Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED Lens Review
It's not quite as sharp as the $1,800 35mm f/1.4G, but it's darn close for $600.
Nikon’s library of prime lenses has undergone a number of updates since the move to digital, as the company works to modernize its designs while preserving its long-serving F mount. Of all the focal lengths Nikon offers, however, none has received as much attention as 35mm. Offering a handy, slightly wider than normal field of view, it's a great all-around focal length.
Nikon now offers five different 35mm prime lenses, ranging in price from $199.95 (the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G for its DX cameras) to $1,799.95 (the AF-S 35mm f/1.4G for full-frame FX cameras). An appealing compromise between the two is the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED (MSRP $599.95), which provides superb performance but costs significantly less than the f/1.4 version. And since it was designed to cover the full-frame FX image sensor, it can also be used on the smaller DX sensors found in Nikon's entry-level bodies.
Both in and out of the lab, we were consistently impressed with the lens's capabilities. While most DX camera owners should probably opt for the similarly excellent (and less expensive) DX version, shooters who plan to upgrade to full-frame may be better served by going for the 35mm f/1.8G ED from the start. It's one of our favorite FX Nikon lenses for its combination of size, price, and performance.
Who's It For?
Nikon has made things a bit confusing in the last few years by producing two different 35mm f/1.8G lenses. The AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G (which is not the one we’re reviewing here) is for entry-level DX Nikons with APS-C sensors. The AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED (this one) is the company’s full-frame option.
It's a wide-normal prime lens that features an internal focusing motor, a bright f/1.8 aperture, and an extra low dispersion (ED) lens element. While it's designed for FX, this lens will also work on DX-compatible bodies, where it behaves like a 52.5mm f/1.8.
If you plan to upgrade to a full-frame body soon, it might be a smart purchase. But if you're happy with your DX camera, just buy the DX lens... it'll save you about $400.
Look and Feel
Like most of Nikon’s G-series lenses, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G ED isn’t much to look at. The build is sturdy, lightweight, and functional above all else.
The few controls are all in the right place and feel just fine, but the lens is primarily made of plastic—it feels like an "affordable" lens. Of course, while all-metal lenses have a luxurious feel, it’s the internal construction that really matters. All reports indicate that this lens is well-built inside and out, and we saw nothing to contradict them.
The compact design and lightweight materials also make it an affable companion for a day out, even when it's mounted on a heavy hitter like the Nikon D4S or D810. Control-wise there’s not much here, but the focus ring is large and rotates smoothly. It’s a little looser than I personally like, but others may actually prefer it. Though it's focus by wire, like most modern autofocus lenses, there's solid feedback at either end so you know when you’ve hit the limits of the focusing range.
The only other physical trait worth mentioning is the focus switch, which has a full manual mode and a M/A mode autofocuses but allows you to override the AF system on the fly. On the whole, it's a good all-around lens that's simple and straightforward to operate, letting you get your shot without worrying about fiddling with too many settings.
Based on what we saw in our test labs, there's a lot to like about the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED. At its widest aperture setting it produces great center resolution, but stop it down to f/2.8 and you'll see some of the sharpest shots you can get from any lens today.
Performance isn't quite as spectacular away from the frame center, but it's firmly within the "very good" range between f/2.8 and f/8. The only pain point is the corners at f/1.8, which are quite soft. (Granted, that's more or less expected for a lens like this.)
In the field, the 35mm f/1.8G ED impressed us with consistently beautiful images in a wide variety of lighting conditions. It's so good that we have a hard time recommending the AF-S 35mm f/1.4G—a lens that offers just a half-stop wider aperture and minor improvements to wide-open sharpness, but costs several times as much.
Below you can see sample photos taken with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED mounted on a Nikon D810. Click the link below each photo to download the full-resolution image.
If you're a Nikon shooter looking to buy a prime lens or two, you have lots of affordable options these days. The company recently refreshed its entire lineup of primes, and now offers G-series lenses in 20mm f/1.8, 28mm f/1.8, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and 85mm f/1.8 flavors. Best of all, none of those lenses costs more than $800 and most are under $600.
The 50mm f/1.8G should probably be the first prime most people pick up, but if you want something a little wider, the 35mm f/1.8G ED will also fit the bill. It's especially useful if it’s complementing something with a little more reach, like the 85mm f/1.8G.
Nikon’s AF-S 35mm f/1.4G is an object of desire for many FX shooters, but it’s nigh unattainable at $1,800. The 35mm f/1.8 isn’t quite as good wide open, but once you stop down a bit, the lenses offer virtually identical performance. And while f/1.4 is nice in the right circumstances, the depth of field is so shallow that it can actually be difficult to work with. For most shooters, f/1.8 is plenty.
If you’re really set on an f/1.4 max aperture, look at the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, which is offers performance virtually indistinguishable from the Nikon version and only costs $900. But even then you’re still talking about a 50% markup over the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED. That’s $300 you could be spending on other lenses.
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