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 evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.
With such a high price tag, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G (just like the rival Canon EF 35mm f/1.4) has to put in a stellar performance to justify the expense. In our lab tests, it didn't disappoint. Paired with the Nikon D810, it delivered razor-sharp results in the image center right from f/1.4, continuing to excel all the way through to f/16. With minimal distortion, a moderately wide angle of view, and killer bokeh, this is a lens that's worth the investment—if you can afford it or need it for professional reasons.
A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.
We tested the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G with the Nikon D810, which packs a 36-megapixel sensor that's the ideal platform to see just what the lens is capable of. In the center of the frame, it starts strong with a result of over 2,225 lines. By f/2, it's already over 2,550 lines, and it tops out at 2,900 lines from f/4 to f/5.6.
Moving away from the center, the results dip slightly, but it's still a strong performance compared to similar lenses. In the midway region (50% from the center) the 35mm f/1.4G only manages around 1,100 lines at f/1.4 and f/2, but this quickly jumps up to 1,950 lines at f/2.8 before peaking at 2,290 lines from f/5.6 to f/8.
In the corners of the frame, results are actually slightly better than the midway regions—a sign of significant (and expensive) optical correction by the lens designers. Resolution there starts at 1,370 lines at f/1.4, improves to 2,050 lines by f/2.8, and crests at 2,650 lines at f/8. Overall, it's an extremely impressive result—especially for a wide-to-normal prime lens.
We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp images, causing normally straight lines to curve.
There are two primary types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses. A third, less common variety (mustache distortion) produces wavy lines.
The Nikon 35mm f/1.4G provides a slightly wider than "normal" angle of view, encompassing a little more than the human eye typically sees. Usually, lenses in this range suffer from slight barrel distortion (it tends to get more intense the wider you go), and this one is no exception. Still, it does a better job of keeping lines straight than some competitors.
In our test shots, we recorded about 1.2% barrel distortion. It's a consistent, minor curve that's easy enough to correct in your photo editing suite of choice, though it will be noticeable in some shots straight out of the camera.
Chromatic aberration refers to the various types of “fringing” that can appear around high contrast subjects in photos—like leaves set against a bright sky. The fringing is usually either green, blue, or magenta and while it’s relatively easy to remove the offensive color with software, it can also degrade image sharpness.
The wider a lens's aperture, the more vulnerable it tends to be to aberrations. The Nikon 35mm f/1.4 has a very wide aperture indeed, but it outpaced our expectations in this regard with only minor issues from f/1.4 to f/2.8. CA all but disappears between f/4 and f/16, where it suddenly reappears. But even at its worst, the 35mm f/1.4G's CA is minor and easily correctable in post-production.
Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot.
While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most simply aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce bokeh with circular highlights that are free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).
Though bokeh isn't as crucial for wide-angle and normal primes as it is for portrait and wildlife lenses, the 35mm f/1.4G stands to benefit from smooth out-of-focus areas since can be used for off-the-cuff portraiture. Thankfully, it offers above-average performance for a lens of its type.
The bokeh you get is slightly busier than what you'd get from Nikon's 50mm f/1.4, it's still quite good overall. The biggest issue you'll encounter is inconsistency in the out-of-focus areas, which exhibit some minor haloing or "ni-sen" bokeh, especially with background points of light at f/1.4.
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