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Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED review

My new landscape rig, D800 + Nikkor 18-35mm G lens with Lee 77mm adapter ring.

My new landscape rig, D800 + Nikkor 18-35mm G lens with Lee 77mm adapter ring.

Calling this lens an ultra wide-angle lens is a bit of a stretch in today’s digital age at Nikon themselves offer at least three lenses wider than this one, the venerable 14-24mm 2.8, the 16-35mm 4 VR and 17-35mm 2.8. I recently acquired this lens to go with my Nikon D800 and did a trip to the Joshua tree National Park over the weekend to test it out a bit.

As you know I have been using the 12-24mm f4 on my DX D7000 for almost two years before I jumped ship and finally went FX. Since acquiring the D800 I have been looking for a suitable UWA to pair it with as I shoot mostly landscapes and that’s a must have combination. The 12-24mm Nikon was absolutely a stunning lens and joy to use I liked it better than the 10-24 Nikon for its sharpness and ability to retain contrast even on brightly lit scenes. I really would be very happy with a lens which will give me similar performance for the least amount of money and I will be a happy camper.

My choices for purchase were the 18-35mm, 14-24mm, 16-35mm and 17-35mm lenses, all pretty good and capable of creating excellent images. I had to discard 14-24mm almost immediately even though it’s was the sharpest lens in this group due to the act that it can’t take standard filters and the 24mm long end was pretty short for me. I also decided to discard the 17-35 mm form consideration because it’s an older lens and hence will be devoid of modern technology. So the decision was between the 16-35 and the new 18-35 lenses. I rented the 16-35 a couple of times and used it but failed to see the justification of paying almost double the price of the 18-35.

Keys point view at Joshua Tree National Park.just before sunset even against LA smog and harsh sunlight this lens holds up pretty well.

Keys point view at Joshua Tree National Park.just before sunset even against LA smog and harsh sunlight this lens holds up pretty well.

My major gripe with the 16-35 was the size and weight of the lens its absolutely bigger than the 17-35mm lens and that one goes to 2.8, the VR system is what making the lens bigger and heavy and its totally useless for my typical usage which is almost always need a tripod. I am guessing that system is a lot useful for photogs shooting concerts and other handheld events where tripods are not an option but then again IMHO a 14-24 is a better choice for those situations as it goes to f2.8 and has much better distortion performance than the 16-35mm. Another factor was that the 16-35mm didn’t even came close to the sharpness of the 14-24, its sharpness was more comparable to the 18-35mm with the 18-35 having much better control over distortion performance.

I got my sample from B&H last week and decided to take a trip to Joshua Tree Park to do a bit of testing and below are my key observations

  • This lens is sharp, I mean it’s better than the 12-24 especially coupled with a D800 and I am duly impressed. The center is sharp throughout the zoom range and once stopped down gives stunningly sharp results.
  • Contrast, This lens blows away the 12-24 in this category and gave me great contrast even on 12pm shots at the cloudless Mojave Desert which again is pretty impressing. I suspect that ED element really helps in the matter.
  • Flare, awesome flare control. The only way O could get flare was if put the sun directly in the frame, for sunset shots even with a ND grad in front it didn’t create any flares.
  • Light falloff, it’s there as with most lenses I have used on D800 but is not field relevant IMHO and can be easily corrected in post.
  • Chromatic Aberrations, great control of CA’s and I couldn’t find anything distracting while I was shooting or on my laptop.
  • And boy is it light, I think it’s the lightest zoom lens Nikon makes and it is a goy to carry around. My neck is especially thankful to the lens and the new CarrySpeed strap.
  • Build Quality, the lens held up very well it doesn’t have the quality and feel of the gold ring lenses but the lens feels nice and tight in hand, No loose stuff so far. Also the zoom ring is pretty nicely weighted and a joy to use but the focus ring movement could have been better.
  • Handling, the lens has pretty standard design common to most new Nikon G lenses and there is a proper diameter difference in the barrel between focus ring and zoom ring. It is a bit awkward at first but provides a suitable distinction between both the rings.
  • Filters, I had no problem using filters on the lens and the only got slight vignetting when I used my LEE holder with 2 slots and a  105mm SinghRay slim warming polarizer. As you zoom in to 19-20mm this is gone or you can take one slot out and there won’t be any vignetting which is pretty impressive for a UWA lens.
And here is the money shot, I am using a two filters here in front of the lens and even with the sun directly in frame no flares.

And here is the money shot, I am using a two filters here in front of the lens and even with the sun directly in frame no flares.

In short I was impressed by this lens and I think for the price rage it gives stunning performance and in the end is a lot more value for money than the 16-35mm.