Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Nikon 35mm F/1.4G AF-S Lens

The Quick

For some, this lens is the holy grail. 35mm is the perfect “walk around lens” and the classic photojournalist focal length. At 1.4 this thing lets in loads of light and has plenty of bokeh to go along with it. Aside from a slower-than-I-prefer focus it performs beautifully.

The Build

Totally solid build, but it’s a bit deceiving. The exterior is all plastic, however the mount is metal. It doesn’t feel cheap or anything, but it’s definitely a bit surprising that there’s much plastic at all considering it’s an $1,800 lens. The best you can get if you shoot nikon! Comes with all the typical accessories… lens cap, lens hood, soft sack. A bit annoying that it’s threaded at 67mm instead of 77mm like most pro lenses, but step-up adapters are readily available.

The Use

The lens is definitely a crowd pleaser. The colors it renders are a bit unlike any of my other lenses… nikon or not. It’s hard to describe, but the reddish/brown colors I tend to get with this lens are just killer. Could be a quality of the Nano coating, but I haven’t noticed it as much an any of my other Nano coated Nikon lenses.

The sharpness is SHARP. Sharper than the Nikon 24 1.4 or 85 1.4 in my observation. In fact, this might be the sharpest prime lens I own from Nikon – and that’s saying something considering I have no major issues with any other new nikon pro lenses (except the 50 1.4).

Bokeh is very pleasing. I especially LOVE it for detail shots. I’ve included many in the gallery below so be sure to check them out in LARGE VIEW.

The contrast of this lens is very nice and I think contributes a bit to the color rendering I like so much. It also shoots fine in heavily back-lit situations. See the image of the rocking groom below? Got a cool flare and plenty of contrast with the sun directly in the upper left.

Focus is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s slow for my taste. Others have said it’s fast. Well… it’s hard to argue with someone’s opinion, but I will say it definitely feels slower than my Nikon 24 1.4. It’s got AF-S so it’s nice and quiet, but I just find it a hair bit lagging. I will say I’ve gotten much more consistent and in focus shots than I tend to get with the 24 1.4, but the 24mm is a bit of a tricky lens to focus with to begin with due to its even wider focal length.

(Click to view images LARGER)

The Tips

This isn’t specific to this lens at all, but it’s certainly a tip to consider when buying any fixed focal lens.

One thing I did early on to try and figure out which focal lengths I’d be most comfortable shooting with was arrange all of my photos from an entire year by focal range and a zoom lens (I used the 24-70 nikon lens). This let me see where I naturally tended to spend the most time on my zoom lens. I found it was at 24mm 48mm and at a distant 3rd place 70mm. Thus, it’s not surprising I feel most comfortable shooting with my 24mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.4 lenses.

Transitioning from using zooms to using prime lenses can be a bit stressful when starting out, but after a few months I’ve finally done it and now I rarely use a zoom – unless to keep things interesting. I’ll also tell you that after you’ve been shooting just fixed focal lenses for a while breaking out the old zoom lens makes life so easy it feels like cheating.

 

On a side note – I had a chance to catch some of the occupy DC protesters after an unrelated shoot that evening and it was great for getting in-the-action classic photojournalist stuff on the streets of DC.

All if these are with the 35 1.4 shot wide open.

The Conclusion

I’m gonna start right off the bat by saying I don’t use this lens as much as I thought I would. It’s no fault of the lens really… it’s just that I haven’t found the 35mm focal range to be particularly comfortable for my shooting style. I’ve much preferred the 50mm. However, for as many photogs that love the 50mm range you will likely find and equal amount that will take the 35mm. It’s purely a preference and it’s something worth thinking about whenever buying a fixed focal length prime lens.

Summary

Rating

If you’re looking for the perfect “walk around” lens that provides great subject isolation and wonderful color … this is it.

  • Price
    $1,599
  • Uses
    Wedding, Photojournalism
  • In my gear bag?
    Sometimes
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. Wonderful review Sam. I was left a little disappointed with the AF speed of this lens. Also, w.r.t. to ‘corner to corner’ sharpness.

  2. Hey thanks for the review. I’m thinking about asking Santa for this lens =)

  3. Thanks for the review. I’m joining you about focus delay. All new G’s stuff have the same problem (85 and 24 included). Anyway I still plan to buy it next month with a 85mm 1,8D.

  4. Nice review dude, I am utterly convinced that this lens is the bomb diggity! I used to be a 50mm junkie until a few months back, then I started using the 35mm f2 a bit more. Now that the 1.4G is on the front of my camera, I am in dream land. The focusing, as fast as it is, could be faster, I agree with that. This lens however is a nikon WIN, it’s meant to be shot wide open at ALL times ;)

  5. Although it’s known to be a “workhorse” lens for the photojournalists, I sometimes feel it as an oddball focal length. When I want to shoot wide, I usually go for the 24mm, when I want to shoot something more…..normal…I go for the 50mm. The only time I tend to go for the 35mm is when I want to shoot wide AND place my subjects at extreme ends of the frame. The distortion on the 24mm would makes faces look like Stewie from Family Guy.

  6. Sam,

    Thanks for good article. All of F 1.4 series are awesome lens . Which of the lens do you use most? 24 F1.4 or 35F.14 ?

    Mantas

  7. I use the 24 1.4 and the Sigma 50 1.4 the most right now. Someday that may change though so I’m not selling my 35mm 1.4 any time soon :)

  8. Great review Sam! This lens is on my short list right now and I can’t wait to upgrade from the (ugh) 35/2.0 which I’m finding small, but disappointing even though I’ve made some of my favorite images with it. I totally get you liking the 24/1.4 better though. I have a 20/2.8 that I absolutely love and will find any excuse whatsoever to shoot it. Cheers man, merry Christmas.

  9. I just placed as order for this lens and should have it next week, btw thank you for the review. I have a question: I am going 100% primes this wedding season and my question is this how is this 35mm lens compare to 24-70 with regards to focusing. Is it much slower then 24-70? I just would hate to miss the bride and groom in the action, anyone can help please? thank you!

  10. Thanks for the review, this lens is a bit too expensive for it’s performance I think, hope sigma make an FX 351.4

  11. Thanks for sharing your awesome review. Just purshased 35mm 1.4g few days ago & the image quality is excellent.
    I did some test shots between 35mm 1.8g & 35-70mm 2.8D. I really like the reddish/brown colours of the lens as
    well as the Nano coating. Its the sharpest lens which I own along with 60mm Macro.

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  1. [...] f/1.4: The 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Nikkor was reviewed by wedding photographer Sam Hurd. “This might be the sharpest prime lens I own from Nikon,” Hurd wrote. I love primes. I [...]

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