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 1.74 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:
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 about the same as the f/1.4G model and far better than its DX counterpart. Imatest measured 1.17% barrel distortion for the lens, while the 35mm f/1.4G measured 1.16%, with 35mm f/1.8G DX peaking at 2.77%. When compared to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, the 35mm f/1.8G performs much worse in comparison due to the fact that the Sigma practically has no visible distortion.
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. Here is how Imatest measured lateral CA on the lens:
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.
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