Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED Review
In the last few years, Nikon has been adding to a new series of economy FX AF-S lenses to support its new line of affordable FX-format DSLRs, such as the current D600. Of course, those lenses also work fine on the higher-end DSLRs. These lenses include three f1.8 fixed-focal-length AF-S lenses in 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm as well as a 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S with VR. These lenses all have a plastic barrel but are still quite durable with a metal lens mount. They are a bit slower than the top-of-the-line f1.4 primes and for zooms, they don’t have that constant f2.8 or even f4 aperture; instead, they have a variable aperture. Otherwise, optically they are all very fine.
This review is based on my experience with two samples of this lens. Nikon USA sent us a test sample in mid April, 2013. I used it for about a month and purchased my own lens. Both samples are without defects and produce consistent results.
The construction for this lens is the typical “higher consumer grade” type similar to that on other lenses in this class, such as the 24-85mm/f3.5-4.5 G AF-S VR and the f1.8 AF-S “primes”: 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm. It has a plastic barrel but a metal mount. The lens is fairly light, indicating that there are a lot of plastic parts inside. I own all three of those f1.8 lenses. While they are not extremely solid as those constant f2.8 zooms, I find their construction adequate for these smaller lenses (or I wouldn’t have bought them myself, right?).
The 18-35mm AF-S has a rubber gasket around its lens mount to seal out moisture. That is now a standard feature on modern Nikon AF-S lenses above the lowest consumer grade.
Similar to other more economy Nikon lenses, this new 18-35mm AF-S has a seven-blade aperture diaphragm, while the higher-end lenses usually come with a nine-blade ones. To me, it makes little difference, but some people feel that the nine-blade aperture diaphragm produces more-pleasing bokeh.
In the past, the 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S, 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-D, and 12-24mm/f4 DX AF-S share the HB-23 petal-style lens hood. The new 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S uses a slightly different HB-66 hood that is not as wide.
The new 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S weights 387 grams/13.65 oz, without any lens hood or caps attached. The older 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S weights 751 grams, close to twice as much. Of course the f2.8 has more glass, but the 17-35 also has a metal barrel that makes a difference in weight.
Overall speaking, this lens is excellent optically. Of course it benefits from being a slower, variable aperture zoom that it is not as demanding on the optics. For example, its design does not need to deal with performance at f2.8.
This is a slower lens and therefore is not intended to be used wide open under indoor, dim light conditions. While it is fine wide open, I tend to stop it down to f8 or f11 on a tripod to photograph landscape or architecture. At f8, it can achieve edge-to-edge sharpness in almost its entire zoom range, although there is some softness into the corners at 18mm. Under those settings, I find this new lens to be superior to the 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S, which now costs over twice as much and has been my go-to wide zoom for over a decade, but the 17-35 falls a bit short on its wide end, near 17mm, on modern high-pixel-count DSLRs such as the 24MP D3X, D600 and the 36Mp D800/D800E. The new 18-35 is noticeably better at 18mm.
Since this is a slower f3.5-4.5 lens, vignetting is mainly present wide open. Once you stop down to f5.6, most of the vignetting is gone on both the 18mm and 35mm ends.
As usual, the 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S zoom shows barrel distortion on the wide end (18mm); in fact, the amount of distortion is quite serious. However, pincushion distortion on the long end (35mm) is mild. At least the barrel distortion is not complex and should be easily correctable in post processing. You just need to leave some room in your composition so that any correction in post processing won’t crop out anything important.
Thanks to ED elements, chromatic aberration is very well controlled on this new lens. At the widest 18mm setting, there is a small amount of chromatic aberration on the extreme edges of the frame, as shown in the attached crop at 18mm. There is a bit of purple and green fringing on the license plate and the curb, etc.. When you zoom in a bit, away from 18mm, chromatic aberration becomes negligible, even under the scrutiny of the 36MP D800E.
Edge Sharpness and Chromatic Aberration at 18mm
Wide Zoom Alternatives
Nikon has two current wide-angle zoom with a similar zoom range. The 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S was introduced back in 1999 and has been a favorite work horse for years. However, on the latest 24 and 36MP FX-format DSLRs, it is showing considerably softness around the edges of the frame near the widest settings; chromatic aberration is also more serious than the new 18-35mm AF-S, but of course the 17-35mm has the advantage of being f2.8 throughout its entire zoom range. Its construction also seems to be more robust.
The 16-35mm/f4 AF-S VR was introduced back in 2010. While it is slower than the constant f2.8 zooms, it benefits from a constant f4 maximum aperture as well as vibration reduction. It is a bit weak in the widest couple of mm but improves quickly once you reach 18mm or so. However, it is a fairly big lens for an f4 wide zoom and it also costs considerably more than the new 18-35mm.
Nikon also has an ultra wide 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S. It has a limited zoom range but is extremely wide. A bulging front element makes it impractical to put a traditional filter in front of it. There are some companies that supply some huge filters for this lens; to me, it makes little sense. I have had this lens for several years; it is great for indoors when space is tight. I would rather not use it for landscape photography.
The 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S is a fine wide zoom that covers a very convenient range on FX-format Nikon SLRs, from moderate wide to super wide. Essentially this can be the only wide-angle lens one needs. Optically it is very good from 18mm to 35mm under the scrutiny of the 36MP D800E. The extreme corners at 18mm can still be a bit soft but much better than the older 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S that costs over twice as much. This new 18-35mm lens is a very welcome update to the earlier AF-D version from over a decade ago.
The main drawback is that this is a slower zoom without the benefit of vibration reduction, compared to those constant f2.8 versions with a similar zoom range. I have used the 18-35mm AF-S inside a concert hall and I had no choice but to use a very high ISO, thus compromising the image quality.
The new 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S should make an excellent general-purpose outdoor zoom. In particular, for landscape photography from a tripod, at f8, f11 or so, it is fairly light to go hiking with and its zoom range should cover all of your wide-angle needs. It is also great for capturing building interior images from a tripod. For indoor, available-light, hand-held work, I would use a faster f2.8 or better yet, a fixed 24, 28, or 35mm f1.4 or f1.8 lens.
Tomales Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Nikon 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 Specifications
- 12 elements in 8 groups, with 2 ED elements and 3 aspherical elements
- Angle of View: 100° – 63° on FX, 76° – 44° on DX
- Aperture Diaphragm Blades: 7
- Maximum Aperture: f3.5-4.5, Minimum: f22-29
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 11 inches/28 cm from focal plane
- Filter size: 77mm
- Lens Hood: HB-66
- Dimensions: 3.3 inches (diameter) x 3.7 inches (length)/83mm x 95mm
- Weight 13.6 ounces/385 grams