Published January 16th 2011

Nikon 35mm f/1.8

This lens is a no-brainer for any Nikon owner! It might not be the best lens Nikon ever made, but the quality to price ratio is unsurpassed.

I was in my local photo dealer buying a few odds and ends, mainly a bracket for my Orbis ringflash, which they had in stock. While waiting in line—yes, this shop always has a queue! It's quite amazing, but that's a whole other story—so while I'm approaching the counter, the guy in front of me inquired about the new Nikon 35mm f/1.8. I had no plans about buying one, but when the clerk mentioned the price to my fellow customer, I thought “What the heck! At that price I might as well get one while I'm here...”.

Baskets in tree. Strange but nice looking.
[Nikon D300s, Nikon 35mm f/1.8]


Can you say shallow depth of field? Sharp cup rim, unsharp plate and table cloth.
[Nikon D300s, Nikon 35mm f/1.8]
The price was about 220 USD, and I can hardly think of any Nikon lens apart from the 50mm f/1.8, which is cheaper. Some of the kit lenses might retail at lower prices, but this is a real lens!
So once it was my turn, I asked for my stuff and added: “And one Nikon 35mm f/1.8, by the way...”.
You should do the same the next time you are out shopping gear. It's so obviously a good deal. You get one of the best lenses Nikon has made for one of the lowest prices on any Nikon lens. In the US this lens retails for less than 200 USD. That's a steal! The only bigger steal in the Nikon lineup is the 50mm f/1.8, which retails for some 125 dollars. No Nikon bag should be without any of these bargains!

Handheld evening shot. Notice the shutter speed: 1250th of a second thanks to the bright lens.
[Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8]


Indoors shot with a light pop up fill flash but domintated by the ambient light
[Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, pop-up flash]
When I call the 35mm one of the best Nikon lenses, it's a bit unfair of course, because comparing this to the new crop of f/1.4 primes: 24mm, 35mm and 50mm or to a 14-24mm f/2.8 or my beloved 17-55mm f/2.8 for that sake, is like comparing apples and... apples. They are in principle the same, but the differences can be colossal.
Of course there are different leagues of lenses, and the 35mm isn't a tank, it isn't sealed and it has very few metal parts. It's a small and dainty lens, actually. But on the other hand: it's bright, it's AF-S and it's fast. The comparison might not be quite as unfair as you'd think.


My Lightroom statistics tell me that I have shot quite a lot with the 35mm mounted on the humble D40 body. Don't get this wrong. The D40 is a lovely camera, which takes some great images, but like the lens, it's dainty, and in combination... well, they are dainty. A great and very compact as well as lightweight combo, yielding a great little picture machine, that produces some awesome images.
Mounted on a D200 or D300s with a grip, the lens shrinks to almost nothing. Some people love large cameras with small lenses, and this is as small as they come.

Some people love large cameras with small lenses

Nice indoors ambient light portrait
[Nikon D300s, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8]


Illustration made for a computer presentation utilizing the brightness and shallow DOF
[Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8]
The image quality is impeccable in my eyes. It's good compared to almost any zoom in it's focal range, and outdoes any kit zoom, and when taking the price into consideration, there's very little to complain about, if anything at all. I have a fairly relaxed relation to chromatic aberration, color fringing and light falloff, which is rarely visible in real life images.
It's slightly soft full open, but personally I have few problems with that since I use lenses like this full open for their softness, shallow depth of field and bokeh, and this lens does it very well in all these regards. Once you stop it down to f/2 or f/2.8 it's as sharp as they come, and considering its brightness there is a lot of room for shooting it at even smaller apertures.

Low light people

Intense portrait shot close up at very low light
[Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8]
It should not come as a surprise that this lens shines in low light situations. It's not wide enough to be really wide on a DX-body, and won't impress anybody regarding angle of view or perspective. Consider it more like a “normal” lens with a focal length comparable to a 50mm on a full frame or a film body. Many photographers consider the perspective of normal lenses a bit boring, but having literally grown up with 50 millimeter lenses on every film camera I have owned, I have shot so much with such lenses that it comes very natural.
The focal length has a lot of possibilities once you come to terms with it. The shallow depth of field and the great brightness allows you to count on some really intimate images when using it.
I love this lens for people shots. It's extremely kind to faces and eyes, and will at the same time isolate people from even the most disturbing background if you take care to shoot it wide open or almost so.

Entry level brightness

Floating juice. 1/250th of a second in ambient light indoors!
[Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8]
Most entry level shooters, who are used to kit lenses with apertures in the 3.5-5.6 range will be stunned over its brightness. Sure, it's not as bright as they come, but the price you have to pay for f/1.4 not to mention f/1.2 lenses make them unobtainable to most beginners and amateurs.
This little gem is still several times brighter than most kit lenses, and that makes a huge difference. Remember that each aperture step means twice the amount of light through the lens, and from f/5.6 to f/1.8 there is about four steps, meaning 16 times the light! If you would shoot a situation at 1/15th of a second with your kit lens, you could suddenly go to 1/60th or 1/125th with this lens in the same light.
Thanks to its brightness you can shoot it at available light in most situations, which usually also becomes people and faces well.
Should you want to venture into food photography on a budget you will also love this lens, which can do what way more expensive lenses do on full frame bodies, but on entry level DX-bodies.
As I said: it's a no-brainer!

Crepe with a nice shallow DOF. Food photo on a budget
[Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8]


Some people might argue that the 35mm f/1.8 overlaps with what they already have. Most of us will have a walkaround zoom lens in our bag, which covers a range somewhere in the 17-50, 18-55, 18-70 range, and sure enough: if you look at focal length there's an overlap. But look at brightness, and there will be a difference. If you are like me, your multi-purpose zoom will be a bright f/2.8 lens like my Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8. If you're like most people, your workhorse lens will be a kit lens, and the brightness will be much less--more like 3.5 or 4. And that's in the bright end!
So although there's an overlap in focal range, the bright 35mm will do something that no zoom can do: let in lots of light. The difference can be crucial if you want to freeze motion or handhold indoors shots.
I know that some of these lenses have built-in stabilization, which can save you in some situations, but motion blur will still be your enemy if you are shooting at long shutter speeds, VR or not.
So in my eyes the overlap is justified. There's no problem in having both a zoom that covers 35mm as well as a bright prime.
And then I haven't even mentioned the difference in bokeh...
Gear mentioned: