Nikon 28mm f/1.8G Lens Review

bythom 28mm-g-series.jpg

From left to right: 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm f/1.8G 

What is It?

The 28mm f/1.8G is one in a continuing series of Nikon’s redesigned primes. We now have 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 lenses, with very similar feature sets and all designed using Nikon’s newer approach to lenses.

Aside. One thing is clear from this series, someone at Nikon didn’t get the message about video in DSLRs. We don’t have an aperture ring or E-type electronic aperture functions, nor do we have focusing well suited to video. Sad. 

bythom nikkor 20mm.jpg

Primes don’t tend to be complicated lenses. The pertinent things you’ll want to know about the lens being reviewed are:

  • Maximum f/1.8 aperture, minimum f/16, with a 7-blade aperture diaphragm
  • Minimum focus of about 10” (0.25m) with an almost 1:5 maximum magnification
  • 11.6 ounches (330g) and only about 3.2” long (81.3mm)
  • 11 elements in 9 groups, with 2 aspherical elements and Nano coating
  • AF-S focus  (works with all Nikon DSLRs, even those without in-camera focus motors)
  • No VR, no tripod mount, simple MA/M switch
  • 67mm filter ring
  • The HB-64 lens hood and CL-0915 soft pouch come with the lens

There’s a wide focus ring and a minimal depth of field scale (markings for f/16 only). 

Nikon’s page for the lens is here. The lens is made in China and retails for US$700. 

Source of the review sample: personal purchase. Results compared to no other sample lens available to me.

How’s it Handle?
This lens is probably a bit bigger than you’d expect for a 28mm, but since you’re almost certainly using it on an FX body (definitely not a very useful focal length for DX), that’s probably not going to be an issue. The lens feels light, even for its size, so it’s not exactly a burden to carry. 

The focus ring on the lens rotates one-quarter turn from minimum to infinity focus. On my sample the ring feels somewhat loose and a little sloppy. If I were trying to nail a manual focus position on it, I’m not sure I could always do that. There’s not enough discretion or directness for fine tune focus precision. Note my comment about video, above. On top of the discretion problem, focusing isn’t exactly silent, either. 

One peeve with all the f/1.8 lenses I have that relates to handling is the differing filter size: 77, 72, 67, 58, 58, and 67 for the 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm respectively. This means you need probably at least three sets of filters, maybe four (I’d probably handle the 72 and 77 requirements with a 77mm filter and 72-77mm step-up ring.)

How’s it Perform?
Focus: As with all the f/1.8G primes, focus performance isn’t what anyone would call snappy. As with many of Nikon’s lower-priced lenses lately, the initial focus acquisition can be just a little bit more buh-zip instead of zip. Tracking performance once focus is acquired seems to be just fine, though. 

That said, the 28mm has one attribute that will make people think that it’s not focusing properly: focus shift. This is a shift in focus plane that occurs when you stop down the lens, and the 28mm has it in spades. There’s a significant shift towards back focus as you use smaller apertures, with the worst of the problem happening as you move from f/1.8 to f/4.  

Sharpness: Nikon’s new lens design system seems to produce lenses that are consistently very good to excellent in terms of acuity. While we don’t get the exceptional results you see with, say, the Zeiss Otus lenses, recent Nikkor primes have been well-behaved and well balanced. 

The sharpness measurements here bear that out: nothing exceptional to write about, but also nothing problematic to write about. Best aperture is probably f/5.6 (the corners come into sharpness just a bit more than at f/4), but frankly I’d rate both center and edge performance as very good pretty much at every aperture (though f/16 is certainly pushed down by diffraction on my D810). 

f/1.8, in particular, is interesting because the lens performs almost the same from edge to edge, and at a pretty good resolution (3000+ MTF out of Imatest wide open). Curiously, while the center improves substantially at f/2.8 and f/4, the edges don’t really see a substantive boost until f/4 and max out of about f/5.6. 

But think about it. If you were using this lens for scenics/landscapes, you’ll be at f/5.6 or f/8 on a D810 and the edges are excellent. If you’re using this lens for street, portrait, travel, event, the edges are good enough even at f/1.8 and the central area is excellent from f/2.8 until diffraction takes over. I can’t really think of many situations where the center/edge differentials at f/2.8 and f/4 really would come into play. And again, even at those apertures, I’d rate the edges as very good.

Chromatic Aberration: lateral CA is certainly present, but it’s very consistent just above the one pixel mark (on a D810) at every aperture. Easily corrected, and is corrected by most recent Nikon bodies shooting JPEG. Longitudinal CA is very present, with substantive green shift beyond the focus point and magenta forward. By f/4 this is minimized, but it’s present to some degree at every aperture. This is fairly typical for fast prime lenses, actually, but it can be problematic in some photographic situations and is difficult to remove.

Vignetting: Probably the worst characteristic of the lens. It vignettes substantially at f/1.8 (more than 2 stops) and is still highly vignetting at f/2.8 (more than one stop). By f/4 the vignetting is mostly ignorable, and certainly by f/8 it is ignorable. Again, many modern Nikon’s have the ability to correct for this in JPEGs, though at f/1.8 you’ll almost certainly have to use the High setting.

Linear Distortion: Just over a percent barrel distortion, and it appears that this is free of complexity, so again, easily corrected should it prove troublesome.

Bokeh: I’d characterize the bokeh, even wide open, as busy and irregular. The Latitudinal CA is again part of the culprit, but my sample also has a lopsided aperture diaphragm as I stop down. Nothing terrible here, but this is not a lens you buy because of its bokeh.

Final Words
The problem I have with the 28mm f/1.8 is this: it’s just not in my wheelhouse. It’s not wide enough for my landscape work, and I don’t do enough indoor event work to need the extra angle over a 35mm, and I’d probably just use the 24mm f/1.8 for that now that it’s out. The 28mm is not exceptional enough in image quality to compel me to find a reason to use it. And the focus shift is troubling.

Yet, it’s an excellent lens with only two things that are likely to cause you concern: the vignetting and the longitudinal chromatic aberration. I’m not sure you’re going to find a 28mm fast prime with less CA, and the vignetting is correctable in post processing (or even in camera with many Nikon DSLRs), so I’m left with “the 28mm f/1.8 is an excellent lens that I’m not really interested in.”

I think whether you purchase this lens depends a lot upon how you put together your FX prime set. For me, that would be 20mm, 24mm, 58mm, 85mm, and maybe the 28mm but more likely the 35mm to fit the gap between 24mm and 58mm. The 28mm also doesn’t have a lot of substance for DX users, as you basically get a 42mm (equivalent) f/1.8 out of the deal. Not enough angle of view difference to opt for this lens over the 35mm f/1.8 DX, which puts you at 52mm equivalent.

Yet I can imagine some who might want this lens in their prime set. A 20mm, 28mm, 50mm, 85mm set does present very clear differences in angle view in a pretty small set of lenses, and all perform fairly equally well. I’ve always personally felt that 35mm was a little too close to 50mm to warrant carrying both. Either I was in situations where I needed to be closer (couldn’t back up) or I wasn’t. In the former, I’d rather have wider (24mm, or maybe 28mm) than less wide (35mm). 

So it really boils down to a personal choice here. If you need a 28mm fast prime, this Nikkor is pretty darned good. Not exceptional, but also not something you’re going to regret buying in terms of performance (with the minor notes I made above).

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