Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S Nikkor
Lab Test Results
May 13, 2013
by Andrew Alexander
The Nikon 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S was announced at the beginning of 2013. The lens is an update to a previous design released in 2000, which (as of this writing) has not been discontinued by Nikon.
The lens was designed to fit the Nikon FX (full-frame) digital sensor, and will also fit on DX (APS-C) camera bodies. On these bodies, the lens will provide an effective field of view of approximately 27-52mm. The lens isn't a ''constant'' lens, in that as you increase the focal length, both the maximum and minimum aperture sizes decrease. The following table reflects the change in aperture with focal length:
The Nikon 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S takes 77mm filters, ships with a petal-shaped lens hood and is available now for around $750.
The Nikon 18-35mm G is an exceptionally sharp lens, especially when mounted on a DX camera body where any corner problems are invisible by the smaller sensor. In this case the lens is essentially tack-sharp from corner to corner at any focal length and aperture setting wider than its diffraction limit of ƒ/16. The only exception to this would be at the longer focal length of 35mm, where the corners become very slightly soft at ƒ/11. Stopped down smaller than ƒ/16, we note some slightly generalized softness across the frame.
The full-frame, 36-megapixel sensor of the D800e reveals a bit more of the lens' true nature. The corners of the lens are significantly soft, especially when used wide open. Stopping down the lens helps to slightly alleviate this softness, but there is no combination of settings which provides tack-sharp results from corner to corner. The best results are obtained when the lens is stopped down once (for example, at 18mm, from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/4; at 24mm, from ƒ/4 to ƒ/5.6). Diffraction limiting is noticeable at ƒ/16, and images are distinctly soft when the lens is fully stopped-down.
The 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G does an excellent job at keeping chromatic aberration to a very low level. The numbers do show some presence of CA, but it does not appear obvious from the sample images.
Not surprisingly, the 18-35mm does not produce any significant corner shading when used on the sub-frame D7000. On the full-frame D800e, there is significant corner shading when the lens is set to 18mm and ƒ/3.5; the corners are a full stop darker than the center of the images. All other settings produce less than this. At the 18mm setting, there will always be some trace of corner shading, regardless of the aperture used; at every other focal length, stopping down to ƒ/5.6 or smaller removes any signficant trace of corner shading.
The 18-35mm is not as well-tuned in terms of distortion as other of Nikon's wide-angle zoom lenses. The lens produces a fair amount of barrel distortion at 18mm (+0.75% on the D7000, +1.1% on the D800e) and this distortion is reduced as the lens is zoomed in to 35mm. One would hope it reduced to zero distortion at 35mm, but unfortunately there is still some barrel distortion of note (+0.2% on the D7000, +0.4% on the D800e).
The 18-35mm uses AF-S focusing, and operation for the lens is virtually silent and very quick: the AF motor took right around a second to slew from closest focus to infinity. The AF-S specification also means you can override the AF motor at any time by just turning the focus ring, without having to switch the camera or lens to manual focus mode. The front element does not rotate during focus operations, making life that little bit easier for polarizer users.
You wouldn't necessarily reach for a wide-angle zoom lens to capture macro images, but the 18-35mm offers 0.2x magnification with a minimum close-focusing distance of 28cm (just under one foot).
Build Quality and Handling
The 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S is composed mostly of polycarbonate plastic, finished in Nikon’s mottled black matte finish. Thanks to the plastic construction it is very light and portable (385 grams, or just over 13 ounces). Then lens has a distance scale under a plastic window, marked in feet and meters, but there are no depth of field markings and neither is there an infrared index mark. Apart from the zoom and focus rings, there is just a single switch to enable or disable autofocus on the lens (marked M and M/A).
The zoom ring has deep rubber ribs and is about 1/2'' wide. The ring takes a ninety degree turn to go through its range of focal lengths, and requires only a slight amount (two fingers) of force to move it. There is a very slight amount of lens extension as the lens is zoomed in and out, but not enough to even approach a mounted filter. Zoom creep is not a factor with this lens.
The focusing ring is composed of rubber ribs of a slightly different texture than the zoom ring, and is just under an inch wide. The ring has soft stops at closest focus and at slightly past infinity, and takes roughly one hundred degrees to go through its focusing range.
The petal-shaped HB-66 lens hood has a smooth interior, attaches to the lens with a bayonet mount and can be reversed for storage. When attached, the hood adds 1 1/4 inches to the overall length of the lens.
Nikon 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5D ED-IF AF ~$570
The previous version of the 18-35mm fared very well on our D200 DX test body, however, we never had an opportunity to see the lens mounted on a full-frame body. That said, the newer version beats it hands down on DX bodies, presenting much sharper results and better resistance to corner shading and chromatic aberration.
Nikon 16-35mm ƒ/4G AF-S ~$1,100
For a few dollars more, you can buy the 16-35mm lens, which provides a slightly wider experience, a constant aperture and vibration reduction. Results are significantly sharper on full-frame, and about the same on sub-frame.
Nikon 17-35mm ƒ/2.8 ED-IF AF-S ~$1,500
We still haven't gotten around to testing the original Nikon wide-angle fast wide-angle zoom, but it's still a sworn-by lens for many photographers.
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S ~$1,500
The gold standard for Nikon ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses, if you prepared to spend almost $2,000 for a lens. The results in all categories more than justify the price.
Sigma 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 DC HSM "A" ~$?
We look forward to testing Sigma's fast wide-angle zoom lens, but it is worth noting that it is designed to fit a DX sensor only.
Our tests show a decent lens in the Nikon 18-35mm ƒ/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S, certainly a worthy upgrade from the existing (year 2000) version of the lens. Its buying competition would be the Nikon 16-35mm, which offers image stabilization, a constant aperture and a wider angle, for not a whole lot more money: a cynical writer might suggest the 18-35mm is intended for consumers who want a smaller, lighter, cheaper and less capable version of the 16-35mm.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we 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 launch in separate windows.
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S Nikkor
Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S Nikkor User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Gatorowl (5 reviews)Excellent center sharpness throughout FL range, very good corners, lightweight, takes filters, good flare resistance, competes well against more expensive optionsdistortion at 18-20mm, no VR
I had to throw a 10 in here to balance out the relatively low ratings. Some earlier ratings gave this lens effusive praise with little criticism and left 8s! Compared other lenses ranked here, this one should be above 9.5.reviewed January 18th, 2015 (purchased for $750)
I'll keep my review short by listing the flaws first: noticeable distortion at the wide end (but better than the 16-35 VR), and soft corners at the long end. The lens is very sharp in the center and only the 14-24mm has (barely) better corner sharpness at overlapping FLs.
If you shoot Nikon FX and you don't need VR or the build quality, there is little reason to buy the 16-35mm over this lens.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Prime Minister (43 reviews)Compact, lightweight, nice handling, sharpness, contrast, silent autofocusCould be a little sharper at 35mm
I tried this lens as a replacement for my Nikon AF 24mm f/2.8 D and I was pleasantly surprised. It's sharper and it has better contrast than the 24mm. It's also very lightweight and compact for a full frame wide angle zoom. I like how this lens handles/feels on a Nikon camera body. Ergonomics are great.reviewed June 13th, 2014
Sharpness, color, and contrast are very good. This lens renders like my other AF-S lenses (28mm f/1.8, 35mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8). When you look in the corners at 100% magnification on your high resolution screen, you'll find some softness, but in real use this is hardly noticeable. Only real pixel peepers worry about this. Stopped down to f/5.6 this lens really shines. CA is very low and the lens doesn't flare easily. Optically it beats most (if not all) older lenses like the AF20mm, AF24mm, AF-S17-35mm and the AF20-35mm. It's also more comfortable to carry than the older behemoth zooms.
Autofocus is reasonably fast, silent and very accurate. Zooming is smooth and easy and the focal lengths are well spaced on the zooming ring. I don't know if it's the low weight or the design (probably both), but this lens just feels right on my D610 and D800.
Some people say that the Nikon 16-35mm VR is a better lens, but I don't believe that to be true. Not only is it significantly more expensive, it's also noticeably bigger and heavier. It does have VR but it's just a very different kind of lens. I seriously doubt there's a real life difference in image quality.
If you've got the money and if you don't mind the extra weight and bulk and if you got shaky hands, get the 16-35mm. For everybody else this 18-35mm really is perfectly fine. Just get one if you're looking for a wide angle for your full frame Nikon. You will not regret it.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by ho72 (2 reviews)Lightweight, quite acceptably sharpNone that matter for my purposes
My experience with this lens has been limited to a couple of outings and one brick wall shoot; thus far I am satisfied. I've read differing opinions on this lens, some backed up by data, that make me wonder about sample variation. All I can say is that I've got a good copy.reviewed July 23rd, 2013
On the D700, there's a little vignetting on the 16mm end wide open which is much less noticeable by f5.6 if not before. Sharpness is a bit diminished on the long end but still very good across the frame at f8. CAs are essentially a non issue and the distortion is handled well by software. I've read complaints about the bokeh, but who buys a wide for bokeh? I know it's not built as well as the Nikkor pro lenses, but I don't tend to abuse my gear.
If money were no object, I'd have bought the 17-35. But money is always an object and I'm glad this Nikon was available at a price point I could afford. Given its performance, I'd say it punches above its weight.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by kgp (1 reviews)Sharp, Lightweight, Compact, Cheap.18mm distortions
I was recently upgrade from D5000 to D600 and as my favorite focal lengths is on the wide side, i do a lot of searching and thinking about my pick on wide zoom lens. 16-35mm f/4 & 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G was my "finalists" and i ended with 18-35 in my bag. The main reason was that this lens is noticable lighter & compact (not to mention chaper!) compared to 16-35 and IMHO is more suitable to D600 as a combo. In terms of optical performance, im not the guy whos pp at 200x magification, im just very pleased with the results @ f/5.6 - f/8 & suprised (in a possitive way) with the results wide open. I think that 16-35 do have more "contrast" (maybe the coatings?), i mean colors pop-up a little more and there is a kind of more clarity-ness, but not so much to justify the price difference... again IMHO, 16-35 is a no brainer if someone is a perfectionist, wants +2mm on the wide & VR, 18-35 is the value for money king, a lot of performance with less money.reviewed July 12th, 2013
9 out of 10 points and recommended by pixnat (4 reviews)Sharp, light, good flare and CA control35mm could be better, distortion
This is a very nice lens that does its job very well!reviewed May 27th, 2013 (purchased for $750)
In the 18-28mm range it's very sharp across the frame on the D600. It's well built, super light, AF is fast and accurate, so it's a pleasure to shoot with. Flare is well controlled and CA is minimal.
On the downside, at 35mm, corners aren't that sharp even stopped down, but it's nitpicking, because pictures are more than useable.
A great UWA zoom for landscapers, travellers and hickers!
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Leiduowen (2 reviews)lighweight, cheap, solid optical qualityvariable aperture, no aperture setting (G-lens)
I'm an enthusiast photographer. I've used this lens on a F80s body and run it through several rolls of film (mostly Fuji X-tra 400 and Kodak Ektar 100) so far. It is all plastic yet feels quite reassuring in my hands. The results are comparable to the AF-S Nikkor 12-24/4 DX (a much more solid lens) that I used on my D300s before and much sharper in corners than the Tokina 20-35/3.5-4.5 (also a much more solid lens) I have used. (I would be able to do a pixel-for-pixel comparison except that I don't shoot a digital SLR any more.) Of course, this is not the behemoth Nikkor 14-24/2.8 nor does it pretends to be. Also, the results will vary with different camera bodies, esp. the digital. In terms of overall sharpness, I have no complaints, esp. when I shoot the lens stopped down a little to f/5.6 or f/8. Knowing the shortcoming of your lens you can get around them to produce stunning photos. By the way, this sentence from Andy's review on SLRGear.com raised me from the chair: "For a few dollars more, you can buy the 16-35mm lens." Are you nuts or what? These two lenses are more than US$500 apart! Moreover, the 16-35mm is a beast almost twice as heavy. Obviously, this 18-35mm was intended as a travel lens, which perfectly fits the bill for me, esp. on a lightweight body like the F80s (the 2nd lightest full-frame Nikon body, and among the cheapest, by the way). I am quite happy with this purchase, and would recommend it to a friend!reviewed May 23rd, 2013 (purchased for $715)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by tomasm (1 reviews)sharp, contrast, size, weight, look, pricenot weather sealed, distortion at 18mm, not as wide as some alternatives...but for that price all cons are pretty acceptable
I was previously using Tamron 17-35 attached to my D700. After about a year of Tamron experience and comparing nowadays to this lens...its a nonsense to compare it.reviewed May 17th, 2013 (purchased for $750)
The vignetting is well controlled, the sharpness and contrast are outstanding. Thinking of an image stabilization, its nice addition but not that needed for the lens that wide and especially when you are used to capture landscapes using tripod. AF operation is faultless and accurate.
When comparing to Nikon 16-35 owned by my friend, its hard to find any difference in IQ, but it is lighter, smaller and needless to say it is fairly cheaper.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by breivog (1 reviews)Light, sharp. good autofocus, smooth zoom and focus rings.no VR, Variable f-stop, not weather sealed, significant distortion at 18mm, not a wide as some alternatives.
I have compared this lens to the 17-35 2.8 and the 16-35 f4 VR myself on a D800. IMHO, this new lens is better than either (at the same focal lengths) - and much cheaper and lighter. At f8, all of these are fairly similar, but at f4, the 18-35 has considerable sharper corners than the 16-35, and a bit sharper than the 17-35.reviewed April 13th, 2013 (purchased for $750)
Used it as a primary lens on a trip to Death valley. Results were very good. Quite a bit better than the 24-85G at 24mm.
This lens is weakest at 35mm, but still pretty good.
For hiking, it is and ideal wide angle when weight and size area consideration.