Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G AF-S Review
byon 09-06-2012 at 01:26 AM (7685 Views)
Another addition to the recent collection of successful 1.8G primes, the Nikon 28 1.8G has some high expectations to live up to.
While it won't receive the rockstar attention fetched by -big boy lenses such as the 24mm 1.4G AF-S, it's certainly attracting the attention of every penny pinching, I-can't-justify-spending-twice-as-much-for-less-than-twice-the-performance online review reader who has ever wanted a fast, wide-angle prime that won't cost an academic quarter's worth of rent.
As a sweeping generalization, Nikon's 1.8G primes have all been pretty good. The 35mm 1.8G gave crop-sensor shooters their first date with normal primes. The 50mm 1.8G raised a lot of eyebrows and cries of unfair play with its double-the-50mm 1.8D price tag, but folks eventually warmed up to it and acknowledged its role in the Nikon lineup. A bit of an overdue update, the 85mm 1.8G brought 21st century handling to an already brilliant performer. If we have anything to expect from recent history, it's that the 28mm 1.8G will be pretty good. So, is it?
It's a bit like a mostly good girlfriend that's got good looks, good personality, but has no shame or sense of danger; with a few adaptations in appreciation, you'll have something worth keeping.
Inside the Box
All standard fare here.
- Bigger than necessary box
- Plastic casing suspensing the lens from knocks
- Hood (HB-64)
- Front+rear caps (the modern kind that fit better)
- Pouch (who uses these?)
- Manual (8 out of 174 pages are in English) + Warranty card
I don't like it. Yet.
Personally, I appreciate good heft when it comes to camera gear, and find it easier to handhold slow shutter speeds when there's a good weight distribution between body and lens. Having shot mostly with heavier lenses like 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, 35mm 1.4, and 85mm 1.4 on D700 and D3, it's been a while since I've used anything so airy in weight. On the D3, it feels as disappointing as when you first realize you aren't as young as you used to be anymore.
Dimensionally, it's nearly identical to a 18-55mm kit lens. The focus ring is reminiscent of kit lens zoom ring- a bit gritty and a bit hollow. Small focus rings are often a point of complaint (50mm 1.8, kit lenses), but this time Nikon has gone the other way around- it's too big. Its overwhelming presence along the lens barrel makes it comparatively easy to shift with the full-time manual focus. If you do manual focus often, this could be a great thing, until you run into the other flaw of the focus ring: it's a slouch in response. There's enough play in it to be annoying to live with.
The 28mm 1.8G build overall is in between the 35mm 1.8G and 35mm 1.4G, but it's certainly erring heavily on the 1.8G side. Upon handling this lens, you can visualize the big banner that hangs in the Nikon China factory where this is produced; translated, it reads "just enough". It feels a bit hollow, not brimming with glass like the 1.4G lenses. The filter threads and hood bayonet are plastic, and I can imagine that in a few years you'll find lenses from today with chipped front plastics because of these cost-cutting moves. Not quite in the class of workhorse lenses that bear their wear proudly with dents without ever faltering in operation throughout 10-15 years of loyal servitude.
Could be worse- focus is internal, the mount is metal, and the mount is weather-sealed with a rubber gasket. Those considering downgrading from a 24mm 1.4 may not receive the 67mm filter thread so warmly, but at least it is a consistent size among tier two lenses, unlike Canon that has 72mm threads on pro primes, and 77mm(occasionally 82mm) on pro zooms. I do like that they added a white nub to indicate where the mount lines up with the body instead of the insignificant painted white dot found on many lenses (even ~$2000 lenses like the 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8 VRII do this). This tactile handling is surely a blessing for any lens changers who operate in dark conditions such as concerts.
It won't win any races compared to the 24-70mm 2.8, but I'd be greedy to want any more. Whenever these second-tier, budget primes outdo their more expensive variants in any aspect, it really catches the attention of those vacillating between a 24mm 1.4G and instant ramen for months, and a 28mm 1.8G and dinner for months. The 28 is indeed faster than the 24, good job Mr. Underdog! Occasionally, there is a slight hesitation between getting in the general focus area and achieving final lock, but not as bad as what most Sigma lenses I've experienced are.
Overall, the optical performance of this lens is top shelf. Pleasantly contrasty, although it falls a bit short of that of the 24mm 1.4G. Background blur is rendered well enough that it's not worth nitpicking at each aperture; it's good, trust it. The pedants who stress over corner sharpness are hushed, even wide open @ 1.8, something the 24mm 1.4G struggles with (again, congratulations, Mr. Underdog). Unfortunately, the middle area between the center and the corner has a zone of concern, where it can be noticeably less sharp than the rest of the frame, and this is due to the field curvature, one of the critical optical flaws of the lens.
I personally haven't been bothered by the ring-shaped pattern of relative softness due to the plane of focus not being flat, but looking around the internet, it seems to be a enough of a problem to be a deal-breaker for some. I acknowledge that it is verily present if I hunt for it like a page of Where's Waldo, but I won't cry over paradise lost. Perhaps I've been blessed with a good copy.
100% crop. D800, f/4
There's another crippling blow to the otherwise stunning optical quality- focus shift, a phenomenon where the plane of sharpest focus lies slightly behind the actual point of focus. In real world applications, this means that the range of apertures slightly past wide open, f/2-f4 (not a scientifically tested range, don't quote me on that), may have backfocus, and therefore less sharpness on focused subjects. I've so far shot mostly only wide open and at smaller f/8+ apertures, so I haven't been bothered by this. As I shoot more at the troubled apertures and notice the optical defect, I'll be sure to update this post.
Now onto more common optical aberrations.
Distortion: Present, but I'm not bothered by it. Lightroom will take care of it, so no more cry.
Vignetting: Pretty strong, about two stops at worst. Again, easily correctable, but just as easy to fall in love with.
Flare: Slain thanks to the golden N badge. If you force its hand, you could summon up some flare bits, but you'd have to try a lot harder than usual. I found it to be better than the 24 1.4G.
Chromatic aberration: Found a little bit of longitudinal chromatic aberration, but very little lateral color fringing. Good stuff.
- 24mm 1.4G: The obvious comparison. The 28 is a fantastic alternative to the 24, and justifying the 24 became a whole lot harder. Optically, the 24 shows a bit more contrast, but the 28 shows less weaknesses, especially against the sun.
- 28mm 1.4D: This old exotic lens really isn't worth over four times the price of the 1.8G, unless your heart will stop pumping unless you have f/1.4.
- 24/28mm 2.8D: If budget allows, go for the 1.8G. It's just better. Neither of these old lenses were at any point in time held in high regards for their sharpness.
- 24-70mm 2.8G: If you're almost exclusively hovering towards the wide end, the 28 might be a worthwhile alternative. The 24-70 is known to be a weak in the corners at the wide end unlike the 28, but trounces the 28 in autofocus speed.
I think I really like it.
[++]: [+]: : [-]: [--]:
[++]Gives the 24mm 1.4G prospectives/owners a good scare
[++]Top tier image quality
[+]Superb performance against flare
[-]Build quality- it's not the cheapest first class lens, it's the most expensive second-rate lens.
[--]Hiccups in focus due to field curvature and focus shift