Are you in the market for an inexpensive lens? Perhaps you need a 35mm prime to round out your collection? Don’t hate your money? Does size matter (keep it clean)? Good, then you found the right place. I’m going to review the venerable 35mm f/2D lens from Nikon, a full frame lens that was released in 1995, costs less than $400, and is so small it can fit in your pocket… Have I got your attention?
Is a 50mm more your speed? Check out my review of the awesome Nikon 50mm f/1.8D for under $132.
Reviewing photography gear is great, it’s been a blast giving readers the real world results of using some of the best cameras, lenses, and other photography equipment I can get my hands on. As you know, I only review gear I would consider purchasing myself… In fact, I do purchase all the gear I review myself. Nothing I’ve reviewed here has been given or loaned to me. I have no affiliation with manufacturers and tell it as I see it. In order for me to continue to bring you real world reviews I need a little help from readers like you. I don’t want you to give me money or anything like that, what I would like is for you to use the links here on the site to purchase things like the gear you see reviewed. It doesn’t even have to be that gear though, if you hit a link and purchase anything, from any country, it helps keep the website running smoothly. Thank you!
When you research 35mm lenses for a full frame Nikon you are really only left with big, bigger, and huge if you want weather sealed, state of the art lenses. Then I found the veteran 35mm f/2D. It’s not weather sealed but it’s inexpensive, tiny, light, and has excellent image/build quality.
It doesn’t feel like junk. I mean, a lens does not have to be built like a tank to impress me, I’m not planning on opening a can of beans with it or bludgeoning a subject into submission. There are two things I noticed about this lens that didn’t thrill me, the gap between the plastic and the lens mount (less than a quarter of an inch) and the fact that it is not weather resistant… To that second point, my X100T isn’t weather proof either but I shoot in rain, snow, sleet, etc. and have never had a problem. The gap between the plastic on the lens and the lens mount is only a problem if you are neurotic about things like that, otherwise the fit is tighter than my $2k+ Nikon lenses (seriously, it is the tightest fitting lens I own now).
The focus is external as opposed to internal so when you focus in and out the barrel of the lens will extend slightly but this does not impede the use of a filter (circular polarizer or otherwise) as the barrel does not spin. The filter size is 52mm, if you own multiple lenses I highly recommend purchasing step up rings so you don’t need to purchase multiple lens filters (a step up ring allows you to use a 72mm filter on any of your smaller lenses, always buy a filter for the largest lens and step up from there otherwise your filter will impede the field of view of larger lenses if you tried to affix it to them).
This lens has an actual aperture ring you can manually turn… If you have a newer camera and like to control the aperture through it you can flick a tiny little switch above the aperture ring to lock the aperture on the lens and rely entirely on in camera controls (the little switch is located right to the right of the distance window on the lens and must be set to f/22 before locking.
If you read other reviews around the internet they mention that the lens renders slightly soft at f/2 but is sharp as a tack at f/2.8. I know everything that is on the internet is true but I decided that I’d have to test this out myself. The images at f/2 are more than acceptably sharp unless you are pixel peeping and again… a little neurotic. If you shoot street photography the f/2 on this lens affixed to a full frame Nikon is still sharper than my already sharp X100T.
Now you might be thinking “But John, I shoot landscapes and I need things to be SHARP!” Alright, take a look at your data, crunch some numbers if you will, and tell me how many landscape shots you have taken at f/2… At f/2.8 and above this lens is very, very sharp.
Every lens I purchase I put through the low light ringer to see how it does. Now a lot of this is reliant on your cameras sensor but different lenses definitely have different low light fingerprints.
Look at the star bursts around the bright lights in this image at f/4… I was pleasantly surprised by this when I got back to my computer and reviewed my images from that evening. The starburst isn’t really something I would expect at such a wide aperture, I really enjoy the unique image quality of this lens.
How a lens handles low light is important, how it handles harsh light is even more important. Some lenses have garish lens flare or wash out all contrast in bright light. This lens… handles it like a champ. Shooting directly into the light is not a problem with this lens. In fact, the lens renders the sun as a pleasant starburst as well as opposed to a giant bright spot in the sky.
Some of this (dynamic range) has to do with the camera I’m using, the Nikon Df, but the rendering of the sun into a pleasant star burst and the fact that there aren’t unsightly light globes shooting across the frame is all due to how the lens handles the light… Masterfully.
The small size of this lens is the sole reason I bought this and not the larger f/1.4G 35mm. If size weren’t an issue I would have probably bought the larger, slightly faster, newer Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens without every knowing I didn’t need to. Now, having tried them both I can confidently say I would choose the smaller, older, less expensive 35mm f2D lens every day of the week.