My workhorse combo for many years (with a cleaner UV filter, I promise).

I finished my undergraduate degree in visual journalism using a Nikon D80 while many of my peers were using Nikon's D90, D300 and D700 cameras. I was, shall we say, a bit jealous. The change in overall image quality from the switchover of 10MP CCD sensors to 12MP CMOS sensors in all of Nikon's camera bodies (both APS-C and full-frame) wasn't lost on me, and I couldn't help but think one of those cameras was really the key to making me a better photographer.

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They weren't. I got a fancy, brand-new D7000 when I graduated and got my first real job, and a very well-used full-frame D700 after that. They were great cameras (I still have that D700), but it wasn't so much the cameras that helped me grow. It was my embracing of prime lenses that pushed me photographically, and chief among them, the Nikkor 35mm F2 AF-D lens which was all but glued to my D700 for years.

ISO 200 | 1/160 sec | F2.8

Up until this point, I thought I needed a decent wide-aperture zoom to cover everything. I felt I needed the versatility of varied focal lengths, and the idea of having a zoom became a crutch I leaned on. The F2.8 constant aperture on the Promaster 17-50mm lens (I swear, all the reviews said it was just a rebadged Tamron) mounted to my D80 helped during Bellingham, WA's interminably short and dark winter days, but ultimately, it was $250 USD down the drain for my photographic journey.

Why? Because I spent so much time shooting at the wide end of the zoom range, trying to fit everything in and capture every essence of the scene in each photograph. By looking at the broader picture, I was missing some of the details.

Once I got that D700 and figured I needed some lenses made for it, I picked up a secondhand 35mm F2 on a whim and discovered that – for myself – I had been shooting photographs wrong a lot of the time.

Nikon 35mm F2 AF-D sample gallery

Framing is everything. We 'crop' just about everything in our lives, whether we want to admit it or not. This is a philosophical debate in and of itself, but pretending we've come out on the other side of that debate, I quickly found that 35mm lenses provide my eyes with a sense of 'here's the most important thing in the scene, but with just the right amount of context'. The photos coming out of this lens and camera combo just felt right.

When I twisted my 35mm F2 D lens onto my D700 and peered through the viewfinder, I found that instead of trying to fit everything in a 26-28mm equivalent frame, I needed to pick-and-choose-and-layer things into my 35mm equivalent view. My photographs improved because of that. I thought to myself, this is a great way to document the world in front of me. I can get used to figuring out how to cut out the 'fat' in the image, and focus on the most important bits.

ISO 200 | 1/1000 sec | F8

Fast forward many years, and I still tend to judge a new camera system by whether or not it has a decent and affordable 35mm equivalent prime-lens option. I know that it's not to everyone's taste (sorry, Chris, I know you hate 35mm), but with the 35mm F2, my D700 was my carry-everywhere camera for years, and I can honestly look back on my time with it and realize how it helped make me the photographer I am today.

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