I made the point once before in my 200mm macro lens post that prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom) are superior to zoom lenses in picture sharpness and clarity. For many years, 35mm film cameras came standard with a 50mm prime lens. This is considered by many to be a “normal” lens because it approximates the center viewing area that our eyes see. When DX cameras arrived on the scene, there was no 50mm lens equivalent for the smaller 18mm digital sensor cameras. Enter the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1.8 G Lens.
Converting 50mm film (FX) size lens to DX size means dividing by 1.5. This means a 50mm film lens for a DX camera equates to 33.33mm. The 35mm lens is Nikon’s answer to the “normal” lens for DX cameras.
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8G lens is quite small and almost looks funny swallowed up on the front of the camera body. Because of the small size, I usually keep the hood attached (whether I need it or not) so I won’t accidently touch the lens and leave fingerprints while I’m working.
The 35mm is an AF-S lens with the Silent Wave Motor autofocus system. The AF-S lenses are quiet and quick to focus, but on this particular lens the focus is slower than on my other AF-S zoom lenses. This is odd given that most prime lenses focus very quickly.
In some ways, prime lenses are for more dedicated camera users. The bulk of DSLR camera kits come with zoom lenses and for many users this is all they will ever need. However, a zoom lens is a tradeoff. While zoom lenses give you variable magnification, you sacrifice some clarity and sharpness. Used handheld, there is little discernable difference in picture quality (due to shake and higher ISO’s) however loss of sharpness is far more apparent when used on a steady tripod. Regardless, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8G takes beautiful pictures both handheld and tripod mounted.
Picture distortion is also a more vexing problem with zoom lenses. As you read reviews, you will learn more about barrel distortion and pincushion distortion. Both define warping out from the center of the picture and warping in towards the center of the picture respectively. Straight lines won’t be straight in either case. Some cameras come with features to automatically correct for this distortion digitally within the camera. Otherwise, the image will have to be corrected in a photo editing program such as Photoshop. However, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8G has almost no distortion and is excellent for tabletop or other tripod photography.
So what is my overall impression? First the good:
- The AF-S Nikkor 35mm lens takes excellent pictures and many of the pictures on this blog were taken with this lens.
- It’s small and lightweight.
- There is very little distortion compared to zoom lenses.
- It’s very reasonably priced. As of this post, the lens averages $200.00 US new.
- The lens takes excellent pictures. This can be a drawback if you care about dust and fuzz and other tiny bits that litter our world. The clarity of pictures from this lens will always show things that wouldn’t show if you used a zoom lens.
- The build quality is not for the professional photographer. The lens is mostly plastic and doesn’t feel extremely well made. I’m not sure how well it would survive abuse.
- The AF-S focus speed could be faster. Is it too much to ask for a prime lens to immediately snap into focus? If you are a tabletop photographer, this won’t be an issue.
- It’s proudly made in China. Again, this can be a good our bad thing. I tend to say bad, but this lens does produce very good pictures, so make of that what you will.
- The lens disappears on the front of the camera body which makes the package somewhat funny looking.
- It’s not sexy and doesn’t have the classic shape of a vintage film camera with a 50mm lenses.
So there you have it. The good. The bad. The ugly. Is the lens worth having? For the price and picture sharpness, I can’t see why any pro-sumer wouldn’t have it.