Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S Lens Review
Fast Wide-Angle Lenses
Within the year 2010, Nikon added three very fast f1.4 AF-S lenses into its lineup: 24mm, 35mm, and 85mm. While two of them are fine wide angle lenses, they all cost $1600 and up. Therefore, I am glad to see that Nikon is adding an “affordable” 28mm/f1.8 AF-S this year (2012), following another affordable 85mm/f1.8 AF-S. While it is only an f1.8 and therefore about 2/3 of a stop slower than those f1.4 lenses, it is still plenty fast for low-light photography. Meanwhile, the two new f1.8 lenses cost $500 to $700, respectively; they are far more affordable.
A Fast 28mm/f1.8 Lens
On the full 35mm-film frame (Nikon FX), a 28mm lens is a moderate wide angle. It is great for landscape, architecture, as well as indoors. Since this lens is a fast f1.8, it is also versatile indoors for hand-held, available-light photography. However, for group images, 28mm tends to be too wide, and people on the two sides may look distorted and fat.
On Nikon DX (APS-C format), 28mm is a slight wide-angle to standard lens. Personally, I am less interested in the angle-of-view a 28mm lens products on DX.
Compared to other classic Nikon wide angles lenses such as the 24mm/f2.8 AF-D and 35mm/f1.4 AI-S as well as other recent f1.8 AF-S lenses such as the 50mm and 85mm, this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S is bigger and longer. However, despite its size, it is a very light lens.
Similar to several other recent Nikon f1.8 AF-S lenses, such as the 35mm DX, 50mm, and 85mm, this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S has a plastic barrel with a metal lens mount. On the rear end, there is a rubber gasket around the mount to seal out moisture; that is now a standard feature on Nikon G lenses (no aperture ring). While its construction is not among Nikon’s best, I think it is still good. The lens is on the light side for its size, thus giving some people the impression that it is not well built. In my judgment, that is not a concern.
My one reservation about the new 28mm/f1.8 is that its manual focus ring is extremely loose, not giving you much resistance for a manual focus feel. I have checked two different samples of this lens and both have a very loose focus ring, and other owners of this new lens have the same observation. For me, since I mainly use auto focus, it is not at all an issue, but for those who prefer manual focus, they may not like this feature.
This lens features two aspherical elements but no ED element. It has Nikon’s nano crystal costing.
I have used the 28mm/f1.8 AF-S on four different Nikon DSLRs; three are FX: D700, D800, and D800E and one DX: D7000. All sharpness and chromatic aberration evaluation is on the 36MP D800 and D800E, which are very demanding on lenses and can reveal even slight optical issues.
Mounted on the 36MP D800 and D800E, this lens is quite sharp wide open in the center of the frame, but of course depth of field is shallow at f1.8. Corner sharpness becomes excellent when you stop down to f4. f4 and f5.6 probably yield the best optical results. If you stop further down, diffraction will begin to affect sharpness around f8 and becomes noticeable from f11 and on.
Similar to other fixed-focal-length lenses, the new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S only shows a tiny amount of barrel distortion at 28mm. It is such a minor issue that I have no concern about it at all, but, for example, you are capturing architecture images, indoor or outdoor, or landscape with the horizon near the edge of the frame so that you need to eliminate that tiny bit of barrel distortion, it should be easily correctable in post processing.
The amount of chromatic aberration is negligible. With subjects under direct sun light, you can see a hint of color fringing at those dark-to-light transitions.
Similar to other fast f1.4, f1.8 Nikon lenses, vignetting is quite serious wide open at f1.8, and it is about the same at f2. By f2.8, vignetting is still noticeable but effectively all disappears by f4. That type of performance is very typical for most modern Nikon lenses.
When the Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S was first introduced, there was a lot of discussion about focus shift on some internet forums; that is, the focus point would move as the aperture changes. Focus shift can potentially be a serious problem as we typically focus (manually or auto focus) with the lens wide open but stop down to capture the actual image; if the focus changes in the mean, it can lead to out-of-focus images.
After reading those forum discussions, I tested my lens sample under several settings on two separate camera bodies, and I found no focus shift at all.
On the D700 and D800, auto focus is accurate. But similar to other recent f1.4 and f1.8 AF-S lenses, Nikon’s emphasis is apparently AF accuracy rather than speed due to the shallow depth of field. Therefore, while AF speed is decent on this new lens, do not expect “lightning fast” AF.
While this is not a macro lens by design, this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S can focus down to 0.25 meter; that is less than a foot. Image quality is still very good from a close distance.
Optically, this new Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S is excellent in every way with very good center sharpness wide open and excellent corner performance by f4. By f5.6 to f8, it can produce wonderful landscape images with corner-to-corner sharpness. However, if you use it on a 36MP D800, diffraction will begin to affect sharpness at f11 and perhaps even at f8. As a fast f1.8 lens, this lens is also handy under low-light, hand-held conditions. In other words, this lens is excellent for landscape, architecture, and indoor hand-held, available-light photography.
Lens construction is adequate but not distinguished. This lens is light in weight and the very loose manual-focus ring may give people the impression that it is not well built. While I feel that this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S is well built enough, it is definitely not in the same league as those recent 24mm/f1.4 AF-S, 85mm/f1.4 AF-S, etc. At just below $700, I find this new lens to be an excellent alternative to those very expensive $1500 to $2000 f1.4 wide angles.
You can find additional images of the new Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S lens as well as images captured with this lens on my Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S folder
Where to Buy
Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S Specifications
|Maximum Aperture||f1.8, of course|
|Angle of View for FX||75°|
|Angle of View for DX||52°|
|Lens Elements/Groups||11/9, including 2 aspherical but no ED element, nano coating|
|Closest Focus Distance||0.85 feet/0.25 meter|
|Lens Hood (included)||HB-64|
|Dimensions diameter x length||2.9×3.2in, 73×80.5mm|