First Impressions of Nikon AFS 35mm 1,4G

I have always loved fast primes for my kind of photography and only a week ago I received a new toy to play with. For some time now I have been saving up to buy the Carl Zeiss 35mm 1,4 lens, but got an offer I could not reject and I bought the Nikon AFS 35mm 1,4G lens instead.

The Nikon giant side by side with the high performing Carl Zeiss ZF.2 T* 50/2 Makro-Planar

The 35mm Advantage
This ultra-fast classic wide-angle lens is suitable for night scenes, interiors, weddings, events, photojournalism, landscapes and astro-photography. It’s a focal length that’s not too wide and not too tight in terms of framing. In other words, it’s often just right. While 50mm on a full-frame 35mm sensor very well captures a naturalistic perspective compared to the human eye, a 35mm lens very well reproduces the field of view we see. As a result, framing with the 35mm focal length has a very comfortable feel to it and is immediately familiar. For me, it’s a do-it-all lens, with good sharpness wide open and edge-to-edge sharpness when stopped down. In addition, the lens delivers very good flare resistance, beautiful colour and contrast, even at large apertures. In short, it’s everything you expect and want from a fast prime. The only downside is that with this great performance is a price tag to match.

Shallow depth of field Landscape - Nikon D700, Nikkor AFS 35/1,4 at f/2,8, iso 200, handheld

Design, Ergonomics & Handling
Some might say that the lens is big and heavy, but it balances perfectly on a pro-body like my Nikon D700. The focus ring is of a nice width, making operation quick and easy when you need it, but out of the way when you don’t. The barrel features a very slight taper toward the lens mount and a big focusing ring, which is very well damped for an AF lens. Ergonomically, the AFS 35mm 1.4G is identical to its sister lenses, the AFS 85mm 1,4G and AFS 24mm 1,4G, which is handy if you can afford to have more of these "light-monsters". The lens uses a Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM): that provides accurate and smooth autofocus, some say the autofocus is slow but shooting at large apertures the focus really needs to be ultra precise! - it uses Rear Focus (RF): eliminating front barrel rotation and the length of the lens does not change. It share the 67mm filter size of my Zeiss Makro lenses, so I don't have to buy new filters, but if you only have other lenses with “pro standard” 77mm filter tread, it might be a problem!

Build Quality
Its a beast of a lens that feels solid and it is designed to withstand tough weather and is well-protected on the outside against dust and moisture. The outer barrel is made of plastic, but feels just like the expensive Nikon metal lenses, most likely due to the lens weight - the lens doesn't feel as rugged as my Zeiss lenses, but it has great quality by today's standards. Everything is just about perfect, but I think the inclusion of a plastic filter thread is a bad decision, but this might only be a concern for landscape and nature photographers who like to use filters. Photojournalists and wedding photographers, who are either going to be shooting this lens naked or with a protective filter on at all times, this isn't an issue. The lens hood is made of quality plastic and it feels solid and it fits securely on the lens, but still I managed to break the hood and it is now replaced with a metal hood instead. 

Long story short, the 35mm f/1.4 delivers good wide-open sharpness as well as edge-to-edge sharpness for landscapes. The optical design of the AFS 35mm is relatively compact and with a minimum of fuss – just a single Aspherical lens element to correct for optical aberrations and virtually eliminates coma, even when shooting at the widest available aperture. Use of Nano Crystal Coat further reduces ghosting and interior flare for even greater image clarity. Furthermore the lens uses Nikon's Super Integrated Coating (SIC) that enhances light transmission efficiency and offers superior colour consistency and reduce flare. This lens is made for low light and shallow depth of field photography at large apertures and the bokeh is absolutely beautiful and smooth thanks to its rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm and it gives out-of-focus image elements a more natural appearance. The colour and contrast of this lens leave nothing to be desired, throughout the aperture range, colour and contrast are rich and natural - There’s tons of detail, arguably more than the modest 12-megapixels sensor of the D700 can handle, this lens is a great performer and it gets the job done, with a minimum of fuss. I think the “micro-contrast” of my Zeiss 50mm f/2 lens is better for landscapes, but the Nikon lens is not far behind! I have tried this lens on a Nikon D800E and results are very good, with excellent sharpness from f/2,8 to f/8,0; I don't own a super high MP camera at the moment, but this lens is good enough for 36 mega pixels!

Tree lit up by the full moon - Nikon D700, Nikkor AFS 35/1,4 at f/4,0, iso 800, tripod

The Nikon lens has two main rivals, all of them introduced last year with new optical designs, one from a respected manufacture and one from a new player in the game. The German designed but Japanese made Carl Zeiss 35mm 1,4 is a bit more expensive, it is bigger and more heavy because of the durable metal construction, it shares the same high optical performance as the Nikon lens, but some say that it has even better bokeh (Out of focus image rendition) - it is manual focus only. The new player from South Korea is the high performance Samyang 35mm 1,4, it is much cheaper but better in some areas, it is made of high quality plastics like the Nikon lens and has manual focus only like the Zeiss, the optical quality is said to be Top-nuch! - maybe the best of the bunch. Update: The new Sigma Art 35mm 1,4 is a stellar performer and it is the new 35mm king, but personally I don't trust the build quality of Sigma lenses!. 

Personally I think I have made the right choice, the Nikon has autofocus - focusing moving objects at large apertures will be difficult with manual focus only; futhermore the Nikon lens is more compact and lighter compared to the other options. The optical performance of the three other lenses might be a bit better, but the handling of the Nikon lens is simply superior and I really enjoy working with it.

Rating: Build Quality: 7/10 - Handling: 9/10 - Optical: 8/10

Conclusion - Pros:

+ Great optical performance
+ Corner-to-corner sharpness
+ Flat-field - NO field curvature!
+ Almost distortion free (Slight barrel)
+ Outstanding bokeh! (Out of focus image rendition)
+ Manual focusing with a smooth feeling - NO delay!
+ Durable design with Weather sealing
+ Close focus at 0.3 m (max. magnification ratio 1:5)
+ Nano coating almost eliminate flare and ghosting
+ Ships with all the standard accessories for a fast Nikkor prime.

Conclusion - Cons:

- Vignetting is quite high at f/1,4 on FX (Gone by f/2.5)
- Chromatic Aberrations is evident but easily removed!
- Slow but precise autofocus
- Too much plastic for my liking!
- Plastic filter tread!
- Big price tag!

Misty Birch Grove - Nikon D700, Nikkor AFS 35/1,4 at f/2,8, iso 200, handheld

My brother and dog - Nikon D700, Nikkor AFS 35/1,4 at f/2,8, iso 200, handheld

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