Sunday, 1 June 2014

Lens Review - Nikkor 35mm f/2.0 AF-D

I'm making these lens reviews to illustrate their capability at capturing infra-red images. The Sony A7 platform is great for displaying almost any 35mm lens' full potential on digital (via adapters), so I'm now capable of testing nearly any lens I can get my hands on. These review won't be exhaustive or hugely technical, they'll concentrate on real world samples and experiences. Mostly it will help point out the ones to avoid when choosing a lens to shoot in infra-red.

I hope to build a good library of reviews by borrowing lots of new and old lenses from friends, but I have a few to start me off and also have my eye on a few to buy, so hopefully this section will grow quite quickly.

Note: Corner quality is difficult to quantify with infra-red for a host of reasons, but I will do my best to review around these issues.

    IR Issues
I open with this topic because it's the most important factor when choosing which lens not to use for infra-red photography. I can happily confirm that this lens does not suffer from the infamous hot-spot issue. I have tested it at various apertures (which would effect the size/intensity of hot-spots if they show up) and I've seen no hint of it here. Flaring can occur more in IR, but although it'll be a little more intense I don't think it'll bother anyone at these levels. You get crazy lens flares if you get direct sunlight on the front element, but that's true with any lens and equally true of colour photography. The contrast and clarity of this lens are equally as good with infra-red as with visible colour.

The 52mm filter thread is great for infra-red shooting. Filters for this size are common and reasonably priced. Since so many prime lenses share this thread size (most 24-50mm prime lenses for example) you won't mind getting filters in this size because of their versatility. Adapting down to 49mm thread size (a common older size) is also pretty painless, the step-up adapters don't add enough bulk to make it awkwardly sized. The Filter thread here is plastic, so it can be a little fiddly, but it doesn't rotate when focusing.

    Handling / Physicality
This lens is really quite small and light lens considering it's maximum aperture and minimum focus distance. If used on an SLR (I've tried it on Canon and Nikon) then it's very small, but adapted to short flange mirrorless it gains a bit of weight and nearly doubles in length. It doesn't make it horrible to hold or use, but it's a shame considering what it can be and looks a little front heavy (which it isn't really).

Most lenses this size and weight have a maximum aperture of f/2.8 so it's nice to have an extra stop here. It's especially appreciated as a general or travel lens because it makes it better for low-light use. The older manual focus metal Nikkor AI-S 35mm may have a maximum aperture of f/1.4, but it's bigger, much heavier and more troublesome with it's image quality.

Being an older AF model this lens has a physical aperture ring, which means it works well when adapted to work on other platforms, like the A7. I must say that it's a rather nasty plastic mechanism though and I really quite dislike Nikon's lock button (it locks the aperture to f/22) - for automatic aperture setting. This lock stops most new Nikon bodies from simply erroring, when set to any value other than f/22. It's a horrible functionality, which I really wish didn't exist. It's especially annoying if switching from a Nikon camera to a non-Nikon camera often.

Autofocus speed with this lens is good, but not having an internal motor it's rather noisy and won't work on cheaper Nikon bodies (which only support AF-S lenses). When adapted to mirrorless camera bodies my main gripe with this lenses focusing is that the focus ring is very exposed on the front corner. Since it has almost no friction it's very easily knocked, so even when using a reliable hyper-focal distance for landscapes you'll need to constantly check the focusing. Being an AF lens it's not the nicest focus mechanism, but it's not too annoying to use either.

The minimum focus distance of 25cm (remember that's from the back of the lens!) is very close for such a small lens with a decently wide maximum aperture. You won't quite get to macro levels, but it's great for subject isolation at f/2.

Happily this lens has both the hyper-focus distance and infra-red offset markings on the top. Like aperture rings, these are generally very useful despite being lacking on most modern lenses.

I would classify this lens's optical clarity as good in the middle and average to below average on the outer edges (on full-frame), but considering it's a fairly reasonably priced older prime I was pleasantly surprised by it. Although it's lacklustre edge performance gets worse at the widest apertures I think this is where this lens shines. "What the hell is he talking about" I hear people shout, but hear me out... It doesn't lose too much sharpness, or get too hazy wide open, so when focusing close (say on portraits) its relative sharpness is really quite impressive overall.

With some stunningly good lenses coming out recently (at least on paper), pixel peepers will probably not be happy with lenses from this era, but I really quite like them and this one especially. If that puts me in the character loving column then so be it. To me it's the image as a whole that's important beyond all else and you shouldn't have to zoom into an image to see how good it is. Some people will argue that the photo could be blown up to the size of a building, but I always see images being viewed the same way, no matter the size or pixels count. Whether you agree with me or not is not hugely important, but I hope this helps illustrate my thought process and allows you to gauge your own conclusions from this.

Being a wide aperture prime lens addict I'm leaving my favourite topic until last, although so far I've struggled to apply it quite so well to infra-red as I have with colour.

The bokeh quality of this lens doesn't elevate much beyond average, but it does have one trick up its sleeve. It has good potential with the amount of bokeh, due to its close minimum focus distance. This makes up for a lot of that lacklustre quality. When shooting at or near to this distance it's possible to thrown the background out really well, more so than most 35mm f/1.4 lenses. To my mind this helps give a better relative impression of sharpness. Combined with good subject isolation (3D pop) this is why I appreciate bokeh and why my view of this lens is elevated by it's close focus abilities.

    IR Samples

▲▲  Heliopan #25 (red) @ f/8  ▲▲

▲▲  B+W 093 (850nm IR) @ f/2  ▲▲

▲▲  Heliopan #25 (red) @ f/11  ▲▲

 ▲▲  Heliopan #25 (red) @ f/5.6  ▲▲

▲▲  Heliopan #25 (red) @ f/4  ▲▲

▲▲  B+W 093 (850nm IR) @ f/8  ▲▲

▲▲  B+W #22 (Orange) @ f/2  ▲▲

▲▲  Schott RG665 @ f/8 ▲▲

This is a very nice little lens for it's price, especially if you can find a second hand one in nice condition. It's a lens that I keep coming back to for infra-red because of it's versatility of use. It's larger and a little heavier on mirrorless cameras, but it's still a compelling option for various subjects. I like this focal length for taking almost anything, the f/2 aperture is great for such a small lens and the shallow depth-of-field is really quite impressive when focusing close. If you can take advantage of the autofocus I'd say it's a no-brainer, but if you're buying second hand be careful of oil leaking and making the aperture blades stick (an issue that plagues earlier versions of this lens).

IR Clarity (lack of issues): 10/10
Sharpness (Middle): 7.5/10
Sharpness (Edges - FF): 4/10
Sharpness (@ f/2.0): 7/10
Bokeh quality: 4/10
Bokeh amount: 8/10
Size & weight: 9.5/10
Lens Markings: 9/10
Versatility: 9/10
Value (used): 7/10
Value (new): 8/10

Overall Score (Colour): 8/10
Overall Score (Infra-red): 8/10
Highly Recommended

No comments:

Post a Comment