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Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G Thomas, June 2012
 

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G review

The Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G is a wide angle lens designed for Nikon's range of DX and full-frame FX-format DSLRs. Announced April 2012, it's the larger aperture sibling to the venerable Nikkor AF 28mm f2.8D from 1994. It can also be considered a cheaper alternative to the AF-S 24mm f/1.4G and AF-S 35mm f/1.4G (see my Nikon 35mm f1.4G review for the performance of this high-end model).

With a line-up of three not too expensive f1.8 primes at 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm, Nikon seems to have completed the renovation of a set of FX-capable lenses that are considered the primary goal for people wanting large aperture primes at a reasonable price.

The 28mm focal length sits nicely in-between 24mm and 35mm as you can see in the following image where I've inserted the frames for the respective focal lengths. Thus an 28mm lens might be considered a more attractive complement to a 50mm prime than both the slightly wider and longer alternatives. 28mm offers a clearly wider angle of view: it captures around 56% more area of any given scene than a 35mm lens. Which also might be considered too close to the framing of a 50mm lens to be of interest to owners of the latter. But conversely a focal length of 28mm on an FX-body is not as “extreme” as a 24mm. Distortions at the borders of the frame are less pronounced and thus more acceptable. Meanwhile on a DX-body a 28mm lens is equivalent to 42mm and considered close to the ideal focal length that matches the diagonal of the sensor and thus produces "normal" looking images.

 
 

Interestingly Nikon has so far chosen not to produce an AF-S 24mm f/1.8G or an AF-S 35mm f/1.8G for the FX full-frame format (although of course there is the popular DX 35mm f/1.8G lens for cropped bodies). That may have to do with economical reasons, but Nikon might have fared better had it given its DX 35/1.8G a proper FX image circle and complemented it with a 24/1.8G, because a 28mm prime might just be too long for some and too short for others. But again, such a move might have brought the risk of jeopardizing sales of its 24/1.4G and 35/1.4G lenses.

So far Nikon's new f1.8 designs (the 50/1.8G and the 85/1.8G) have proven to be sharp and contrasty rendering neutral colors (see my Nikon 50mm f1.8G review and Nikon 85mm f1.8G review). This puts pretty high expectations on the newcomer. In this review I'll have a look at Nikon's newest 28mm f1.8G prime, and find out whether the lens lives up to the expectations.

   
   


Facts from the catalog

As usual I'll have a look at the technical data first. I've rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it's better than average or even state of the art, a [0] if it's standard or just average, and [-] if there's a disadvantage.

   
 
   
   

Size (diam. x length): 73 x 81 mm (2.9 x 3.2 in.). It's slim but pretty long - especially compared to the Nikon 28/2.8D at only 45 mm (1.8 in.) length [0]

Weight: 330 g (11.6 oz) = pretty light-weight, although the 28/2.8D is only 205 g (7.2 oz.). But the lenses from Sigma and Zeiss are both much heavier at around 500 g. [0]

Optics: 11 elements in 9 groups. More than the 28/2.8D with 6 lenses in 6 groups but still only a small amount of glass compared to zooms that tend to have something like 21/16. That bodes well for contrast and flare-resistance. Plus Nikon used Nano-coating on this lens and the cross-section does show two aspherical elements. [+]

Closest focus distance/max. magnification: 0.25 m (0.82 ft.) / 1:4.5. This is close to what I often need in nature (1:3-1:5). [+]

Filter-thread: 67mm = a cheaper standard than with the larger pro-lenses [+]

IS: No = not really critical at such a short focal length, although Nikon's own 24-120/4.0 has VR [0]

AF: AF-S with SWM (silent wave motor), so does work on D60/3x00/5x00-bodies, and there's manual-focus override by turning the focus ring [+]

Covers full frame/FX or smaller = very good [+]

Price: around 700 EUR new (incl. 19% VAT) = not cheap! The old Nikon AF 28/2.8D is around 280 EUR now, the Sigma AF 28mm 1.8 EX DG Asp Macro can be had for 430 EUR and only the manual focus Zeiss ZF.2 Distagon T* 28mm 2.0 is more expensive at over 1000 EUR. [0]

Comes with a flexible lens pouch, lens-shade is included and revertible for transport, and the lens-caps are standard Nikon's. [0]

Distance information is relayed to the camera, so the Nikon body can do all the advanced exposure-related stuff with this lens. But this is true for most alternatives too. [+]

Aperture ring = no, just like all Nikon G-lenses. [0]

Sealing: yes! A rubber grommet at the lens-mount. [+]

So the score in the "features-department" is 0[-]/6[0]/7[+]. This lens ticks almost all important boxes, except perhaps a price below 500 EUR.

 

Motivation:

A 28mm lens may be a favorite for landscape shooters but they need corner-to-corner sharpness more than an f1.8 aperture. But the large aperture makes this lens also fit for fast street-/PJ-style shooting with an immersive in-the-middle-of-things perspective. A large aperture is also always good for isolating your subject from the background. But at 28mm focal length you have to be close to enjoy this effect.

Alternatives:

Current 28mm primes include only three alternatives:
- The old Nikkor AF 28/2.8D
- Sigma AF 28mm 1.8 EX DG Asp Macro (meaning 1:2.9 max magnification)
- Zeiss ZF.2 Distagon T* 28mm 2.0 manual focus

But if you look at 24mm (-14% focal length/magnification) or 35mm (+25% focal length/magnification) lenses there are more alternatives to chose from.

Testing: Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration

With large aperture primes one of the first tests I perform is for longitudinal CA (loCA, a.k.a. "axial color" or "bokeh CA") and it normally shows some pretty nasty coloration unless you have a very expensive apochromatic lens. Prior testing showed that the amount of loCA can be quite extreme at close-up but doesn't show too prominently at more normal shooting distances. To give you results that are more relevant to everyday photographic situations I changed my testing procedure to using the same distance as with the Siemens-star test-targets: 40x focal length - in this case 1.2m. I also switched to Adobe Standard processing to make the results more easily comparable across different camera systems - but at the cost of making these results incomparable to my older reviews.

Here's the result for the AF-S 28/1.8G in a 100% crop at f1.8. These colorations can be eliminated quite effectively in CaptureNX or Lightroom's latest version 4.1 but you need an additional step of post-processing.

 
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration (loCA)
100% crop, f1.8, left=closer, right=farther away

The effect is clearly visible but at f5.6 the greenish (background) and reddish (foreground) hues are almost gone. What you can observe too when stopping down is a pretty huge focus-shift: Subjects in the background become sharper much faster than in the foreground - the lens develops quite some back-focus. This has the effect that for optimal sharpness you have to pull focus a bit towards you or otherwise your image-quality will effectively decrease when stopping the lens down. Have a look at the concentric circles in the following 100% crops from the center of my test-target shot at constant focus (optimized for f1.8). The effect is strongest at f4.0 and f5.6.

Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
with Nikon D800
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
with Nikon D800
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
with Nikon D800
   
f2.8, 200 ISO
f4.0, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO

I've never seen a similar behavior before. This poses quite a challenge for people relying on normal AF-operation because AF grabs focus at fully opened aperture (f1.8) and does not compensate for any focus shift. And if you use AF Fine-Tune for this lens you can optimize sharpness either for f1.8-f2.8 or for f4.0-f5.6 but not for both sets of apertures (from f8.0 on differences are negligible). This effect caused a lot of retesting for me and honestly is quite a disappointment: At f4.0 and f5.6 a good lens normally reaches the peak of its performance (which his indeed the case with the 28/1.8G, as we will see in the later paragraph about sharpness and contrast) and it is a major set-back for this lens to ruin its potential with a shifting focus. Of course this could just apply to my own test sample, but it's something potential owners should be aware of.

On a positive note: Shooting trees against a glaring sky does not produce the horrible ghostlike magenta twigs that some other large aperture primes were so prone of (see following image). By the way: This is also a shot where you can see the effect of vignetting wide open as I did not correct it in post-processing. It is not too pronounced in the FX-frame and almost negligible in the DX-frame inserted here for easier comparison.

 

Chromatic Aberration test: shot with Nikon Nikkor 28/1.8G on a D800
f1.8, 100 ISO
 
   
f1.8, 100 ISO
 
f1.8, 100 ISO
  f1.8, 100 ISO

 

Sharpness and contrast

Let's have a look at the theoretical performance (MTF-charts) of the new lens and its smaller sibling first:

 
Nikkor 28mm MTF
The new Nikkor AF-S 28/1.8G
  Its smaller, older sibling, the Nikkor AF 28/2.8D

   

These charts show the lens-performance at the largest aperture, in this case for f1.8 (resp. f2.8 for the older lens). Higher values are better and the closer the dotted and the continuous lines of each color are together the less astigmatism (= resolution depends on the orientation of the test-pattern) the lens has. The x-axis displays the distance from the optical axis (=center of the sensor) in mm. I'll show you the real-life performance at 4 mm (center), 13 mm (DX-corner), and 20 mm (FX-corner) on a D800.

From the charts the new lens should perform better outside the DX image-circle than the 28/2.8D. But the new design shows some astigmatism at very fine structures (S30/M30) between 2 mm and 8 mm from the center. Let's see how this theoretical performance translates into real life results in the sharpness test based on Siemens-stars.

What follows are near-center results (first column) followed by DX-corner results and FX-corner results on a D800. The D800 results from the DX-corner should be a very good approximation for performance on a 16MP DX sensor (like the D7000), because the pixel-pitch of both sensors are the same. But differences in the AA-filter and micro-lens-design of a D800 and a D7000 might yield different end-results.

Processing was done in Lightroom 4 from RAW at camera standard settings. This is another deviation from my former reviews which were developed in CaptureNX 2. This was triggered by a close comparison of both RAW-converters: Lightroom 4 has a sharpening algorithm that can be better tuned for small details. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, with no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment. White-balance was adjusted to a neutral white and I did some exposure compensation to make the brightness match. CA-removal is ON. In this test focus was optimized for each aperture - which I normally don't do. But due to the strong focus-shift there was no other way to achieve the sharpest results.

These are 100% crops!

Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
f1.8, 100 ISO
f1.8, 100 ISO
f1.8, 100 ISO
         
   
f2.0, 100 ISO
f2.0, 100 ISO
f2.0, 100 ISO
         
   
f2.8, 100 ISO
f2.8, 100 ISO
f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
f4.0, 100 ISO
f4.0, 100 ISO
f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO

These 100% crops directly from a 36MP D800 sensor show that this lens performs very good in the center. Even wide open center resolution is very high and astigmatism is not really an issue. The performance in the DX-corner is clearly behind the center performance wide open with a good overall contrast but limited sharpness until the lens is stopped down to f4.0. At f5.6 it reaches excellent results.

The FX-corner shows a completely different characteristic than the DX-corner: They show some serious haloing of bright areas: Overall contrast is pretty low. BTW. this can confuse the contrast-based AF: You can increase the overall contrast of this corner by adjusting the focus a bit but then the sharpness/micro-contrast of the target is reduced. It took me quite some experimenting to get the sharpest results under these conditions.

 

Sagittal coma flare

This is something that influences corner performance by producing odd shapes out of point-light sources. Some large aperture primes are quite prone to this effect and the 28/1.8G is not immune to it. You need to stop down to f5.6 to get rid of it. These results coincide with the observations in the previous chapter.

Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
with Nikon D700
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
with Nikon D800
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
with Nikon D800
   
f1.8, 100 ISO
f2.8, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO

 

 

 
Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G with Nikon D800 in contra-light
From left to right: f1.8, f2.8 and f5.6
 

Behaviour in contra-light

The image on the right shows a sequence of shots against a strong light-source shining directly into the lens but still outside the image circle of a FX-body. It shows how well the lens copes under these adverse conditions wide open and stopped down to f2.8 and f5.6.

Some lenses simply produce lower contrast when closing the aperture, although that should minimize stray-light in the lens. But unfortunately the reflections from the aperture itself sometimes cause some veiling glare.

You can judge the effect if you look at the shadows at the lower left of the camera body and the mounting-plate. The shadows are already pretty good at f1.8 and become only a little when stopping down to f2.8. At f5.6 shadows get a little lighter but nothing too dramatic. In this respect the lens performs quite well, probably due to the Nano-coating.

 

Nikon AF-S 28mm f1.8G sample images gallery

The following images were taken with the Nikon AF-S 28/1.8G on a D800. Each image was recorded in RAW and converted with Lightroom 4 at Adobe Standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment was used. Some images have White Balance set to a standard daylight value to make them comparable. You can click on each image to access the large original. Please respect our copyright and only use those images for personal use.

The first image shows what you can achieve in a typical landscape situation. Focus was acquired at f1.8 and not optimized for other apertures.

 

Unremarkables: Infinity shot with Nikon Nikkor 28/1.8G on a D800
f5.6, 100 ISO; Below: 100% crops from main image at different apertures
 
   
f1.8, 100 ISO
 
f2.8, 100 ISO
  f4.0, 100 ISO

The next row shows 100% crops from the right border. Apart from vignetting at f1.8 the performance is pretty astonishing!

Unremarkables: border performance with Nikon Nikkor 28/1.8G on a D800, 100% crops
 
   
f1.8, 100 ISO
 
f2.8, 100 ISO
  f4.0, 100 ISO

The second shot should give you an impression of the bokeh that this lens can produce wide open. The 50% crops are from the foreground, the sharpest point, and the background in the overall image and should demonstrate the very smooth rendering of out-of-focus elements. This is a very impressive performance for a wide-angle lens and is even slightly better in the background than the mighty 35/1.4G.

Flowers: bokeh shot with Nikon Nikkor 28/1.8G on a D800
Main image and all crops: f1.8, 100 ISO
 
   
50% crop from foreground
 
50% crop from center
  50% crop from background

 

Check out more Nikon AF-S 28mm f1.8G sample images.

 

Focus and build quality

Focus accuracy and repeatability is especially critical for large aperture prime lenses with their shallow depth of field. Repeatability (the accuracy of focus on the same subject after repeated focus-acquisition) is excellent with no outliers over a series of 20 shots although there is a slight focus-difference when the lens comes from infinity vs minimum focus distance. The lens focuses reasonably fast: around 0.7 sec from infinity to 0.25m.

The focus ring of the 1.8G turns approximately 95 degrees from infinity to MFD. This throw should be good enough for manual focusing (in live-view), but unfortunately there is almost 2 mm of hysteresis/slack/play between the focus-ring and the focus-action, which makes accurate focus under critical conditions pretty hard. The movement of the focus-ring is not very smooth but AF-operation is quiet. In general the impression of build quality of this lens is cheaper than its price tag suggests: A plastic construction combined with a weather sealed metal lens-mount, and seven rounded aperture blades. In comparison to the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G it feels flimsy.

But overall the latest Nikon Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G delivers a pretty good performance, which only leaves me to share a further selection of Nikon AF-S 28mm f/1.8G sample images before wrapping things up in my Nikon AF-S 28mm f/1.8G verdict.

 
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