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Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S Lens Review

by Shun Cheung, July 2012 (updated August 2012)


Fast Wide-Angle Lenses

Within the year 2010, Nikon added three very fast f1.4 AF-S lenses into its lineup: 24mm, 35mm, and 85mm. While two of them are fine wide angle lenses, they all cost $1600 and up. Therefore, I am glad to see that Nikon is adding an “affordable” 28mm/f1.8 AF-S this year (2012), following another affordable 85mm/f1.8 AF-S. While it is only an f1.8 and therefore about 2/3 of a stop slower than those f1.4 lenses, it is still plenty fast for low-light photography. Meanwhile, the two new f1.8 lenses cost $500 to $700, respectively; they are far more affordable.

A Fast 28mm/f1.8 Lens

On the full 35mm-film frame (Nikon FX), a 28mm lens is a moderate wide angle. It is great for landscape, architecture, as well as indoors. Since this lens is a fast f1.8, it is also versatile indoors for hand-held, available-light photography. However, for group images, 28mm tends to be too wide, and people on the two sides may look distorted and fat.

On Nikon DX (APS-C format), 28mm is a slight wide-angle to standard lens. Personally, I am less interested in the angle-of-view a 28mm lens products on DX.

Construction

Compared to other classic Nikon wide angles lenses such as the 24mm/f2.8 AF-D and 35mm/f1.4 AI-S as well as other recent f1.8 AF-S lenses such as the 50mm and 85mm, this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S is bigger and longer. However, despite its size, it is a very light lens.

Similar to several other recent Nikon f1.8 AF-S lenses, such as the 35mm DX, 50mm, and 85mm, this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S has a plastic barrel with a metal lens mount. On the rear end, there is a rubber gasket around the mount to seal out moisture; that is now a standard feature on Nikon G lenses (no aperture ring). While its construction is not among Nikon’s best, I think it is still good. The lens is on the light side for its size, thus giving some people the impression that it is not well built. In my judgment, that is not a concern.

My one reservation about the new 28mm/f1.8 is that its manual focus ring is extremely loose, not giving you much resistance for a manual focus feel. I have checked two different samples of this lens and both have a very loose focus ring, and other owners of this new lens have the same observation. For me, since I mainly use auto focus, it is not at all an issue, but for those who prefer manual focus, they may not like this feature.

This lens features two aspherical elements but no ED element. It has Nikon’s nano crystal costing.

Optical Performance

I have used the 28mm/f1.8 AF-S on four different Nikon DSLRs; three are FX: D700, D800, and D800E and one DX: D7000. All sharpness and chromatic aberration evaluation is on the 36MP D800 and D800E, which are very demanding on lenses and can reveal even slight optical issues.

Sharpness

Mounted on the 36MP D800 and D800E, this lens is quite sharp wide open in the center of the frame, but of course depth of field is shallow at f1.8. Corner sharpness becomes excellent when you stop down to f4. f4 and f5.6 probably yield the best optical results. If you stop further down, diffraction will begin to affect sharpness around f8 and becomes noticeable from f11 and on.

Distortion

Similar to other fixed-focal-length lenses, the new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S only shows a tiny amount of barrel distortion at 28mm. It is such a minor issue that I have no concern about it at all, but, for example, you are capturing architecture images, indoor or outdoor, or landscape with the horizon near the edge of the frame so that you need to eliminate that tiny bit of barrel distortion, it should be easily correctable in post processing.

Chromatic Aberration

The amount of chromatic aberration is negligible. With subjects under direct sun light, you can see a hint of color fringing at those dark-to-light transitions.

Vignetting

Similar to other fast f1.4, f1.8 Nikon lenses, vignetting is quite serious wide open at f1.8, and it is about the same at f2. By f2.8, vignetting is still noticeable but effectively all disappears by f4. That type of performance is very typical for most modern Nikon lenses.

Focus Shift??

When the Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S was first introduced, there was a lot of discussion about focus shift on some internet forums; that is, the focus point would move as the aperture changes. Focus shift can potentially be a serious problem as we typically focus (manually or auto focus) with the lens wide open but stop down to capture the actual image; if the focus changes in the mean, it can lead to out-of-focus images.

After reading those forum discussions, I tested my lens sample under several settings on two separate camera bodies, and I found no focus shift at all.

Auto Focus

On the D700 and D800, auto focus is accurate. But similar to other recent f1.4 and f1.8 AF-S lenses, Nikon’s emphasis is apparently AF accuracy rather than speed due to the shallow depth of field. Therefore, while AF speed is decent on this new lens, do not expect “lightning fast” AF.

While this is not a macro lens by design, this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S can focus down to 0.25 meter; that is less than a foot. Image quality is still very good from a close distance.

Conclusions

Optically, this new Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S is excellent in every way with very good center sharpness wide open and excellent corner performance by f4. By f5.6 to f8, it can produce wonderful landscape images with corner-to-corner sharpness. However, if you use it on a 36MP D800, diffraction will begin to affect sharpness at f11 and perhaps even at f8. As a fast f1.8 lens, this lens is also handy under low-light, hand-held conditions. In other words, this lens is excellent for landscape, architecture, and indoor hand-held, available-light photography.

Lens construction is adequate but not distinguished. This lens is light in weight and the very loose manual-focus ring may give people the impression that it is not well built. While I feel that this new 28mm/f1.8 AF-S is well built enough, it is definitely not in the same league as those recent 24mm/f1.4 AF-S, 85mm/f1.4 AF-S, etc. At just below $700, I find this new lens to be an excellent alternative to those very expensive $1500 to $2000 f1.4 wide angles.

You can find additional images of the new Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S lens as well as images captured with this lens on my Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S folder

Where to Buy

Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G AF-S
Price as low as $579.00 from 3 retailers
$696.95
$579.00
$649.95

Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G AF-S Lens, (compare prices). From the Nikon website: Bring a dramatic wide-angle perspective to your still and HD video shooting. The AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G’s fast maximum aperture lets you create in nearly any light—dusk to dawn, indoors or out—and offers outstanding depth-of-field control. Nikon’s exclusive Nano Crystal Coat nearly eliminates the ghosting and flare seen with some wide-angle lenses for improved clarity and contrast.







Nikon 28mm/f1.8 AF-S Specifications

Maximum Aperture f1.8, of course
Minimum Aperture f16
Angle of View for FX 75°
Angle of View for DX 52°
Lens Elements/Groups 11/9, including 2 aspherical but no ED element, nano coating
Closest Focus Distance 0.85 feet/0.25 meter
Filter Size 67mm
Lens Hood (included) HB-64
Dimensions diameter x length 2.9×3.2in, 73×80.5mm
Weight 11.6oz/330g

Text and photos © 2012 Shun Cheung.

Article revised August 2012.

Readers' Comments


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Ryan Long , August 15, 2012; 10:57 P.M.

I've just picked up a copy of this lens and I think my observations closely match what you've written here, Shun! 

 

Overall, I love it and can't wait to use it more.

Champney Falls

 

 

Anurag Agnihotri , August 16, 2012; 02:23 P.M.

Shun, how was the AF accuracy on D7000?

Do you see this as an alternative to DX 35 1.8, for those DX users who will upgrade to FX and would like to keep their lens selection FX as much as possible...?

Oskar Ojala , August 16, 2012; 03:54 P.M.

Having briefly tried out two samples of this lens, my impression was that at f5.6, contrast, resistance to flare and detail rendering was good, but at f1.8 there was a softness to the image. This was confirmed with live view. In terms of build and image quality, it brings a nice, modern alternative to Nikon in the under-$1000 price range, being clearly superior to old AF-D lenses (except in size), while not reaching the level of more expensive primes.

Shun Cheung , August 16, 2012; 09:21 P.M.

I only used the 28mm/f1.8 AF-S on my D7000 a bit. Instead, most of my testing was on the D700, D800, and D800E, and I have no AF issues on any one of those four cameras.

 

28mm is merely a slightly wide lens on DX. If the intend is to use a lens on a DX body, the 35mm/f1.8 DX AF-S is a steal at $200. The main drawback for the 35mm/f1.8 DX is a moderate amount of chromatic aberration; otherwise, it is a very good lens in just about any other way and provides excellent value at $200.

Michael Miller , August 20, 2012; 10:15 A.M.

Thanks for the review. I think the 28m f/1.8G is a great lens and a very good upgrade (image quality wise) for the earlier AI(s), AF and AF-D models. Is it me, or is there nothing sharp in Ryan's D800 tree photo? Is this the best quality you can get on a D800 at f/1.8 Shun?

Shun Cheung , August 20, 2012; 10:33 A.M.

Since I have no idea about Ryan's shooting condition for his tree image in his follow up, I can't comment on it.

Concerning my experience with the 28mm/f1.8 AF-S, when I used it on a tripod with one-second exposure delay, even center sharpness is excellent wide open, but of course depth of field is thin at f1.8. If you need corner sharpness, you need to stop down by two stop to f4 or so. Therefore, with this lens, you can get near-far sharpness in the entire frame for landscape images. However, on something like the 36MP D800, diffraction will begin to show up at f8 and it starts affecting image quality is a non-trivial way by f11.

Therefore, unless you use stack focus (capture multiple images of the same scene but focusing to different distances and merge the sharp areas together in post processing), it may still be difficult to get both the foreground and background really sharp in near-far type landscape images. Personally, I would rather scarifice a bit of sharpness and use a smaller aperture to gain depth of field if necessary.

Ellis Vener , September 03, 2012; 11:39 A.M.

A good solid review, free of hyperbole and bad writing. Well done. I also happen to agree with you about the lens.

Owen O'Meara , August 30, 2014; 12:07 A.M.

I have used this lens on my d7100 and my d810 and found it to be wonderful on both. The clarity and sharpness are superb even out to f1.8. The lens is very light in weight  which may cause some concern concerning construction but I am very easy on my lenses so only time will tell. The corner distortion with this lens is the best of any 28 mm. lens I have ever used but I admit I have not used the 1.4.

 

I have not fully evaluated the AP distortion of the lend yet but will do so with both the d7100 and d810 and will get back to you.

 

I would buy this lens again and have no hesitation in giving it a very high recommendation.

 

-Cheers


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