Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G FX AF-S Real World Review

After a VERY long debate with myself over whether to get a 35mm from Nikon, Sigma or Tamron, I finally took the plunge with the Nikon. The reasons for which I will go into in a little more detail below.

For a long time my lens line up for my Nikon Df was made up of a 24-85mm, 50mm 1.8D and an 85mm 1.8G. The zoom is a pretty decent compromise and performs admirably considering its low cost (pretty sure I picked one up for under £200) but it does fall down fairly quickly in low light. Its zoom range is flexible and and its great having an affordable zoom with 24mm at the wide end. It has proved a suitable travel lens these last couple of years but I have always wanted something wider than the 50mm with a wide aperture.

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Over the last however many months I have deliberated over the main options available in the 35mm focal length. There are a good number of options (I discounted the Nikon 1.4 on the grounds of costs) which I have summarized my very simplified thoughts below:

  1. Nikon 35mm f2
    1. older
    2. slower to focus
    3. small and light
  2. Sigma 35mm 1.4
    1. sharp
    2. wide aperture
    3. more expensive and heavy
    4. biggest concern with reports of hit and miss in terms of AF performance, which in turn could impact resale value
  3. Tamron 35mm 1.8
    1. new which has pros and cons
    2. VC (image stabilization) which could help with low light, hand held shots
    3. similar to the Sigma weights quite a lot due to the VC I presume as it doesn’t have the 1.4 of the Sigma

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So having thought about all of the above and being reminded whilst using a Tamron 15-30mm 2.8 that for travel purposes there is a limit I am willing to tolerate in terms of weight. I just like lenses that have excellent IQ without too much weight. That point is entirely subjective, I understand that. But as a result I finally decided to go with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G FX AF-S due to the following:

  1. Good value – price vs performance seemed the nicest balance of the options
  2. Great IQ – seems to match up close enough to the Sigma that I wouldn’t notice the difference, whereas the weight i would notice.
  3. Low weight – at 305g

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I have been using it for a few months now and I can confirm that it’s a great performer. I have always really liked the 28mm-40mm focal lengths. 35mm I find just about right for a lot of my general travel pics. It is definitely a bit on the short side for anything in the distance but it is just wide enough to work well with general travel, architecture and people pics. I took it on a recent work trip to San Francisco and I was somewhat excited at the chance to give it a go on The Golden Gate bridge… thankfully our meetings finished at around 4pm so we managed to walk from Pier 39 out to the bridge as the sunset which was perfect time for some pics. As it was a work trip I wasn’t exactly going to be lugging around a tripod so I had to do my best handheld. Thankfully the Df’s ISO flexibility helps with this but I tried to keep it as low as possible whilst still getting acceptably sharp images.

I also had the chance before heading to the airport to literally run through the USS Pampanito (SS-383) which was another quick test of the lens in low light. It worked really well and the 35mm focal length was just about right in that tight space. A wider 24 or 20 would have been interesting but the 35mm did the trick perfectly well.

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Overall I found the IQ of this thing to be top notch. It is interesting though, as I love the images it produces but I would not describe it as super sharp. Which I am completely ok with. I know in this modern day of age where we can zoom in to see every pixel that many care about ultimate IQ/sharpness. I would rather have lenses that create images with character, and for me the 35mm definitely does the job. It is definitely not as sharp as the 85mm 1.8G for example, but that is to be expected.

The build quality of this thing is also more than adequate. Ok, it’s not as solid as old Nikon’s or the modern Sigma ART lenses but the benefit of its plastic build is it is light enough to carry without noticing. So for me, the compromise is more than adequate.

It’s Auto Focus (AF) performance is really good, even in low light and is probably the quickest of my lenses to focus on single point AF. I haven’t really tried it with continuous AF but would expect similar results to what I would get with any other modern Nikon. It’s just at this wider focal length I just would never really need to use C-AF.

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Overall I would thoroughly recommend this lens to anyone looking for a balance of price + weight + image quality. It has been exactly what I need – a lens that I can keep on my Df 80% of the time and use it for the majority of my travel photography without turning my camera into a monster. For me, it has always been that mix of quality and weight. It’s one of the reasons I still love using my Olympus EM5 for certain situations (mainly social photographs at parties and whatnot with a 20mm 1.7) and the same goes for this lens. It is so easy with FX for things to bloat and you end up with 24-70mm 2.8’s and 70-200mm 2.8’s and whilst they make complete sense for pros they just don’t make sense for my particular style where I just like having nice memories of my travels and the people in my life.

The wonderful thing about all this is that in this era of photography, you cant really go wrong. Any of these lenses from Nikon, Sigma and Tamron can create fantastic images… it’s all about what you do with them.

Any questions, please let me know.

Tom

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