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AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D lens review

Introduction

Released in 1995, the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D is a full–frame, fixed–focal–length lens that can be used on both FX and DX format cameras. 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. It has six elements in five groups and dimensions of 65mm by 45mm; it focuses down to 25cm, weighs only 205g and takes 52mm filters. If necessary, you can find simple explanations of the terms below here. MTF chart of this lens can be found here.

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, light fall–off, distortion and corner sharpness will be less problematic when the lens is used on a DX format camera.

AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D

Handling and autofocus

The lens is very light and compact and balances beautifully on all Nikon camera bodies I have tried it on. When mounted on bigger cameras such as the Nikon D700, the lens is completely unobtrusive and does not make your camera nose dive when you carry it on your shoulder, which makes it a great walk–around companion if 35mm is your preferred focal length.

Lens mount is metal; lens barrel, on the other hand, is made of high–quality plastics that, thankfully, do not give the lens a "plasticy" feel. Indeed, the lens has a certain heft to it and, due to this, leaves the impression of a solidly built optic. Filter thread is made of plastic, too; it does not rotate during focusing, which makes using a polarizing filter easy.

Autofocus speed will largely depend on the camera body used. On the Nikon D700, autofocus is very fast, accurate and nearly silent. The lens uses camera body's AF motor for focusing and thus on Nikon's lesser DX format cameras that do not have a lens drive (D40, D40x, D60, D3000 and D5000) can be used in manual focus only.

Sharpness

Centre: the lens is slightly soft at f/2 but centre sharpness noticeably improves at f/2.8; for all intent and purposes the lens is equally sharp from f/2.8 through to f/11. Diffraction becomes visible at f/16 and further takes its toll at f/22; I would avoid using the smallest aperture if sharpness is of crucial importance.

Corners are noticeably soft wide–open; corner sharpness gradually improves as the lens is being stopped down until it peaks at f/11; as expected, diffraction becomes evident at f/16 and further worsens sharpness at f/22.

Farthest corners are very soft from f/2 to f/5.6 and become acceptably sharp only at f/8; sharpness becomes comparable to that in the centre only at f/11 and then starts deteriorating at f/16 due to diffraction.

All things considered, the lens is very sharp if you use it right. For low light photography or when background is intended to be out–of–focus, the lens ideally should be used at f/2.8—at this aperture the main subject will be plentifully sharp and corner softness will in most circumstances be inconsequential as corners will be out of focus anyway. If corner–to–corner sharpness is needed, then the lens should be used at f/11. f/16 is perfectly usable if deeper depth of field is desired. Finally, I would avoid using the lens at f/22 because of diffraction.

Vignetting

As the test shot below shows, the lens has very visible vignetting at f/2. In fact, it is so strong at this aperture that it is more akin to overall underexposure than to vignetting; furthermore, it is quite difficult to completely remove in post processing.


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D light fall-off at f/2   AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D light fall-off at f/2.8  
 

f/2

 

f/2.8

 
  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D light fall-off at f/4   AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D light fall-off at f/5.6  
 

f/4

 

f/5.6

 

Vignetting is much more reasonable at f/2.8 and might actually come in handy if one wants to emphasise the main subject. The aberration will not be noticeable in most situations at f/4 and is virtually gone by f/5.6.

Distortion

The lens produces barrel distortion. At infinity, it is only slightly visible and acceptable even for architectural applications; you will not notice it in most photographs. Furthermore, it has a simple signature and thus can be completely removed in post–processing. At close distances distortion is more pronounced yet still has a simple form and thus is fixable, too.

Chromatic aberration


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D colour fringing test shot  

Chromatic aberration can sometimes be seen around (very) contrasty edges; as shown in the test image above, however, it is negligible even in worst circumstances and, again, can be easily dealt with in post processing.

Flare

The lens has a relatively simple design as well as a fairly small front element and, partially due to this, flare is very well controlled. Even shooting directly into the sun does not visibly degrade contrast. It is possible to induce ghosting by having very bright sources of light in an image but ghosting is normally minimal in both amount and size.

Bokeh

Bokeh is normally not a major concern with wide–angle lenses. 35mm on a full–frame 35mm (FX) camera, however, is only moderately wide and considered by many (including yours truly) to be closer to "normal" or "standard" focal length than 50mm is said to be. Due to this, appearance of out–of–focus areas quite often might be very significant—indeed, I have taken a number of photographs with the lens where it was a very important factor.


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D bokeh test shot  

Bokeh is a very subjective criterion and you can see below for yourself what out–of–focus area marked in red in the test image above looks like at different apertures.


  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D bokeh at f/2   AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D bokeh at f/2.8  
 

f/2

 

f/2.8

 
  AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D bokeh at f/4   AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D bokeh at f/5.6  
 

f/4

 

f/5.6

 

In my opinion bokeh is somewhat harsh at f/2; it is fairly nice and unobtrusive in real–life photographs at f/2.8 and gets silkier as you further stop the lens down.

Conclusions

Is the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D perfect? Of course, no—just as with most lenses, it is easy to make it look quite ugly if you put your mind to it. However, if you are interested in a small, light and inexpensive lens of this venerable focal length, as well as remember its minor idiosyncrasies and learn how to make it perform admirably, then this lens certainly deserves a place in your camera bag (or pocket for that matter). Indeed, it is this lens that is mounted on my Nikon D700 most of the time.

Related article: partial comparison with the AF–S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G lens.