, while the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G has a 9 blade diaphragm, which yields more circular background highlights. On top of that, the overall bokeh on the AF-D looks rather busy and harsh in comparison. As for autofocus speed, as you have seen in the video, the Nikon 35mm f/2D focuses faster. If you are a portrait/wedding/astro photographer, you will certainly like the AF-S version much more, especially when using it at maximum aperture. For landscape photography when stopped down to f/8.0, the difference between the two lenses is not that big, with the exception of corners. If you need the best sharpness all around, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is the obvious choice. If slightly worse corners are acceptable, then the 35mm f/2D is a great value.
The major difference between the two lenses is obviously the price – the Nikon 35mm f/2D is almost five times cheaper than the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. Considering the price/performance ratio, which lens is a better buy? I guess it depends. For everyday/family photography, I would recommend the Nikon 35mm f/2D for full-frame DSLRs and Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX for cropped-sensor DSLRs. If severe corner vignetting is not an issue, then the 35mm f/1.8G DX even works great on FX cameras (in “FX Mode”). If you are a pro and you shoot portraits, weddings or landscapes the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is going to give you the best results on both FX and DX cameras. Although it lags behind the AF-D model in terms of AF speed, the AF accuracy in low light situations on the new 35mm f/1.4G is better.
Let’s move on to a comparison with the classic Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS.
Compared to Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS
The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G replaces the classic Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS, which has been the only Nikon 35mm prime with a fast aperture of f/1.4 for many years. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS is a manual focus lens with an aperture ring, which can be painful to use on the field. Once you get used to changing aperture on the camera and using autofocus, doing everything manually can certainly feel awkward. Plus, none of the lens information such as lens type, focal length and aperture get communicated back to the camera, unless you set up the lens in “Non-CPU lens data” section of the camera setup menu (available only on advanced DSLRs). If you shoot with multiple AIS lenses, you will need to set each one up if you want to see accurate exposure information in Lightroom/Camera RAW. But all of this does not really matter if the lens performs well, so my objective was to run a thorough analysis of the 35mm AIS and comparison against the new 35mm f/1.4G.
When you look at all the crop comparisons, you will notice that colors from lenses are different. This is normal, since optics are obviously different and lenses have different types of coatings, which effect color. Although I could have adjusted the colors and white balance in Lightroom to compensate for the difference, I specifically did not touch any settings and left the same values for all images. Let’s start from sharpness tests.
18) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS Center Frame
Fast aperture lenses tend to be softer at maximum aperture and the older lenses are no exception – most of them actually have a significantly softer performance at large apertures. Let’s see how the new 35mm f/1.4G compares against the old 35mm AIS at f/1.4 (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS @ f/1.4):
At maximum aperture, the old Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS looks horrible in comparison. While sharpness seems to be somewhat comparable, the AIS is very low in contrast, looking cloudy with a tint of blue in the center. I would certainly not want to use this lens at f/1.4. Let’s see what happens when the lens is stopped down to f/2.0:
The situation certainly does improve for the 35mm f/1.4 AIS when it is stopped down, but you can still see some blue fringing in the center. Sharpness-wise, the performance of both lenses is comparable. Here is what happens at f/2.8 and f/4.0:
The color fringing on the AIS starts to disappear, but the sharpness difference is now very noticeable – the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is much sharper when stopped down to f/4.0. The same is true for f/5.6 and f/8.0:
At smaller apertures, you would expect both lenses to be similar in sharpness, but as you can see from the above crops, it is not the case. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is clearly sharper than the AIS counterpart, even at f/8.0.
19) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS Corner Frame
Let’s see how the Nikkor f/1.4 AIS compares in the corners wide open:
Corners on the 35mm AIS look as bad as the center – see the bottom left corner, where you can notice the “shadow” effect from the lens and the obvious difference in sharpness. Sadly for the AIS, the situation does not really improve all the way to f/4.0:
And even then, you can see the difference in sharpness and color fringing. What about f/8.0:
Stopped down to f/8.0, the corners are still softer on the AIS and the blue/purple fringes are still there.
20) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS Vignetting
Vignetting on the 35mm f/1.4 AIS is a worse wide open than on the 35mm f/1.4G as can be seen below:
Vignetting on the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G only affects the corners, while on the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS it affects a larger area and darkens the corners even more by about half a stop.
21) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS Distortion
Distortion on both lenses is comparable, but the AIS has a more pronounced distortion. If you use Lightroom, using +7 for the 35mm f/1.4G and +9 for the 35mm f/1.4 AIS under “Lens Corrections” will take care of the distortion problem.
22) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS Conclusion
The difference between the two lenses is clear – the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS cannot stand against the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, even when stopped all the way down to f/8.0. The 35mm AIS is optically inferior to the 35mm AF-S and as you can see from the examples above, its performance at large apertures is poor across the frame. In addition, the AIS suffers from contrast issues at maximum aperture, while the 35mm f/1.4G is not only good in contrast, but also has better colors. As I have pointed out in other lens reviews, Nikon’s Nano Coat certainly affects the colors produced by lenses. Distortion and vignetting are both better on the new Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, but not by a huge margin. Lastly, the extra setup and inability to change aperture on the camera, make it difficult to use the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AIS on modern camera bodies. All in all, the new Nikon 35mm f/1.4G outshines the old 35mm in every aspect. Old optics just cannot compete with the new optics and modern technology.
Compared to Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 ZF.2
While most of what I feel about the Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 ZF.2 is provided in a separate review, there are a few things I want to point out in this review, especially when compared against the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G. The Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 ZF.2 was the first Zeiss lens I used on a Nikon DSLR body. I always wanted to try one, but the fact that all Zeiss lenses for Nikon are manual focus was a show stopper. I just did not want to deal with manual focus on fast prime lenses, especially when photographing people. At the same time, I heard a lot of good things about Zeiss for landscape photography. Since 35mm is a good focal length for all kinds of photography, I decided to give Zeiss a try and see how I liked it. My first surprise was when I unboxed the Zeiss – it felt so different construction-wise. The all-metal body of the Zeiss makes it one heavy and tough lens – the plastic exterior of the Nikon 35mm feels cheap in comparison. Without much delay, I mounted the Zeiss on my Nikon D3s and took a picture of my son Ozzy while he was watching TV. As he was sitting still, I moved the focus point on his right eye, set aperture to f/2.0 then started to move the focus ring until the camera set the image was in focus. I then snapped a picture and looked at the camera LCD:
Ozzy’s eye was indeed in focus and I got very impressed by the colors and the quality of the background this lens produced. Next, I zoomed in to 100% and saw this:
That’s one sharp manual focus lens! Right there, I knew my journey with the Zeiss 35mm was going to be a pleasant one. After coming back from a trip to Utah, I discovered that I used the Zeiss more than any other 35mm lens I had with me, including the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. I just did not want to take it off my camera!
Anyway, let’s see how the Zeiss compared against the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G in my lab tests.
23) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Center Frame
It is always nice to compare wide open performance between lenses. Here are both lenses at their largest apertures (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 @ f/2.0):
Wide open, the Zeiss f/2.0 is slightly sharper than the Nikon f/1.4G. Let’s see what happens when both lenses are at f/2.0:
The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G gets sharper by f/2.0 and the performance of both is now about the same, with a slightly better performance by Nikon. Here are the results at f/2.8 and f/4.0:
Sharpness-wise, both lenses look good, with a slightly better performance by the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. The Zeiss 35mm f/2 has some purple fringing in the center, as can be seen from the above crops. Let’s see how the lenses compare when stopped down:
By f/5.6, the purple fringing on the Zeiss starts to disappear. However, the Nikon 35mm is still a little sharper and clearer.
Stopped down to f/8.0, both lenses are very sharp. The contrast on the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G still seems to be a tad better though.
24) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Corner Frame
What about the corners? Let’s see how both lenses perform in the extreme corners wide open (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 @ f/2.0):
Both look equally good wide open in the corners – I cannot see any difference. Now let’s see what happens with the Nikon 35mm stopped down to f/2.0:
The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G does not improve much by f/2.0 and both lenses still perform about the same at f/2.0. Now f/2.8 and f/4.0:
We can see a dramatic improvement at f/2.8 by Nikon, while the Zeiss clearly lags behind. Zeiss also has a pronounced effect of vignetting at f/2.8, which is quite noticeable.
At f/4.0, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is almost as sharp as in the center. Even the smallest details are clearly visible. The Zeiss 35mm f/2 on the other hand, is still weaker at f/4.0 and the effect of vignetting is still there. Let’s see what happens when both lenses are stopped down further more:
Stopped down to f/5.6, the Zeiss gets sharper, but still not as good as the Nikon.
At f/8.0, both lenses perform about the same, except the Zeiss 35mm f/2 has a little CA, which makes the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G look sharper.
25) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Vignetting
As can be seen below, the Zeiss f/2.0 has much more vignetting wide open, at least by half a stop:
25) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Distortion
When it comes to distortion, both lenses have about the same amount of distortion that can be easily fixed in Photoshop/Lightroom:
26) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Conclusion
Before I ran the lab tests, I had a feeling that both lenses would be very similar in performance, based on my impressions from using them for a month. As it turns out, both lenses are very similar in performance at largest apertures, but the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G certainly does perform better than the Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 ZF2.0 when stopped down to f/2.8 and above. Distortion is about the same, but vignetting on the Zeiss is also worse, as can be seen from the examples above. Handling of chromatic aberrations, ghosting and flare is also better on the Nikon, as I have demonstrated here and earlier in the review. All in all, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is a better lens in many ways and besides the tougher build of the Zeiss, my lab tests are showing that the Nikon is superior. However, lab tests and real life experience shooting lenses on the field can be different. And it certainly felt different for me – I certainly enjoyed the Zeiss, in some cases more than the Nikon. I don’t know what it was that made me like it so much. Perhaps it was the different colors that it renders, or the better feel of the lens on the camera, or the fact that I had to manually focus on every shot, think and compose before taking landscape pictures. And then I thought about the wedding that Lola and I shot. I remembered that I dismounted the Zeiss after a few shots when shooting indoors, because I just did not have the time to manually focus every time I shot and recomposed, or my subjects moved. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G autofocused very well in dim light and I quickly realized the benefits of autofocus in those kinds of situations. On top of that, the large aperture of f/1.4 on the Nikon also gave me more possibilities to isolate subjects and having a shallower depth of field was certainly beneficial, especially with a busy background. That’s when I realized that these two lenses are good for different purposes. If you photograph people, you definitely want to use the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. For stationary subjects like landscapes and architecture, the Zeiss is definitely a good choice, especially given that it is $600 cheaper. Vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberrations are easy to fix in post-processing nowadays and the slightly inferior corner performance of the Zeiss is not worth the $600 difference in my opinion. Again, both lenses are very good, certainly in the top tier of lenses for the Nikon mount (I have not had a chance to test the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 yet, because it is currently unavailable). Pick either one based on your needs and you won’t go wrong.
Compared to Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
I always try to include the Nikon trinity – Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II in my tests, because they are good “reference” lenses for optical performance. In this case though, it is definitely an unfair battle, because we are comparing a zoom lens with a prime lens and prime lenses typically perform better than zoom lenses. Another thing to keep in mind, is that there is a two stop difference between the 24-70mm and the 35mm lenses.
27) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ 35mm Center Frame
Let’s see how these lenses perform wide open at 35mm (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ f/2.8):
The Nikon 24-70mm is an extremely sharp lens in the center frame at its largest aperture of f/2.8. As you can see, it beats the Nikon 35mm @ f/1.4 in the center. Let’s see what happens when both lenses are at f/2.8:
Now both look about the same in sharpness. As for all other apertures, above f/2.8 – there is nothing to say here, since I cannot see any differences at smaller apertures.
Both lenses are very sharp in the center and look the same from f/2.8 onwards. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G has a two stop advantage here, since it is a faster lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4.
28) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ 35mm Corner Frame
Now let’s take a look at what happens in the corners. Here are two crops from both lenses wide open (Left: Nikon 35mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4, Right: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ f/2.8):
When it comes to corner performance, my Nikon 24-70mm is very weak wide open at 35mm, as can be seen above. I don’t know if other 24-70mm samples have a similar problem, but 35mm corner performance is the weakest spot for mine – it just looks as bad as above. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G looks better at f/1.4 than the 24-70mm @ f/2.8. Let’s see what happens when both lenses are stopped down to f/4.0:
Again, the edge performance on the Nikon 35mm is much better, especially when the lens is stopped down.
By f/5.6, the Nikon 24-70mm gets much sharper and yet nowhere close to the 35mm f/1.4G performance.
And finally at f/8.0, the Nikon 24-70mm is even sharper, but still not as good as the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. Clearly, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is a much better performer when it comes to corners. Note the yellow color fringing on the Nikon 24-70mm at all apertures.
30) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G Vignetting
Vignetting levels on the Nikon 24-70mm are pretty high at the shortest focal length of 24mm, but get much lower and better by 35mm, as seen below:
31) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G Distortion
As for distortion, the Nikon 24-70mm has a slight amount of pincushion distortion at 35mm, while the 35mm f/1.4G suffers from barrel distortion, as seen below:
32) Nikon 35mm f/1.4G vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G Conclusion
In terms of sharpness, both lenses yield approximately the same performance in the center frame at f/2.8. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G obviously has an advantage here, because its maximum aperture is f/1.4 versus 24-70mm’s f/2.8. As for corner performance though, my Nikon 24-70mm sample just cannot stand against the 35mm f/1.4G at the same focal length. It is very weak wide open and while it certainly does get much better by f/8.0, it still cannot reach 35mm f/1.4G’s sharpness levels. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G has a cleaner image at all apertures with a minimal amount of chromatic aberrations. As for vignetting, the Nikon 24-70mm is better wide open (f/2.8) @ 35mm than the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G at f/1.4. Distortion figures are also different – the 24-70mm has a slight pincushion distortion, while the 35mm f/1.4G suffers from a much more pronounced barrel distortion. Again, both vignetting and distortion problems on these lenses can be easily fixed in post-processing. Besides differences in maximum aperture, lens construction and focal lengths (zoom vs prime), the biggest difference between the two lenses in my opinion is the AF performance. While autofocus accuracy is about the same on both lenses, the autofocus speed of the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is slower compared to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. As I have pointed out before, the AF speed of the 35mm f/1.4G is very similar to Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lenses, which is fairly slow. The Nikon 24-70mm focuses instantly in comparison. In addition, the Nikon 35mm has a smaller 67mm filter thread, while the 24-70mm comes with a standard 77mm filter thread. As for colors and other lens characteristics, both lenses yield very similar results.
Similar to the Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 ZF2.0, I believe these lenses serve different purposes. For landscape and architecture photography, the 77mm filter thread, zoom flexibility and stopped down performance of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G makes it a great choice. For portraits, weddings and other people photography, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is going to give the best results with its better subject isolation capabilities. bokeh and superb sharpness across the frame.
I was very excited when Nikon announced the 35mm f/1.4G, because the 35mm line desperately needed an update and considering how good the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and Nikon 85mm f/1.4G are, I knew that this lens would not disappoint. While the 35mm focal length is not very popular among photographers, due to 35mm being not wide enough for tight shots and not long enough for portraiture, I actually really enjoyed working with this gem. I found the 35mm focal length to be a nice compromise on full-frame cameras, especially when shooting weddings. Lola and I shot a wedding with the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G and I was certainly impressed that some of the best images from the wedding were shot with it. Images came out beautiful and colorful, just like how our client wanted them. The lens does not feel too wide like the 24mm or too long like the 50mm or 85mm lenses – “just right” is probably a good way to define it. Optically, there is really not much to complain about – it is extremely sharp corner to corner and as you have seen from the previous sections, it surpasses most Nikon lenses at 35mm sharpness-wise, especially when stopped down to f/2.8. We used it heavily both indoors and outdoors and it did not disappoint – autofocus was dead on even in dim environments and I had very few images that were not in focus. While the autofocus speed is not as quick as on some of the Nikon zoom lenses like Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, I found the AF performance and accuracy to be very similar to that of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G. I do wish that it had less distortion and vignetting at its maximum aperture of f/1.4, but then I also realize that those are easy to fix in post-processing. Once a lens profile is built by Adobe into Lightroom and Camera Raw, fixing lens issues will be very easy with a single click in Lightroom’s “Lens Corrections” sub-module.
As I have pointed out before, my biggest complaint is the 67mm filter thread. Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and Nikon 85mm f/1.4G lenses both have standard 77mm filter threads and the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G feels a little left out because of this. On the other hand, step-up rings are pretty cheap and I would just buy one and never remove from the lens. As for the cost of the lens, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is obviously not a cheap lens at $1,799 MSRP. But then don’t forget that it is considered to be an exotic prime lens designed specifically for full-frame cameras. It decreases the gap between the 24mm and 85mm primes and it creates another lens trinity, this time with primes: Nikon 24mm f/1.4G, Nikon 35mm f/1.4G and Nikon 85mm f/1.4G. Now Nikon needs to add an exotic 50mm f/1.2G and the line will be complete :)
Lastly, I want to talk about using the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G on a DX body. Honestly speaking, I do not see much value on using an exotic lens like this on a cropped sensor camera. Why? First, it is the cost of the lens. The cost/performance ratio of the 35mm f/1.4G is just too low for DX. I would much rather get the excellent Nikon 35mm f/1.8G instead, which is a much more compact and lightweight lens that performs exceptionally well on DX cameras (it also works at full resolution on FX, but will yield extremely high levels of vignetting) and only costs a fraction of the 35mm f/1.4G. Second, it is the size of the lens; it is not only big, but also quite heavy for a 35mm prime. Third, why would you buy a lens with great edge performance characteristics, when you are not even going to see them on a DX camera? The only case where it makes sense to buy this lens for DX, is if you are planning to upgrade to FX very soon. And lastly, don’t forget about the 1.5x crop factor – the lens will have an equivalent field of view as a 53mm lens on DX, so you might not find it wide enough for your photography.
34) Where to Buy and Availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens for $1,799.95 and has it in stock (as of 04/26/2011).
35) More Image Samples
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Nikon 35mm f/1.4G
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
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