Wide-Angle Lenses For Nikon 'F' Mount
Evaluations By Bjørn Rørslett
For rating criteria, please see the Lens Survey Page. For each lens, the type of the reviewed lens (AI, AIS etc.) is given.
|AF 14 mm f/2.8 ED-RF Nikkor||5
its optical program towards even shorter focal lengths
with this ultrawide-angle lens. It is compact and
surprisingly heavy with a smallish built-in scalloped
sunshade that barely protects the huge bulbous front
element. Exterior finish is similar to the 17-35 Nikkor,
but sadly Nikon has dropped the engraving of numerals,
these are just printed. The hood is solid metal. There is
a gel filter slot at its rear end and no front filtration
The optical design includes an aspherical front and ED elements, in conjunction with internal focusing (rear-focusing or RF, a variant of the IF principle). AF focusing is very swift on the F5 and D1 and I certainly didn't miss AFS at all. Because the focusing throw is very short, there is little or no focusing noise. The near limit is a remarkable 0.2m, which barely leaves free space in front of the lens!
I obtained very sharp images with the 14 mm even wide open, and sharpness and contrast rose even further up to f/8 or so. Quality held up well to f/16, but f/22 softened visibly due to diffraction. Colours were vividly saturated thanks to the ED glass. Some remnants of colour fringing, however occurred towards to corners of the D1 frame. Some corner light fall-off is present, but hardly detrimental to image quality.
The 14 mm f/2.8 clearly is more susceptible to flare than the 17-35 lens, but much improved compared to the earlier 15 mm Nikkors. Ghosting can be induced when a strong light source occurs within the frame, but nudging the lens slightly may mitigate the issue altogether.
Designing such a wide lens invariably calls for compromises. Retrofocus lenses tend to show barrel distortion and the 14/2.8 is no exception. Mounted on a D1, this is all you see. However, put this lens on an F5 and point it towards a building, and you'll discover what a wavy "moustache distortion" is about. This bizarre distortion makes the 14/2.8 not suitable for architecture work, but should pose little problems for areas such as press or nature photography. I'll have to rob my piggy-bank again, if I just can find it ...
Meanwhile, read the full review here.
Note concerning its use on D1X:
The 14 mm is not comfortable when mounted on the Nikon D1X. Neither is the user. Images captured by D1X are noticeably less sharp and colour fringing is quite evident towards the corners of the frame and around high contrast features, even in the image centre. I suspect its optical design was optimised for the D1, and that the loss of sharpness on D1X might be caused by frequency aliasing of fine detail.
If you insist, much of the colour issues can be removed by digital processing.
On a D100, images appear sharper, but colour fringing may still be troublesome. D2X pictures appear rather sharp, but CA is frequently troublesome.
With the FX-format (D3, D3X), corner vignetting at f/2.8 is pronounced but clears at f/8. Some blue fringing is plainly visible mostly towards the corners. Sharpness is quite good except for the very corners that don't appear entirely sharp.
IR performance: Quite sharp images result, some flaring and ghosts can occur in sunshine, but no hot spots are observed. You need to use gel filters into the designated rear holder.
mm f/5.6 Nikkor QDC
monstrously-sized, ultrawide-angle design opened up new
vistas for feature, architecture and landscape
photography with its huge 110° angle of view and steep
perspective. Images are very sharp in the centre but
sharpness diminishes rapidly towards the corners. Colour
fringing together with residual coma and spherical
aberration can be very troublesome in the corners of the
image, too, and largely due to the enormous bulbous front
element, flare and ghosting is a challenging issue during
practical shooting. Image sharpness is maximal around
I guess most of the CA issues with this lens could be removed by judicious post-processing of the images. The pronounced curvature of field is less easily dealt with.
On the FX-format (D3), I initally was puzzled to learn that the camera mostly refused to accept the lens, it just signalled a flashing "Err" when the shutter release was pressed. Later this turned out to be a mechanical misalignment issue and after repair the lens now works quite well on the D3. The loss of sharpness off the optical axis is again visible like it was on film, so is the strong fall-off towards the corners of the frame, but the CA issue is abated.
IR performance: Surprisingly sharp images are achieved with the S3 UVIR camera. No hot spots observed. You need to tape a gel filter to the rear end, or modifiy the internal rotating filter wheel by putting a 87/87C inside. Or get pseudo-IR by using the built-in R60 filter. Field curvature can be very obvious and you need to have this characteristic of the lens in mind when you plan an IR shot with it.
|AF 18 mm f/2.8 Nikkor||
bulkier than its MF relative, the faster 18 mm is
troubled with residual colour aberrations and these flaws
tend to make its colour rendition dull, greyish, and
devoid of sparkle. High-lights clearly show visible
fringing. I briefly tested this lens and didn't like it
Other users report much better experiences and there is always the possibility I tested a bad sample.
mm f/3.5 Nikkor
wide-angle lens gives a 100° angle of view and is built
quite compact. It gives sharp and contrasty images thanks
to its modern optical formula, but flare and ghosts are
easily produced under adverse light conditions. Use
f/8-f/11 for maximal sharpness. There is a CRC feature
for keeping image sharpness when the lens is focused
close. Some CA is seen also on film.
On the DX system, my 18/3.5 only has seen use with IR (see below).
On the FX: D3, extreme vignetting occurred when the f/3.5 aperture is used. Only the very centre of the frame is properly exposed. Never have seen anything remotely like this before and I'd say the result here is pretty much useless. However, the situation improves when the lens is stopped well down and at f/11, all of the frame except the extreme corners are free of vignetting and appear sharp. The close-ups looked better than the more distant shots. So, on a D3, this lens is for the people with specialised interests only. Not recommended for general use on the D3.
IR performance (DX): Better than in the visible range, just the faintest trace of a hot spot when the lens is stopped down to f/22. For most situations this will be of no consequence.
mm f/2.8 Nikkor
4 - 4.5
|With a modern optical
formula including CRC (floating lens elements for
close-range correction), this 20 mm is the best all-round
performer in the Nikon line so far. Images are very sharp
and evenly illuminated corner-to-corner. It cannot
however match its f/3.5 predecessor when it comes to low
flare and ghosting so is less suited for shooting into
the sun. Otherwise, it is an excellent design and
sturdily built as are all MF Nikkors. It gives excellent
results already from f/4-f/5.6 and its performance peaks
between f/8 and f/11. Do not stop it down to f/22 if you
want quality images.
On the D2X and D200, slight veiling flare is seen at f/2.8 to quickly disappear when the lens is stopped down. Images are crisp and sharp up to f/16 or so. The amount of CA seen is modest and I've seen far worse.
Results on the D3 looked good, only at f/2.8 was vignetting in the extreme corners visible and by f/4-5.6 the frame appears crisp and clear all over. CA seems to be well kept at bay, only a small tinge of blue fringing sometimes occured at specular highlights.
IR performance: Not bad at all, but there is a weak yet detectable hot spot at f/22.
|AF-D 20 mm f/2.8||
successor to the MF 20/2.8 is often stated to have
identical optics, but I'm not entirely convinced that
this is true and think Nikon tweaked the design so make
the lens focus better in AF. Direct comparison with the
MF lens shows that the AF has more curvature of field, at
least in the close range where this feature counts, and
slightly more CA. Image sharpness isn't entirely up to
that of the MF brother at any aperture, but the contrast
is slightly higher. Probably Nikon tweaked the coating as
IR performance: The AF-D performs quite well in IR, and any tendency towards producing a hot spot is hardly detectable. Likely the improved coatings on this model makes it better for IR shooting than the MF 20/2.8.
11-element lens, designed for the Nikon F, allows the
avid photographer an encompassing wide 94 degree view,
without having to lock up the mirror as with the earlier
21/4 lens. Superbly built, the lens focuses effortlessly
to 0.3m and needs a big 72 mm filter due to its
impressive front size. It is surprisingly heavy, too.
Images produced by this lens are crisp and sharp, with just a trace of softness into the extreme corners unless the aperture collar is moved beyond the f/5.6 position. Even set wide open, the 20 mm exhibits outstanding field flatness. There is quite modest barrel distortion to be seen, and despite not being multi-coated, the lens does not flare easily. However, the lack of multi-coating mainfests itself in a propensity for ghosting and by allowing direct sun-light to graze across the front element, you are certain to be rewarded by beautiful ghost impressions of the 7-bladed aperture opening. Thus, shooting with this lens under difficult light conditions should be done with frequent use of the stopping-down control on the camera to check for ghosts. Since I love to use the 20 UD on my rangefinder Nikon S3, I have to accept the occasional occurrence of ghosts.
mm f/3.5 Nikkor (52 mm filter size)
(close-ups, F5, D1X, D2X)
lens is extremely well corrected for flare and ghosting;
accordingly is the inside tip for nature
photographers fond of shooting into the sun (I am one of
those). Used in combination with the elusive, ultra-thin K1 extension ring it can give stunning close-ups
with a very steep and dramatically emphasised
perspective. Although there is no CRC feature, it yields excellent sharpness
used up close this
way. For landscape work, however, its pronounced field
curvature can be a serious disadvantage. The corner
sharpness isn't as good as the centre either. I tend to
bring it with me just for those dramatic shots into the
sun and set the aperture to f/22 to obtain a nice
star-shaped sun. Otherwise, f/8 gives the sharpest
For the FX:D3, some vignetting is seen when the lens is used wide open and this clears rapidly upon stopping down. Still, I'd recommend using this lens mainly for closer subjects and not for landscape-type shooting. No CA problems worth mentioning.
IR performance: No hot-spots seen with any camera. Very sharp and crisp IR images can be obtained. Tremendous flare and ghosting in IR will appear when you shoot into the sun, though, not in any way unprecedented since lens coatings are not optimised for dealing with IR. I have used this lens for IR landscapes but consider it behaves at its best at closer ranges.
mm f/4 Nikkor
|A petite lens replacing
the big 20 mm f/3.5 (72 mm filter thread) from the Nikon
F era, and also producing better pictorial results. Field
curvature and corner coma could be bothersome for some
applications of this lens, though. Needs to be stopped
down a bit to give adequate corner sharpness - f/11 is a
Some reviewers rank this lens much more favourable than this. I have no means of disproving or confirming their claims. It all boils down to how you, the end user, are satisfied with your particular sample. Remember the finite probability of sample variation.
I recently acquired a mint sample of the AI version and after adding a CPU, put it to use on DX (for IR) and FX cameras. On the D3 and D3X, I observed a good on-axis sharpness and very severe loss of quality into the corners for close subjects, while more remote scenes were rendered more evenly sharp across the frame. Still not what I'd call a peak performance, and the 14-24/2.8 Nikkor will blow the old-timer away.
IR: One reason I purchased this lens was a persistent rumour that the 20/4 had excellent IR capabilities. I partly agree, but it should be pointed out that flare in IR can be very troublesome even robbing the image of fine detail, and under some conditions the hot-spot issue rears its ugly head as well. So it is important to shade the front of the lens in an efficient manner when you do IR with it.
mm f/4 Nikkor-O
|Now mostly regarded as a
collectible item, the 21 mm f/4 broke the 90°
angle-of-view barrier back in 1959. Its perfectly
symmetric optical design extends deep into the camera
throat to end just a few mm away from the film gate.
Accordingly the mirror had to be locked up and a separate
optical viewfinder was used to frame the picture. This
lens can only be mounted on early Nikon bodies such as F,
F2 and Nikkormats.
VERY STERN WARNING:
Mounting it on newer cameras such as F3, F4 or F5 invariably ends with the reflex mirror getting severely DAMAGED.
Never ever try to do this on any other camera than Nikon F, F2, and Nikkormat, even with the mirror in a raised and locked-up position!
On an appropriate camera such as F or F2, however, it offers superb qualities for shooting into the sun thanks to its symmetric design, and produces images that are quite sharp and having a very pleasant "roundness" of detail - in other words, giving excellent 'bokeh'. For shooting into the sun, the minimum aperture setting f/16 is preferable, but maximum sharpness otherwise is in the f/8-f/11 range.
mm f/2 Nikkor
|I have mixed
feelings about this fast wide-angle. It certainly snaps
into focus quickly thanks to its large aperture, and
image quality is very good in the centre of the frame.
Light fall-off is kept well controlled. However, into the
corners and back and in front of the focused plane, image
quality declines. Peak performance occurs at f/5.6, but
the corners are really soft until f/8. I did not achieve
the detail in the DOF zone that theoretically should be
present and think this is due to problems with residual
colour aberrations. Because I have noticed similar
patterns on 3 different samples, I conclude this is
typical for the design. The lens flares easily and
ghosting hence can be detrimental to image quality unless
the lens is stopped down beyond f/11. A pity this nicely
handling lens doesn't produce better results.
For the enthusiast willing to take the computational efforts, the colour fringing of the 24 mm f/2 can largely be corrected using quite simple models, modules such as Panorama Tools can rectify the CA issue to a large extent.
mm f/2.8 Nikkor
(F2, F4, F5)
released its major achievement, CRC (Close Range
Correction) with this lens in 1968 and it got a
well-deserved popularity in the years afterwards. There
have been a number of versions of this 24 mm lens, the
first without multi-coating and f/16 as minimum aperture,
the next multi-coated but still f/16, and the later
versions (AI, AIS) going to f/22. Nikon has made several
changes to the optical formula during the long life-span
of this lens, which still is on Nikon's price list.
Earlier versions flared less easily, but could produce
quite visible ghosting when employed under strongly
backlit situations. Newer versions flare more easily, but
the resistance to ghosting has improved provided the lens
is well stopped down. It gives very sharp images
corner-to-corner even at the near limit thanks to CRC,
but beware of field curvature if you are shooting
perfectly flat subjects at close range. Some light
fall-off towards the corners is evident at f/2.8 and gone
by f/4-f/5.6. Set the lens to f/5.6-f/11 to get the best
picture quality, but do not stop down to f/22 unless
absolutely necessary. It provides excellent results when
an ultra-thin K1 ring is added, and gives good results
with a 4T close-up lens if some corner softness is
accepted. The 24/2.8 MF Nikkor is a classic lens in the
Nikon line and one that remains a dependable workhorse to
However, on a D2X or D200 and depending on subject, the CA can be quite troublesome and it surely detracts from the overall sharpness of the 24 lens. So I was quite surprised to observe the excellent image quality my 24/2.8 delivered on the FX models, in particular on the D3X.
IR performance: A central hot-spot is commonly seen when the lens is used for IR. NOT recommended for IR unless you use it fairly wide open. Some cameras interact better with this lens, so for example, on my modified D200, hot spots are more rarely a nuisance.
|AF 28 mm f/1.4 Nikkor||
bulky due to its high-speed design, this lens is capable
of rendering sharp and contrasty images at apertures
between f/4 and f/11. Wide open the extreme corners are
quite soft, but they rapidly improves when the lens is
stopped down. A nice lens for available light work, if
you aren't troubled with its steep price.
This is a lens that behaves quite similar on film and DSLR bodies, according to my tests. The wide-open setting produces quite soft images with some field curvature and internal flare as well. You do need to stop down to get really sharp images. Precise focusing is required to get acceptable results at f/1.4. The bokeh rendition is quite nice.
Many people consider I've been too harsh with my ranking of the 28/1.4. However, I've tested several samples, on film-based as well as digital bodies, and the results are all similar with flare, low contrast and loss of image sharpness at the widest apertures. I cannot disregard my findings. Simple as that. The end user has to decide whether or not the reported issues influence the intended use of this fast lens, preferably by doing judicious test shooting. If I report an issue and the user thinks this is inconsequential for the intended use of the lens - well, the issue vanishes in thin air. But you are warned what can go on.
mm f/2 Nikkor
|The high-speed 28 Nikkor
is unusual in having its close-range correction (CRC)
executed with the front elements, not with the rear as
the case is with other wide-angles. It offers outstandingly sharp images and these are produced at
all aperture settings from f/2 to f/8 with just a trace
of corner softness at the wider settings. Field curvature
is modest in terms of wide-angle lenses. Peak performance
occurs between f/4 and f/5.6. When stopped down beyond
f/11, sharpness suffers however. This lens is unusually resistant
to flare and ghosting and
eminently suitable for shooting directly into the sun.
Never catching the buyers' fancy, this is an uncommon
lens which is indicative of the perils of free
On the FX (D3, D3X), quality is excellent. However, the very extreme corners are not well defined and appear darker unless the lens is stopped a fair number of stops down. For many uses of the lens this poses no practical problem, but you are herewith warned. No CA was present on the D3.
IR performance: With the D70, a quite strong hot-spot is observed, but on the S3Pro UVIR, this issue evidently disappears since I haven't been able to trigger any such spot even at f/22.
I recently managed to get my 28/2 outfitted with a matrix CPU chip, which made it compatible to all my newer Nikons and the Fuji S3 Pro UVIR as well. Note that converting the Mk.II (0.25m near focus) is very difficult, whilst the Mk. I (0.3 m near limit) is easy. Recommend as a small and inexpensive alternative to the 28/1.4.
On a digital camera, some colour fringing occasionally can be observed. D2X shows this quite clearly. Hence I rated the 28/2 a little lower for this camera, but of course if you are not bothered with CA, don't listen to me here. If troublesome, the CA issue can be mitigated by digital post-processing.
mm f/2.8 Nikkor (0.2 m Close-Focus)
designed this lens to yield sharp images even used for
close-up photography. This was achieved thanks to its
advanced 8-element design and a CRC feature acting on the
front elements as with the 28/2 Nikkor. Images taken up
close really are extremely sharp in the middle part of the picture and
sharpness extends quite gracefully into the corners.
Optimum near-focus sharpness is obtained at f/5.6 and
f/8. For distant scenes, however, corner sharpness isn't
that remarkable and ghosting under adverse conditions can
be troublesome. There is some corner colour fringing
The close-focusing 28 copes very well with D2X, and for near subjects, you are assured of high quality images with virtually no CA issues (not yet tested for distant subjects with this camera).
The 28/2.8 behaved very well on the D3, and the vignetting into the corners is hardly an issue with this lens. It was virtually devoid of CA, too.
IR performance: A strong tendency to producing an ugly hot spot makes it a poor candidate for IR work. I've seen this issue with several camera models.
mm f/2.8 Nikkor (0.3 m near limit)
MF [non-AI, AI] and AF versions
|Prior to the 0.2 m close-focus model (see above), more modest optical designs were manufactured and none could come anywhere near the performance of the later version. A simple 5-element formula was later employed for the AF 28 mm f/2.8 lens and this likewise is a mediocre performer. Probably Nikon targeted these lenses at the amateur market and considered low price more important than optical performance.|
Nikon Series E
optical design with 5 elements in 5 groups results in a
small and neat lens, albeit not of the highest
performance. There is some barrel distortion accompanied
by slight colour fringing towards the corners, and light
fall-off is quite pronounced at f/2.8. Curvature of field
and residual optical aberrations give soft corners until
the lens is stopped down to f/5.6, a setting which
provides a quite crisp image corner to corner. From f/11
onwards the image rendition softens and f/22 is strictly
for a last-resort type of photography, in which
depth-of-field is far more important than image
Despite the modest coating on its glass, there is only moderate flare and ghosting is quite well controlled, too. And this lens is one of the few with a useful response in UV as well. Simplicity pays, sometimes. But you do get what you pay for in terms of optical crispness.
mm f/3.5 Nikkor-H
|3 - 3.5
(F5, early version)
old-timer launched as early as 1960 for the Nikon F, the
28/3.5 stayed long in the product line. Several optical
versions exist. Most models cope extremely well with
against-the-light shooting, showing a small degree of
flare and ghosting. Central image sharpness is generally
good wide open and excellent by f/5.6-f/8, but corners
suffer light fall-off and are less sharp. The last
version got an enlarged rear element to mitigate this
The 28/3.5 performs excellently on the newer D2X and D200 digital bodies, giving very sharp and crisp images with just ever so slight trace of CA. Shooting into directly into the sun with this lens is a breeze. This lens is one I nearly always carry with me on field trips.
With the newer breed of FX cameras, the tendency for the 28/3.5 to show field curvature and loss of sharpness towards the corners becomes much more pronounced. Accordingly I have downrated this lens slightly for FX use. Still you can get very good imagery provided the lens is stopped well down and you don't expect it to deliver flat-field performance.
IR performance: If your interests veer towards IR, you should try to get the older "K" version of this lens which has a small rear element. This model performs marvellously for IR and don't show any tendency towards forming a hot spot in the recorded IR image. Image sharpness in IR is almost unbelievably superb. The AIS model has a smaller front element and the rear element is bigger; its IR performance is not entirely up to the standard set by the earlier version.
UV performance: Very poor. Images are robbed of details and contrast. UV captures made with my modified D200 fared slightly better, but still I won't recommend this lens for general UV work.
mm f/3.5 PC-Nikkor
feature distinguishes this speciality lens. The optical
system projects an enlarged image circle to allow the
lens to be shifted up to 11 mm away from the axis. This
allows for correction of converging verticals and thus
solves a common problem in architectural photography. The
PC 28 is a slow-working lens, firstly due to its preset
aperture control, and secondly due to the need for
metering with the lens in a neutral position; you cannot
shift the lens and then meter with the camera as usual.
The latter restriction apply to all shift lenses (also to
those made for Canon cameras, if you don't mind being
told the truth).
If you slow your shooting to the pace dictated by this lens, you are rewarded with excellent image quality. Premium results are obtained at f/8-f/11, but the lens render acceptable image quality even at f/22. There however is noticeable colour fringing (of the bluish type) in the corners when the lens is shifted to its maximum extent.
On the digital bodies, purple or reddish colour fringing occurs in the direction of maximum shift. So it is advised not to let the lens travel to the extreme limits of shift.
I found many years ago that the PC 28 could be converted to a true tilt/shift (TS) lens, which would be much more useful to me for nature photography. A picture of the converted TS 28 is given here.
mm f/1.4 Nikkor
offered this superspeed lens for two decades now, so must
believe the design is good. It is a highly temperamental
lens and you have to learn the manner in which it
"draws" to be able to unleash its full imaging
This is an excellent lens for low-light and general photography, although the results are not stunning when it is used wide open. Partly this stems from the tendency to internal flare that needs stopping down to f/2-f/2.8 in order to disappear. Its imaging capacity quickly increases when the aperture is set to f/2.8 and peak performance is reached between f/4 and f/5.6. In this quite narrow range it produces tremendously sharp images. To illustrate its imaging potential: In the peak range it is possible to discern objects that actually measure <1 mm within a recorded area of 5 by 8 m. You'll need at least 40X magnification to observe these tiny details on the film, but they certainly are there . This shows the unbelievable level of detail that can be resolved on film by this lens! At f/8, however, performance starts to decline and by f/16 it's just another ordinary lens. Flare isn't usually a problem with it and ghosting is well controlled, too.
The peak sharpness of the 35 mm f/1.4 lens declines towards the corners, partly because of curvature of field. Seemingly its optical design is optimised for central sharpness, which should suit PJ-style users. However, if you put this lens to use for nature photography, you do well to acquaint yourself with its sharpness distribution across the image area. For digital DX camera users, there is less noticeable decline of sharpness away from the dead centre of the frame.
The 35/1.4 features CRC and thus is a capable performer even up close down to its near limit at 0.3 m. There will be quite visible barrel distortion, though, when it is focused this close.
On DSLR cameras, you will observe some chromatic aberration towards the corners of the frame with nearly all DX models. Only the combination with D2X behaves nicely in this respect and although there is some CA, it is generally negligible (or caused by field curvature). On the other hand, D2X images are very sharp even at f/1.4 and excellent in the peak range f/2.8 - f/8. Critically sharp and contrasty images still can be had at f/16 with the D2X. Similar behaviour is seen on the D200.
With the newer FX cameras such as D3 and even more the D3X, the 35/1.4 deliver very high quality images. The CA issue seems to be much better in control too.
Recently, thanks to a specialised ultra-small chip I managed to perform a CPU-modification of the 35/1.4. The implantation of a CPU in this lens does demand extensive surgery and can not be recommended for the faint of heart.
IR performance: Images are very sharp, but there is a huge hot-spot seen with all cameras tested so far. This largely ruins the image in my opinion.
|AFS 35 mm f/1.8 Nikkor DX G||
smallish and compact wide-angle prime is a signal from
Nikon that their DX line is vital and will remain so for
a long time. It serves as a "normal lens"
taking up the same position with DX as the 50mm does for
FX. The AFS feature means it is fully compatible with all
DX bodies including the lower-end D40/D40x and suchlike
models. You get a nice crisp viewfinder image that even
on the D40/40x can be focused fairly easy in manual-focus
mode, The AFS response might not be the snappierst of its
kind, but the speed suffices and there is the A/M switch
to let you override whatever mischiefs the AF might be up
The lens has 52mm filter thread and uses a HB-46 lens hood that bayonets onto the front of the lens casing. The fit is quite tight so there is little tendency for the hood to drop off on its own. The front element itself is not overly large yet is not set very deep so using the hood at all times for protection is recommended.
The sharpness of the 35/1.8 is better than expected and in fact, it delivers sharp images even wide open without the veiling flare that is so characteristic of the 35/1.4, thus many would prefer it over the older classic legend. Image sharpness hold up well against the 35/1.4 up to f/2.8 or so thanks to the lower flare and higher contrast, but from f/3.2 to f/4 and up the 35/1.4 is the better performer although the margins are not huge in favour of the old lens.
Flare is in general well controlled, but shooting into bright light sources is rewarded by some rainbow-coloured ghosts and flare patches. The older lens handles this often much better. Chromatic fringing is also more evident with the new f/1.8, but my suspicion is that Nikon relies on its EXPEED engine and the fact that low-end camera often capture images in jpg format thus mitigating CA issues to a large extent.
Given its low price, I expect this lens to become very popular for DX shooters seeking a good performance under situations in which a 35 is the solution.
IR performance: Images are sharp, but there is a strong hot-spot seen with all cameras tested so far. This largely ruins the image in my opinion.
mm f/2 Nikkor-O
[non-AI, AI, AIS]
developed this fast wide-angle for photojournalists in
the '60s, and it stayed long in the lens line. The
earliest version had a yellowish shimmering to the front
element that later on became bluish when multicoating was
added to it. The 35/2 is an 8-element design that
delivers very sharp images throughout the aperture
settings, peaking around f/4. There is a nice smoothness
("bokeh") in its pictorial rendition. Flare can
be mildly annoying whilst ghosting is a real and
troublesome issue under adverse shooting conditions.
According to design drawings seen by me, Nikon made some
modifications to the rear element groups in the 70's, so
newer lenses may not be identical to the early sample
(from '69) I own, and bokeh reportedly is less
On the D2X, the AIS 35/2 I own performs superbly. It shows flatter field all-over than the faster 35/1.4 and CA is well under control. Image crispness is of the highest class, even when the lens is opened up (a little softer at f/2 than the 35/1.4, though).
By the way, the current AF version has a much simpler optical formula. Centre sharpness is great but corner quality isn't outstanding on this new design.
IR: Not bad at all, but when stopped all the way down a weak hot spot is present. I have downgraded this lens slightly for IR because of this issue.
Nikon Series E
choose a simple optical design for the next-widest lens
in the Series E ("E" for Economical) line,
resulting in a very small and neat package. Its design (5
elements in 5 groups) produces a quite surprisingly sharp
image, however. The "sweet spot" is firmly
placed from f/5.6 to f/8 only, so this explains why I
haven't given the 35/2.5 SE a higher ranking. Wide open
the image is quite soft to sharpen dramatically up to the
optimal range. At smaller apertures there is an
increasing softening of contrast and image detail.
Lens build and workmanship reflect the low price at which these lenses sell. Still, it feels decidedly more solid than many contemporary rattling, plasticky AF lenses, and focuses very smoothly. There are two versions, of which only the last has the traditional Nikkor chrome ring.
On the plus side should be mentioned a remarkably low geometric distortion, a very even sharpness distribution across the entire frame, and negligible colour fringing. Despite the simplified lens coating the 35/2.5 SE copes quite well with adverse light conditions, showing moderate tendency of flaring, and ghosting is not pronounced either.
The final bonus of this light-weight lens is its capability to be used for UV photography. The image quality for UV is adequate but don't expect miracles as far as sharpness is concerned.
mm f/2.8 Nikkor-S
|Once again, this is a lens that has been simplified in its optical formula throughout the years. The earliest version had 7 elements ("S" designation), big front and small rear elements, while the later models got 5 elements, a small front element and an enlarged rear element. The tendency to vignetting wide open declined by these optical changes, but so did the image quality. Prime, slow 35 mm lenses are not in the vogue today and this middle-of-the-road performer is not the one to reverse that trend.|
mm f/2.8 PC-Nikkor
tested (and owned) by me is the next to last version of
the PC 35 Nikkor. This is a sharp and versatile lens
thanks to its shifting facility (PC = Perspective
Control). It is a preset-aperture lens which can be
shifted up to 11 mm off axis. Metering must be performed
at the stopped down aperture and done before the lens is
shifted. Image quality is very good from f/4 to f/16 and
sharpness extends over the entire frame. It is not very
susceptible to flare, but severe ghosting may occur when
shooting strongly backlit subjects.
The current model reportedly has even better optical performance, however, I haven't tested this version.
IR: Image quality is slightly degraded and a centre hot spot is frequently seen. Not a recommended lens for general IR work.
|35 mm f/2.8 TS Canon (modified for Nikon)||
|Canon offered an
excellent tilt/shift lens for their F1 camera and this
lens can be modified to work on Nikon cameras as well.
The modified lens retains full tilting and shifting
capabilities. The 35 TS is sturdily built and is quite
easy to operate under field conditions. If the near limit
of 0.3 m is insufficient, a K1 ring brings the lens into
even shorter focus. Excepting its greater tendency
towards flare and ghosting, the Canon TS performs on an
equal footing with its Nikon 35 PC rivals. However, there
is a slight difference in colour rendition between these
lenses with the Canon TS rendering a distinct although
weak yellowish cast to the images compared to the Nikon
lens. One tends to use such TS lenses stopped down far
beyond the optimum range of f/5.6-f/8.
With D2X, chromatic aberration (CA) occasionally occurs in the form of red fringes. Shifting the lens might exacerbate the CA tendency.
IR: There is a tendency for a hot spot to degrade image quality. Like the 35 PC-Nikkor, not recommended for general IR use.
Last Update 21 February, 2009