Nikon 35mm F/1.4 G ED

Today's gear is the Nikon 35mm F/1.4 G ED prime lens!

Alright, so this is my first “In my Bag,” review, and I want to establish that this isn't intended to be an overly technical review, more along the lines of my opinion based on my experience using it.  My work and business afford me the unique situation of trying and buying a lot more equipment than the average person would, and I certainly put it all through its paces!  So in this series I will profile equipment and give you the quick and dirty about it.  From how I use(d) it, to why I bought it, and everything in between.

 
 

Single Sentence Summary

If I could fall in love with an object, this would be it.

Why I bought it

Admittedly I'm a bit of a prime-aholic.  As for primes I have the 24mm, the 35mm, the 50mm, the 85mm, and that's just the ones that go to F/1.4. But that aside, to me there are two things that REALLY make an image great: 1. Universal emotional content, and 2. Dynamic context.  I feel we need to connect to the emotion either expressed or inferred, and the context defines how we perceive that emotion as either relative or all-encompassing.  Emotional content can hardly be quantified or attributed to a lens, but context-wise this lens (to me) is the single most perfect focal length for that.  It's wide enough to give a subject context if you want to step back, but if you want to step in you don't get any crazy warped perspectives along the outside of the image (see: Fisheye).  Also, this lens redefines the term, “Sharp.”  It’s apparently the best representation of the focal length of the human eye, plus it's the photojournalist special and I'm a photojournalist by trade.  How could I not?

What I Like

How crazy sharp it is!   Particularly when it's stopped down to F/4.   It’s super light, and it has a low profile, so it tucks neatly into my messenger. That whole F/1.4 bit doesn't hurt much either.  It's probably all in my head, but I'd swear there's something about the bokeh of this lens that is absolutely untouched by anything else I've ever shot.  It's not that it's great at creating it, quite the contrary, I find the bokeh goes up with the focal length.  But with the 35mm it's a nice and proportional and natural amount; it's not overly pronounced like the 200mm can be at times.  Don't get me wrong, I love me some sweet 200mm shooting, but its bokeh is almost distracting, whereas the 35mm at /1.4 seems more realistic and less imposing.  If there's one thing I learned painfully slowly about photography it's the value of subtlety, and this lens knocks it out of the park more often than not.

What I Don't

Firstly, two words: Chromatic aberration.  It’s brutal.  Those horrible purple and green fringes will be everywhere when you’re shooting wide open, and let’s be honest, who buys a lens like this without wanting to shoot at F/1.4? 

Secondly, it’s phenomenal as a run-and-gun photojournalistic lens, but I find it’s a bit of a dual-wield requirement for shooting weddings.  As a military photographer it’s great, I can literally sprint full-tilt towards the action and make the shots happen.  During weddings on the other hand I need a bit more subtlety with my movement so as not to distract the guests from the ceremonies.  So if I want to use this lens (which inevitably I do...) I find myself needing to have something long stacked on another body, like a 200mm F/2, or at a minimum an 85 F/1.4.  This leads to me wearing two D810 bodies with battery grips, and two lenses as well as anything else I need. As anyone who’s ever picked up a loaded D810 with a 200mm F/2 can tell you, all that weight really makes for a long day.

Finally, It has 67mm threading on the front, so the caps, ND filters, and polarizers I use on most of my lenses unfortunately aren’t a perfect match.  It seems trivial, but Tiffen variable ND Filters aren’t cheap, and the less I need to bring the easier jobs are.

Bottom Line

If I were to choose one lens to shoot with exclusively for the rest of my life it’d be this lens.  Chromatic aberration can be worked around in Lightroom pretty effectively, and a little exercise never killed me yet, so to me it’s absolutely worth the quite literal pain in the neck it’s been lugging two cameras.  It’s sharp, it’s fast, it’s the perfect focal length, I couldn’t ask for more.

Score

9.8/10

Admittedly this is probably the worst item I could have started my reviews with, as it's hands-down my favourite piece.  However, I need to set a bar, so why not.  Plus it's my blog.

-Wes.