Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G Lens Review
If you're looking for a value buy, this isn't it. This one's for the high rollers.
When you're first building out your lens kit, it's tempting to opt for do-it-all zooms. But in our opinion, it's smarter to focus on prime lenses. They’re compact, usually better performers than zooms, and tend to offer great low light performance. Better still, they're typically cheaper than comparable zooms.
Most people start out with a “Nifty Fifty” (50mm f/1.8) lens, because they’re cheap and strong performers. Even the more expensive f/1.4 version of these lenses are usually less than $500.
But what if you want something a little wider? A 35mm f/1.8 or f/2 lens will run you about $200, so an f/1.4 lens can’t be much more, right? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. As focal lengths get lower, wide-aperture lenses get harder and harder to design—especially if you want to keep distortions and aberrations under control. The result is lenses like the $1,799.95 Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G.
Why is it so expensive? Well, the precision of the design, the quality control, the fit and finish, and the "pro premium" all likely factor in. But in and out of the lab, this lens proved itself to be one of the sharpest primes that we’ve ever tested. It also offers excellent bokeh, a versatile fixed focal length, and a compact design.
But is it worth the price? Probably not.
Who's It For?
Like other 35mm prime lenses, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is a good choice for an all-around prime—an alternative to your kit lens or a heavy constant-aperture zoom for those times when you want flexibility and performance without the bulk. Sure, a 35mm prime isn't as flexible as either of those options, but it's about as flexible as primes get: wide enough for landscapes, tight enough for impromptu "environmental" portraits and street photography. It's basically either this or a 50mm prime if you're looking for a good full-frame all-rounder.
But this lens isn't just about the 35mm focal length. It's also about the stellar low-light performance and shallow depth of field you get from the f/1.4 maximum aperture. Then there's the absolutely ridiculous edge-to-edge sharpness. Nikon also makes a 35mm f/1.8G that costs just $600. It's sharp, lightweight, and has solid bokeh of its own. But the 35mm f/1.4G blows it out of the water in virtually every metric.
Given the price point, though, this lens will really only appeal to professionals and hobbyists with big budgets. For most full-frame shooters, the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED is more than enough lens at less than half the cost. And if you want to spend even less money, the film-era Nikon 35mm f/2D is still in production (somehow), and offers excellent performance for $390. Just keep in mind that it won't autofocus on Nikon's entry-level DSLRs.
Look and Feel
Despite its hefty price tag, this hardly feels like a $1,800 lens. It’s solidly-built, to be sure, but it’s primarily made of plastic, lacks an aperture ring, and looks just like the far cheaper 35mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.4G lenses. In short, it looks like a Nikon G-series lens, which it is. For better or worse, Nikon has stuck to a universal look and feel for its digital-era lenses (with a couple notable exceptions), and this is the new normal.
Shooting with the 35mm f/1.4G is as simple as it gets. The onboard SWM autofocus motor is compatible with all Nikon DSLRs; it's quick, quiet, and smooth, even when shooting video. The lens body has few physical controls—essentially just a focus mode switch and a massive focus ring. Like other G-series lenses, focus is by wire. There are no hard stops to let you know when you've hit the end of the focus range, but there's a little click before the ring keeps spinning.
This G version is Nikon's first autofocus 35mm f/1.4. The only previous version was the 35mm f/1.4 Ai-s manual focus lens, which was a stellar performer for its era and had an immaculate all metal build. Aside from its construction and size, however, the modern 35mm f/1.4G is superior in every respect: sharper, with better bokeh, and boasting extremely accurate autofocus.
The Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.4G is capable of capturing some truly wonderful images. In our lab tests, it proved itself to be one of Nikon's sharpest primes, with minimal distortion, no noticeable chromatic aberration, and true corner-to-corner sharpness through almost the entire aperture range.
We're used to seeing exceptionally sharp results from the Nikon D810 thanks to its 36.3-megapixel sensor, but this lens exceeded even that high standard. In our sharpness test, we use a unit of measurement called "line widths per picture height" at MTF50, where anything over 2,000 is generally considered excellent.
The Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 didn't just crest 2,000 in the center at every single aperture, it averaged over 2,300 lines across the entire frame from f/2.8 to f/8, with the center nearly crossing 3,000 lines at f/4 and f/5.6. While this isn't quite as sharp as the best lenses we've ever tested—the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is a bit sharper—it's certainly in the upper echelons.
Out in the field, the lens continued to outdo itself. The wide-normal field of view makes this an almost ideal walkaround lens, with generally superb (if occasionally a little busy) bokeh and a field of view that produced images with a distinct character. It's a potent combination, making this an excellent choice for pretty much any photographer save for sports and wildlife shooters who can't get close enough to the action.
Below you can see sample photos taken with the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G mounted on a Nikon D810. Click the link below each photo to download the full-resolution image.
If you were only aware of first-party lenses from Canon and Nikon, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 35mm f/1.4 lenses are almost impossible to manufacture. Why else would they cost in excess of $1,600, when 35mm f/1.8 and f/2 lenses go for a third or less of the price?
But luckily there are plenty of third-party options to consider. Sigma’s extremely similar 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is a stellar performer, albeit without weather sealing, and it costs $900. If you don't mind an even chintzier plastic build and focusing manually, the incredibly sharp Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is an absolute steal at a little over $400. If you're having a hard time justifying Nikon's $1,500-plus price point, well... so are we.
But in truth, we’d have trouble justifying it even without these alternatives. It's just an awful lot of money to spend on a normal prime lens. IF you're a pro who will get a lot of use out of a general purpose lens like this? Sure, but your company will buy it or you can write it off. For hobbyists it's a pure luxury purchase, strictly for those with disposable income to burn.
Which isn’t to say that this lens isn’t good. It’s fantastic in virtually every respect. But for most people—even those who can afford it—the opportunity cost is just too high. Maybe you can justify spending $1,800 on this one lens, but can you justify buying it instead of three other, equally good lenses?
If that’s not an issue for you, then worry not; for the right buyer with money to burn, this is a great lens. For the rest of us, it’s a tall order.
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