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


Low-cost alternative to the 17-35mm AF-S.

Lighter a bit smaller than the 17-35mm. Still, this lens takes 77mm filters on the front, so it's not insubstantial.

Angle of view: 62-100 with 35mm, 44-76 with D1
Close focus: 1.25 feet (33cm)
Filter thread: 77mm

Weight: 13.1 ounces (370g)

   

The Basics

Introduced as a lower cost alternative to the Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D AF-S, this wide angle zoom raised a lot of eyebrows with its ED label and low price. Suddenly, everyone was asking "just how good is this lens? Do I really need the more expensive AF-S sibling?"

Photo: How wide can it go? Really, really wide. Here's the view from the curb directly beneath the Eiffel Tower (you'd need a 14mm lens to get the four "feet" in the picture). F100, Fujifilm Provia.

 

As I've noted elsewhere, I'm a big fan of wide angle lenses and used the 20-35mm f/2.8D for quite some time before moving on to the newer alternatives. The 18-35mm zoom intrigued me for two reasons: its lighter weight and closer focus. I don't really need fast apertures in my wide angle lenses, and the extra six degrees of view was a nice extra touch.

At first glance, the Nikkor 18-35mm looks to be a cousin to the old Sigma 18-35mm. But closer examination shows quite a few differences, including a smaller filter size, better build quality, and better optics.

This Nikkor has a variable maximum aperture that ranges from f/3.5 at 18mm to f/4.5 at 35mm (intermediary positions: f/3.8 at 20mm, f/4 at 24mm, f/4.4 at 28mm). The minimum aperture is a constant f/22. There is a click stop at f/4, but no mark. Focusing can be as close as 1.08 foot (.33m) at any zoom setting. An infrared focusing mark is provided, but only for the 18mm setting. The IF in the name indicates that it is an internal focus lens, meaning the front element does not move during zoom or focus. The D in the name means that focus distance is used in flash metering calculations by the camera. The ED indicates that one of the elements is made of Nikon's unique extra-low dispersion glass. As with all ED lenses, the lens focuses past infinity under normal temperature conditions.

The manual zoom and focus rings are separate, and easily distinguished. At the front of the lens, you'll be screwing in 77mm accessories (Nikon's larger standard, shared by several other large front-element lenses). If you have to know, there are 11 elements in 8 groups. One of those elements is a compound aspherical element. The lens formula is simpler than the 20-35mm I used to use, but that by itself doesn't mean anything.

The lens comes with the HB-23 hood, but you'll have to pony up extra cash for the optional soft lens pouch (CL-S2). Nikon claims that the lens can be used with the TC-201 or TC-14A teleconverters, but I doubt many will ever test that claim.

The size is slightly smaller in both dimensions than the 20-35mm or 17-35mm, but build quality is also less impressive, using a lighter barrel material and more plastic.

Handling

The focus and zoom rings are easily distinguished. The zoom ring has a decent feel, almost the equal of the professional lenses. The focus ring isn't quite as good, as it has the usual autofocus "looseness," but it is better than many recent lower-priced Nikkors. Both the focus and zoom go from one extreme to the other in slightly less than a quarter of a turn.

The aperture ring has a poor feel to it. With many Nikkors, it's easy to set apertures between click stops, but not with this lens. There's an awkwardness I haven't found on other Nikkors, though it does click into the full stops with certainty. For some reason, setting apertures going from f/22 to f/3.5 feels better than vice versa, and there's a clunky "clank" sound as you pass by each full stop. Of course, most modern Nikon bodies require you to lock the aperture at its minimum setting and control f/stops using the command dial, but for those of us who still use lenses on manual Nikon bodies, I'd call the aperture ring on this camera sub-par.

The front element is not recessed, as it is on some wide angles. With its big curved glass, it's easy to accidentally touch it or bump it against something, so be careful where you point the camera and practice "safe lens" by keeping the hood on. The rear element is recessed at most zoom settings, but it, too, sticks out when the lens is zoomed at 18mm. You might want to zoom in prior to removing the lens from the camera.

The butterfly-style lens hood bayonets onto the front piece, and is made of cheap, flexible, plastic. Getting the bayonet lined up is helped by a small white dot on both parts. Unfortunately, you won't see the dot on the lens unless you're behind the camera--if you try to put the bayonet on from the front, you can't see the alignment mark. On the plus side, you can leave the hood on and get the lens cap on and off if you have small fingers.

If you've got an N80, be aware that the lens cuts off the flash at anything wider than 28mm or closer than 3.3 feet (1m) (for the N70 crowd, that changes to 4.9 feet [1.5m]). Nikon does not recommend using the 18-35mm with the N65 or N60 due to excessive flash vignetting.

Other warnings to be aware of: don't use the PK1, PK-11, BR-4, or K1 rings with this lens (use a PK-11a or BR-6/BR-2A combo). You also shouldn't use this lens with the F3AF if you're using the DX-1 finder.

Performance

I was both impressed and disappointed with this lens. Impressed with the results stopped down and the reasonable amount of light falloff (not as visible as with the Sigma 18-35mm, for example). On the other hand, at wider apertures, the corners are visibly soft and the center is not quite as good as the Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8. Looking at the example picture of the Eiffel Tower taken at 18mm, above, there's fair to good sharpness pretty much right to the very corner--the trees in the lower right corner are sharper than they appear in the JPEG shown here. In the very corner of that shot, visible distortion adds a touch of softness, but this only occurs in the very corner on full frame bodies. Center sharpness is good to very good, depending upon aperture. While I wouldn't hold this lens up as one of Nikon's sharpest lenses, I also don't think it qualifies as one of the least sharp, either. On a digital SLR with a reduced frame of view, the lens shines, however. Since most of the deficiencies are corner related, a 1.5x angle of view crop does wonders for the performance ratings.

My disappointment lies in the fact that this 18-35mm is the least sharp of the Nikkor wide-angle zooms. Both the 17-35mm and 20-35mm f/2.8 zooms are visibly sharper; but of course, what did I expect considering the low price of the 18-35mm? I'd put this wide-angle zoom in about the same category as the 24-120mm: sharp enough if handled correctly, but soft enough with film bodies at the widest settings that you need to watch what you put in the corners.

Let me describe the sharpness a different way: if you're never going to blow up a photo beyond 8x10 inches, this lens is plenty sharp at virtually any aperture. If you make an occasional 11x14 or 14x20 inch print, you need to watch which apertures you use and what you put in the corners (don't put items with intricate detail at the edges, especially if you're using apertures of f/5.6 or wider). Wide open, light falloff is visible, but it is mostly gone by f/8 (the Eiffel was shot at f/5.6--you can still see falloff, even in the JPEG).

For those of you thinking about using this lens on the D1 series body or D100: good choice! The issues of light falloff and sharpness don't really come into play, since the D1 and D100 only use the central portion of the lens. Only at the widest aperture will you see any softness or falloff, and it's quite minimal. This is the wide angle lens of choice on a D1 or D100 unless you need a faster aperture (in which case the 17-35mm is a better choice).

Flare wasn't as much of a problem as I thought it would be, even pointed into the sun. But I did find several instances of very minor flare when direct light hits the front element--I couldn't see this problem in the viewfinder, but it was clearly evident on resulting slides. The supplied hood helps a bit, but in situations where there is a great deal of direct light, keep a close eye on what light is hitting the lens. The Sigma 14mm and 18-35mm lenses have higher flare levels, but if you really want to be as flare free as possible, you'll want to consider a fixed focal length Nikkor, like the 18mm AF (an underrated lens, by the way).

There's less barrel distortion than I expected at the widest focal length, but it's still there, well into the visible range. Stick a horizon towards the top or bottom of the frame and you'll get a slightly curved line. At the 35mm end, the barrel distortion is reduced to levels most won't notice (still there, though).

Contrast is good, though not as good as the 20-35mm f/2.8 I normally use. Contrast seems better than the Sigma 18-35mm I've used, though I don't have any apples-to-apples comparison slides to substantiate that feeling.

Overall, I was somewhat pleased with the lens. Considering the reasonable price, the performance is actually quite good. Even so, comparing shots with my 20-35mm f/2.8 with shots with this 18-35mm, in most cases I'd rather have the more expensive 20-35mm (duh!).

Drawbacks

  • Build. Not a professional build, especially the clunky aperture ring. Still, it's solid, and the focus and zoom rings are smooth, if not silky.
  • No depth of field scale.
  • Corner softness. Wide open you'll certainly see a moderate amount of softness in the corners at 18mm. As you stop down (or zoom in), the softness becomes acceptable and barely noticeable.

Positives

  • On a digital body it shines. Get rid of the corners and this lens does quite well. D1 and D100 owners will like this lens.
  • Value. Decent value for 35mm users, great value for digital users.
 
Quick Evaluation


Recommended
; for the price, a good wide angle zoom.

features
performance
build
value

Lens no longer produced

Table of Contents
User Comments

SR writes: Thank you very much for your extensive review of the AF Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5. I am seriously considering to swap my 20-30mm f/2.8 for this cheaper alternative. In this way I could buy also a new SB-29 macro flash. The 20-35mm is very very sharp in the center of the frame, but around 24mm it suffers color fringing in the corners. Even at f/8, I agree with Bjorn Rorslett's comments. Since I mostly use wide-angle zooms for landscape photography, I set the aperture at f/8 or f/11 most of the time. So I would like to hear from you how the two zooms compare at middle apertures. Also, I would like to hear your opinion about the color rendition of the 18-35mm. Surprisingly, the May 2001 issue of the Italian magazine Tutti Fotografi reported the MTF test of the 18-35mm. They found that this inexpensive zoom is better than the AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 from f/5.6 onwards. At wider apertures the professional zoom performs better. Moreover, the 17-35mm has a lower distortion level throughout the entire focal length range. According to that test, the 18-35 does not vignette, even at 18 mm.

Thom's reply: I never saw much, if any, color fringing on my 20-35mm. I've talked to other photographers who've had similar experience, while still others have seen significant fringing at the widest angles. As always, individual samples of lenses have some variation to them, and I suspect that photographic subject and technique also play a small part (I rarely use my 20-35mm without one or more filters, typically a polarizer and a gray grad, so I have to wonder whether or not this plays a part in the color fringing issue). Bjorn's comments on lenses are generally right on, though, again, individual lenses can be markedly different at the extremes, as it only takes a miniscule mounting or polishing error to influence edge results at extreme apertures. As for the MTF tests, remember that these are usually done on flat field subjects. Problems that show up there may not show up in real world use, and vice versa. Those of us who shoot nature and landscape photography tend to discount MTF tests in favor of actual use. My experience with the 18-35mm is that it visibly vignettes at f/3.5, and that problem is gone by f/5.6. At 35mm, my 18-35mm is a little sharper than my 20-35mm at most apertures, but less sharp than my 17-35mm in the corners. At 20mm, the 18-35mm is sharper than the 20-35mm and equal to the 17-35mm. At close focus distances, the 18-35mm is better than the 20-35mm, which is one of the reasons why I've switched. But if you're using any of these three lenses consistently at f/8 or f/11, I'd think you'd be hard-pressed to find significant differences between their performance. And the constant f/2.8 apertures of the 20-35mm and the 17-35mm are definitely useful for candid or indoor photography. Finally, if you're a D1 user, get the 18-35mm unless you absolutely need that extra 1mm of wideness or the f/2.8 aperture. Since you're only using the central portion of the lens to resolve images on a D1, virtually all of the 18-35mm's slight weaknesses are eliminated.

 


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