Introduction

At ~US$280 (as of September 2008), Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D remains one of the more affordable wide angle prime lenses in Nikon's modern SLR lineup. The lens was first introduced in 1995 and replaced the older Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2 version, which in turn replaced the manual focus Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2 AiS in 1989. The new version of the lens kept the same optical formula as well as overall look and feel - as a matter of fact, the only real difference between these two variants was the addition of a distance sensor that allowed cameras equipped with 3D Matrix Metering systems improve metering and exposure accuracy. Not a major benefit to cause an upgrade from the previous generation model.

The optical formula of the lens follows a pretty conventional design with 6 elements in 5 groups. The build quality is very similar to that of other AF-D lenses of that era - the barrel is made of hardened plastic with inner cams wobbling a little bit when the lens is shaken. The focusing ring, which is located near the front side of the barrel is pretty narrow, but is fully rubberized for comfortable grip. The aperture ring is located very close to the base of the mount, which makes it somewhat hard to reach when the lens is mounted on a camera. The ring rotates in one full f-stop increments, with the minimum supported aperture of f/22. Like with other AF-D type lenses, you can control the aperture either manually or electronically. In order to get a full in-camera aperture control, you first need to rotate the aperture ring to f/22 and then lock it in that position using a tiny switch located right on top of the aperture ring.

Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D is a very lightweight and compact camera - the lens weighs only 205g (7.2oz) and measures 65 x 45mm (2.5 x 1.7in), although the inner cams of the lens extend during focusing towards closeup, adding a few millimeters to the overall length. The lens focuses down to 25cm (0.85ft). The lens does not incorporate a dedicated focusing motor - Nikon decided to incorporate the auto-focusing functionality into cameras, leaving all AF-D lenses fully backward compatible with previous generation cameras. Hence the auto-focusing is performed by a drive screw that extends from the camera and locks into a slot on the base of lens mount. The screw moves the elements back and forth until the camera confirms the focus. Due to all this mechanical movement, the AF system is pretty noisy, making at times distinctive clicking and clanking noises. The lens incorporates a DOF scale, with three markings at f/11, f/16 and f/22. The front element of the lens does not rotate during focusing, so users can rely on polarizers without any problems. The lens accepts 52mm screw-in type filters.

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The factory box includes Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D lens, front and rear caps, manual and registration cards. The lens accepts optional HN-3 lens hood and CL-305 lens case. Since the lens was originally designed for traditional 35mm film cameras, when used on APS-C type bodies with 1.5x crop factor, the field of view of the lens will resemble that of a 52mm prime on a full frame body.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 6 elements in 5 groups
Angular Field 62 degrees
Minimum Focus 25cm/0.85ft
Focusing Action MF/AF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/22, manual/electronic
Filter Size 52mm
Lens Hood HN-3 (optional)
Weight 205g/7.2oz
Dimensions 65x44.5mm/2.5x1.7"
Lens Case CL-305 (optional)

Field Tests

Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D is a classical AF-D type lens, which means that when it comes down to handling, it behaves like any other AF-D lens out there. What does that really mean you might ask? Typical of all AF-D lenses, the auto-focusing with this lens is pretty archaic - when adding AF capabilities, Nikon decided to do so in a completely backward compatible manner, so that all new AF lenses were still compatible with pretty much any previous generation camera. Might have been a good idea back then, but that essentially created a limitation as to how effective an AF can be. Hence the speed and accuracy of the auto focusing with any AF-D lens, including AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D, depend more on the camera being used rather then on the lens itself. Since all focusing operations are performed by using mechanically coupling, you can pretty much bet that AF will be slower and noisier then the modern ultrasonic systems. Those of you who prefer to focus manually, can still do so using a dedicated focusing ring.

Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D showed quite decent performance in the field. The lens produced somewhat soft images when shot with wide open aperture - a typical problem area for most moderately fast lenses. However, image quality improved quite noticeably with stopped down apertures - f/2.8 delivered very good center resolution and by f/4 border image quality also became pretty satisfactory. All in all, the performance pattern is typical of a consumer grade lens - there were really no major surprises, not there were any major disappointments in that regard.

 

ISO 400, 1/160, f/2, 35mm (Nikon D3)
ISO 400, 1/160, f/2, 35mm (Nikon D3)

 

When shot with wide open apertures, the lens produced pretty round out of focus highlights that carried harsh outlines around edges -  a typical characteristic in lenses with over-correction for spherical aberration. Contrast transitions in the background and foreground out of focus areas was pretty neutral - not too harsh, but not smoothly blending in either. There was a slight hint of double-edging around OOF objects.

 

Vignetting @ f/2 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (35mm)
Vignetting @ f/2 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (35mm)

 

The lens showed pretty noticeable vignetting when shot on a full frame camera with wide open aperture. The amount of vignetting is reduced slightly once the lens is stopped down to f/2.8, but does not really go away completely until f/5.6. Things are much better on an APS-C body where the lens takes the  full advantage of a cropped sensor - vignetting here is pretty minimal at f/2 and pretty much goes away by f/4.

Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D showed pretty good (for a wide angle lens) handling of flare. The shots below, which were taken at f/2 and f/8, demonstrate the impact of a strong direct light source positioned directly within or near the picture frame. In this tests the sun was positioned directly above the picture frame and hitting the lens at ~60 degrees. As can be seen, the flare blows out the highlights and reduces the overall contrast of the image. This is pretty typical for any lens, yet there is no visible flare or ghosting, which can be considered a pretty good sign.

 

Left: ISO 200, 1/2000, f/2 Right: ISO 200, 1/125, f/8 (Nikon D3)
Left: ISO 200, 1/2000, f/2 Right: ISO 200, 1/125, f/8 (Nikon D3)

 

The lens showed pretty good color reproduction, with color palette remaining pretty neutral and images carrying sufficient amount of contrast throughout the aperture range. The lens also managed to provide good resistance to color fringing - there was no noticeable sign of lateral and axial color aberration.

 

ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2, 35mm (100% crop)
ISO 200, 1/6400, f/2, 35mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras as well as cameras from different manufacturers are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for all types of cameras.

 

Nikon APS-C: Coming soon...

 

Nikon FF: Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D showed decent, but not overwhelmingly impressive performance on a full frame Nikon D3. Center image quality was excellent from f/2.8 through f/11. Quality at f/2 was still decent, but not at the same level as with smaller apertures. Border performance though suffered, predominantly at wider apertures - the softness is especially noticeable at f/2 and f/2.8 where the lens seems to struggle the most. Quality peaks in the f/5.6-f/11 range, where the overall performance is the most balanced. Conclusion? Excellent image quality with smaller apertures, but the overall performance is not very convincing, primarily due to the border performance at wider apertures.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm

 

CA on a full frame Nikon D3 was not a major problem, with CA never exceeding ~0.3px in the center and ~0.7px around borders, across the entire tested aperture range.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 35mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 35mm

Here are 100% crops, taken with a full frame Nikon D3, comparing image borders at f/2 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8

 

Canon APS-C: The lens showed pretty consistent performance on a Canon Digital Rebel XTi. Both center as well as border performance suffered at the widest aperture setting - quality here is rather unimpressive. Quality in the center does improve quite nicely by f/2.8 and remain on a consistently high level through the rest of the aperture. However, border quality still lags at f/2.8 and even at f/4. The lens performance peaks in the f/5.6-f/11 range, where it is capable of delivering excellent 16in and 19in prints. Conclusion?  A little bit underwhelming, performance-wise that is. When compared to all wide angles tested so far, AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D would fall somewhere in the middle of the stack.

 

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Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm

 

Chromatic aberration on an APS-C type camera was under control. CA in the center averaged ~0.3px across the aperture range, while CA around borders averaged ~0.5px through the most of the aperture, except at f/2, where it was reaching ~0.9px.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 35mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 35mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with an APS-C type Canon Digital Rebel XTi, comparing image borders at f/2 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D continued to show consistent overall performance, with good to excellent center image resolution, excellent border performance at smaller apertures and rather unimpressive border performance at wider apertures. Sounds familiar? It should, since the performance pattern closely matches that seen on a full frame Nikon as well as APS-C Canon bodies. Consistency is good, but it does not mean border performance at wide apertures is acceptable. Conclusion? OK overall performance, but the lens is certainly not going to be a contender for the top spot.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm

 

The lens showed pretty minimal amount of barrel distortion - at ~0.48% distortion should not cause any major issues in general type photography, although it might become noticeable around corners in some situations, i.e. architecture type shots.

 

Distortion (FF) @ 35mm
Distortion (FF) @ 35mm

 

Chromatic aberration on a full frame Canon 5D was quite manageable - CA in the center never exceeded ~0.4 throughout the tested aperture (actually, CA averaged about 0.25px, except at f/2 where it reached 0.4px). CA around the borders was somewhat higher - at f/2 CA reached ~0.65px, slowly dropping to ~0.4px by f/11.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 35mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 35mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with a full frame Canon 5D, comparing image borders at f/2 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

Back in the day, 35mm was one of the more popular focal lengths among photographers. Things change and these days there are surprisingly few modern 35mm alternatives available for the Nikon's F mount. Nikon does not offer any options besides the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D reviewed here, while  Sigma, Tokina and Tamron  don't offer any 35mm primes at all. You can always evaluate older generation Nikon lenses, the first generation auto-focus 35mm prime - Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2, and manual focus Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 AiS, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2 Ais and Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AiS. Speaking of the manual focus lenses - one interesting lens to look at is the recently released (circa 2006) Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2, which is available in the native Nikon F mount as well as Pentax K mount. Another interesting alternative is the Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 PC - a perspective control 35mm prime, which is probably more suitable for architecture type photography.

 

Recommendation

Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D is a good example of a fast wide angle lens that delivers decent performance characteristics at reasonable price. Resolution is not awe-inspiring (primarily due to the border performance at wider apertures), but good enough for majority of users. Handling of artifacts such as color fringing, flare and distortion is clearly as good in this lens as in any other,  more expensive  model. Granted, build quality is kind of average, but then again, at ~US$280 one should not expect a gold-plated barrel either. So all in all, this is a lens that will be suitable for your day to day photography needs, as long as your needs are not demanding superior image quality at wide apertures.