Review: The Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G

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Due to a risky mixture of popular request and a slight but gnawing dissatisfaction with my the performance of my 24/1.4 G on the D800E, I recently acquired the Nikon AFS 28mm f1.8 G to review. (Hereafter referred to as the 28G) The 28G was released earlier this year, and is now available with relative ease. It’s a 11/9 design with a near focus limit of just 25cm, and magnification of 0.22x.

All images in this review may be clicked on for larger versions. Photographs from this review were shot with a Nikon D800E on my last assignment to Geneva.

A note on testing methodology: I’m not a lab reviewer, but I do try and make my testing as scientific as possible. It’s part of getting to know the limitations of you gear, so you can make the most out of it on assignment and in the field. This means that if I see some odd behavior, I’ll do my best to replicate it before reporting it’s an issue. Please go by what I say, not by the images – it’s impossible to judge optical characteristics on web-sized jpegs; I’ve been looking at hundreds of D800E raw files.

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The lens is both light in the hand, and fortunately also light on the wallet. At a street price of around US$650 (in Malaysia, at least) – it represents excellent value for money compared to both the AFS 24/1.4 G, and the notoriously difficult to find AF 28/1.4 D. Being a huge fan of the 28mm focal length, I find myself with few options – 24 and 35 are much more popular, and have everything from f1.4 options to macros and tilt-shifts. (To the best of my knowledge, the only perspective-control 28mm made was an early Nikon 28/3.5, which only allowed shift and no tilt.) Until now, my go-to lens at 28mm has been the Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T* – to be the subject of a future review – which has some pretty unique optical qualities, not least its hugely pronounced field curvature.

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Although the 28G carries the gold front ring signifying contents of ED glass and professional level construction, it definitely doesn’t feel like it. This is one of the lightest lenses for its size I’ve ever handled; similar in weight and size to the 18-135 DX kit lens, actually. The shell is entirely polycarbonate, and the only metal to be found anywhere is on the mount and screws. Looking at the edges of the back element, I suspect there’s a moulded aspherical element or two in there also. Still, build quality seems decent enough, with no creaks, rattles or clunking, and the focusing ring is both easy to turn and without any free play. The lens also has a rear gasket and is weather sealed.

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This is a proper AF-S lens, which means that there’s full time focus override, no hard stops at either end of the focusing scale (though the resistance increases noticeably) and reasonably fast and accurate focus. It acquires focus at about the same speed or slightly faster than the 24/1.4, actually. Most of the time, the lens snaps into focus quickly and positively. I’ve had a couple of occasional ‘near misses’ where the camera thought the lens was in focus but it was just out of critical sharpness range – near enough – but only when shooting at f1.8. I don’t know if this is an issue with the lens or the D800E (and its focusing issues). Some further investigation is in order, I think. The lens is somewhat prone to the left-side AF issue of the D800/D800E, though only for the extreme most points (the column of three) – all of the other points focus as expected, at least on my D800E body.

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100% crop of above

Optically, the 28G does a great job in the center – it’s sharp from wide open even on the D800E, however you need to stop down a bit to reach maximum microcontrast. Optimal sharpness in the center comes at about f5.6. There’s almost no CA or flare, even when shooting high contrast subjects; a testament to Nikon’s Nano-Crystal Coating doing the job it was designed for. There is, however, some uncorrected speherochromatism and longitudinal chromatic aberration – the latter which appears as both bloom and red/green fringing when shot wide open. The lens makes nice sunstars, too – with minimal ghosting.

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100% crop of the above image, shot through glass (hence the fringing)

The corners, are a different story – they’re not sharp til about f8, and noticeably vignetted. However, it seems that the 28G also suffers from pronounced field curvature – much like the Zeiss Distagon – because there is a sharp plane of focus, curved in front of the subject and back towards the camera. It isn’t quite as pronounce as the Zeiss, but it’s definitely there. Technical shooters will hate this because it isn’t a flat-field lens, but personally I think it’s great for environmental portraiture and reportage – placing your subject somewhere in the central region means that the lens actually helps you to achieve better separation by relatively defocusing the background further. Speaking of technical shooters, there’s a hint of pincushion distortion, but nothing that isn’t easily fixable with the profiles available in Photoshop/ ACR.

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Let’s talk a bit about bokeh – it’s best described as neutral to good. There are some bright edges on circular OOF highlights, but nothing too bad; there’s also a hint of texturing inside the same circles, which points to the use of a moulded aspherical element or two somewhere inside. I can’t help but think a circular 9-bladed diaphragm, similar to that used in the f1.4 G lenses, would have improved things a bit – the pennies had to be saved somewhere, and we have to make do with a 7-bladed and slightly angular iris.

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If you’ve got enough distance between subject and background, the lens renders the scene with rather nice ‘pop’ – subjects are well separated from the background. Although the 28G has a maximum aperture of f1.8, it has about the same isolating power as the 24/1.4 due to the slightly longer focal length. I still wouldn’t use it for close up portraits though, the wide angle perspective distortion is definitely not flattering.

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In what must be a first for any Nikon lens, the 28G seems to out-transmit its Zeiss counterpart, aperture-for aperture. The 28G has a T stop that’s about 1/3 stop greater than the 28 Distagon; a rather surprising result. (The Zeiss 85 Planar is nearly a whole T stop faster than the 85/1.4 D, and about a third of a stop faster than the 85/1.4 G.) The front elements have the same nearly-invisible look as those of the Distagon. More importantly, transmission throughout the color range is pleasingly neutral; scenes are rendered with clarity and natural saturation – though not quite with the same microcontrast punch and overall saturation of the Zeiss

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Oops, missed the sensor dust.

If at this point it seems that the review has somewhat turned into a comparison between the Zeiss ZF.2 28 Distagon and the 28G, you’d be right – in my mind, these are natural competitors (at least they are in my lens cupboard, at any rate). It’s very difficult to choose between the two – the Zeiss does have a certain hard-to-define quality about its microcontrast structure and bokeh that just makes images shot with it slightly more vivid and three-dimensional; however, you lose very little with the Nikon, and gain much convenience by way of autofocus.

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I am a 28mm junkie (at the last count, I’ve got nine ways to get there on four different sensor sizes) so you might want to take this conclusion in context – I can see reasons for having both. If I was shooting something for which I had time to be deliberate in the setup and craft the scene – I’d pick the Zeiss. However, if I was doing documentary work, or travel, or anything which might possibly have a hint of run-and-gun to it – I’d mount the Nikon. MT

The Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G is available here from B&H or Amazon.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Update: My 28 stopped working yesterday; up til this point it hasn’t had any issues, but suddenly none of my cameras would recognize the lens. Nikon service says it’ll be three weeks to get replacement parts (AF motor, PCB, some connectors) – which frankly is pretty unacceptable for a lens that’s only three weeks old! To make it worse, there aren’t any loan units or similar lenses other than a slow zoom or two.

To their credit though, they arranged a replacement through my usual dealer within about half an hour. With the number of problems with Nikon’s recent products, I’m starting to think that QC has suffered quite a bit following the tsunami – or it could just be because the lens is made in China.

Comments

  1. Hi Ming,

    Sorry to bring up an ancient post. Care to share what are the shortcomings you found about the 24 1.4G on the D800?
    Whilst it work fantastically on my D700, the 24 1.4G is giving me soft images on D4. I’ve tested it on a focus chart, it doesn’t seem to be back or front focus. I’m now contemplating the new 20 1.8G.

  2. Hello Ming,,, sorry to ask (I know this is a older-out dated) post…but was wanting your personal opinion on the Nikon 35 1.4G… I currently have all “tele-photos” with 50 being my “widest” on my D800E…I have gotten by with my 70-200 2.8,, 85 1.4G,, 105 VR macro,and 50 1.8G..for the type of photography I do…I have been really “eye balling” the 35 1.4G and the 28 1.8G..and really can’t decide between the 2…I know previously you stated that you thought the 35 1.4 was “soft” in the corners..but from so many reviews on line,, people say it is soo sharp wide open…more than the 28 1.8G wide open…My plans for the lens are for candid photos of the kids and a “really good” walk around lens..Do you think the 35 is too much like my 50?? And the 28 would serve me better?? So many people complain about the field curvature on the 28G and not so much the 35…I want the “sharpest” lens (in your opinion) for my D800E that is a prime (and not the 24 1.4).. I guess I could “rent” these lenses but would love to hear your opinion…As always thx for such a great site..and all the talent/knowledge you provide..:))
    Sincerely,
    Bryan L (Tampa,FL)

  3. “Although the 28G carries the gold front ring signifying contents of ED glass and professional level construction ”

    Gold Ring does not necessarily indicate use of ED Glass –
    ( However it does denotes Weather sealing & Pro quality ) also this Lens does not have any ED Glass .
    Just an observation friend

  4. Great review there. I love your images too.

    Is there anything we can do to fix the focus-shift? I like to buy this lens but this focus problem always bugs me.

    Thanks

    • If you shoot wide open most of the time, you can always AF fine tune for the wide open position and stop down beyond f4 – then focus shift isn’t so noticeable.

  5. I did get this lens, largely based upon your review, for my D800. Great lens, but I am having a problem. Seems I just “see” better at 35mm. 28 seems too wide for me. Unfortunately Nikon does not offer a good FX 35mm IMHO, so it is either the Rokinon, which I own, or the Sigma, or learn to shoot at 28mm! Any tips on the latter, since you seem to like the FL?

    • Ah, well, seeing 35 is more of a photographer problem than a lens one, no? ;)

      If you really like 35, my favorite for Nikon F is the Zeiss 2/35 Distagon – manual focus, though. As for shooting 28 – one tip: get closer than you normally would. Take a step forward. Watch the backgrounds, foregrounds and edges.

      • Great advice! I have this lens. It is one of my favorites. I took me a while but I have also noticed that taking a few steps forward and keeping your subject close will give you an awesome perspective. It is actually the second copy that I have. I bought a refurbish the first time, bad mistake. It had focus issues. Still the good shoots I got inspired me to get a second copy (non-refurbished) and it is spot on. I find myself using this lens more often then I use my 24-70mm f/2.8. I have a lot of fun with it :-)

        See link for 28mm shot.

        http://500px.com/photo/69942441/fire-eyes!-by-rolf-quander?from=user_library

  6. Victor Suarez says:

    Awesome review Ming. Would you consider the 28 for a new Nikon D-7100 DX sensored camera. I chose the 35 f1.8 but can easily return it for the 28 which was really my first choice HOWEVER I had read that it wasn’t really a good choice for the DX format. Your thoughts?

  7. Liang Guo says:

    Happy new year Ming!
    I am now seriously considering 28G and have read your appealing review thoroughly. In your onverall opion, this is a very worthy len. But I heard a somehow negative aspect on this len from several users: it yields a good sharpness when the focus distance is within 1 m; however as the distance is beyond 1 m or longr, say for landscape or group photo, the sharpness will increasingly drop (maybe because the focus distance of the window is infinite when it is beyond 0.7 m). I wonder whether this happens in your case. Is it acceptable or noticeable for you?
    Hope my question will not cost you too much time. Thank you!

  8. I originally bought my D600 with the idea to buy the three 1.8G primes. However since I mostly used my 24-70 at the extremes (especially 24mm) I’m wondering how much I’ll like the focal length. Although I really like your photos with the 28, the perspective feels wide but very natural indeed. I’ve even started wondering about the 16-35, but I don’t want zooms anymore, too big and they make me lazy.

    Then there are the 20/2.8 and 24/2.8, but from all the reviews I get the impression that the 28/1.8 is simply the better lens, the 20 and 24 don’t seem to fit modern megapixel monsters very well. Have you tried the 20 or 24/2.8? I guess I wish Nikon would also include something a little wider in their affordable primes range.

  9. Ming,

    Your review of Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G (June 2012, 8/10) does not mention the focus shift issue discussed on the web in many places. Perhaps the best discussion is http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Nikon_Nikkor_AF-S_28mm_f1-8G. On the basis of this discussion and others, I decided not to buy the lens. What is odd is that other reviewers say there is no focus shift problem that they can detect.

    Any thoughts on this you might have would be appreciated.

    Ron

    • I haven’t noticed it, to be honest. It’s possible that the reason for this is that I calibrated my AF fine tune for this lens wide open, then only tend to shoot it at f1.8 or f5.6 or smaller, meaning that by the time focus shift becomes a issue, I’m already covered by depth of field. It might well exist but it doesn’t affect the way I shoot with it.

    • Ming,

      Thank you for your reply. If the alleged focus shift problem with the AFS 28/1.8 G doesn’t bother you, a serious professional, it certainly will not bother me, an amateur. I ordered the lens.

      Thanks again,

      Ron

  10. Hi Ming,

    What a great service you provide. Thank you!

    Putting manual/auto focusing aside, how would you compare the Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar to the Nikon 50mm 1.8G for optical quality/resolution…used on a D800E? I am trying to settle on a mid-range prime for this camera for landscapes to closeups, and am really struggling with it. I can afford either lens. What would you do?

    Nick

  11. Catherine says:

    Ming, what is you opinion about nikkor 28 f2.8 AI-S?

  12. Hi Ming, I am thinking of selling my 24 and 35 1.4gs and replacing it with the 28g. I shoot D3s and while I love the IQ of my 1.4gs, they are bit of luxury as I also have the 24-70. My main use for the moderate wide angle fast prime is for environmental portraits in low light. Before this lens came out, I’d have never thought about selling my 1.4gs, but now with this 28, I am very tempted. I can use the saved money on the exchange towards some nice glass/gear to support my newly acquired OMD system. What do you think about this move – it looks like if I get a good copy of the 28, the sharpness wouldn’t be an issue for my intended use, may lose a little for smoother bokeh and transition from focused subject to background and of course, a 1/3 stop of light using wide open? And this one lens could replace both FL (making my bag much, much lighter), since it’s right in between the two. When I think about it logically, it should be a no brainer, right? I guess I am a little attached to the 1.4’s. Any encouraging thoughts? Thanks Ming.

    • I sold my 24/1.4 for the 28/1.8. I think that should say enough for you.

      • Got a buyer lined up for my 24g and the 28 1.8 is ordered. Also will be selling the 35 1.4g to get the Olympus 45 & 75 1.8 for my EM-5. How’s that for my trust and faith in your reviews? :)

        • Plenty – hope you won’t be disappointed with the glass, it’s worked out well for me. Any chance you could order from Amazon via my referral links please? :)

          • I like this review and will be purchasing very soon, I would use your Amazon referral link but, most of Europe & Uk uses the .co.uk Amazon, our account won’t work for UK delivery or payment. Let me know id you can set up a .co.uk referral link!

      • I would have loved to, but I’ve had abundance of Q C issues with Nikon lately so I ordered one from my local store where return is much easier. I feel much more confident with Olympus, so I will definitely order their stuff using your Amazon referral link. I just wished they had the 75 1.8 in stock. It says will ship in 1-4 months – that’s a huge window of time.

  13. Hi Ming. Thanks for another great review. What are your thoughts on using the 28/1.8G on a DX body such as the D7000?

    • DX crop looks pretty good on the D800E – I don’t have a DX body to specifically test it. The only issue is with the crop, it gives the somewhat odd focal length of 42mm – you may or may not like this…

  14. Merci beaucoup. Happy that you like the lens, You convinced me for the 28 mm, but for a wider lens it seems to be a tricky issue . Next time in Geneva; why don’t you organize a workshop? did you ever (never) consider that?

  15. Thanks a ton for the much anticipated review.
    I have a D800 with the 50mm 1.8G as my only lens right now. I want to add a wider lens for travel purposes, preferrably a prime. Would you recommend this lens? I don’t care that much about a specific focal length as long as it’s wider than 50mm. It should have very good optical performance for a decent price – so no 1.4Gs ;) In other words – do you think this is ‘the’ wide prime with the best bang for the buck? Thank you very much in advance. All the best from Munich!

    • Sure – it’s light and produces great images. You need something with a different enough perspective to 50mm to make it worth carrying – so the 28 fit that bill. And yes, I like this lens a lot…

      • Bought it and did not regret it.

        + Light
        + Fast and accurate Focus
        + good Bokeh (nothing to get excited about)
        – Uneven Focus Plane
        + Uneven Focus Plane (when you want to separate your subject even more from the background)
        + With the D800’s 1.2x Crop Mode I can finally emulate a 35mm FX (not DX) 1.8G without spending big bucks on the 1.4G version.
        Thoughts on this last point? The Depth of Field is not that different between 28mm and 35mm and the D800’s resolution easily allows 1.2x cropping. Tried the 35mm DX 1.8G but the Vignetting was just too much. Very satisfied with the results so far.

        Thanks Ming!

        • Haven’t thought about the last point; personally, I’m not a 35mm person, but I do know that the 35/1.4G wasn’t a very good lens on the D800/E – the corners were terrible.

  16. Let’s focus on what’s important here: the black Bentley is for high speed equipment hauling between
    assignments, right? Good choice.

  17. Stopped working already, wow I’m pretty shocked!

  18. Ming,
    Thanks for the helpful reviews.
    Have you tried the Hasselblad V series Zeiss lenses on the Nikon 800E?
    I am thinking of getting an 800E but since my Leica R lenses will not work, I will be forced to use my Hasselblad lenses.
    Steve H.

  19. Great review and wonderful pictures. I am wonder if you did any post processing to the pics, perhaps as you would normally do given the situation and results of a shot. Also, I would like to learn more about focus shifts, tilts, etc. that you do with a PC type lens. I’ve never seen a thorough review of these lens characteristics and often wonder of their advantages for architecture shots. Perhaps a topic for a future blog, I would imagine that you have the concepts down pat.

  20. Shah Mohd Adnan says:

    Hi Ming, again the usual pleasantry: Thanks for the review and awesome images!
    Was wondering on the reasoning you black taped the Nikon logo and Model on your camera? Thanks!

  21. Stephan says:

    Thanks for your review! I particularily like the look of the image at the train stop, where the woman is leaning against the window.

    It’s really a pity, that the lens stopped working after three weeks. I hope this is just a one-timer (it can always happen) and no general problem in Nikon’s QA.

    Why did you tape the “Nikon” and “D700″ on your camera?

    • No problem. I hope it’s a one-off too – first time it’s happened to me out of dozens of Nikon lenses, certainly. The tape is because I shoot reflective objects at close range, and it’s easier not to have to retouch out the lettering afterwards…

  22. You’ve pushed me over the edge with your review. Thanks!

    Can I suggest that you add Amazon affiliate links for all of the relevant stores on your hardware reviews? I’d gladly purchase via your affiliate links if they were prominently featured.

  23. Ming thanks for the review of the Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G N. I was one of those who were asked to.
    This lens, on my D700, together with the Nikon AF 85/1.8 D are going to be my “two lenses to go” for the summer.

    Thanks again.

  24. For the price and what it affords on the D800/E with AF, I’ll take it! Looks like a winner!
    I really dig the photo of the waiter walking down the stairs and man scanning the 3 francs books in particular!

Trackbacks

  1. […] with a D700. Beyond the camera itself, lens selection matters: I went through five samples of the AFS 28/1.8 G until I found one that didn’t exhibit any decentering. Slower lenses tend to be more […]

  2. […] B&H Amazon Nikon AFS 24/1.4 G* 7/10 – B&H Amazon Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G** 6/10 – review B&H Amazon Nikon AFS 50/1.8 G 7/10 – B&H Amazon Nikon AFS 85/1.4 G* 9/10 – […]

  3. […] AFS 24/1.4 G – $200 off AFS 28/1.8 G (reviewed here) – $100 off AFS 35/1.4 G – $200 off AFS 50/1.4 G – $100 off AFS 50/1.8 G – […]

  4. […] Ming Thein even puts it up against a Zeiss: […]

  5. […] shot with a huge number of 28mm lenses and 28mm equivalents; the two I currently own – the Nikon AFS 28/1.8G and Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon are reviewed on their respective links, too. Aside from that, […]

  6. […] I’ve used? This is an interesting question, because the new Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G (which I recently reviewed here) seems to actually have a lot of the same optical properties as the Zeiss – field curvature, […]

  7. […] D700 (reportage/ low light), D800E (primary for commercial work), F2 Titan (personal work) Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G, AI 45/2.8P, AI-S 58/1.2 Noct, AFS 60/2.8 G, AFS 85/1.8 G, PCE 85/2.8 Nikon SB-700 x1, SB-900 x3 […]

  8. […] that you have no insurance when it comes to equipment failure.) Many of you will know that the new Nikon 28/1.8 G has proven itself to be a very capable lens even on the demanding sensor of the D800E; I’m […]

  9. […] that performs well on the D800E is going to perform well on the D600; I’m primarily using my AFS 28/1.8 G and 85/1.8 G without issue. Image quality is definitely closer to the D800 than the D700, and under […]

  10. […] 239 nueva review: Review: The Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G […]

  11. […] Back to the primes we go with a review of the Nikon 28mm f1.8G lens by Ming Thein. […]

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