Final thoughts (for now) on the Nikon 35/1.8G (updated findings)

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Final thoughts (for now) on the Nikon 35/1.8G (updated findings)
10 months ago

First off, my apologies as I will not be continuing any more tests with this lens for a while; I simply have too much else on the plate at this time and, after some serous evaluation work today, I feel I've tested it enough to be relatively (it not perhaps 10000%) comfortable with it's capabilities for my own needs at this point in the game. I'm going to pass the proverbial torch/baton to the rest of you guys who have both the Nikon and the Sigma and let you guys have the "fun"

While I do feel the Sigma remains the better of the two lenses for *my* tasks (studio work and landscape work, meaning stopped down), I have definitely gained respect for the Nikon 35/1.8G after working with it more extensively today and I can say that while I do have a preference for a dog in this race, that the Nikon 35 definitely may, for some tasks and photographers, be the preferred lens. I still wish perhaps it was a smidge better than it is in some things, but at the end of the day, I've decided to keep the lens; earlier in the week I wasn't sure I could make that statement.

So, while I will discuss briefly some things I have found, I would rather people look at this discussion as a "starting point" for their own evaluations and testing should they own both lenses. I'd rather this not turn into one of those situations where people can't seem to get a grip on the concept that some lenses are better than Nikon, and instead would rather talk about some of the difficulties in testing and why I personally feel that anyone who does a "quick test" on this lens will be potentially misled, and I include my earlier comments this week in that category.

First things first. For studio work I have chosen the Sigma as the winning lens. After shooting both in parallel, it was an easy decision. I don't use AF-C or any of the dynamic modes, and at the studio distances and apertures, the Sigma simply give me a better, sharper file with more micro contrast and as a bonus, more light transmission. There is no arguing this for me at all. I should also note that I did NOT test for short/close distances like the other posters lens-box-on-table tests. I have found cases where Nikons work tremendously well in the close/short range - the 28/1.8G is one of those, so it won't surprise me that at a few feet distance that the Nikon 35 shines, but that's not a situation I run into often, so I didn't test for it.

Second things second. However, for distance work, things get a lot more complex and complicated, and I can absolutely accept some "arguing" in this distance range. For those trying to do comparisons to the Sigma, I offer these thoughts:

(discussing distant subjects now...)

In general, at distance and the wider apertures, the Sigma tends to "win" the center of the frame, while the Nikon tends to slightly "win" the edges, although I would rather phrase that as "the edges do not blow as badly". Thus, at wide apertures, I don't like either of these lenses for edges and corners at landscape distance, not even a bit.

As one starts to stop down, say around F/5.6 or so, the two lenses tend to converge - the Sigma gets better on the edges, and the Nikon gets a little better in the center.

Then, as we get into the more typical landscape distances - F/8 and onwards, the Sigma keeps improving the corners while still maintaining the center, while the Nikon just kind of "stops" by around F/8 or so.

The two big things that will trip up every tester, myself including, are:

1) Field curvature of the two lenses are different

2) The Nikon seems to have a slight issue right around the DX borders that is noticeable, albeit more slightly, even at F/9. However, at the same time, if you run into a situation where the field curvature favors items in this zone, you might not notice it. And vice versa.

Regarding item #2: You'll see/detect this even at F/9, but by F/9 it's getting slight. If you have complex detail - thinks lots of tangled branches or foliage, there is just the slightest dullness to the Nikon around (roughly speaking) the DX borders.

The edges/corners also seem to be influenced - depending on what you personally define as an edge or corner, they may or may not be "tack sharp" with the Nikon up through F/9, perhaps even F/10.

I shot about 4 different distance scenes and each time different aspects of the frame spoke differently - and the best I can offer is that it's complex and related to the trough in the sharpness plot combined with the field curvature. When the two align to conspire against you, you'll clearly like the Sigma better. When they don't, you might find the Nikon to be surprisingly good.

So for testers who want to keep on exploring: explore different subject matter for your distance tests; importantly, put some complex detail in the DX border zone and play with different scenes where elements are in and out of the focus plan in different spots. The more you spread your tests across multiple scenes, the more I think you'll see the differences. I'd also suggest you be really careful and bracket your focus (using live view) as well as shoot multiple shots with refocus (even if using live view) in between.

For Reilly D: one thing you nailed: The Nikon 35/1.8G, at least at F/9, *smokes* the Sigma in a flare test with the sun straight in your frame. No contest at all here, and that's even without the Nikon having any fancy Nano coating.

So, for distance work, I'll use the Nikon, but I'll keep it stopped down, to at least F/9, perhaps F/10. So Reilly D, if you're reading, I actually think you'll like this lens a lot - but perhaps not at F/8 - I'd kindly suggest giving it another 1/3 stop or so.

The Sigma will be my studio lens, no question, but again, for landscape work, the Nikon might come along on some trips where I think it's size/lightness make more sense, particularly if I expect flare situations, or I might carry it and the Sigma. Distance shooting, I think, is *slightly* better in many, but not all scenarios, with the Sigma, but the key words are "slightly" and "not all", so at the end of this all, the Nikon definitely has a place.

I apologize for no samples: The complex behavior of this lens means I'd have to show you every shot, every scene, and I don't have the time. The worst thing would be to post one scenario that might mislead. I'll understand if some of you wish to discount my opinion because I don't provide images but I hope that this post at least serves as a "things to watch for" for those who continue to evaluate these lenses while I become a spectator for a while and let others continue the discussion.


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