Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lens review: Nikkor 35mm f/1.8

I got my Nikon D3200 almost a year ago, and have spent the better part of a year learning my camera body and playing around with my kit lens (18-55mm). After several months of shooting, I started finding the limits of my lens and doing research into what kind of lens would give me the results I wanted. The ability to open up to an absolutely enormous f-stop was important, as I do a lot of indoor photos of people. I wanted a camera that would perform well in low light and that would give me better bokeh than I could get with my kit lens at f/3.5 - the largest that lens can open to. Since most zoom lenses have a smaller f-stop than I wanted, and since I wasn't planning on spending a thousand dollars on my second lens, I realized that I'd be looking for a prime lens.

A quick search on the best prime lenses led me to the classic 50mm f/1.4, also known as the "Nifty Fifty." I really almost bought this lens, but in retrospect I'm glad I didn't. As I looked at lens specs, I saw mentions of something called a "crop factor," which causes your lens to act like it's more zoomed in than the technical focal length suggests. My D3200 has a crop factor of 1.5, so a 50mm is going to act more like a 70mm, more or less, and a 35mm is going to act like a 50mm. I decided to put off buying my lens until I could do some experimentation. So over Christmas I took a bunch of pictures and just paid attention to where I had my kit lens zoomed to. And guess what? It was set to right around 35mm, every single time.

This experiment convinced me that on my crop factor camera body, the 50mm would be too tight and I'd be backing up from every shot. The reviews I'd seen on the 35mm weren't quite as great as the 50mm, and people said that the bokeh wasn't as creamy and perfect. Also, the 35mm has a max f-stop of 1.8, as opposed to 1.4 on the 50mm. I was a little nervous, therefore, buying the lens, but I was still convinced that it was the best option for my camera body.

And wow, has this lens exceeded my expectations!

This baby is FAST! This is a picture I took out the window of the car going 50mph. ISO 100.

And this picture was taken from a moving bicycle.

Tahlequah History Trail
And to give you an idea of the foreground clarity and quality of the bokeh...

Iguana Cafee Tahlequah

Meh, the bokeh could be creamier. I'm noticing some double lines and outlines instead of the gorgeous blurriness that is the ideal. I'm sure this could be fixed in post-processing, if I had gotten into post-processing yet, which I haven't. I'm sure a real professional photographer would notice the quality of the bokeh, but I know that for what I use my camera for, this lens is going to be able to get me the shots I want.

In fact, if it's not crazy to say so, this lens makes the colors look better than they do in real life. I have to stop myself from gaping at the view screen ever time I take a photo.

Of course, I don't have the 50mm to compare it with, to give a full analysis of this lens versus its main competitor. All I can say is that I am thrilled with my 35mm and can see it being my go-to lens that basically never gets taken off my camera. And of course, since I'm using a body that has a 1.5 crop factor, this 35mm has the same frame of view that a 50mm has on a body without a crop factor, so you could say I'm in the Nifty Fifty fan club!

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