After Nikon introduced the super lightweight and inexpensive Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens for DX cameras, many Nikon shooters started requesting a similar lens for full-frame cameras. Those who did not want to spend over $1500 on the professional Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G did not have a lot of options from Nikon aside from either using the 35mm f/1.8G DX lens on full-frame, or using the older Nikkor 35mm f/2D lens. Sigma’s timing on the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art was spot on for a number of people with its lower price point and superb optical performance, but it also came with both size and bulk considerations. On January 6 2014, Nikon finally announced the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED lens to fill that gap. At $599 MSRP, the lens is not only significantly cheaper than the f/1.4 version, but it is also twice lighter and more compact. I had a chance to use this lens for a few months this year and although I could not work on a full review earlier due to time constraints and other commitments, I was very pleased with its optical performance.
Many photographers consider the 35mm to be a “sweet middle” general purpose focal length for photography – it is not too wide and not too long either, making it great for photographing everything from landscapes to people. And while street photographers love 35mm lenses for that reason, lugging around a heavy and large lens is often quite impractical. For those situations, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED is a great choice, especially when coupled with a lightweight camera like Nikon D610 or D750. With a large maximum aperture of f/1.8, the lens is not only great for low-light photography, but it can also be used for isolating subjects from backgrounds at close distances. Unlike the DX version, this lens is designed to work on both DX and FX cameras, so it can also be considered to be a good “transition” lens for those who are currently shooting with a Nikon DX camera and seriously considering upgrading to FX in the future.
Let’s take a closer look at the lens and see how it compares to other lenses, including the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art. But first, we are going to start out with lens specifications.
1) Lens Specifications
- Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
- Extra-low Dispersion (ED) element offers superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration.
- 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.
- Rear Focus (RF) provides smooth and fast autofocus while eliminating front barrel rotation and lens length changes.
- 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/1.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/16
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 44°
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 63°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.24x
- Lens Elements: 11
- Lens Groups: 8
- Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.82 ft. (0.25m)
- Focus Mode: Auto, Manual
- G-type: Yes
- Filter Size: 58mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 2.83 in. (72 mm) x 2.81 in. (71.5 mm)
- Weight (Approx.): 10.7 oz. (305 g)
2) Lens Construction
Lens construction is fairly advanced for a budget lens. The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G contains a single “Extra Dispersion” (ED) lens element that is typically used on high-end Nikkor lenses to boost sharpness and contrast, along with a single aspherical lens element used for correcting spherical aberration issues:
3) Lens Handling and Build
The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED is built similarly as the recently introduced Nikkor prime lenses, with a hard and textured plastic exterior, a metal mount and a rubber gasket on the lens mount to provide good sealing against dust making its way into the camera. The lens feels solid in hands, definitely no worse than any of the modern professional Nikkor prime. Size-wise, it is not as small as the Nikkor 35mm f/2D, which is a good thing, as it feels comfortable to support it with your left hand while hand-holding the camera. Like other inexpensive Nikkor primes, the filter thread is plastic, which is unfortunate, as it could potentially wear out with repetitive mounting and dismounting of lens filters if you are not careful. On the bright side, nothing moves when the lens focuses, so you do not have to worry about having to re-adjust your polarizing filter when using it in the field. In contrast, older AF-D lens designs often had rotating front elements (the 35mm f/2D is an exception), making them hard to use with filters. Additionally, the front element of the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED does not move in and out like it does on some Nikkor primes and it is not recessed deep inside, making it pretty easy to clean and maintain.
The focus ring is quite thick, making the lens very easy and convenient to use for manual focusing with a thumb and index fingers, whether shooting images or video. A petal-shaped HB-70 Lens Hood is provided with the lens. It snaps easily on the front of the lens and sits tight without wobbling. 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 immediately recognize the focus position and some even provide notifications on the information (“I” button) screen.
As I have already pointed out, the lens is very light and compact. At just 305 grams, it is heavier than the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, but a bit lighter than the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.
4) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
The lens is impressively fast and snappy in autofocus operation. I found the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G to focus faster than its big brother, similar to what I have seen with other current generation f/1.8 Nikkor primes. Since it takes less turns to move an f/1.8 lens than an f/1.4, it is not surprising to see the lens go from close focus to infinity noticeably faster. And this surely impacts the overall feel of focus speed, although the motor itself is not necessarily faster. Thanks to the AF-S silent wave motor, autofocus operations are barely audible. The same definitely cannot be said about the 35mm f/2D and most other AF-D lenses, which can be quite loud during AF. When it comes to autofocus accuracy, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED is quite good, even in low-light conditions. My copy perfectly matched my cameras and did not require any fine tuning, which is always a good thing.
5) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
When testing the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G, I came across a lens sample that was unusually good. Why “unusually”? Because the sharpness numbers I obtained from my copy indicated very impressive performance throughout the aperture range. Center, mid-frame and corner sharpness figures indicated excellent performance and wide-open performance was surprisingly good. In fact, as you will see further down in this review, the sharpness results I obtained indicated even better center performance than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art when the lens was stopped down to f/4!
Although I am planning to test a few more samples of the lens to see how far my copy was from an average copy, it was pretty exciting to see such good performance from an enthusiast-level lens. Below are my findings, shown in a form of graph from numbers generated by Imatest software:
As expected, the lens starts out a bit weaker wide open at f/1.8 and gets stronger from there. Peak performance is reached at f/4, where the lens shows very impressive figures in the center. Mid-frame and corner performance is a bit weaker, but still quite good for a lens of this class.
As for microcontrast, it is superb and color rendition is very similar to what you would get from other modern Nikkor primes.
Bokeh is definitely not a forte of wide angle lenses and the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED is not an exception. Unless you get really close to your subject and shoot wide open, you will have a hard time isolating your subject from the background. And as you might already know, getting too close to your subject will distort their facial features, so it is best to avoid photographing people at very close distances with this lens. Here is the best case scenario I could find in my photo library of my daughter, photographed at close range – I cropped the image to focus on her face. You can see how the lens rendered the background here quite well:
In most other cases, I found bokeh to be rather nervous, especially at longer camera to subject distances. If you want a 35mm lens with better bokeh rendering capabilities, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G or the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art will be better candidates. Sadly, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art exhibits onion-shaped bokeh (which is not very pleasant to look at), while the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G shows defined outer rings, as demonstrated in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art review. If you are after beautiful bokeh, you will be better off with a dedicated portrait lens like the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.
Another weakness of the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED is the amount of vignetting it exhibits at large apertures. While it is normal for prime lenses to vignette on full-frame cameras, the amount of vignetting varies from lens to lens quite a bit and in the case of the 35mm f/1.8G ED, it seems to be a bit higher than normal. Sometimes even expensive professional lenses have pronounced vignetting at wide apertures though, so it is not unusual to see heavy vignetting on most prime lenses. Here are the vignetting levels measured by Imatest for both minimum focus and infinity distances:
In comparison, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art measured around 1.83 EV at maximum aperture of f/1.4, while the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G measured around 1.64 EV. However, stopped down to f/1.8, both lenses were close to the 1 EV mark, putting them far ahead of the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G in vignetting performance. Vignetting is easy to fix in post-processing, so if you find darkening of the edges a bit extreme for your taste, software like Lightroom and DxO already has full support for it.
Here is the worst case scenario at f/1.8, as illustrated by Imatest:
8) Ghosting and Flare
Although the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED does not have nano-coating as its bigger brother or other pro-level Nikkor glass, it does come with super integrated coating (SIC), which helps reduce problems with ghosting and flare. I have used the lens in different lighting situations, including photographing subjects backlit with the sun in the frame. The results are quite pleasing to look at and I do not see any serious issues with ghosting and flare destroying the image. Here is a sample photograph captured at f/11, with the sun in the frame:
The sun served nicely as a secondary light on the back of the model, while the model’s face was lit up with a large octabank in off-camera flash setup. I have a number of similar shots with the sun in different parts of the frame and most of them look great. Only at some angles and stopped down to f/16, you might see streaks of light in your frame, but those are rather rare and can be avoided easily.
Please note that using UV and other filters can potentially introduce more flares and ghosting to your images.
When it comes to distortion, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is actually better than the f/1.4G model and far better than its DX counterpart, as can be seen from the graph below:
The clear winner here is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, which practically has no distortion when compared to all other lenses.
10) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration levels are pretty light, also being a bit better than on the 35mm f/1.4G lens at wide apertures. Stopped down beyond f/2, however, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G is clearly better, as shown below:
It is worth noting that the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX lens was mounted on a full-frame camera for this test, which explains the weaker figures achieved in both distortion and CA tests. The best performer for lateral CA here is the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, which shows very little presence of CA even at maximum aperture.
I would not worry about lateral chromatic aberrations though, since those can be easily fixed in Lightroom and Photoshop. As expected on fast aperture prime lenses, there is a visible amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration and that one can be tough and sometimes impossible to correct in post-processing.
11) Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED vs Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX
If you already own the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX and wonder how it would fare against the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED full-frame lens, then you might find the below results interesting. Please note that the 35mm f/1.8G DX does produce rather heavy vignetting at close distances, as shown earlier, so its corner figures are definitely impacted as a result:
It is impressive to see the 35mm f/1.8G DX lens perform on a full-frame camera with big enough of image circle to cover most of the FX frame, so if you do not mind the heavy vignetting at close distances, the results can be quite decent. Sharpness-wise, the 35mm f/1.8G ED is obviously much stronger in the center, while the DX is not bad either, especially at large apertures. The biggest difference is corner performance – that’s where the 35mm f/1.8G DX suffers quite a bit at large apertures. However, once stopped down to f/5.6, sharpness picks up quickly.
Given that the 35mm f/1.8G DX is half the cost of the 35mm f/1.8G ED lens, I would say that you get a lot of value from that little lens…
12) Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4G
Now let’s take a look at how the 35mm f/1.8G ED compares to the bigger, heavier and more expensive 35mm f/1.4G:
When I first saw the above figures, I honestly had a hard time believing that the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G would do so much worse in comparison. Its wide open performance at f/1.4 is rather weak and the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED still outperforms it at f/1.8, especially in mid-frame and corners. The biggest difference, however, can be seen when both lenses are stopped down to f/4 – the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G seems to be noticeably weaker in the center and about the same in mid-frame and corners. Based on feedback that I have received from other readers, there is a possibility that the 35mm f/1.4G lens sample I tested had optical issues, so I am planning to retest another copy of the 35mm f/1.4G lens to see if it does any better.
At the same time, you should keep in mind that it is common for f/1.8 lenses to outperform f/1.4 lenses in sharpness alone, as we had previously seen with other Nikkor primes. Expensive pro-level f/1.4 primes aim for better aesthetics, colors, microcontrast, bokeh and superior handling of distortion, vignetting and CA, so they are not typically optimized to yield maximum sharpness. Without a doubt, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G produces more aesthetically pleasing images than the 35mm f/1.8G ED and that’s what you pay the big bucks for.
13) Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED vs Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
The last comparison is between the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art. When I initially tested the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, I was stunned by its sharpness. Let’s take a look at how the two compare sharpness-wise:
You can now see why I said that the copy of the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED I tested was rather unusual – its peak performance surpasses that of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, which previously held the record for the sharpest 35mm f/1.4 lens I’ve tested. Looks like the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED now holds that crown, with its impressive score of 3119 versus 2974 on the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art. How much difference is there between these numbers? Very little – you will never be able to tell by looking at the two with your eyes. Simply put, both lenses will look equally sharp in the center. At f/1.8, the two seem to be equivalent in sharpness, and stopped down, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art is a bit better in mid-frame, while being weaker in the corners.
Again, don’t judge the performance of lenses based on sharpness alone. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art has superior optics when it comes to handling of distortion, vignetting, CA and bokeh, so it also produces images that are more aesthetically pleasing.
14) Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED vs Nikon 28mm f/1.8G
Lastly, our readers have asked to provide a comparison to the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G, so here it is:
The 28mm f/1.8G starts out a bit weaker in center resolution at f/1.8, but its mid-frame and corner performance is pretty impressive – it is visibly sharper compared to the 35mm f/1.8G ED there. As you stop it down to f/4 and smaller, the 35mm f/1.8G ED catches up pretty quickly and more or less evens out. However, it is pretty clear that the 35mm f/1.8G ED is superior in the center at all apertures.
The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED follows the footsteps of the budget-friendly enthusiast level line of f/1.8 lenses from Nikon. Its sharpness, microcontrast, color rendition and other optical qualities are very impressive for its price, making it another “great value” addition to the already strong line of Nikkor lenses. If you have been impressed by such lenses as the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G, 50mm f/1.8G and 85mm f/1.8G, you will be very pleased by what the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED has to offer. As demonstrated earlier, its sharpness figures are very high, surpassing both the Nikkor f/1.4G and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lenses in peak center performance. It also exhibits very little focus shift and its handling of ghosting / flare is very good. Autofocus performance and accuracy are also impressive, even when shooting in low-light conditions.
Despite these strengths, the lens does have some optical issues one should be aware of. Its vignetting levels are rather high and chromatic aberrations tend to be on the higher side even when stopped down. The biggest drawback in my opinion, is its handling of bokeh, which can look rather nervous. As a result, it tends to yield less aesthetically pleasing images than its bigger brother, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G.
Overall, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED is a superb performer and I would not hesitate to recommend it for everyday photography needs.
16) Where to Buy and Availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED lens for $596.95 (as of 12/08/2014).
17) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED
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