Review: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G

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Specs and pricing info

It was not all that long ago that Nikon prime users had few good options. There was a slew of old manual-focus glass, but if you wanted fast, wide lenses you were either stuck with kludgy older lenses like the 35mm f/2 or the extremely expensive, and then discontinued, 28mm f/1.4. But things quickly turned themselves around with first the 24mm f/1.4 and then the 35mm f/1.4, among others. Combined with cameras like the Nikon D3s, it was literally night and day from the low-light shooting experience of Nikon gear just a few years before, as well as opening the world to depth-of-field control.

But these lenses, as well as others like the 85mm f/1.4G, were priced well out of the hands of most shooters. Luckily, once the professionals had been taken care of, Nikon started to update their more compact primes list as well, with the recent releases of the 85mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.8G. So what would they do with the wide-angle? Would we get a 24 f/1.8 and a 35mm f/1.8 (Nikon already has one, but it’s DX only — although it works well in the 1.2X crop of recent pro Nikons). No, they split the difference, releasing a 28mm f/1.8.

Which leads us to the most important thing to understand the 28mm:

It’s a 28mm lens.

Honestly, with computer-aided designs today, you can learn about 90 percent of what you need to know about most lenses just from the specs — what is the focal length and maximum aperture, weight, filter size, etc. It’s really rare for companies to release prime lenses that are optical duds these days, so what’s left to figure out is which are the true optical standouts — lenses like the crazy Zeiss 100mm f/2 — and general usage notes, especially autofocus performance. With Nikon especially, while I trust the optics of their lenses, some recent designs like the 50mm f/1.4G have had slower autofocus than I’d like.

I used to use the 28mm f/1.4 fairly regularly (a secret that I didn’t want to tell anyone at the time is that, while it was $3500 to buy, you could rent it for three days from Adorama for less than $20.) But most Nikon prime users probably aren’t all that used to shooting at 28mm. I’ve spoken to people who simply can’t get used to it — and indeed, if I were shooting with just one camera at a time, I’d prefer the 35mm for a more general usage. But I am almost always shooting with two cameras, one with a wide-angle and one with a telephoto lens, generally an 85. And I’ve often found myself doing a dance of “24mm or 35mm?” with that wide-angle. The 35 produces cleaner images with less worry about the nuances of the frame, but when things get really active and emotional I want a wider lens. For example, I’ve spent many weddings running to my bag to make sure I’ve had a 24mm lens on in time for the horah.

So for me, the 28mm has hit a sweet spot. Ever since I got it, it’s stayed on my camera for most of the day. It’s wide enough for great dance shots, once I adjusted my brain a little bit, but not too wide for general coverage. Again, though, this is all personal preference. If you haven’t used a 28mm much, make sure to buy from a store with a good return policy (like … hey … the store where all these links go…) You may love it or not.

I dig it.

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Usage and performance

Size and weight:

As you can see here, the 28mm is smaller than the 24mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4 (which flank it), but not precisely tiny:

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But what this doesn’t show is how light it is: It is just over half the weight of either lens. It’s really the first thing you note when you pick it up. Even on a heavy camera like the D3s, when I handed the combo to a second-shooter of mine for the first time, he said “Something feels different … did you leave the battery out?” Pair it with a camera like the D600, and you have a lightweight powerhouse. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of the morning dreaming of a lightweight wedding combo of two D600s, the 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, and Sigma 150mm.

Because here’s the deal: Weight matters. The Internet is filled with macho nostalgic types who loathe any tiny bit of plastic in any photography equipment, and want everything to be big, heavy, metallic rocks. I also love the feel of old equipment as a collector’s piece, but if I’m doing work, I want my gear to be as light and ergonomically sound as possible without causing severe structural weakness. I keep very fit — I do five or six hard workouts a week, not counting the 10 or so miles I walk every wedding day. My photo backpack tops out at more than 55 lbs, and I can do multiple dead-hang pull-ups with it on my back. So I feel I’m the one that needs to say this: Heavy cameras are a problem. Lift a five-pound camera and lens combo? No problem. Do it for 12 hours? Maybe you start to get sore. Do it for 12 hours a day, for 30 years? Now you’re talking severe problems. I’ve been in the business long enough to start looking forward in terms of decades, and whatever gets me the same quality in a lighter weight is fine by me, and I can leave the totally metal stuff on my collector’s shelf.

Would I take the extra 300 grams to make this a 28mm f/1.4G? Possibly — I do like my depth-of-field control. But I don’t miss it much, and this has gotten a lot more use than either my 24 or 35 in recent weeks.

Performance: Happily, the autofocus on this lens is nice and snappy, and locks well in low light. It works significantly better than my 24mm f/1.4 at locking focus during dancing, but of course my 24 has been around a few blocks. I find myself stopping down a couple notches to make sure everything is nice and sharp by default, but wide-open it is much sharper and more contrasty than Sigma’s 28mm f/1.8, which has a sort of veiling haze around things when shot wide-open. 28mm and f/1.8 gets you enough depth-of-field control to give things a little “pop,” but overall this is just a workmanlike lens, and it’s the moments in front of you that will make the image strong or not (and moments are important). If you want a lens that does most of the work for you, shoot with something like the 85mm f/1.4.

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Flare is pretty well-controlled with this lens, like most recent Nikon lenses it’s almost too well-designed and nano-coated to give very interesting flare, but it’s nice in the end to be able to have a flash firing back at you or the sun in the frame without losing much contrast, and you can see both below:

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Like all Nikon Nano lenses I know, color transmission is very good, slightly on the warm side, which ends up being great for skin tones:

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Overall, this is a great little gem. It might not survive being hit with a baseball bat (though I haven’t tried), but it balances extremely well on the D600. (It’s almost too light for the D3s — when I put it down, the weight of the lens doesn’t make the camera tip forward like I’m used to, and it once almost fell backward off a table because of that).

My highest recommendation is that I bought one, and I almost didn’t want to tell you about how much I liked it, because I wanted it all too myself.

More photos with the 28mm:

Buy it here!

Alex - I’m still rocking my Sigma 28mm 1.8. Dirt cheap, decent optics and very small. Its probably my favourite focal length if not the actual lens itself.

Great review as always.

Marcin - I’ve been thinking about buying this lens. Finally I’m sure i want to have it. Thanks a lot!

rich - though i’m not a nikon user myself – you write reviews in a way that’s practical and easy to read. great stuff!

Jimmy - Great review! I was excited about the new Sigma 35, but now I’m not sure which will be better for me. Time to pull out the old zoom lens and do some focal length testing.

Denis Adonis - Ryan. Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us. I’m waiting for my D600 and for my 28 1.8. A big hug from Valparadise!

Jason - Great review Ryan! Just wondering if you prefer the D3s over the new D4? If so, why? Thanks

David Walters - Thanks for the reminder on lens rentals. In a world of marketing where the “NEED” to purchase is ever present, a weekend rental for a wedding or two is a no brainer! Now on to adorama to purchase the newer better faster.

tomK - Screw the lens review. Those are just some godsmack wedding photos. Killin’ me.

Kari Bellamy - In regards to the “hit by a baseball bat” statement… I’ve dropped mine twice, once on concrete from waist level and it still works like a charm… granted I don’t want to go dropping it all the time…

James - Great review. You are not helping us who are trying to control our lens envy.

Ori Smaja - great review! just order one (:

Carsten Linke - Photography - thank you for this review. I think I will buy this lense asap… :-)

Eric Uys - Great review on the 28mm lens. I am an ambassador for Nikon South Africa and they have wanted me to test this lens but I kept on refusing but after this test I think I’m gonna give them a call, thanks!

Al - Thanks so much for the review Ryan !

Correct me if Im wrong but isnt there a 24mm 1.8 and an 18mm 1.8 also coming out from Nikon soon ?

Ryan Brenizer - No one knows for sure what’s coming out from Nikon. An 18mm f/1.8 FX would be very surprising.

Stephen Ingram - Ryan

These images are simply breathtaking. Hats off to you!

Peter Wasserman - Great review. Love the images! Have you ever tested or reviewed the Nikon 20 mm f2.8 D lens?

jeff - read this review and decided to buy this lens, super happy with it got from bh last week and its an awesome focal length and super sharp. no issues with focus shift at all. thx again

GC - Found this while googling the 28mm. Question: is this review missing from your main review page? I just had a look and it’s not there.

newton - I have read some where about the focus shift problem with this lens. Have you experienced this issue?

Cole Joseph Photography - Excellent article – We have been actually shooting with this prime lineup you mentioned for all of this wedding season and LOVE it! In particular the 28 and 85 combo is a great one and I pretty much shoot all our engagements with this combo. Check out our tutorial/video here explaining all of our must/have wedding gear :)

http://www.colesclassroom.com/must-have-wedding-photography-equipment/

Anonymous - Good review. Not overly technical and with real world examples… not a brick wall in sight!

Marcelo Barrera - This review just cost me 700 bucks.

Artyom Dyakiv - Is it good for croped camera?

Shane - Hi Ryan and thanks for a great write-up on the 24mm f1.8. I just have one question: could this lens be used on something like a D600 as a general walkabout lens for travel?

I’m due to buy the D600 and not 100% convinced by either the 24-85 VR or the 24-120 f4 VR lenses. I don’t believe their IQ is as good as the 28mm but the one big thing in their favour that I do make use of is VR. Since I shoot a lot in low light (e.g. museums) the VR really helps. I realise that I can use the 24mm at f1.8 or f2 but how sharp would these pics be at very low shutter speeds, compared with the variable zooms at f3.5 or f4 and with VR?

I shoot mostly around the 24mm – 35mm range with my 16-85mm VR DX on my D90, so I don’t really zoom that much.

Your pics seem to show that the 24mm is great for specific types of photography – i.e. when you really want to blur the background. I’m wondering if it can be used when I go to cities like Rome, Paris, etc as a walkabout lens?

I hope I’m making sense!

Thanks very much for any advice you can give me.

Shane

Lukas Gisbert-Mora - I am in between this one and the new sigma 35mm 1.4, I cannot make my mind. Which one would you pick?

Scott Vance - Thanks for the excellent review and the lovely examples. I love what you do with back-lighting. I must admit that I’m an adict of 28mm. 24 has too much distortion and 35mm doesn’t let you capture all of the action. Yes, I do throw on a 24 or 20mm for some of the dance action now and again, but I often shoot the bulk of the day with a 28 on one camera and an 85 or 105 on the other. I have two 28mm’s – the 1.8 Sigma and the 2.0 AIS. I love them both, but having played with the nano-coating of the 85mm and 35mm, I’m very much tempted by this gem. I might just have to loose the sigma and try this one out. I’m keeping the AIS as a great travel lens.

Thanks again!

Steve Spencer - Hi Ryan, bought this lens after reading the review and love it, I’m using on a 3300 but find on wide apertures my A/F is not finding the right point all the time. Do I need to take more time focusing or should I change the camera setting to get the most out of the lens ?

Thanks in advance ?