Pro Review: Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 and 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Lenses

By Stan Sholik

With all of the excitement surrounding Nikon's FX (full-frame) digital cameras and associated lenses, new lenses for Nikon's DX (APS-C size) digital cameras can get lost in the mania. That would be unfortunate, because two newly released DX Nikkors deserve attention, not only for their relative affordability, but also for the quality they deliver at their price.

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The lenses are the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G and the AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED. Both are designated AF-S, signifying that they incorporate Nikon's Silent Wave Motor compatible with all Nikon digital cameras including the D40 and D60 series bodies. A focus mode switch is incorporated into both lenses, allowing you to touch up the focus manually using the rubberized ring at the front of the lens. The switch can also be set to 'M' for fully manual focusing.

Both are also G-series lenses, meaning they have no aperture ring and are intended for use on digital cameras where the aperture is controlled by the camera's command dial. They share the same type of nicely finished black plastic exterior and metal mount, both incorporate a rubber 'O' ring around the mount to aid in dust shielding, and both show China as their country of manufacture.

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AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G

The 35mm lens, which was announced at PMA this year, is Nikon’s fastest fixed focal length lens designed for the DX format. Its focal length with DX sensors is equivalent to 52mm on 35mm film, making the lens a fast, normal, all-purpose lens for DX-sensor bodies.

It is smaller, lighter and less expensive than Nikon’s 35mm f/2 lens designed for film and FX bodies. With Nikon bodies from the D40 to the D300, the 35mm f/1.8 is a perfect all-purpose lens with very good close-focusing as well as low-light capabilities and optically superior in every way to the ‘kit’ zoom lenses available with these bodies. Weighing just seven ounces, it is excellent for travel and scenic photography since it adds so little weight to the camera body.

The new lens incorporates a single aspherical glass element to improve image quality. Shooting at maximum aperture, the lens I tested was very sharp in the center with some falloff in sharpness and a hint of color fringing at the edges of the frame. The red/cyan fringing is more pronounced at wider apertures and higher contrast subjects at the edge of the frame, but is easily eliminated in postprocessing with Nikon Capture NX2 software. Stopping down the lens to f/4 cleans up almost all of these issues.

The lens also incorporates a 7-blade diaphragm that delivers soft edges to out-of-focus background features. Missing is Nikon’s usual window in the lens with a distance scale below. Included with the lens are a soft pouch and a round lens hood.

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I captured these live snails for sale in an Asian market at the minimum focusing distance of the lens. Out-of-focus areas show the pleasant, soft-edge look rendered by the seven-blade diaphragm. Exposure: 1/60 second at f/4, ISO 800. ©Stan Sholik

Some of the work I do involves legal photography where it is important to capture images with a ‘normal’ focal length lens. I have been doing this with my 35mm f/1.4 manual focus lens on my D2X. Testing the two lenses side-by-side, the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G delivered better image quality and is smaller and lighter, too. And it still takes the classic 52mm filters and accessories. With an estimated street price of under $200, including the lens hood and case, it’s on my shopping list.

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AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED

The introduction of the 10-24mm lens is a bit of a puzzle to me since Nikon already has a very high quality 12-24mm f/4 for the DX-format bodies. With a variable aperture, the 10-24mm would seem to be targeted more to the mid-level market rather than professionals, and without my being able to shoot them side-by-side it’s tough to make any conclusions about comparative image quality. I have shot the 12-24mm and was very impressed with the resulting images, as I am with the images from the 10-24mm.

As with the 12-24mm, the new 10-24mm will find use when shooting tight interiors, architecture and corporate assignments, where a wide angle of view or dramatic perspective are required.

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Using the 10mm focal length captures dramatic perspective when shooting architecture. Exposure: 1/160 second at f/5, ISO 200. ©Stan Sholik

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The wide field of view allows you to capture the entire architectural site in a single image. Exposure: 1/640 second at f/8, ISO 200, 14mm focal length. ©Stan Sholik

The 10-24mm varies from f/3.5 to f/4.5, making it a little faster at the wide end and a little slower at the long end than the 12-24mm. If the focal length markings are accurate, the f/4 aperture kicks in at about 13mm and f/4.5 at about 20mm. Minimum aperture is f/22 at 10mm and f/29 at 24mm.

Both the 12-24mm and the new 10-24mm are virtually the same size and weight, both incorporate three aspherical elements and two ED (extra-low dispersion glass) elements, both use internal focusing and it seems that both will have a similar street price of just under $900.

But what sets the 10-24mm lens apart from the 12-24mm is the 10mm focal length. While the difference between 10mm and 12mm may not seem important at first glance, in 35mm film terms this is the difference between a 15mm and 18mm lens, and that is considerable, particularly when you want that 15mm perspective or need that angle of view.

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With very little room behind me, I needed the 10mm focal length to capture this scene. Exposure: 1/125 second at f/5.6, ISO 800. ©Stan Sholik

Also appealing with the new lens is its close focusing distance. While the 12-24mm focuses to 11.8 inches throughout its zoom range, the 10-24mm focuses to 9.6 inches throughout its range. As with millimeters of focal length, these extra close focusing inches mean a lot when you need them.

Image quality is impressive with the 10-24mm. As with the 35mm f/1.8, there are color fringing issues at wide apertures, but again I found them easily corrected in postproduction.

Sharpness is excellent in the center of the frame, even wide open, but corner sharpness is best between f/8 and f/11. There was obvious barrel distortion at 10mm when I did my “brick wall” test, which changed to slight pincushion distortion from 16mm to 24mm. However, I didn’t notice this in my “real world” shooting. If you need to fix distortion, Nikon Capture NX2 has a Lens Distortion correction tool that will automatically correct it.

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While the lens has optical distortions, even with architectural one-point perspective images I never noticed it. I did however notice the lack of flare, which is important when you take in large areas of sky as you often do with lenses with this wide a field of view. Exposure: 1/320 second at f/9, ISO 200, 10mm focal length. ©Stan Sholik

The filter size is 77mm, but you will need ultra-thin filters on this lens. My normal thickness filters caused obvious vignetting. With internal focusing, the front of the lens doesn’t rotate when it focuses, simplifying the use of filters such as (thin) polarizers. A soft lens pouch and flower petal lens hood are included with the lens.

I don’t think that many professionals will be trading their 12-24mm Nikkors for the 10-24mm, but if you’re in the market for a zoom lens in this range, you should give serious consideration to the AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED.

If you are considering the new Tamron SP AF 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II LD Aspherical [IF] lens for your Nikon, I have tested it recently, though not side-by-side with the Nikon 10-24. While the two lenses seem similar on the surface, the internal optical design is somewhat different. I found considerably more color fringing with the Tamron lens, but it was also easy to remove in postproduction. There was also considerably more barrel distortion with the Tamron than with the Nikkor, however. Look, feel and handling are remarkably similar between the two manufacturers given the Tamron’s $400 lower street price. For me, that makes the Tamron a good bargain, but it’s the Nikkor that I would want in my camera bag.

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