Received my pre-order of this lens today from Adorama. Quite excited as it's the focal length I wanted, with the features I wanted at a price I couldn't resist.
First impressions from opening the box were pleasant. It's a relatively light lens, just slightly heavier and larger than the 50mm 1.8. It doesn't feel delicate but it's not nearly as rugged as Nikon's pro line-up. I apologize for not taking pictures of the lens itself, but I figure that those are easy enough to find online anyway.
Upon looking at the back of the lens the first thing that surprised me was the size of the rear element. Comparing it to my other DX lenses, it is noticeably larger, to the point where it compares to my full-frame lenses. The rear metal mount is a nice touch and just feels more authoritative when clicking into place than it's plastic mount brethren.
There is one lone switch on the lens to go back and forth from M/A (manual/auto) to M (manual only). This is a true AF-S lens, which means that it utilizes Nikons internal focusing motor in the lens for quiet operation and allows the use of manual override while auto-focusing. The focusing ring is decently damped, a bit more so than the 50mm 1.8 and much more so than comparable DX glass in it's price range like the kit lens and 55-200. It goes from it's minimum focus distance of 1 foot to infinity in a little less than one half turn of the ring. Another nice feature is that it doesn't have a hard stop to it's focus throw, so if you crank it too hard, it will just let you keep turning it without harming the focus ring.
The front element is a bit smaller than I had expected, but perhaps I'm not even sure what I was expecting because it's practically identical in size to the 50 mm front element. It is slightly recessed like the 50mm and comes packed with a lens hood. You'll be happy to find out that the lens hood is easily reversible, even with the lens cap on.
Time to crank this baby up and give it a whirl! Uh oh, crap. I forgot to charge my D80's battery... and it's back-up battery. Since I got this at lunch time and I wanted to rush out after work to take some pictures before the sun-set, I knew I couldn't come back home to grab it. So, instead I grabbed my charged up D40 to take on a shooting spree.
Honestly, one of the reasons I decided to purchase this is that I felt like it could be a perfect companion for my D40 when I just wanted to have something small and light to carry around while in a city or for snap-shots. I use my D80 the majority of the time, and of course I will use this lens with it, but there are times when you don't want to strap the backpack on with all your glass and tripod and just want to go light and shoot. So, in a way this was a good test run to see what the lens could do.
After a day of shooting with the lens, I can say that it's worth the admission fee. This is a fun lens in every sense of the word and it is responsive and takes some sharp shots. Even at 1.8, the shots are sharp and contrasty, but stopping down to f/2 thru f/4 gets you to some serious sharp territory. I did not honestly test apertures above f/8 much today since I went cavorting in the twilight woods with no tripod.
Here are the shots, they are all clickable to see the larger version. You can also find the original 100% full size version in my photostream if you so choose to pixel-peep them. Most of these shots are straight from the camera through Aperture with no PP done except tweaks to exposure. Contrast, sharpness and such are as is. Two photos have had some additional sharpening done to them because I wanted to see the outcome. These pictures will be noted as such.
1/2500s f/2.0 iso 200
1/15s f/1.8 iso 250
This shot is here more to show off the way the rounded aperture blades handle specular highlights. As you can see, they are nice, round and plump.
1/800s f/1.8 iso 200
This shot has some mild additional sharpening.
1/200s f/4.0 iso 200
1/250s f/2.0 iso 200
1/80s f/8 iso 200
1/4000s f/1.8 iso 200
Some mild sharpening done to the in-focus area of the wood.
1/125s f/2.0 iso 200
That's it for my informal review. Basically I could have just said "I like it, here are some shots, if you think you want it, then get it" but I decided to ramble on a bit about my opinions. Hopefully this helps someone, and I look forward to more thorough reviews to come.