AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G lens review


Announced on 15 September 2010 and available from late November 2010, the AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G lens is a full–frame, fixed–focal–length lens that can be used on both FX and DX format cameras (for DX format users, however, the AF–S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G is arguably a better choice). On an FX format camera it has a moderately wide angle of view whereas on a DX format camera its angle of view is closer to that of "standard" lenses. The lens has ten elements (one is aspherical) in seven groups and dimensions of 83mm by 89.5mm; it weighs 600g, focuses down to 30cm and takes 67mm filters. If necessary, you can find simple explanations of the terms below here. MTF chart of this lens can be found here.

AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G

The lens was tested on a 12MP Nikon D700 camera. FX format cameras of higher resolution will put a further emphasis on some of the performance deficiencies reported in the review. At the same time, vignetting, distortion and corner sharpness will be less problematic when the lens is used on a DX format camera.

Handling and autofocus

AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G is a massive chunk of a lens—at first I thought that the friend who lent it to me for testing mistakenly brought a zoom lens instead. When mounted on the D700, the lens nearly makes the camera nose–dive when you carry it on your shoulder or around your neck; the camera–and–lens combination most certainly crosses the line of being suitable for casual shooting and is not the first thing you think of when you go out for a walk and want to take a camera with you. With this said, though, the lens is very well built and gives a sense of purposefulness; furthermore, the camera–and–lens combination balances well in hand despite the bulk and heavy weight (and, I might add, it does look sexy). The image below shows the relative sizes of the AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G (in the middle) and the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D (on the right)—as you can see, the former is significantly bigger. Just for fun, I have also included the Hasselblad CFi 4/150 lens, which is one of my favourite lenses in medium format; to me, it represents the maximum size and weight of a lens that I still feel comfortable working with.


The lens incorporates a Silent Wave Motor that, at least in theory, should provide fast and silent autofocus with instant manual focus override. However, I have read in some reviews that autofocus of the new lens is "pretty fast but not instantaneous", and that "the AF speed is not overly fast and certainly slower than the high end f/2.8 professional zooms". In my experience not only is this true, but I have to come out and say that autofocus is plain slow for a pro–calibre lens. How slow, you ask? Using the lens for the first time I raised my eyebrows in disbelief that autofocus of a professional AF–S lens mounted on the D700 could be so slow. I cannot measure or express the speed of autofocus numerically, but suffice it to say that the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D, which is focused in the old–fashioned way with the use of a mechanical screw, seems a bit snappier. This being said, AF–S focusing is indeed quieter, and this does disguise the slowness of the lens' autofocus to a certain extent (psychologically, we tend to perceive silent focusing as fast and noisy as slow; in reality, however, there is often no correlation—the latest silent technologies can be slow, and noisy old lenses still can hold their own much better than the marketers would have you believe).


It is understandable why most photographers usually put more emphasis on sharpness than on other optical performance factors—while such aberrations as distortion, vignetting, etc. will be seen only in some images and, at least partially, can be dealt with in post processing, soft corners will be visible in most, if not all, photographs and cannot be remedied after the fact. Thus, let us first see how the lens perform in the department of sharpness. To have a better basis for evaluation, I have also thrown in the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D for comparison. The images below are crops from the original test shots shown at 100% magnification; they were equally sharpened in ACR to my liking, and exposure was slightly adjusted to compensate for vignetting at large apertures.

First, let us have a look what is going on in the centre of the image.


AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D, centre


AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, centre





  AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/1.4, center  


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG sharpness at f/2, center   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/2, center  


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG sharpness at f/2.8, center   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/2.8, center  


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG sharpness at f/8, center   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/8, center  

As expected, there is a slight loss of sharpness and contrast wide-open, but the lens is essentially perfectly sharp starting right from f/1.4. I am also pleasantly surprised how well the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D holds its own.

Next, let us examine performance in the corners.


AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D, corner


AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, corner





  AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/1.4, corner  


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG sharpness at f/2, corner   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/2, corner  


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG sharpness at f/2.8, corner   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/2.8, corner  


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG sharpness at f/8, corner   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G sharpness at f/8, corner  

As you can see, in the corners the AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G is impressively sharp starting right from f/1.4, too—and noticeably sharper at large apertures than its slower counterpart. As expected, by f/8 there is no immediately distinguishable difference. Note, however, that in the farthest corners the old veteran almost catches up with the new recruit only by f/16 (yes, you read that correctly).


The test shots below were taken at the same EV (exposure value), and, as they show, the lens produces very strong vignetting at f/1.4. In fact, it is so strong at this aperture that it is more akin to overall underexposure than to vignetting; indeed, spot–metering the same subject under the same light with the camera and with a dedicated light meter gives a difference of 2/3 stops, which indicates that whereas wide–open the lens is f/1.4, it actually is only t/1.8.

  AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G vignetting at f/1.4   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G vignetting at f/2  




  AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G vignetting at f/2.8   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G vignetting at f/4  





Vignetting is much less pronounced at f/2 and, to all intents and purposes, is gone by f/4.


The lens produces fairly noticeable barrel distortion that has a mostly simple, non–curved, signature, which makes it relatively easy to correct for in post processing. Although it is unlikely to be too much of a problem in many, if not most, real–life photographs, I would not use the lens for architectural applications and other types of photography where straight lines must remain straight. Distortion is more pronounced at closer distances.

Chromatic aberration

Chromatic aberration is a mixed bag. At wide apertures, there can be a lot of longitudinal chromatic aberration (front to back, i.e., when high contrast edges behind and in front of the focus point go either green or magenta); the example below, which is a 100% crop, shows this behaviour (I have to note that this example is rather extreme). Longitudinal chromatic aberration is nearly impossible to remove in post processing, so one should be aware of this property of the lens. Once the lens is stopped down, though, there mostly is no chromatic aberration of any kind (longitudinal or lateral).





  AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G chromatic aberration at f/1.4   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G chromatic aberration at f/8  


Whereas flare does not normally pose problems, it is quite easy to induce noticeable contrast degradation and ghosting by putting bright sources of light in the frame. The lens comes with a plastic lens hood, and it would certainly be prudent to use it at times when stray light is likely to have an impact on image quality.


Bokeh is an important property of a fast lens, and the AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G mostly delivers in this area of performance in abundance—the diaphragm uses nine rounded blades, and bokeh is generally very smooth and silky. The reason I say "mostly", though, is that bokeh tends to look somewhat off in situations where longitudinal chromatic aberration appears, because the aberration sort of "sharpens" the edges of out–of–focus subjects with the coloured fringes. As is almost always the case, bokeh improves as you stop the lens down (but the amount of bokeh, naturally, decreases).

Below is a comparison of bokeh produced by the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2DG and the AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G—as you will see, bokeh produced by the latter is significantly smoother (click on the images for larger versions to see the difference). Also note that there is a slight difference in focal lengths of the two lenses, and that the new lens has warmer colour rendition (both images were taken with the same white balance settings).


AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D at f/2


AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G at f/2

  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D bokeh at f/2   AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G bokeh at f/2  

Other notes

Quite interestingly, or even strangely, during my time with the lens I found that, when I needed to use it wide–open, I preferred to shoot not at f/1.4, but at f/1.6 with a -0.3 stops exposure compensation dialed in. On the one hand, at f/1.6 illumination is more even and bokeh is slightly improved; yet on the other hand, there is no immediately noticeable penalty in terms of image brightness in relation to f/1.4, i.e., at f/1.6 with a -0.3 stops exposure compensation dialed images look roughly equally bright as they do when shooting wide–open because of the massive vignetting present at f/1.4 (which, as mentioned above, is more akin to overall underexposure). I do not mean this to be an SOP, but you might want to try this approach.

Final thoughts

To be honest, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the lens. On the upside, fast aperture in this focal length is absolutely addictive, bokeh is (mostly) gorgeous, and sharpness is as good as it gets. On the downside, the lens is big and expensive, slow autofocus is likely to be frustrating over a longer period of use, and, of course, one has to pay close attention to the optical drawbacks outlined above. At the end of the day and despite the downsides, though, were Nikon to be my primary camera system I would run and buy the lens now.