Introduction:


The AF-S 28mm f/1.8G was introduced in early 2012. At the time, it was the third lens in Nikons new line of affordable high quality primes. The AF-S 50mm f/1.8G and AF-S 85mm f/1.8G that came before it, proved themselves to offer exceptional performance for value. The 28mm isn’t any  different, offering pro-grade performance in a light, fast and affordable package.


Nikon have packed a lot of lens design features into this lens, such as an AF-S Silent Wave Motor (micro-motor), rear focusing, two aspherical elements, rounded aperture blades and Nano Crystal Coating. It’s light and relatively small, semi weather sealed, and offers fantastic performance across the frame even at wide apertures. In all regards, except for size, the AF-S 28mm f/1.8G is a remarkable step up from the much older AF-D 28mm f/2.8.




General impressions and opinions:




My first shots with the AF-S 28mm f/1.8G left me quite impressed. It’s perfectly at home fitted to a high resolution DSLR, delivering sharp, crisp-contrast, well focused images even at wide apertures. In addition, it’s very light weight, which can be an absolute blessing when travelling. Made mostly of composite plastic, it feels deceptively cheap next to an all metal Zeiss lens. Composite plastics are in some ways vastly superior to a metal-construction lens, because they can be stronger, lighter, more shock resistant and more tolerable to heat/cold changes... after all, composite plastics are  replacing many metal components in both aviation and military applications.


While the haptic feels deceptively cheap, there are unequivocal cost savings that make the lens simply feel less pro-line. Most notably, the manual focus override mechanism isn’t very good. It works, but the gearing is sloppy and the whole experience feels insufficiently dampened. Fine focusing movements requiring small focus direction changes, are frustrating. It feels no where near that of Nikon’s line of AF-S f/1.4 lenses. It’s probably not a concern for most people or most applications, but attempting to do fine manual focus at 100% live view magnification can be very fidgety. 


I’ve encountered people who shrug off Nikon’s f/1.8 line as not being professional grade lenses, and inferior to the f/1.4 line. This leaves me a little speechless, and angry, and I struggle to not react to this absurdity. There is nothing unprofessional about these lenses! My Zeiss ZF lenses are no more professional by virtue of their cold and heavy metallic feel. In fact, I have absolutely no doubt that my 28mm will operate, feel and look the same in three years as it does today. My Zeiss Distagon 35/2 has deteriorated greatly in look and feel over the last three years, and I have far less faith in it’s build quality that I have in Nikon’s lens build quality.


In the box, Nikon generously includes a bayonet hood. It’s useful, as it offers fairly good protection against objects reaching the front element and potentially damaging it. Most lens hoods also absorb a considerable amount of shock if the lens was to fall and land on its front, greatly reducing the potential for internal damage to the optics. Last but not least, it protects against flare from stray light sources. The lens is impressively resistant to flare already, and the hood is more functional in protecting the lens from damage than from the affects of stray light. I would, however, have preferred the hood to be optional, and that the spared cost go towards improving the manual focus override. But this is really a moot point.


Lens defects are no more common by virtue of the “Made in China” sticker, than defects observed with Nikon’s more expensive lenses. It’s an often raised topic of discussions on forums, that Made in China Lenses are inferior. My experience leads me to conclude that, so far, this isn’t necessarily the case. I’ve come across just as many lemons and sample variation in Nikon’s more expensive line of lenses, and even more with brands such as Zeiss, where I’ve yet to see a perfect sample of the Distagon 21/2.8 ZF... and I’ve tried 5 copies to this day. Yes, sample variation exists in the f/1.8G range, so test for optical uniformity when you buy. It’s good practice, because if you notice it too late, the chances that Nikon are able to actually repair an optical lemon is very slim. In my experience, and those of my colleagues and friends too, Nikon have often made things much worse after sending in a lens for repair.



Imaging Characteristics:

(Please NOTE, unless otherwise stated, the opinions expressed are based on experience using a full frame 36mp digital camera. Also, click images to view them larger in a zoomable format)


Nikon seems to have given their f/1.8 line of primes an optical design that follows a simple brief. “Forget the ‘charm’ we want, and give the people what they currently drool over... sharpness.” The AF-S f/1.4 primes, like the 24mm, 35mm and 58mm lenses, have a very different different drawing style compared to the equivalent or best matched f/1.8 focal length lenses. These designs seem to prioritise quality of blur and focus transitions much more than wide aperture sharpness. Much like the AF-S 58mm, these designs haven’t quite hit a home run with many Nikon users, especially when compared to Sigma’s ART line of lenses.


While the AF-S f/1.8 line of lenses seem to be highly corrected optics, and a little sterile in drawing style, they are by no means poor choices. They can still render really good background blur, but in general are more prone to render harsher blur compared to their much more expensive f/1.4 counterparts. These situations are not always obvious.


The use of aspherical elements play a great part in making these lenses perform the way they do. While aspherical elements are great for correcting aberrations and allowing more compact optical designs, they can contribute negatively to out of focus rendering. The benefits of aspheric elements greatly outweigh the cons, and our choice of lenses these days give us plenty options for finding the right tool for the job. Since I’m shooting mainly landscapes and nature images with the AF-S 28mm, I find it’s optical qualities to be perfect for the job.



   


The 28mm f/1.8G shows a remarkably small amount of lateral colour aberration for a wide angle lens. It’s truly impressive, especially compared to Zeiss’ Distagon 28mm and 35mm f/2 lenses! The image slider below shows an actual pixels crop from a far left edge of the frame, taken with the D810 at f/5.6. The uncorrected lateral chromatic aberration on the left and corrected on the right.



For a fast lens, the 28mm shows a fairly low amount of secondary colour aberration (Longitudinal CA) in most applications. Only in really high contrast or strongly backlit scenes are these aberrations going to seem a problem, but this is the case with many lenses. This lens showcases the typical magenta (front) and green (back) secondary colour aberration, which are usually easy to fix in post without affecting the colours in the rest of the image.





Distortion is moderately low. It’s measured to be a barrel type distortion around 1.3%, but so far I’ve not yet felt the need to apply lens distortion correction to any of my images. Vignetting, however, is fairly high. Being a fairly fast lens this is also not an unusual trait, but unfortunately the far corners can darken by as much as 1.8 stops wide open. Stopping down to f/2.8 will significantly reduce the the fall off in brightness, and by f/4 vignetting is pretty much at its lowest. Below is an image slider comparison showing the uncorrected and corrected vignetting of an image taken at f/1.8.




When this lens first started shipping, many early users noted that their lenses exhibited focus shift, and that it would vary to certain degrees across different copies of the lens. My copy of this lens exhibits a slight focus shift. So slight I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a focus shift, but rather the mannerism for its depth of field to extend backwards rather than unidirectionally when stopping down. The subject remains in focus. Since purchasing my lens, I’ve had the chance to try another copy, and this lens exhibits the same behaviour as my own.

Again, this type of focus shift isn’t uncommon in lenses corrected for optimal performance at wide apertures, much like the AF-S 14-24mm which can also exhibit focus shift. Again, it’s not a bad idea to test one’s own sample to determine if the shift lies within acceptable tolerances.


Besides the focus shift, the 28mm is a very easy to use lens. It’s fairly even tempered and uncomplicated to use. It exhibits a little curvature of field, mostly unnoticeable from f/5.6 and smaller apertures. The focus moves closer towards the edge of the frame, and it has a slight wavy property to it. If you are shooting landscapes, you may want to prioritise edge focus and stop down the aperture until the centre focus depth is large enough until centre focus is crisp. This usually doesn’t take much stopping down, and generally speaking it’s not a lot of curvature to worry about. Many lenses, especially the Zeiss Distagon 28mm f/2, exhibit more field curvature.  Bellow is an image representing the field curvature pattern at f/5.6, at roughly 10 feet focus. Consider this just a rough depiction, as it was shot hand held and the subject was not a perfectly even interlock driveway.




Sagittal coma flare is fairly well corrected. This can be observed in the milky way sample image available at the top of the page. While it’s not the best, it does pretty well to my eyes. Not much changes from f/1.8 to f/2.8, but from f/3.5 the bat wings are almost entirely gone. See the image comparison below, a 1:1 crop from the extreme top right corner of the frame. The slight blur you see in the f/3.5 image was down to the rotation of earth over the duration of a 10 second exposure.


 



The 28mm features Nikon’s standard Super Integrated Coating as well as the coveted Nano Crystal Coating. The Nano Crystal Coating is fairly remarkable, and is highly affective at reducing flare and ghosting. Strongly backlit scenes are generally no problem for this lens, and even shooting directly into the sun yields little flare, as seen in the examples below.






Conclusion:


All in all, the AF-S 28mm f/1.8G delivers professional level performance at a reasonable price. This light weight and great performing lens is an ideal fit in an uncompromising, compact and light weight kit. I cannot recommend it enough.


Cost savings are evident, but hardly in a compromising fashion, and putting aside how the lens feels in hand, I don’t doubt for a minute it will need pampering in fear of it breaking. Like I’ve mentioned before, I have rejuvenated faith in Nikon’s build quality, especially in light of my seven years experience with Zeiss ZF lenses. In the last fifteen years of using Nikon equipment, I’ve had far less problems with equipment failure and wear and tear than I had in the last seven years with Zeiss ZF lenses. First impressions and perceptive quality can be very misleading. It was very much the case with the Zeiss lenses I used and owned.


It’s no secret that Nikon is currently under much scrutiny of its users, given its questionable past regarding quality control, product defects and poor public relations in the wake of these issues. The AF-S 28mm 1.8G was said to have focus shift, inconsistently so across different copies. I’ve not experienced focus shift to be problematic at all across two copies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the issue doesn’t still exist. It’s good practice to test gear, no matter the price or calibre. Like the observations made by lensrentals.com, they experienced a higher degree of lens variation with the $4000.00 Zeiss OTUS 55mm f/1.4 than with the Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4.


At the end of the day, the Nikon f/1.8 line of lenses have been proven to be excellent. I’m very excited to see what Nikon will still introduce to this family of lenses, which will all undoubtedly follow in the same high performance footsteps of the existing line up.



Please see the next page for more high resolution zoomable sample images.