NIKON 35mm F/2 AF-D REVIEW
Maximum/Minimum Aperture: f/2 to f/22
Maximum Angle of View (DX): 62
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1:4.2
Lens: 6 Elements, 5 groups
Aperture Blades: 7
Compatible Format: FX and DX
Minimum Focusing Distance: 25cm Filter Size: 52mm
Lens Dimensions: 65x44.5mm (diameter x length)
Weight: 205 grams
Price: Approx. US$ 360
My review is from my point of view only. My equipments and shooting method are not the most controlled, and the review was written based from the impression I get from my everyday usage.
I wrote a more detailed disclaimer under my Zeiss 100mm review, so you should read the disclaimer there if you want to know what my shooting methods are (and what the flaws are).
And like mentioned before, the website is auto minimising the pictures into lower quality thumbnails, so click on the pictures and the click the pictures again (if they're larger ones) to fully expand them so you can see the proper size in original quality.
A little background on why I got the lens…
After I acquired the 100mm, I feel that I won’t be using my Nikon 85mm f/1.4 that much anymore because I simply much prefer the optical quality of the 100mm compared to the 85mm.
I know the 85mm will work better in low light, but for low light, I can cover that with my 50mm f/1.2. So deep down I know that 85mm won't be going out with me all that often anymore.
After a quick discussion with the 85mm (yes, I talk to my lenses), we agreed on letting it go.
The discussion went pretty much like this:
Me: So Nikon 85mm, I’m afraid we need to talk
Nikon 85mm: I knew this day would come; recently you’ve been obsessed with that hot German oh-look-at-me-im-so-solid lens...
Me: It’s not like what you think
Nikon 85mm: Yes it is.
Me: But it’s not you, it’s me.
Nikon 85mm: Do you think I am really that stupid, falling into cliché like that? What sort of cliché you wanna say next? Nikon holy trinity? 50mm 1.8 is the best bang for your buck lens? By the way, of course it’s you. You’re the one who’s bloody selling me out….
Me: Yeah okay okay.. so you know this is coming so I’m giving you two options; which one you prefer: sitting in a box unused, maybe just once in awhile or… I’ll sell you to someone who can appreciate you more and he will take you out more often?
Nikon 85mm: Just sell me, I understand.
Carl Zeiss Jena: Um, excuse me guys... but I think I'm also always in the box recently....
Me: Shut up you Carl Zeiss Jena. That's what y0u'll get for not being able to focus to infinity... Anyway Nikon 85mm, are you sure?
Nikon 85mm: Yes I don’t mind. It’s perfectly okay. (Plus you can’t take pics worth shit anyway...)
Me: Did you say something?
Nikon 85mm: Nothing, nevermind.
So… after we reached an agreement, I decided to sell the Nikon 85mm. It is still one of my favourite lenses, and letting 85mm go is going to hurt me. I thought about getting a puppy but it will crap on the carpet so I decided to just get another lens to curb my loss instead.
I got ultra wide angle covered, tele is also covered with my Ais prime, normal zoom is relatively covered, so does 50mm range, macro too, so I decided to get something in the range of 20mm to 35mm for practical use.
Some of the lenses that came to my mind were:
- Zeiss 25mm f/2.8: I know this is a very nice lens and MF just like they way I like it, but to be honest it is a tad expensive for me at this stage and my last two lens purchases had been MF lenses, so I thought I’d get an AF for a change and to have something practical when I feel lazy and just want to have something quick and simple. If I were to get proper WA, I'd probably get the CZ 18mm anyway.
- Tokina 35mm f/2.8: The price is right, but I don’t really need another macro lens and it’s a DX lens, so I skipped this because I plan to get an FX body in the future.
- Voigtlander Color Scopar 20mm f/3.5: I don’t want to pay US$550 for a UV filter… What? It’s actually a lens? That thin? Oh I beg you pardon.. Seriously though, I’m sure it’s an interesting lens, and I really wanna try it, but it’s not interesting enough for me to part with $550. Maybe if it was $300…
- Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AFS: Again, it’s a DX lens but the f/2 looks more solid and it has a distance window. Everybody loves distance windows.
I was also thinking about Nikon’s 20mm and 28mm, but from what I studied, I think the 35mm is the most suitable one for me. It performs very well and it’s relatively cheap. So I decided to get the Nikon 35mm f/2 from our local grey market shop.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The box is quite small. Inside you will find the manual (and 1 more paper can’t remember what it was) and the lens stored in a Styrofoam box. There is no lens pouch or even a lens hood. I honestly would rather have a lens hood included and pay $10 extra than having to buy it separately. I am not sure why it’s not included in the package. Now I had to purchase the hood by myself.
Nothing really special packaging-wise, but it always feels good to open a new lens packaging, even if it’s not an expensive one.
A shot of the lens:
Upon picking it up, you will realise how light the lens is, especially if you are used to using metal-bodied lenses. Although I am all for metal lenses, but in this case I don’t really mind because my purpose for this lens is for convenient, casual outings.
It has plastic (polycarbonate?) body, but it doesn’t feel crappy like 18-55mm kit lens. It also has rubberised manual focusing ring for more comfortable grip. Manual focusing is doable with this lens, and using it manually is not as terrible as what I expected. It’s not as smooth as Ai/Ais lenses for sure, but it’s still comfortable to use (surprisingly). From the picture below you can see the little aperture lock too.
The mount is made of metal, and the rear optic is located quite forward, so be careful when handling the mount without the rear cap.
Unfortunately the filter thread is not made from metal – looks like it’s made of some sort of cost-saving material… but I haven’t read anyone saying that the filter thread chipped, so it must be pretty durable.
As you can see from the picture above, the front element is slightly recessed but the element itself is a bit bulbous, so you have to be careful with your fingers when handling the lens.
At the back of the lens, “Made in Japan” is printed on the barrel and serial numbers are slightly out of view, printed in small font in between the lens mount and aperture ring.
A little side note about the lens' build, I've read that a few years ago, certain batch of the lens has this oil leak problem making the aperture blades sticky. Nikon must have fixed this problem a long time ago because I haven't read anyone got this problem from recent years.
The AF is fast enough when used with center focus point and the ones close to it. It can even focus accurately in very dark area. Of course it can still hunt at times, but this usually happen when you use the AF points on the extreme edges of your camera’s focus points (eg. The very far right/left ones). And this I think is also depending on your camera model.
The focusing is not that noisy, maybe because there is less mass to move around?
For manual focus, I mentioned before that it is very usable. Maybe it could’ve been better with a bit longer focus throw, or more dampened smooth rotation, but considering it’s an AF lens by nature, I will say the MF is pretty good.
The only thing that annoys me in terms of handling is since the lens is rather short, it doesn’t provide you with that much of a grip-space on your left holding hand when you are taking pictures. And you have to be careful not to hold the lens too far at the front part because that’s where the focusing ring is. Occasionally I’d accidentally hold the focusing ring preventing the AF rotation to work.
Colour and Contrast
Some people mentioned that the lens was soft and not contrasty wide open. I am not sure if they’re talking about the older version or even the same lens. I found none of the softness or contrast issue with this lens.
Definitely good even at f/2. Stopped down to f/2.8, the colours pop, I didn’t even bother to do the test to prove from 2.8 onwards.
The picture below consists of 2 shots, one taken indoor and the other one outdoor, both taken at f/2 and they’re resized samples, I didn’t alter the colour and contrast. If you still call that not contrasty, I think we really have a completely different perception of what a real contrast is.
Here we also have two different set of opinions, some people say it’s bad until you stop down to f/5.6, some people say it’s good even at f/2. I’m from the latter camp.
Center sharpness is definitely good at f/2. Corner sharpness? Well, it’s not a macro lens, but I believe that for the intended use of the lens, it is definitely sharp enough. Have a look at some pictures below to determine yourself how sharp it is. Apologies for being too lazy to do a full scale sharpness test.
** remember I did this handheld. And at higher ISO my S5 won’t resolve that much details. But if it looks alright even with my S5, it should look even better with superior cameras.
Stopped down to f/2.8, it is very sharp. At f/8, it’s stupid sharp. Really stoopid sharp… I am glad I didn’t listen to those that said the lens was soft.
If you are wondering about sharpness with FX cameras, I haven’t tested this with FX yet. But again, I also found different opinions from FX owners. Some says it’s great with D700/D3, some says so so….
I guess if you need to know how it works with FX, you just need to try it yourself. But with DX, definitely good enough, unless you are primarily interested in landscape and you need to get all the possible details from all edges. But even then, landscape shooters usually shoot stopped down, and with this lens, as I mentioned, it’s stoopid sharp at f/8.
I can’t really do an exact flare measurement, but for me, if I go out with this lens and use it on bright daylight and come home with no flare smears everywhere, I consider it to be very good. I went out twice with the lens for the last 2 weeks, and I didn’t see any flare problem. Mind you that I didn’t even use a hood too.
My HN-3 lens hood is still making its way here to Australia from some random eBay seller in Hongkong. Damn it’s almost 2 weeks already, where is my lens hood… Usually they arrive in a week or less… I guess this is what you’ll get when the postage cost is free … anyway… picture.
I don’t notice its presence in my shots. So must be negligible. The only time I see it is when I shoot a plain white wall, you can see a tad of vignetting around the corners. I only did that once just to check it for you guys. I felt so dirty afterward. Don’t make me shoot white walls/brick walls again.
Wide open up until say, f/4, this lens is going to give you purple fringing in high contrast areas, just like any other lenses. The picture below shows the worst scenario. Remember that this is pretty much as bad as you can get – shooting wide open on bright daylight and the object is a tight clustered wire fence.
So instead of posting it on the forum whinging about why-my-lens-is-giving-me-a-bit-of-fringing-when-I-shoot-wide-open-at-bright-daylight-oh-I’m-so-pissed-I’m-gonna-write-to-Nikon, you should try stopping it down a bit or at least find different, less fringing-inducing angles. Or take up knitting. (damn, I'm bitchy today...)
This lens has good bokeh to my eyes. Yes, yes…. Flame me… call me ignorant… go check your Bokeh 101 Guidebook to see what sort of bokeh is the universally accepted ideal bokeh and then come back and flame me again…
I don’t give a flip, but to my eyes, bokeh is surprisingly good coming from this 35mm lens. I didn’t have much expectation at first, but I am surprised that it is actually quite pleasant.
I think bokeh is better than 50mm 1.4 or 1.8.
On point of lights, it still displays this outer different coloured ring, but it’s not as harsh as the 50mm 1.8.
This is more obvious when it is rendering foliages, but for some reason it is quite alright when it is rendering artificial lights.
The shape of the point of light quickly becomes heptagonal (seven sided – yes I googled what seven-sided is called…) once you stop it down to f/2.8.
Being a seven bladed lens, Nikon is being honest about it and there’s no effort to make the blades curved or something. So with f/2 you get round bokeh (or sometimes cat's eye bokeh), and from f/2.8 onwards, the bokeh snaps to very obvious heptagonal and looks pretty much identical if you stop it down further. I have a five-bladed lens, and I must say it makes very interestingly different bokeh.
The Light Gathering Ability
This lens is f/2 (yes I can see that, Captain Obvious), and it is 35mm (yes, Captain?).
What I’m trying to say is, the f/2 combined with the short focal length makes this a low light lens. In my case, if I can still handheld this lens at f/2 at 1/20 second and still gives me a sharp result, I’d say it’s a low light lens for me.
The picture below looks underexposed, but in real life it’s actually a little bit darker than how it looks like on the picture. I switched off the main light and took the picture.
If you are in a dimly lit café, I can safely say that this lens will still work well without the need of flash.
With 35mm f/2, you can still isolate objects reasonably well, especially when you get closer.
Speaking of getting close, the minimum focusing distance is 25cm. That’s very close. So you can actually use this lens as a makeshift macro lens.
So what kind of things is this lens best used for?
On DX, the field of view will be more or less like a 50mm film. I agree when on film days they say that your 50mm is your general all purpose lens. Its field of view is very useful for everything. Some people say it’s boring length, but I think it depends on how your eyes see and how it gets translated in your brain. Focal length doesn’t make boring pictures, the person taking the picture does. Of course it’s easy to get “creative” pictures when you have ultra-wide angle, fisheye, or (god forgive me) Lensbaby, but I personally think that 35mm on DX can give you many options for taking pictures.
I wanna call it a “Jack of all trades, master of none” type of lens, but it will give the impression that it can only do so-so job in all tasks. I think this lens can do excellent jobs for pretty much every type of photography, but it is not the ultimate best for specific type of photography. (not like 14-24mm for landscapes, or 85mm/105mm for portraiture)
But it does however can keep up and cater all sort of styles of photography.
On FX, it will be without the crop factor and you’ll get the actual 35mm view - still usable for all sorts of general photography (but you will need to move around). Also with the actual 35mm view and the close focusing distance (25cm), you can have different look of closeup shots compared to using 50mm.
Below are some examples of general shots taken with this lens (to show the all-purposeness of the lens). Some of them are processed (colour adjusted and sharpened)
Junk Food Photography
Chinese Food Photography
When taking pictures of food such as in restaurant, on DX it is just wide enough to cover the food on the table in front of you (assuming you are sitting down). It’s definitely more useful than 50mm because it’s a tad long to do that. If you have FX, then I think it will be just wide enough to take the food and your companion if you back up a little bit.
I don’t have willing model, so like my previous review, this is just to roughly illustrate how portrait looks like on 35mm.
You can safely use this to photograph Sunflowers. I haven’t tried it to photograph orchids, so not sure if it can be used for orchids or not… If you wanna take this lens to Egypt, I am also not sure because I haven't tried it yet... Also not sure if we can use this for taking pictures of indoor volleyball....
I think for what it is meant to be, Nikon made a right decision of what to do / what not to do with the lens. The body is purposely made cheap enough to ensure that the executives still get their bonuses every year, and also for the lens to be light and still affordable. But the optical quality definitely does not look cheapish. Probably corner wise wide open it is not in the same league as the 14-24mm, but for the intended purpose (general walk around), I think Nikon successfully drew a perfect balance between price/performance/purpose here.
Well you can say that it has fringing wide open, but then even lenses in the caliber of Canon 85mm f/1.2L still has fringing wide open. It's just a matter of whether you are interested in taking up knitting as a hobby or not.
So value wise, in terms of optical quality, I find that we are getting a lot from this little lens. The AF mechanism and focusing accuracy is also easy to use and they are not problematic.
But in terms of build quality, I understand that we don’t expect too much from a lens that costs less than $400. But it’s a shame that they decided not to include the lens hood (unless they are that confident with the flare handling ability) and I wish the filter thread was made of metal too.
But all things considered, I still think this is a really great value for money lens.
So do I recommend this lens for a general walkaround lens? Definitely.
Especially for street photography, I think this lens is a great companion. It’s small and light, so it won’t weigh you down, and also it doesn’t attract too much attention from people. AF is also fast enough, and you can use this lens for low light photography too. A very good street lens in my opinion.
To close off this review, I will tell you one last thing why I think this lens is a better choice for doing street….
Because I heard of this story…
The were this 2 tourists walking around doing the usual street photography around the city. The first tourist had his Nikon attached with this puny 35mm f/2 AFD. The other tourist was looking down at him all the way because he was using his tiny itsy bitsy 35mm. “Damn Noob….” The snobbish tourist guy thought…
So anyway, they both walked around the neighbourhood taking pictures, candid pictures, scenery, pretty girls, you name it. So later on, they came across this bunch of big guys with tattoos everywhere just sitting down minding their own business.
Thinking that it would make awesome street pictures, they started shooting at the guys without asking for permission. The big guys started to look annoyed and signalled them to stop shooting.
But being smartasses, they read on the internet forum that on public places they have the right to shoot anything they want, so kept shooting they did...
So finally the big guys had enough of them, they got up, grab those two tourists, and took them to the back alley. And there they stripped the two tourists, took the cameras, and they shoved the poor guys’ 35mm f/2 Nikon lens up to his arse. Literally.
I tell you that must hurt like hell….. damn… a Nikon 35mm f/2 AFD up your arse…
But the snob tourist got it worse… he was using a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR all along…
Thank you for reading the review guys, hope you liked it. And below are samples of some of the things that I took using this lens. Happy Shooting!