Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nikon AF-S 35mm F1.8G (DX) Review

Introduction:
This is a review of the AF-S DX 35mm F1.8G

Back in the 1970's and through most of the 1980s when you bought a new SLR the kit lens that came with the camera would have been a 50mm F1.8 lens because it offers what is considered a normal field of view. On today's crop sensor bodies from Nikon that is no longer the case, because a 50mm lens gives you a similar perspective to that of 75mm. Nikon figured that because the 50mm F1.8 was such a popular lens that they should develop a lens that gives a similar perspective for APS-C sensor cameras like the D3100 all the way to the D300s, as a result the Nikon AF-S 35mm F1.8G came to the market.

The Nikon 35mm F1.8G is designed specifically for APS-C sensor cameras, but the lens can also be used on Nikon FX bodies, although there is vignetting in the corners, which shows it self most on subjects that are more than 2m away.


Specs:
8 elements in 6 groups (one of which is aspherical)
44ยบ Field Of View (DX)
Rear Focusing system, with built in AF-S (Silent Wave) motor.
Closest Focusing Distance of 0.3m or 0.98ft.
7 Rounded Diaphragm (Aperture) Blades
Aperture Range of F1.8-22
52mm Filter Thread (Same as kit lenses and 85mm F3.5G VR micro)
Dimensions: 70mm x 52.5mm
Wight: 200g

Build Quality and Ergonomics:
The build quality of the Nikon 35mm F1.8G is a cut above that of lenses such as the 50mm F1.8D, but not by much. Both lenses are made in China, and of industrial strength plastics (Polycarbonate), which means that neither could take much of a beating. That being said, the 35mm F1.8G does not feel cheaply made, you wont hear any creaking noises and it feels solid when you hold onto the lens tightly. The Nikon HB-46 hood, which is included with the lens, feels the same as other modern plastic hoods for DX lenses.


The design of the lens, despite its' small size, makes it easy to hold onto. There is a small depression behind the manual focusing ring that makes gripping the lens comfortable no matter what kind of body you have the lens mounted on, from entry level bodies like the D3100 all the way up to the D300s with the MB-D10 grip attached. The lens has one switch, (A/M | M) on the side, for changing between Auto Focus with manual override, or manual.

The manual focus ring turns smoothly as long as you are shifting quickly from one end of the focus range to the other, but gets a little sticky for one touch focusing, which can make focusing precisely a little tough at times. I found that the amount of pressure applied to the ring can make a difference in the smoothness of focusing.


Auto Focus:
The auto focus speed of the 35mm F1.8G is not overly fast, but quieter than a screw driven lens like the 50mm F1.8D. The 50mm F1.8D focuses about twice as fast as the 35mm F1.8G for example. This seems to be a common occurrence for moderns Nikon AF-S compact prime lenses when compared to older AF-D lenses. For example, the 50mm F1.4G and 85mm F1.4G also focus slower than their AF-D predecessors. Some reviews indicate that the new G lenses focus more accurately than the older AF-D lenses, which might be why they are slower to focus, but I don't see any major difference in focus accuracy between the 50mm F1.8D and the Nikon 35mm F1.8G.

I've read reports that the 35mm F1.8G tends to back focus often, and I saw that with close subjects, but distant ones don't see to have that issue. When I say close subjects, I mean subjects that are near or at the closest focusing distance of the lens. I used AF fine tuning on my D300 and was unable to make any noticeable change to this issue, at least not without causing front focus on distant subjects. In any case, back focusing at close distances is only an issue at F1.8.

Image Quality:
At the end of the day what any photographer really wants to know about their gear is, can it get the results I desire from it? The Nikon 35mm F1.8G DX delivers extremely sharp, contrasty images. After shooting several hundred images with the lens I can say that I am very satisfied with the optics. Bokeh is a little underwhelming at F1.8, but once you stop the lens down to F2.8 it is smooth and creamy, just the way I like it. The optics are no flawless mind you, there are signs of chromatic aberrations when shooting at F1.8, although the kind of abortions the 35mm F1.8G displays can be easily removed in post processing, or in camera with newer Nikon bodies when shooting jpgs.

Images say a lot more about a lens than words, so here are some sample images.

Click on the images for larger view

35mm @F1.8

35mm @F1.8

35mm @F1.8

35mm @F1.8

35mm @F2.8

35mm @F5.6

35mm @F7.1

Final Thoughts and Conclusion:
The Nikon 35mm F1.8G DX lens has decent build quality and offers excellent image quality for the price, which is about $200 US or $259 Cdn. The lens is not without faults, there are signs of chromatic abortions at F1.8, and the bokeh at the same F stop is a little harsh. The chromatic abortions are easy to deal with in post processing, and the issue of harsh bokeh can be resolved by shooting at F2.8. The only other issue with the lens is the slight stickiness of the manual focusing ring, but that will only be an issue if you find yourself doing a lot of manual focusing. Like just about every review that I've read about this lens; my conclusion is, if you want it, buy it, because you are very unlikely to regret it.


Pros:
* Excellent image quality (sharp even at F1.8) for the price
* 50mm equivalent field of view for Nikon DX bodies
* Auto Focuses on all Nikon DX bodies (Including D40(x), D60, D3000, D5000 & D3100)
* Decent Build Quality
* Price
* Light weight (200g) and small

Cons:
* Manual focus ring is a little sticky for one touch focusing 
* A slight tendency to back-focus at times
* Chromatic Aberrations wide open (easily fixed in post processing)
* Slightly Harsh Bokeh at F1.8, can be overcome by stopping down to F2.8
* Slowish Auto Focus (50mm F1.8D focuses faster)