Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF Nikkor

 
Lens Reviews / Nikon Lenses i Lab tested

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion

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Buy the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF Nikkor
18-35mm $400
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image of Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF Nikkor

(From Nikon lens literature) ED glass element reduces chromatic aberrations providing superior optical performance - even at maximum aperture. Focus distance of 1 foot to infinity is ideal for landscape, snapshot, candid, environmental, close-up and full length portrait photography. Internal Focusing (IF) design for smooth and fast autofocus.

Test Notes
In the film days, a 18-35mm lens counted as a super wide angle zoom. With the 1.5x crop factor of Nikon's "DX" sensor format, the equivalent 27-52.5mm range only amounts to a range from moderately wide to normal focal length. Still, a zoom lens like the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF likely offers better optical performance and build quality than the wide end of typical "kit" lenses or longer-ratio zooms would. Let's take a look at the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 and see how it does...

Sharpness
This lens shows very good sharpness across its full focal length range. The corners of the frame are a little soft when shooting wide open, but the amount of softening isn't extreme, and a large area in the center of the frame is very sharp. Stopping down just a half-stop makes a dramatic improvement in corner sharpness, and performance at f/5.6 is very good across the board. (Just-perceptible softening in the extreme corners at 24 & 28mm.) The lens exhibits a very broad sweet spot of excellent sharpness over an aperture range from f/5.6 to f/11. Diffraction limiting began to be a factor on our D200 test body at f/16, and the entire frame is uniformly slightly soft at f/22. Very good performance overall.

Chromatic Aberration
CA in this lens ranges from moderately high to quite low, depending on the focal length, and also on the aperture setting at its shortest focal lengths. At 18mm, both maximum and average CA are fairly high when the aperture is wide open, but decrease somewhat as you stop down. CA at wide angle extends a fair ways into the frame, reflected in the CA graph by the fact that the line showing average CA is closer to that for maximum CA than is usually the case. CA decreases fairly rapidly as you zoom to longer focal lengths, reaching a minimum in the vicinity of 28mm. At 35mm, the maximum CA increases, but the average level stays fairly low, indicating that most of the CA at 35mm appears in the corners and edges of the frame. Overall CA performance is pretty good for a wide-angle zoom.

Shading ("Vignetting")
The Nikon 18-35mm's shading performance was a little unusual, in that it varied only a little with aperture, and hardly at all with focal length. This is good in that it never gets as bad as we've seen with some wide-angle zooms (the maximum is 0.6 EV at 18mm and f/3.5), but it never gets really low either: It's generally a bit higher at 18mm, but varies between 1/4 and 1/3 EV across the full operating range of the lens. Shading of 1/4 EV certainly isn't bad for a wide angle zoom, and is fairly easy to compensate for in Photoshop (particularly CS3), but it's odd to see so little variation from short to long focal lengths, or across the aperture range.

Distortion
The distortion characteristics of this lens are also a bit different from those of most of the lenses we test. In most zoom lenses, we see barrel distortion at the wide end, changing to pincushion at longer focal lengths. In the Nikon 18-35mm though, distortion is always barrel, starting at a moderately high level at 18mm and then decreasing pretty smoothly as you zoom longer. Maximum distortion is 0.93% barrel at 18mm, dropping to 0.22% at 35mm.

AF Operation
While it uses the old-style "screwdriver" mechanical AF coupling to the camera body's AF motor, the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 focused quite quickly, taking well under a second to go from infinity to closest focus on our D200 test body. (We don't have any way of timing this precisely, but I'd estimate worst-case focus time at about a half-second.) It's an internal-focusing (IF) design, so the front element doesn't move when focusing, making it well-suited to use with polarizers and graduated neutral density filters.

Manual focusing was also very smooth and easy, with a small but reasonable amount of rotation needed to shift focus from near to far. - This made it pretty easy to focus manually, unlike some modern AF lenses that try to speed AF operation by reducing the amount of motion required to cover the focal range. This helps with AF speed, but makes some lenses very difficult to focus manually. The Nikon 18-35mm happily manages fast AF and relatively easy manual focusing.

Macro
You generally won't look to a wide angle lens for macro shooting, and the Nikon 18-35mm is no exception. At closest focus on our D200 body, the lens captures an area 5.8 inches (148mm) wide.

Build Quality and Handling
As you'd hope for from a ~$500 lens, build quality on the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 is very good to excellent. Both zoom and focus rings worked smoothly and easily, with no binding, and no noticeable play between the components. Its modest f/3.5-4.5 maximum aperture contributes to its compact size and light weight; it balanced beautifully on our various Nikon bodies, yet felt very solid in the hand. As mentioned above, while the focus ring requires relatively little rotation to go from infinity to closest focus, provides enough travel that we had no difficulty focusing manually. All in all, a very well-built, nice-operating wide zoom.

The Competition
As we noted at the outset, this lens was a super-wide zoom in the film days, but now only covers a range of focal lengths from moderately wide to normal. It competes with the wide end of Nikon's kit lenses, the wide end of some of the super-zooms (the 18-200 or 18-250 optics), and with some third-party wide zooms. We'll take a look here at some of the more obvious competitors that overlap its focal length range. (There are a lot of lenses that overlap this range, we'll restrict our comments below to only those we've tested as of this posting in mid-July 2007, and will furthermore try keep our comments brief.)

Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX (~$130 street)
This is the inexpensive "kit" lens that accompanies Nikon's entry-level DSLRs. Surprisingly, it beats the 18-35mm on center sharpness, but its corners are less well-behaved. It has considerably more vignetting at its 18mm focal length, but less as you zoom longer. It also has less CA at 18mm, but more at 35mm. Something of a toss-up, but build quality is much higher in the 18-35mm.

Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED-IF AF-S DX (~~$300 street)
This is the somewhat higher-end "kit" lens originally sold with the D70, and also found in some kit configurations with the D80. The 18-35mm wins the sharpness race, but the 18-70 easily outclasses its CA performance. The 18-35mm's vignetting is considerably lower at 18mm, but the 18-70mm wins as you zoom longer. Distortion levels are fairly similar. Again, not a clear winner, either way.

Nikon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX (~$300 street)
This is the somewhat higher-end "kit" lens introduced and frequently bundled with the D80. It does a surprisingly good job in terms of sharpness, beating the 18-35's center performance across their shared focal length range, although the corners of the 18-35mm flatten out more quickly as you stop down. Chromatic aberration is a weak point of the 18-135 though, and the 18-35mm beats it pretty consistently there (although not at wide apertures and 18mm). The 18-135mm also loses big time in vignetting, particularly at large aperture settings. Its distortion is also much higher. Overall, it's clear that the 18-35mm would be a better choice for wide-angle photography.

Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S DX (~$1,300 street)
The Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX is an exceptional wide zoom lens, but its large, constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 means its both much larger and much more expensive than the 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5. This gorgeous lens beats the 18-35 fairly handily on sharpness at the wide end, but it's more of a toss-up in the vicinity of 35mm. Maximum CA is close at 17/18mm, but the 18-35mm wins at the longer end of its range. Distortion on the 17-55 shifts from almost 1% barrel at 17mm to about 0.3% pincushion at 28mm, you'll have to decide whether you its distortion behavior to that of the 18-35mm. Vignetting in the two lenses is close at 17/18mm, but the 17-55 is better than the 18-35mm at longer focal lengths.

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR (~$820 street)
This is a higher-priced "vacation lens" from Nikon, the idea being you can just slap one lens on your camera and handle pretty much any subject while on a trip. Since wide angle can be critical for landscape, architecture and interior shots, you might wonder how the 18-35 compares to the wide end of the 18-200 VR. Perhaps a big of an odd comparison, it's easy to see why a dedicated, shorter-range zoom might be preferable to a long-ratio vacation lens for some applications: The 18-35mm handily beats the 18-200mm VR in just about every parameter, over the focal length range they share. The 18-200mm's corner sharpness is much worse, its CA at 24 and 35mm is higher, its distortion levels are generally higher (shifting from over 1% barrel at 18mm to almost 0.7% pincushion at 35mm, and its vignetting at 18mm is considerably worse. (Its vignetting does beat that of the 18-35mm at 24 and 35mm though. Bottom line, if you expect to do a lot of shooting in the 18-35mm range, the 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 is worth having, rather than relying on the wide end of the 18-200mm VR optic.

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 DC Macro (~$370 street)
The Sigma 18-70mm f/2.8-4.5 DC is a sub-frame lens with a wider maximum aperture and a longer zoom range than the Nikon 18-35. It has excellent sharpness and makes a good alternative to inexpensive kit lenses. It beats the 18-35mm handily in the sharpness race, and edges it out in CA performance as well. its vignetting is also better across the board, when shooting at the same aperture settings as are available in the 18-35mm. Distortion is a toss-up between the two, the Sigma switching to slight pincushion at longer focal lengths.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II LD Aspherical IF SP AF (~$430 street)
Here's a real gem of a little lens from Tamron that goes just slightly wider, a bit longer, and with a wider (constant) aperture than the Nikon 18-35mm. This lens turned in really excellent results in our testing, and has been hugely popular with our readers. It's as sharp or sharper than the Nikon over their shared focal length range when shot wide open, and does considerably better when stopped down to match the Nikon's aperture range. It also beats the Nikkor by a nose on both chromatic aberration and shading. Distortion is mostly lower than that of the Nikkor, but has a more typical behavior, with barrel distortion at wide angle switching to pincushion at longer focal length. The Nikon's distortion is higher at the short end, lower at its long end. Call it a tossup. We have to reach back into the past to make a build quality comparison between the two (we don't have a sample of the Tamron here at the moment), but if memory serves it's a pretty close race, with the Nikon perhaps winning by a hair.) Bottom line, the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II is a tough competitor that delivers excellent optical performance with a wide (and constant) maximum aperture, a longer zoom range, and a slightly lower selling price than the Nikon.


Conclusion
The Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 is a good-performing, well-built, smoothly-operating wide-to-normal zoom lens. If you frequently find yourself shooting within its focal length range, it would be a good step up from typical kit lenses. On the other hand though, the remarkable Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II gives more performance in just about every parameter at a price that's comparable or lower, and the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 DC Macro gives it a run for its money as well. If you want to stay within the Nikon product line, the 18-35mm is a great lens. If you don't mind going the third-party route, the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 or Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 are both attractive alternatives.



Sample Photos!
It's occurred to us that readers might find images shot with the lenses we test helpful in their evaluation process. We're thus happy to begin providing (starting with this lens) sample photos of two laboratory test targets. The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We'll shoot both images using the cameras respective default JPEG settings and manual white balance, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we'll shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame lenses, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and f/8. For the "VFA" target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we'll also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots will launch as separate windows.

To see the sample shots from this lens captured with this lens on our D200 test body, just click on either of the thumbnails below, and scroll as needed in the window that will appear.


Still Life shot


VFA target

Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF Nikkor

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Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF Nikkor User Reviews

8.4/10 average of 7 reviews Build Quality 7.6/10 Image Quality 8.3/10
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (4 reviews)

    There is much to like about this lens. First, it works on both full frame and digital SLRs. If 18mm is not wide enough, I just put it on my film Nikon. Stopped down a couple stops it is great. Using it wide open at high ISOs, it is not sharp. This is only a problem inside in low light. The optical aberrations are easily corrected in PTLens. It is much better in this regard, than I was lead to believe.

    reviewed April 14th, 2007 (purchased for $500)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (16 reviews)
    Compact, lightweight, good AF
    stop it down a little for optimum IQ

    It is a very versatile lense, ok build, and quite fast AF, at least on D1 class body. The Image Quality is really good for such an inexpensive wide angle zoom. But i do deserve to be stopped down a little.

    reviewed January 11th, 2007
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (15 reviews)
    very sharp stopped down, small, light, inexpensive
    soft in the corner on film SLR unless stopped down, ugly barrel distortion

    This lens is the 17-35/2.8 for the fiscally challenged. I used this lens on film SLR only, so my findings may not apply to DSLRs.

    The lens is compact and light. Build quality is fair. The barrel extends while zooming. It has in IF design, so nothing outside moves while focusing.

    You have to close the aperture about two stops to get sharp corners, but that is acceptable to an ultra wide zoom. At 18mm it has an ugly barrel distortion with a wavy signature. Vertical lines directly at the left or right border are still straight, but as your line moves a bit off the border, it gets heavily distorted. This is no lens for shooting architecture.

    Nature photography is where this lens really shines. Contrast and color rendition are excellent (ED glass, yeah!). Flare resistance is ok.

    reviewed January 11th, 2007
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (8 reviews)
    Perfect wide on film camera, solid, sharp
    Noisy, need to be stopped down to have max sharpeness.

    I tested this and the 18-55 DX on an unfair trial on my d50.

    The nikkor 18-35 stopped to f8 at 18mm is really impressive, it's sharper than nikon 18-55 except on the left side.

    At 35mm the nikkor 18-55 wins obviously but at its max value (@55mm) it looses with the 18-35@35mm (i know different max value but i tested to check quality at max lenght).

    I'm using this lens on my N80 film camera to capture nice landscape shoots (so it's always stoppet to about f8 or more).

    Colors for the 18-55 are a bit greenish, while 18-35 is much faithful.

    reviewed December 26th, 2006 (purchased for $300)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (8 reviews)
    Inexpensive, great optics, 18mm FF
    You cannot use this lens at 18mm with too many filters

    IF, ED ... only thing lacking is that its not a constant f/2.8. Focusing is fast on this lens, mainly because its a wide angle. The centre of the lens is very sharp, but very slightly softens towards the far corners (then again, how many lenses dont?). Distortion is acceptable to me (for the len's angle).

    On my last overseas trip this was the only lens that i seriously used. Of the whole trip, it stayed on my camera almost 95% of the time and only once did I change my lens to the my other 70-300mm lens for a couple of shots.
    The built of the lens isnt the best I have handled, again, it isnt the most expensive I have used either. The rubberized zoom ring is the one closer to the body, and is great to use, though slightly loose for my taste it is not a problem, just a matter of taste. Th zoom ring on the other hand, is slightly thinner (ok) but is even looser the the zoom ring, which can mean accidentally moving it when/if you fiddle with front filters. That said, I rarely use the manual focus anyway.

    Flare is a problem with this lens. and the hood doesnt help much, if at all. I believe that when Nikon made the same hood useable on the 17-35, they just wanted keep the cost down. Never the less the hood does come in to play by reducing the chances of having things bang against the front element. You will have to remove the hood though if you want to mount filters or even use the polariser as my fingers were unable to effectively turn the polarizer ring.

    Generally a very good lens, and one to buy unless you have money for the 17-35mm.

    reviewed December 26th, 2006
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (5 reviews)
    excellent color rendition, internal focusing, very light
    build quality different from PRO lenses

    This is the first lens that i got when i bought my first dslr. This is a very good performer especially for outdoor photography. Internal focusing allows you to use filters without worrying that the front of the lens would rotate while focusing. The lens comes with a lens hood that is very useful when using outdoors or shooting adjacent to a light source especially with a huge 77mm diameter up front.

    You may need to use all the support you need when shooting in low light because of the max apperture of this lens.

    Image quality is sharp. Autofocus is fast although the focus ring is not as smooth as manual focus nikkors of old.

    Build quality is better than the kit lenses that comes with newer dslrs but not pro quality.

    At this price, it is a good substitute for the more expensive 17-35 f/2.8. A very good first wide angle zoom.

    reviewed November 25th, 2006 (purchased for $400)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (2 reviews)
    Superb performance for the price, light
    Medium autofocus speed, hood does little

    This lens produces superb, ultra-sharp images with good contrast range and good geometry. For this performance, the price makes it a bargain.

    I've used one for five years without any problems, shooting landscapes and interiors on film. The combination of wideangle and good geometry shows up on interior shots. You can shoot flattering images that make rooms look larger than reality

    It takes a 77mm threaded filter, and the business end does not rotate when zooming or focusing. It can share filters with the F/2.8 zooms.

    The limited aperture gives an average viewfinder brightness so manual focus ease is average, as is low-light autofocus.

    Build quality is good but not excellent. The manual focus ring is a bit too free turning and a bit too quick acting, but this is the norm for autofocus lenses. Because the maximum aperture varies widely over the zoom range, this lens really needs a TTL metering body. You have to keep your fingers off of the focus ring when the autofocus drive is engaged on the camera body.

    Flare susceptibility is about normal for a wideangle lens. The hood is pretty much useless except at the wide end because of the large change in field of view across this zoom range. You need to look for flare in the viewfinder, and sometimes need a helper with a sunshade

    I like this lens a lot. It produces remarkable images and has worked hard for me.

    This little brother to the 17-35 F/2.8 AFS works so well that I feel little urge to "trade-up"

    reviewed October 28th, 2005