Image quality

By F5, the Z 35mm F1.8 S is sharp across the frame, and effectively free from vignetting.

ISO 400 | 1/40 sec | F5
Photograph by Barnaby Britton

The Z 35mm F1.8 S is a sharp, well-corrected prime lens which delivers excellent image quality across is aperture and focus range. Compared to older F-mount primes, cross-frame resolution is very high, even at wide apertures, but longitudinal chromatic aberration (which has long been an issue with Nikon's primes) is a factor in images taken in some situations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Very sharp across the frame at medium / optimal apertures.
  • Good sharpness at F1.8 for portraits and available light.
  • Negligible distortion and vignetting (the former aided by in-camera profiling)
  • Textured 'orange peel' and 'onion ring' bokeh can be distracting
  • Longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) visible in some situations.

The Z 50mm F1.8 S (reviewed in January) has proved itself to be a sharp, high performing lens – can the Z 35mm F1.8 S match that performance? Not quite, is the answer, but it's still a strong performer in most respects.

Images from the Z 35mm F1.8 S are, on the whole, nice and sharp throughout most of the commonly used aperture range. At infinity, detail towards the edges are impressively well-defined even at F1.8, with sharpness improving across the frame on stopping down.

As you can see, maximum sharpness on the Nikkor is reached in the center by around F4, and optimal cross-frame sharpness occurs between F5.6-8. Practically speaking though, cross-frame sharpness is excellent by F5.6, with only a slight improvement at F8. By F11, as we'd expect, diffraction starts to make its presence felt.

Compared to its peers, the Nikon has lower sharpness and contrast - seen as a general haze over the image - wide open relative to the Sony FE 35/1.8, as well as the benchmark 35mm prime from Canon. However, it lacks the purple fringing around high contrast edges both Sony primes exhibit. Cross-frame sharpness is similar to both the Canon 35L II and the Sony 35/1.8.

Bokeh and LoCA

Out of focus areas are generally rendered quite pleasantly, particularly when focusing close to the subject with a more distant background, although the relatively wide angle of view and medium-wide maximum aperture means that everyday images won’t quite have the heavy level of background blur that you’d enjoy with a faster lens or a longer focal length at equivalent subject magnification.

At wide apertures, the Z 35mm F1.8 S is a useful portrait lens (despite the cries of forum users that nothing shorter than 85mm should ever be considered for portraiture) but in scenes like this, containing out of focus point highlights, you'll see some LoCA in the form of noticeable green rings around the bokeh balls. This gets more or less obvious depending on the specific situation.

ISO 64 | 1/200 sec | F2.2

At F1.8, defocused points of light towards the centre of the frame appear nice and round, but deform towards the edges of the frame into 'cats-eyes' at wide apertures, and more trapezoidal shapes when the lens is stopped down a little. This is unlikely to prove particularly distracting, but possibly down to the presence of three aspherical elements, the rendering of bokeh balls can be less than pleasing, with onion rings and 'orange peel' texture visible depending on the size and brightness of the out of focus highlight.

The severity of textured bokeh can vary from copy to copy, and on a particularly problematic sample can lead to busier bokeh than an ideal lens. On a good copy, you likely won't be bothered. You'll also notice green annular fringing around out of focus highlights in many of our sample images (like the portrait above). This is longitudinal chromatic aberration - or LoCA.

This image is a good example of the subject/background separation possible at F1.8. Longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) can been seen as the green fringe around some high-contrast edges in the background of this image, and as a magenta fringe around objects close to the camera.

ISO 64 | 1/200 sec | F1.8

Traditionally, LoCA is a common characteristic of lenses of this type, but noticeably (and impressively) absent in images from the Z 50mm F1.8 S. Sadly, Nikon's engineers have not been able to pull off the same trick in the more expensive 35mm, and LoCA is in fact perhaps the only significant mark against this lens when it comes to image quality.

A fast 35mm might not be your go-to lens for sunstars, but when stopped down, the lens gives pretty good rendition, as long as you can keep flare from being a factor.

ISO 450 | 1/200 sec | F11

It’s possible to get very nice sunstars from the 9-bladed aperture, although I found these were a little less clean than with some other lenses, with diverging spikes as opposed to converging rays.

With the planned release of the Z 24mm and 20mm F1.8, the Z 35mm F1.8 S might not be anyone’s first native choice for astrophotography, although Nikon does claim almost zero coma. And images show coma to be very well controlled, although optical vignetting does mean that point light sources towards the peripheries of the frame don’t quite become round until F2.8.

Vignetting

Automatic profiling takes care of lateral CA and curvilinear distortion, but a moderate level of vignetting is obvious at the widest few apertures. Stopping down to just F2 improves this markedly, and it's pretty much absent by F4. The in-camera Vignette Control option does a good job of removing vignetting, and this correction can also be applied as part of in-camera Raw processing too.

Vignetting is most severe (as expected) wide open, at F1.8. You can expect roughly 1EV of corner shading at its worst.