|Nikon 18-35mm 3.5-4.5D AF ED
by Jim McGee
After we reviewed the Nikon 17-35mm lens in the August issue we received a bunch of email asking us how the less expensive 18-35mm compared to it. Now we've had the chance to try both lenses and the results are in. The 18-35mm 3.5-4.5 is a very good lens that produces sharp images, doesn't vignette at 18mm with filters attached, and won't distort as long at the subject is parallel to the film plane.
So given the significant price difference why would anyone buy the 17-35 AFS f2.8 after Nikon released this lens?
Because performance is more than just sharpness and the differences make the 17-35mm AFS worth every penny to those who need it's additional performance and toughness. Let's take a minute and look at what the 18-35mm isn't before we talk about it's positive attributes. Understanding what this lens wasn't designed to do will help you decide if it's the right lens for you.
Pick up the 17-35mm in one hand and the 18-35mm in the other and dramatic differences in size and weight are immediately evident. It's obvious to anyone that the 17-35mm was designed to be a rugged pro lens while the 18-35mm has the light weight feel of an advanced amateur lens. With normal use the 18-35mm should provide years of service. But if your shooting regularly includes rough service in extreme environments this lens is likely to take a trip back to Nikon for service at some point in it's life - and it's life may be short. It's simply not designed to take heavy abuse. The next obvious difference is the difference in maximum aperture. The 18-35mm is a variable aperture lens while the 17-35mm maintains a fixed f2.8 throughout it's zoom range. While this may make some purists cringe the one stop difference isn't likely make a difference in most shooting situations. But for pros who have traveled literally to the ends of the earth to capture that once in lifetime shot - losing one shot due to lens speed could be one too many. More likely to be an issue is the difference in focus speed between the two lenses. We tried the 18-35mm on a number of Nikon bodies and found it's focus speed to be acceptably fast. But on those same bodies the 17-35mm's focus speed was extremely fast. Credit AFS technology. Speaking of focus a wonderful feature on the 17-35mm was the ability to manually touch up focus - a feature not found on the 18-35mm. Wide angle zooms are now being used for much more than landscapes and that extra focus speed is critical to many working pros.
So do these differences mean that the 18-35mm is somehow deficient? That you should automatically spend the extra money for the 17-35mm? Not at all. Many of you probably read the preceding paragraph and said "so what?" Whether or not these differences amount to a hill of beans will be driven by three criteria: your shooting style, your shooting conditions, and the depth of your pockets.
If this lens fits your style of shooting it's definitely worth a look. It wasn't that long ago that having a 20mm prime in your bag meant that you were really shooting with a wide lens. But wide angle lenses, particularly super-wides (those wider than 20mm) have seen real advances in lens design that have made their designs smaller, cheaper, lighter, and higher in quality.
This lens displayed no bad habits in use. For it's class it focused quickly and accurately. A twin ring lens, it's an easy twist of the nicely damped zoom ring to go from 18-35mm. Switch over to manual mode to focus at hyper-focal distance for the scene and you find that the focus ring is nicely damped as well. There are two nice design touches for filter users. The front element doesn't rotate and the front of the lens is widely offset to prevent vignetting with filters. The lens body is about the thickness of a Nikkor mid range zoom which would normally mean a 62mm filter. But this lens is flared out at the end with the equivalent of a built in step ring that brings it's filter threads out to 77mm. Even with a polarizer and split neutral density filter mounted at 18mm we weren't able to get it to vignette.
The lens has 8 groups of 11 elements, 1 is an ED glass element to assure accurate color rendition by reducing chromatic aberration. One notable difference between this lens and the 17-35mm is that it was easier to induce flare in the 18-35mm - something that superwides are known for. In the image on the left I noticed flare in the viewfinder. A very minor correction downward and the flare vanished. I noticed this behavior several times where the flare only occured over a narrow range.
To provide more natural looking out of focus areas in your images the 18-35mm employees a 7 blade rounded diaphragm. The rounded diaphragm softens the edges of out of focus elements to create a softer look.
We compared slides from this lens against our review of the 17-35 and found that they stood up quite well. Examination with a 22x loupe on the light table showed some differences in sharpness but there's not a noticeable difference in most situations.
We found street prices ranging from $490 to $525 on this lens. It provides a lot of bang for the buck - even when compared against it's big brother.
In upcoming issues we'll be
looking at offerings in this focal