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Nikkor AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G Gordon Laing, June 2010

Nikkor DX 35mm f/1.8G lens verdict

The Nikkor DX 35mm f/1.8G is an affordable general-purpose lens which allows owners of Nikon DX-format bodies to explore the benefits of a prime model without breaking the bank. Almost every single one of its target audience will already own a kit zoom which includes the 35mm focal length, but by switching to this lens, they'll enjoy superior image quality and the ability to gather considerably more light, making it ideal both for general purpose and low light photography. Its compact size and light weight will also render any Nikon DSLR much more portable.

In fact before our usual analysis, we'll cut right to the chase and say the DX 35mm f/1.8G is as close to a no-brainer for owners of Nikon DX-format DSLRs as we've ever tested. It delivers a step-up in quality over typical kit zooms, not to mention gathering loads more light for dim conditions or blurred backgrounds. It will also autofocus on any Nikon body, including the budget models, and carries a compelling price tag. Suffice it to say it comes highly recommended.

When it was first announced, some Nikon owners were disappointed the company opted for a DX-format lens as oppose to one which was corrected for full-frame models. But as Nikon explained, building a new 35mm lens with an f/1.8 aperture and AF-S focusing for a full-frame system would have resulted in a high price tag – and besides it already had an older 35mm f/2.0 lens which worked fine on full-frame bodies. So instead the company built a low-cost, general-purpose prime lens for its range of DX-format bodies – and we'd say it was a very sensible decision.


The Nikkor DX 35mm f/1.8G may be a budget lens aimed at owners of Nikon's lower-priced DX-format DSLRs, but don't be fooled by the price and target market as it delivers compellingly good performance for any DX-format body.

As you can see in our results pages, the DX 35mm f/1.8G delivered a visibly crisper and better-corrected image than any of the general-purpose zooms we compared it against. Even with its aperture wide-open at f1.8, it out-performed several zooms even when they set to their respective sweet-spots. Close it down to between f2.8 and f5.6 and the lens delivers a wonderful-looking and uniformly sharp image, which in our tests peaked in quality around f4. Diffraction began to soften the image at f8 and beyond though, so for the crispest results when a specific depth-of-field isn't important, use Aperture Priority or Program Shift to work within a stop either side of f4.

With lens corrections turned-off, the DX 35mm f/1.8G can exhibit some coloured fringing in areas of high contrast near the corners of the frame, but on the whole it's kept fairly well under control. And once corrections are enabled, as they are by default on in-camera JPEGs on recent Nikon bodies, almost all evidence of fringing is eliminated.

Beyond crisper image quality, the second major benefit the DX 35mm f/1.8G has over a typical zoom is a much brighter focal ratio. Most general-purpose zooms have a maximum aperture of around f4.5 when set to a focal length of 35mm, which is around two and a half stops slower than f1.8. This means the DX 35mm f/1.8G is much better equipped to deal with dim lighting conditions, and while there's no Vibration Reduction facilities, the quicker shutter speeds you'll be able to use should eliminate both wobbles and subjects in motion.

With the aperture opened to f1.8, you'll also be able to achieve a much smaller depth-of-field than a typical kit zoom, allowing you to better blur the background. The lens may be too short for classic head-and-shoulder portraits, but you'll still be able to get a great full-length shot or one from the waist-up with a nice blurred background – see our Gallery section for an example.

The compact size and light weight will also transform your body into a much more portable proposition. If you're used to a general-purpose zoom, you'll be surprised how much smaller and lighter your camera looks and feels with this lens mounted. The light weight inevitably gives the lens an impression of insubstantial construction, but the build quality is as good as any general-purpose zoom, while also featuring a metal lens mount and rubber sealing that's absent from kit models.

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So apart from the fact it's not corrected for full-frame FX-format bodies, doesn't have a focus distance window and suffers from a little coloured fringing, there's really very little to criticise. Indeed, while it was built as an affordable prime lens for owners of budget Nikon bodies, it's equally compelling for those with mid-range or even semi-pro models.

Of course this is all meaningless if you rarely use the 35mm focal length, but by delivering standard coverage of 52.5mm on a DX-format body, most photographers will find it a very flexible general-purpose lens. But still that's not to say it's for everyone.

If you own a full-frame FX body or are considering one in the future, the original AF 35mm f/2D (see left) would be a better bet. It may cost almost twice as much as the DX 35mm f/1.8G and require a mid-range or higher body to autofocus, but being corrected for full-frame will protect you for future investments.

Alternatively if you're a DX-format owner who wants a bright lens to blur the background on portraits, a 50mm model will be a better bet. Their longer focal length will be more flattering for portrait work, while also delivering a shallower depth-of-field than a 35mm lens.

The latest Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G (see right) is a great choice, especially as it'll autofocus on all Nikon bodies, although owners of higher-end DSLRs (or those who don't mind manually focusing), could go for the older and cheaper AF 50mm f/1.4D or AF 50mm f/1.8D models. Each of these 50mm lenses also has the benefit of working on full-frame FX bodies, although their subsequent coverage becomes a little short for serious portrait work. There's also Sigma's 50mm f1.4 DC HSM to consider.

But again most of these lenses are more expensive than the DX 35mm f/1.8G; indeed the DX 35mm f/1.8G is one of the cheapest lenses in the Nikkor catalogue, only beaten on price by the ageing AF 50mm f/1.8D, the basic DX 18-55mm kit lens, and the un-stabilised DX 55-200mm zoom. As such, its very respectable performance is little short of remarkable for the money.

Ultimately while owners (or potential owners) of full-frame bodies along with those who want a dedicated portrait lens should look elsewhere, the DX 35mm f/1.8G can almost universally be recommended to everyone else. DX body owners who want an affordable general-purpose lens that delivers a step-up in quality and low-light performance over a standard zoom should look no further. It's a great complement to any zoom, and one you'll quickly find using in preference for general-purpose shots. It deserves to be your standard lens.

Good points
Crisp, detailed, well-corrected images.
Bright f/1.8 focal ratio ideal for low light work.
Autofocuses on all Nikon DSLRs.
Light weight, compact size and low price.

Bad points
Some coloured fringing in uncorrected images.
No focus distance window.
Slightly coarse-feel to the manual focusing ring.
Not corrected for full-frame FX bodies.


(relative to DX kit lenses)

Build quality:
Optical quality:


20 / 25
23 / 25
20 / 25
24 / 25


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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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