Review – Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.4

I’ll start this review of the Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.4 by saying this not so much of a review, more like a love story. This lens is by far the single greatest piece of camera equipment I have ever purchased. (Apart from the Nikon D700. And the Fuji X100. And the Nikkor 85mm….maybe)

What’s So Great About A 35mm?

Unlike it’s cheaper, smaller brother the 35mm f1.8, and its older, louder and more annoying uncle, the AF-D 35mm f2; the Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.4 is amazing. At everything.

Want to shoot Landscapes? It’s awesome.
Want to shoot Portraits? It’s awesome.
Want to shoot Street Photography? It’s awesome.
Want to shoot Still Life? It’s awesome.
Want to shoot anything? It’s awesome.

It’s no secret that the 35mm focal length is a magical one. Wide, but not too wide, the 35mm let’s you get in close, while still showing context. Even for portraits from a few meters, there is no distortion in the subject, but plenty of space still in the frame for the background. I absolute adore this lens at weddings. A standard enough focal length for almost all situations, just with a little extra space for the story.

Every photographer should own a 50mm, so for comparison, just imagine looking through that 50mm view, but actually being able to see around the frame. The Nikon 35mm f1.4 is used like a 50mm, but it’s wider, sharper and a lot, lot more fun.

A Great Combination

The Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.4 was so good, I sold my vulnerable AF-S 50mm f1.4. The 35mm is a better lens in every single way. It’s sharper wide open, built better and focuses closer.

But the true awesomeness starts when I combine this 35mm with the just as fantastic Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.4. These two focal lengths compliment each other beautifully.

I sometimes think people miss the point of prime lenses. Just because they are fixed, it doesn’t mean you need 15 of them to cover every possible focal length. The 35mm and 85mm offer me two very distinct and interesting perspectives, all I have to do is pick which one I use to capture the moment. Only having two perspectives in which capture the world isn’t restrictive, it’s the opposite. It’s so freeing. They are the only two lenses I need.

Image Quality

The images the Nikon 35mm f1.4 captures are just beautiful. The lens is sharp, colourful and oh so contrasty from wide open at f1.4 to f16. I actually have to dial down the contrast in Lightroom because I find it a little too punchy for my tastes. Blacks are rich and colours are subtle but accurate.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is different about the 35mm f1.4, but it defiantly is different. The tones and look of the images it produces are very unique, and even straight out of camera they look great.

Just watch out for vignetting at f1.4 to f2.8. But who would shoot a wide angle prime wide open? Errr, me. Actually. A lot.

Build Quality

The Nikon 35mm f1.4 is a very solid chunk of metal and glass, with a crunchy polycarbonate shell. It’s a nice reassuring weight, about 400g, which is just right for a lens of this size. It balances well on the D700, and is a lot lighter than say, the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8.

Naturally, the 35mm f1.4 is weather sealed and built to take a few knocks during it’s life.

Surprisingly, despite the Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.4 being one of Nikon’s latest lenses, it has none of the modern bells and whistles you’d expect. No ED glass or aspheric elements, and certainly no VR. It’s just full of old fashioned really, really perfect glass and a pinch of fancy nano crystal coating to reduce flare.

Even from the outside, you can tell that the 35mm was designed to be simple, understated. It has an odd, almost square shape, and fits in the palm of your hand. Glass at the front. Glass at the back. And nothing much in between, except a pretty fast and accurate autofocus motor, together with nice large manual focus ring.

Summary

It should be obvious by now that I really love the Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.4. It is a fantastic moderate wide angle prime that is good for so many types of photography. But I can see I may not be right for everybody.

If you don’t use an FX camera, save your money and get the 35mm f1.8. And if you already have a mid range zoom and a 50mm f1.4, I wouldn’t bother either.

But if you are like me; you use only prime lenses, you use them often and you want something a bit wider than a 50mm, I swear you gotta get this lens as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed.

Any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

35mm Review-001 by Chris Nash © 2012Nikon 35mm Review-001- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-002- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-003- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-005- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-007- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-006- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-010- by Chris NashNikon 35mm Review-008- by Chris Nash

  • Aaron said:

    Nice write up Chris!

    As you know, I'm a Canon Fanboy ...but, I totally get the 35mm focal range, Canon / Nikon / Sony / Olympus, on a FF 35mm is a pleasure to work with.

    If the Nikon is anything like the Canon EF f/1.4L its a real beauty!
    My wedding set-up looks something like this:
    Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark II, 35mm 1.4, 80mm 1.2, 70-200mm 2.8, 24mm TS-E

    (notice how I've got so much love for the 35 / 80 combo too).

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