Nikon’s Awesome f/1.8 AFS-G Prime Lens Lineup
Almost exactly three years ago, Nikon announced the (FX) 50mm f/1.8 G as Nikon’s first f/1.8 AFS-G prime lens for full-frame cameras. It was affordable and lightweight, yet it delivered professional grade image quality and robust construction.
In other words, it was an abrupt departure from all previous stereotypes about f/1.8 lenses being cheap “plastic fantastic” alternatives for people who couldn’t afford a pro-grade f/1.4 or f/1.2 prime.
Next came the even more stellar Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G, then the similarly superb Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G N. Now, we have the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G ED. Each of these other f/1.8 G lenses proved to be fantastic lenses, so how does this new 35mm f/1.8 G ED measure up?
The competition is pretty steep, especially considering the new Nikon 35 1.8 costs $596. This is almost twice as much as the previous Nikon 35mm f/2, an AF-D lens which costs just $359. It is also “only” $300 less than the highly acclaimed Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART, which costs $899.
There is also the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 G N, of course, but at $1,619 it is in quite a different price bracket. (Not to mention that the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART pretty much matches / beats it, for almost half the price.)
So, is this new 35 1.8 G a good buy? It depends what you’re looking for in a lens, but yes. I’ll talk more about your alternatives later, but the bottom line is that if you’re considering this lens, rest assured you will be getting a great value.
Of all the new f/1.8 G prime lenses from Nikon, I must admit that this one is a bit of a “me too!” type lens. Personally I was more excited about the 28mm and 85mm primes, and the fact that this 35mm is “more of the same” is probably a good thing.
In short, this new lens is roughly on par with all the previous f/1.8 G primes, and a worthy addition to your bag. Ready to get more in-depth? Time for the usual aspects of our lens reviews:
As with all the previous AFS-G f/1.8 primes, the 35mm f/1.8 G is quite solidly built and seems to be ready to stand the test of time. However, it is still mostly made of plastic. If this matters to you, just keep it in mind. Then again, very few new lenses these days are made of metal, and metal lenses can get extremely heavy, as in the case of the Sigma 35mm.
Simply put, I think this lens is totally qualified for professional use, even if you are slightly abusive of their gear. What about weather sealing? Well, it’s got a rear gasket around the mount, but that’s about it. Then again, the focus ring and other areas where “weather” might enter are pretty tight anyways. I’d feel comfortable using this lens in a light rain or a mild dust storm, as long as I don’t do anything too reckless.
Indeed, this lens measures up to the exceptionally high standards that have been set by the previous f/1.8 G lenses. We tested the 35mm on a Nikon D800, and sharpness wide open is absolutely phenomenal throughout almost the entire image frame. Stopping down from f/1.8 to f/2.8 shows improvement, but both offer amazing levels of detail. The extreme corners also become quite phenomenal after stopping down to f/2.8 or f/4.
How does sharpness compare to the other 35mm primes? We’re really going to have to split hairs here, but indeed it seems that this new lens is almost on par with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, and about equal to the older Nikon 35mm f/2. If anything, unfortunately, the older Nikon 35 f/2 D images have a bit more “bite” wide open, but all of the 35mm’s I tested became quite identical by f/4 or so, except for the extreme corners.
(Center Sharpness 100% Comparison)(Center Sharpness 100% Comparison)
(Lower Right Corner Sharpness 100% Comparison)
(Lower Right Corner Sharpness 100% Comparison)
(Lower Right Corner Sharpness 100% Comparison)
Bokeh / Background Blur
One of the main reasons people buy fast primes is for their bokeh, the quality of their background blur. The Nikon 35 1.8 G delivers nice smooth bokeh, however I will admit it’s nothing to brag about if you’re a true bokeh addict. I’ve shot with other “bokeh legends” such as the Canon 35 1.4 L, so I know just how beautiful background blur can get. This lens is somewhere in the middle. By the way this is only relevant to pixel-peepers / fanboys. Most photographers will find the bokeh to be gorgeous! See the below sample…
As a Nikon user, I’ve kinda gotten used to ignoring vignetting since Nikon’s shadow recovery capabilities are so amazing. As long as a lens has sharp edges and other good qualities off-center, (see below) ..then I usually just let vignetting be an artistic effect that I can choose to either use to my artistic advantage, or ignore and correct effortlessly in post-production.
That said, the 35mm f/1.8 G has relatively little vignetting wide open, and it’s practically gone by f/2.8!
Distortion is pretty well controlled, and will undoubtedly be effortless to correct in Adobe programs and Nikon’s own software.
While this lens doesn’t focus SUPER close, it’s certainly enough to do general close-up work. More importantly, the lens holds it’s sharpness quite well even at it’s closest focus distance of 9.84″, 0.16x. (Whereas other lenses, such as the Nikon 24mm f/2.8 G, get extremely soft when focused at their closest distance)
CA is about normal for a fast prime in this rage: It’s there, and noticeable at f/1.8-f/4, however it is effortlessly corrected in Adobe software. One thing to note is that, while Adobe’s automatic distortion correction based on lens profiles usually takes a while to be released, CA removal in programs like Lightroom and Bridge is automated and requires no “profile” or anything.
Flare & Sunstars
Flare is almost un-noticeable in most conditions, unless you put the sun directly in the image frame. Sunstars are the usual Nikon “godbeam” style sunstars. In other words, they’re not the greatest, but at least they aren’t ugly or something. (I’ll talk more about this later, by the way!)
Coma is well controlled. It’s far less than the previous “budget” 35mm f/2, and only slightly more noticeable than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART. (Which also means it’s about the same as the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 G)
Who Should Buy This Lens
With so many other options out there, what might make this lens desirable to you?
- General Casual Photographers
Any photographer, hobbyist or pro, who often finds themselves in low-light situations will appreciate having a fast prime such as this for it’s added “speed benefit” of extra shutter speed compared to an f/2.8 zoom or of course variable aperture kit zoom.
Also, it’s lightweight and small and therefore renders the photographer much less obtrusive compared to say, a 24-70 2.8 or 24-120 f/4. This can be very useful when shooting around shy subjects, or trying to capture candid moments in general. If you’re on an extreme budget though, consider the 35mm f/2 D as well.
- Wedding Photographers
Similar to the above context, wedding photographers often find themselves in impossibly dark situations and/or needing to be a “fly on the wall” in order to capture candid moments. The question is, will this lens only meet the needs of a casual hobbyist? Or is it ready to take on professional duty? It is definitely ready for full-time service in professional applications, in my opinion.
Since the 35mm focal length is perfect for photojournalism however, many wedding shooters find that they love 35mm much moreso than 50mm. If 35mm is your “bread and butter” instead of 50mm, consider an f/1.4 35mm prime first before you go for this one. (Click here to read my article about wedding primes, and investing your lens budget proportionally to your favorite focal lengths.)
Oppositely, if you’re madly in love with your 50mm prime but you’re just looking to cover a wider angle at f/1.8, definintely consider this lens. (Alternately, consider the 28mm f/1.8 G as well!)
- Portrait Photographers
You may not shoot weddings, but if you’re looking for a great portrait lens in general, this is pretty much the best affordable option, if you consider $596 to be affordable.
- Astro-Landscape Photographers
It may not be very wide-angle, but it’s optical qualities and small weight / size make it a perfect compliment to your existing astro-landscape lenses. If your main astro-landscape lenses are a 24mm f/1.4 and an ultra-wide f/2.8 zoom or prime such as the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, then this lens will fit nicely into your bag as something to simply help you cover a range. It’s wide-open contrast, sharpness, and low coma will make it one of your highest quality astro-lenses. Alternately, I’d consider the 28mm f/1.8 G as well of course, especially if you don’t already have a 24mm f/1.4. (Although if you shoot astro-landscapes and don’t have ANY fast-n-wide primes yet, you should probably consider a 24mm prime first!)
While I think videographers might prefer other options such as the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 for its buttery smooth manual focusing, or the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART for its gorgeous bokeh and insane sharpness, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G could still be a good choice if you shoot video in addition to any of the above mentioned subjects.
The Demise Of Beautiful Sunstars
One thing that I have noticed over the years is that as we photographers prioritize bokeh more and more, our beautifully rounded aperture blades also have one side effect. We lose those truly gorgeous sunstars that we used to get “back in the day”. What do I mean by this? Here is the 35mm f/1.8 G compared to the older 35mm f/2 D:
This is probably only going to be a bummer to serious landscape / cityscape etc. types of photographers. It is kind of a shame, too, considering that the bokeh of the 35mm f/2 D is actually quite decent; I personally wish they would design aperture blades more like they used to.
Alternatives To The Nikon 35mm 1.8 G FX
Considering the above “issue” with sunstars, here are my thoughts on alternate choices for various types of photographers:
- If you’re an f/16-shooting landscape photographer whose only concern is sharpness, don’t bother with any lens other than the previous Nikon 35mm f/2 D. It’s incredibly sharp and totally capable of rendering fine detail on even the latest high-res cameras such as the Nikon D800, from f/5.6 to f/16. As a bonus, you get the best sunstars of any 35mm lens ever, pretty much
- If you’re obsessed with bokeh and “speed”, get the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART. It’s heavier and more pricey, but if this is your bread-and-butter lens and you plan on shooting it wide open all the time, you might as well pony up the extra cash.
- If you’re a wedding photographer who is just looking to cover the bases, do you already own the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 G? The bokeh is just as smooth at 35mm if not smoother, the sharpness is equal, and the zoom range is very useful in high-action situations.
Simply put, you should only buy the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G after careful consideration of your options. It might be the right lens for you if you’re looking for a lightweight alternative to heavier primes and zooms, without compromising on sharpness or other aspects. However if you specialize in a particular area of photography, consider a few other options as well.
What Affordable Prime Will Nikon Make Next?
With affordable f/1.8 G primes available at 28m, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm, Nikon has pretty much covered every single focal length that is commonly found in the “affordable fast prime” market. What might Nikon decide to do next? With astro-landscape photography becoming so popular these days, I’ve been hoping for some sort of 20mm f/1.8 G for a while now. That would be an awesome lens to see! Sigma made one and while quite hefty, it’s not ghastly in price or size. I think Nikon could accomplish such a lens for well under $1,000, and I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Make it 17mm or 18mm f/1.8, and I’d be willing to pay even more!
Another lens that Nikon shooters have been dying to see is a replacement (or replacements) to the 105mm f/2 DC and 135mm f/2 DC. Nikon could probably make us a 105mm f/1.8 G without going above $1200 or so, considering that the current f/2 AF-D design sits at $899. If they added VR, it might cost as much as $1400 or as little as $1199. If 105mm isn’t exciting enough, hopefully Nikon will consider making a 135mm f/2 G, and definitely with VR. Unfortunately considering the older AF-D version is already $1299, one might expect such a lens to cost anywhere from $1500 to $1900. This would kinda disqualify it from being in the same affordable category as the rest of the f/1.8 G primes.
Maybe Nikon will consider a more modest, 135mm f/2.8 VR prime, simply as a lighter alternative to the 70-200 2.8’s? Or make it 150mm or 180mm, and it would defintely be a winner.
We’ll have to wait and see!
At the end of the day, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G ED (FX) is a killer lens. If you already own the 50mm f/1.8 G and are looking for something wider, or if you have the 28mm f/1.8 G and are looking for something just a little bit longer, then you probably already knew you were going to buy this lens. However if you’re new to the world of fast, affordable primes, then I can highly recommend this new 35mm f/1.8 G as your first choice. (For full-frame cameras, that is. If you’re a crop sensor shooter, and plan on continuing to shoot DX crop for the foreseeable future, then certainly consider the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX instead!)
I know that many photographers will recommend a 50mm prime as anyone’s first venture into the world of primes, but I’m a huge fan of 35mm instead. It gives your images a much more “close” feeling when you step closer to your subjects, and it gives you a pleasant, useful wide angle view for general photography.
Take care, and happy clicking!
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