Nikkor 35mm f/2D Review


The older 35mm option

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

Lens Formula
6 elements in 5 groups.
Other Features
Screwdrive focus, 52mm filter size. Optional HN-3 hood, 7-blade aperture. Focuses to 10" (0.25m).
Size & Weight
About 2" long, 7 ounces (205g).
Price
US$359 street

The Basics
The 35mm focal range is close to "normal" for the DX format and at the top of the wide angle range for FX. Since this lens works on both DX and FX bodies there will be people who want to use it for both purposes. If you're a DX only user, check out the 35mm f/1.8G DX lens, though.

The first thing you notice with this lens is the lack of bulk and weight. At about 2" long and diameter and weighing in at just over 7 ounces, this is a lens that is small. Mounted on a D300 it looks small; on a D3-type of body, the lens almost disappears. I kept finding that I wanted to reach further forward than the lens extended in order to grab the focus ring. Nevertheless, you'll adjust. My point is that 7 ounces and a couple of inches just doesn't feel like it adds to the bulk and weight of the bigger bodies; it almost feels like you're shooting without a lens. In a world where DSLRs have gotten as big and fat as the average American, it's kind of fun to have a lens that you can stuff into a coat pocket and forget is even there.

The 35mm focal length provides 37° of horizontal angle on DX, and 54° horizontally on FX. On a DX body the lens will be close to what most people consider normal, while on an FX body the lens will produce very moderate wide angle images. 35mm is what I call an "old-school" focal length. Back in the days of rangefinders, 35mm was about as wide a lens as you could focus reliably, and most of the lenses were very simple designs and thus easy to make. This Nikkor is also a very simple design (six elements in five groups is about as simple as lens designs come these days). The tradeoff of simple lens designs usually is optical performance, especially in the corners and with corrections for chromatic aberrations.

The f/2 aperture keeps this lens very modest in size. Still, on a DX body it's fast enough to give an almost three-stop advantage over most of the kit zooms (which would be at least f/5 at 35mm). On FX bodies you have more flexibility over boosting ISO values, so the f/2 doesn't really hurt you there, either.

The focus ring is relatively narrow in size, but easy enough to find at the front of the lens (assuming you don't reach too far). The ring has a very nice rubber grip pattern to it that helps you find it. Near to far focus takes almost exactly a half turn. This gives you plenty of precision for setting focus distance manually. The lens has DOF markings for f/11, f/16, and f/22 (calculated for the old film standard) and an IR focus mark. The aperture blade is seven-sided.

Close focus is about 10 inches (0.25m). The lens extends during focus, but the front element does not rotate.

Current versions of the lens come with a pinch-front lens cap, though if you have a relatively old version it probably came with the older standard lens cap. The lens uses 52mm filters, a common filter size for Nikon.

The lens is made in Japan.

Handling
With a lens this simple, handling isn't exactly a deep subject.

The focus ring on my sample is smooth without being loose, and it is quiet. It has the feel of the old manual focus lenses to it. (But remember, you can't override focus manually with autofocus engaged on the camera; the lens is not AF-S.) The aperture ring is the usual Nikon F4 one (i.e. marked with a double set of aperture values so that they can be seen in the port of the viewfinder). Most modern Nikon camera users will be setting the aperture ring to f/22 and locking it.

The optional HN-3 lens hood is the old screw-in type, which is inconvenient. You can't reverse the hood on the lens. The hood itself is a full hood, not the petal type normally found on modern wide angle lenses.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan

The lens is small and light and balances well on most cameras I've used it on. On bigger pro cameras, even a D300, it just disappears and feels fairly insignificant. But either way, the size and weight of this lens is not a factor.

Performance
What do you expect from a fast prime? Well, lots of light, but historically, poor wide open performance.

Autofocus: This is a D-type lens driven by a screwdrive in the camera. It does not focus as fast as the AF-S lenses you may be used to, but since it's a simple lens design, it isn't exactly slow to focus, either. Very acceptable focus performance.

Sharpness: For a modest cost lens, the optical performance is still good, especially for DX users. In the center of the frame this lens is reasonably sharp across all apertures. There's little benefit to stopping down for more center sharpness. Corners on DX are a bit of a different story. Wide open, the lens is a poor performer in the DX corners. Stopping down to f/2.8 makes a big improvement, but it isn't until f/5.6 that the corners get up to what I'd call "good." Indeed, f/5.6 is probably the optimal aperture for DX users.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan f/2 center

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan f/11 center

For FX users, the same story repeats, but in spades. The center is good and hits near optimal performance by f/2.8. But the corners are trash at f/2. Even at f/5.6 and f/8 the corners are still lagging visibly, though they're at least in an acceptable range.

Light falloff: Surprisingly low in vignetting on DX. By f/2.8 vignetting is completely ignorable, but even at f/2 it amounts to less than a stop in the corners, which is good performance. On FX bodies the vignetting is still good, with a bit more than a stop wide open. It also quickly gets controlled as you stop down, but isn't completely removed at f/11. On most modern Nikon bodies, though, this level of vignetting is totally correctable with the Vignette control option on both DX and FX bodies.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan f/2 (FX)

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan f/11 (FX)

Chromatic aberration: I was surprised to find that lateral chromatic aberration (side to side) is pretty well controlled on this lens. Usually very simple lens designs like this that are wide angle and don't have ED elements tend to suffer from chromatic aberration. On DX, I'm not sure there's enough to worry about correcting. On FX it's still pretty low, though clearly visible at the corners at the aperture extremes (hint: try using f/2.8 through f/5.6--chromatic aberration is lowest at f/4).

On the other hand, longitudinal chromatic aberration (front to back) is clearly visible and nearly impossible to remove. This is true for most "fast" prime lenses, and the 35mm f/2 doesn't escape this trend. Simply put, neutral objects in the background of the focus point will tend to go green, while in front they'll go magenta. Solution: don't use the widest apertures if you can avoid it.

Flare: Not really an issue that I can see. The hood does an okay, but not perfect, job of keeping stray light from the front element (the hood could be even more aggressive, I believe).

Distortion: There's only a very small amount of barrel distortion (less than 1%). On DX bodies the distortion is low enough that it probably wouldn't be visable in all but situations where you have repeating, obvious straight lines, and even then I'd probably ignore it. On FX bodies the visibility is a tiny bit more pronounced, but still within the realm where I rarely bother to correct it.

Bokeh: The seven-blade aperture diaphragm in my sample is superbly regular in shape, though it does not have rounded blades. This produces perfectly formed septagons in out of focus highlights at apertures smaller than wide open. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is present, though, and makes the edges of the out of focus areas slightly distinct. Not a terrible bokeh, but not a pleasing one, either.

Compared to the 35mm f/1.8G DX AF-S
The 35mm f/2 just doesn't make the grade against the f/1.8 DX lens. First, it's more expensive and slightly slower. It has slightly more vignetting and the corner performance isn't up to that of the DX lens. It is also not AF-S, so won't autofocus on the recent low-end consumer DSLRs. That's a lot of minuses. In terms of pluses: it works on FX bodies and has a very nice manual focus ability, including DOF markings. On balance, a DX user should choose the DX lens. If you have both DX and FX bodies, the f/2D starts to make some sense, especially if you're stopping down some.

If you have the f/2D and are thinking about the f/1.8G DX for your DX body, it's a close call, but I'd probably opt for the newer DX lens and find my f/2 a loving home via eBay. If you don't yet have a 35mm for your DX body, just buy the DX lens.

FX users have more to consider. If you're looking for a small autofocus prime, the f/2D is your only choice for 35mm in the current Nikkor lineup. The older manual focus 35mm f/1.4 is a good choice if you don't need autofocus, but much more expensive. But neither of these lenses has the corner performance a D3x user might desire. We can only hope that Nikon continues the roll-out of AF-S primes and includes the 35mm f/1.4 on the list and gives it the same level of performance as the 24mm 1.4G and 50mm f/1.4G (but you'll likely be paying a premium for that). If you need a small, light 35mm prime, the f/2D is fine for many things, but not perfect. I'd tend to use some of my zooms for 35mm on my FX bodies, but of course that means I can't get past f/2.8. I will say that if you're looking for low-light wide, corner performance is not necessarily something you need. Much of the time the reason to use a fast, wide prime wide open is to throw backgrounds out of focus relative to the subject. If that's the case, the f/2D is perfectly fine (though a tiny bit soft at f/2, even in the center). Given the low cost of the f/2D, though, there's really not much risk in trying it.

Drawbacks

  • Cornering suffers. DX users can avoid ugly corners by avoiding f/2, but FX users aren't going to really like the corners until they've stopped way down.
  • Screwy hood. I suppose you could just leave the (optional) hood on the lens, but I like to pack down as compact as I can.
  • Weakness at FX. Vignetting and corners are problems for some, especially D3x users.

Positives

  • Optics are mostly good news. Center sharpness is high once you get past f/2, the corners can be brought under reasonable control by stopping down, and other defects are low.
  • Rings and markings. This is the classic old Nikkor build. Great damping on the focus ring and plenty of span, plus potentially useful DOF and IR markings. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...
 
Quick Evaluation


Recommended

Not the lens for everyone, but worth considering for FX users (DX users should look at the 35mm f/1.8G DX).

Absolute Scale:
features
focus speed
optics
build

Value Scale:
features
focus speed
optics
build

overall value

The modest price of the lens makes this an easy one to recommend. But take note of the corner performance, especially on FX.

 

Limitations


This 35mm lens has limitations you need to be aware of:

Converters: no converters are recommended.

Autofocus: autofocus not supported on a D40, D40x, D60, D3000, or D5000.

Coverage Area: No limitations. Covers the DX, FX, and 35mm film image area.

Version of Review:
4/19/2010: initial post

Source of lens: purchased





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