Long-term User Review: AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G ED

Dongdaemun Design Plaza 8Dongdaemun Design Plaza: The Most Photographed Stairs Outside
D610, 28mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO 100

To state the obvious, a long-term user review is a late one. There are already abundant reviews of this lens with detailed graphs, charts, numbers and test shots. I agree that these testing methods fulfill a necessary and much-appreciated function, but solely relying on them is too-narrow minded. We use lenses to capture all kinds of three-dimensional subjects in a multitude of environments at different distances under myriad lighting conditions. Not just in a laboratory of limited size with mundane lighting. There are also questions about rendering aesthetics, which are characteristics that cannot be scientifically measured. When searching for lens reviews, I always find myself looking for end-user-experience articles to supplement those laboratory results.

Hence I figured I should do one of my own. 🙂

As already suggested, this is not a comprehensive scientific review. You have to look elsewhere for detailed graphs and numbers. However I will describe my own usage experiences and supplement the article with some final images that are hopefully more exciting than charts, walls, fences, trees, and bushes. 😉

I bought the AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G ED (abbreviated 28G for the rest of this article) at the end of 2013, so I have been using it for more than 2 years prior to this review. About 11 months ago, I acquired the AF-S Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED (abbreviated 18-35G for the rest of this article). Ever since then, the advantage of the 18-35G’s flexible focal range caused the 28G to remain dormant in either the dry-box or camera bag most of the time. The 28G was getting such limited use in the face of the 18-35G’s flexibility that I was thinking of selling the 28G near the end of 2015.

After a 2-month period of evaluation, I decided I’m keeping the 28G. 🙂

Physical Handling

Like all of Nikon’s f/1.8 G prime lenses, the 28G is small and light for its performance. The built materials may not feel inspiring to the touch and it is not fully professionally weather-sealed except at the mount. However I have dropped mine on concrete ground from higher-than-knee level and it still worked fine, so it is good enough for most normal day-to-day rubs and knocks (Obviously I sincerely dissuade anyone from testing this!). Like most of the 1.8G Nikkor prime lenses, it is built for auto-focus so don’t expect manual focus nirvana while using the focus ring. Weighing 330g with an inconspicuous physical profile, it is extremely convenient to stick it on a camera and bring it anywhere. Indeed this portability is a distinctive advantage for ease of moving around. I would hesitate at maneuvering with the already-quite-small 18-35G in tight places, but I have no reservations going into crowds with the 28G at all:

Enthusiastic Stall In BazaarCrowded stall in night bazaar
Nikon D610, 28mm, f/4, 1/125, ISO 640

Usage

28mm is a “cinematic” focal length. Wide enough to give the viewer a cinematic view, yet not wide enough that the foreground gets over-emphasized. The best way to describe it is: just wide enough that should it get any wider, I have to start paying attention to perspective distortion of the entire scene and geometric distortion at the borders.

As 28mm sits between the more popular 24mm and 35mm focal lengths, some consider it to be a viable substitute to carrying both the 24mm and 35mm if the photographer simply moves closer or further to the subject. Although it will never be a “true” 24mm or 35mm, it can certainly somewhat fulfill the functions of both with some creativity. For example, here are some images that one would usually associate with a wider focal length like a 24mm.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza 2Dongdaemun Design Plaza 1
Nikon D610, 28mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO 100

Singapore Indoor Stadium 2Singapore Indoor Stadium 2
Nikon D610, 28mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO 100

And here are some street-photography style wide images that one would normally associate with something closer to a 35mm. An advantage of the 28mm is that it is wide enough that subjects may not discern that they are actually the subject of your photograph. There is some room for creative cropping if necessary, and you get more depth of field in crowded conditions when the distance between you and the subject is reduced.

Streets of Myeong-dong: Discovery!Streets of Myeong-dong: Discovery!
Nikon D610. 28mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 1600

Couple Corner Romance In Chinatown CrowdCorner Romance In Chinatown Night
Nikon D610. 28mm, f/1.8, 1/125, ISO 2000

Image Quality

Chromatic Aberration is well-controlled and rarely a problem. Actually I do not remember a single instance where CA becomes a significant problem. Where it does occur, it is always easily correctable in post-processing. Geometric distortion is not noticeable in real-world use, and any hint of it should be easily corrected by Nikon NX-D’s or Adobe’s lens profile tools.

This lens has some field curvature, which could be either tricky or an advantage to certain photographic subjects such as landscapes. Chart-shooting tests from multiple sites agree that center performance never achieves the astronomical values that a few of its brethren do, but sharpness is more evenly distributed across the entire frame. In real-world-use, the lens exhibits very good resolution. To be honest I am more interested in blurring aesthetics whenever I pick an aperture between f/1.8 – f/2.8 (see f/1.8 example above), so resolution and corner performance at large apertures have never been important enough for me to scrutinize it. I can say that I have never been disappointed with the len’s resolution performance at whatever aperture I have selected for the aesthetics of the scene I wanted to render. The lens’ rendering is sharpest between f/5.6 and f/8. Here is another image shot at f/1.8:

Cosplay MakeupCosplay Makeup
Nikon D610, 28mm, f/1.8, 1/250, ISO 560

Compared to the 18-35G, that lens renders best at its widest end and grows weaker at the longer end. It does not compare favourably to the 28G at 28mm. There are many charts and measurements for both lenses which suggest that the 18-35G’s resolution at 18mm is as good as the 28G when both are stopped down sufficiently. But after having shot several thousand images with both lenses, I can testify that this is not true. The scientific numbers are not representing reality accurately. The 28G always renders images with more micro-detail and pixels always look better and are easier to work with during post-processing.

Industrial Interior ColoursIndustrial Colourful
Nikon D610, 28mm, f/7.1, 1/40, ISO 3200

Another characteristic that I feel is unique to the 28G is how it handles light-and-shadow transitions. I really have not noticed this until I started using the 18-35G more frequently and had the feeling that beside the lower level of micro-detail, “something else is missing somewhere”. After a long leave of absence away from the 28G, I produced the following image with it and experienced the eureka moment.

Taipei 101 Mall Ceiling Detail 1Taipei 101 Mall Ceiling Detail
Nikon D610, 28mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO 450

The 28G renders light-and-shadow tonal variations in a very elegant and pleasing manner. it cannot be described by resolution numbers, but it is there and it gives this lens a unique character. The 18-35G does not have this property, nor have I noticed this on a few other lenses I have used on Nikon FX, including the 18-35G, 50 f/1.8G, and Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro VC. (I would hesitantly add that I have not seen the same with the 85 f/1.8G either, but I did not use it long enough to conclusively say this. That lens does have another unique character of its own in colour rendering.)

Ending Thoughts

As of this writing, the Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 and the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 ART are known to deliver better resolution performance, but at the cost of higher price, greater weight and larger physical profiles.

Compared to the 18-35G, the 28G delivers better image quality and its larger aperture would mean that it can AF better in low light. Its light weight and smaller physical profile are also advantages. However, the 18-35G gives a more flexible working range that could be – and frequently is – more valuable in practice.

At the present moment, the 18-35G is on my camera most of the time. I only bring out the 28G under low-light conditions, or when I prefer the 28G’s compactness, or when I know 28mm is great for the scenes I am going to photograph and I want that special punch to image quality that the 28G delivers.

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