Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D Lens Review – A Travel/Street Photographers Favorite

Editors' Choice

9 Build Quality
10 Size
9 Image Quality
10 Value
9.5

Are you in the market for an inexpensive lens?  Perhaps you need a 35mm prime to round out your collection?  Don’t hate your money?  Does size matter (keep it clean)?  Good, then you found the right place.  I’m going to review the venerable 35mm f/2D lens from Nikon, a full frame lens that was released in 1995, costs less than $400, and is so small it can fit in your pocket…  Have I got your attention?

Is a 50mm more your speed?  Check out my review of the awesome Nikon 50mm f/1.8D for under $132.

Reviewing photography gear is great, it’s been a blast giving readers the real world results of using some of the best cameras, lenses, and other photography equipment I can get my hands on.  As you know, I only review gear I would consider purchasing myself…  In fact, I do purchase all the gear I review myself.  Nothing I’ve reviewed here has been given or loaned to me.  I have no affiliation with manufacturers and tell it as I see it.  In order for me to continue to bring you real world reviews I need a little help from readers like you.  I don’t want you to give me money or anything like that, what I would like is for you to use the links here on the site to purchase things like the gear you see reviewed.  It doesn’t even have to be that gear though, if you hit a link and purchase anything, from any country, it helps keep the website running smoothly.  Thank you!

When you research 35mm lenses for a full frame Nikon you are really only left with big, bigger, and huge if you want weather sealed, state of the art lenses.  Then I found the veteran 35mm f/2D.  It’s not weather sealed but it’s inexpensive, tiny, light, and has excellent image/build quality.

Build Quality

It doesn’t feel like junk.  I mean, a lens does not have to be built like a tank to impress me, I’m not planning on opening a can of beans with it or bludgeoning a subject into submission.  There are two things I noticed about this lens that didn’t thrill me, the gap between the plastic and the lens mount (less than a quarter of an inch) and the fact that it is not weather resistant…  To that second point, my X100T isn’t weather proof either but I shoot in rain, snow, sleet, etc. and have never had a problem.  The gap between the plastic on the lens and the lens mount is only a problem if you are neurotic about things like that, otherwise the fit is tighter than my $2k+ Nikon lenses (seriously, it is the tightest fitting lens I own now).

The focus is external as opposed to internal so when you focus in and out the barrel of the lens will extend slightly but this does not impede the use of a filter (circular polarizer or otherwise) as the barrel does not spin.  The filter size is 52mm, if you own multiple lenses I highly recommend purchasing step up rings so you don’t need to purchase multiple lens filters (a step up ring allows you to use a 72mm filter on any of your smaller lenses, always buy a filter for the largest lens and step up from there otherwise your filter will impede the field of view of larger lenses if you tried to affix it to them).

JMB_1212

Important:

This lens has an actual aperture ring you can manually turn…  If you have a newer camera and like to control the aperture through it you can flick a tiny little switch above the aperture ring to lock the aperture on the lens and rely entirely on in camera controls (the little switch is located right to the right of the distance window on the lens and must be set to f/22 before locking.

Image Quality

If you read other reviews around the internet they mention that the lens renders slightly soft at f/2 but is sharp as a tack at f/2.8.  I know everything that is on the internet is true but I decided that I’d have to test this out myself.  The images at f/2 are more than acceptably sharp unless you are pixel peeping and again…  a little neurotic.  If you shoot street photography the f/2 on this lens affixed to a full frame Nikon is still sharper than my already sharp X100T.

JMB_1200

Now you might be thinking “But John, I shoot landscapes and I need things to be SHARP!”  Alright, take a look at your data, crunch some numbers if you will, and tell me how many landscape shots you have taken at f/2…  At f/2.8 and above this lens is very, very sharp. 

Low Light

Every lens I purchase I put through the low light ringer to see how it does.  Now a lot of this is reliant on your cameras sensor but different lenses definitely have different low light fingerprints.

JMB_1117If you notice grain it’s because this shot was taken with an ISO of 4500.  The image has been post processed and noise reduction added (+17) in Lightroom.

JMB_1198Look at the star bursts around the bright lights in this image at f/4…  I was pleasantly surprised by this when I got back to my computer and reviewed my images from that evening.  The starburst isn’t really something I would expect at such a wide aperture, I really enjoy the unique image quality of this lens.

Bright Light

How a lens handles low light is important, how it handles harsh light is even more important.  Some lenses have garish lens flare or wash out all contrast in bright light.  This lens… handles it like a champ.  Shooting directly into the light is not a problem with this lens.  In fact, the lens renders the sun as a pleasant starburst as well as opposed to a giant bright spot in the sky.

JMB_1255

Some of this (dynamic range) has to do with the camera I’m using, the Nikon Df, but the rendering of the sun into a pleasant star burst and the fact that there aren’t unsightly light globes shooting across the frame is all due to how the lens handles the light…  Masterfully.

Size

The small size of this lens is the sole reason I bought this and not the larger f/1.4G 35mm.  If size weren’t an issue I would have probably bought the larger, slightly faster, newer Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens without every knowing I didn’t need to.  Now, having tried them both I can confidently say I would choose the smaller, older, less expensive 35mm f2D lens every day of the week.

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22 Comments

  • Hi John, just discovered your site and really enjoying it. There’s enough nerdy pixel peepers out there and it’s refreshing to see gear and techniques discussed by somebody with a good eye and a real love of photography rather than technical specs. I too have the Nikon 35mm f/2 and love it to bits. A great lens and rather underrated. Thanks again for your site and i’ll be checking back regularly.

    • Anthony, thanks for the feedback and compliment! You obviously have great taste ;). I agree, the lens is very underrated… Thanks again, have a great weekend!

  • Thanks, John, for a nice review. I have just recently perchased this lens. I got it used (like new copy) for less than $150 – great buy. Picked it for it’s small size and weight to go on my D750 as a nice compact travel/street/candid package. Really like it so far.
    Was considering getting the 35mm 1.4G (used), but I think your review has kept my feet on the ground and I’ll hang on to the f/2D. 🙂 f/1.4 is nice for environmental portraits, but f/2 can still blur background to some extent, and the 1.4G is heavy and quite big. So, I’m afraid it would spoil some of the candid work as well as getting less use due to weight.
    Funny the 35mm 2D gets so mixed reviews on the web – I find it to be really nice and it renders in a beautiful way.
    Thanks once again,
    Mads

    • Exactly, I felt the same way. The large size of the 1.4 would keep it in my bag most of the time and I don’t feel I’d get my money’s worth. Thank you for the feedback!

  • I was looking for a 35mm lens … I considering Sigma Art and Nikon f/2 and I decided for the latter.
    The reasons: price, size and consistency of AF.
    I didn’t have the opportunity to try Sigma Art (I have no doubt it is great) but I had the opportunity to use this Nikkor lens a couple of weeks and I was very pleased with the color reproduction and sharpness.
    Bokeh is harsh and nervous a little bit, but I still think that this lens is a keeper and perfect for travel/street photographers. I waiting my brand new copy from Nikon.

    • Nice! It’s a great lens. The Bokeh isn’t as creamy as some other lenses but it’s not something that would make me reconsider. All in all, it’s a wonderful lens. Enjoy!

  • John, would you say the modern 35mm 1.4G (and G lenses in general) offer more “pop” in colors and rendering? Or does the 35mm f/2D (and D lenses in general) compete fine in this area?

    • I don’t notice much of a difference if any in color. The biggest difference to me is the Bokeh, the G wins in this area but I’ve never heard of an editor or contest judge dismissing a photograph because it’s Bokeh wasn’t pleasing enough (not saying it couldn’t happen, crazier things…).

  • One more :-), is the focus ring on your 35mm f/2D also smooth with very little resistance? I noticed my copy has very little dampening compared to my 24mm f/2.8D. But maybe it’s due to less elements ie. weight being moved. Probably nothing to worry about, as these D lenses should be built to last. Just wanted to hear your experience.
    I really like how snappy the AF of 35mm f/2D is. One of the fastest lenses I’ve tried.

  • One thing to watch for – the lens has a reputation for leaking oil on the aperture. I experienced this personally. My first copy was serviced twice – both times under warranty. The third time, Nikon offered to replace it for a some amount that I don’t remember (other than I considered it a ‘reasonable’). My second copy is fine to date.

    Here is a YouTube video that you might watch:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYB2bT0cJac

    Just google this issue and you will see many similar stories.

    Given that my 2nd version is OK, I have to imagine they fixed it at some point in production. Unfortunately, there I don’t know if there exists a serial number after which the lenses will be ‘fixed’.

  • Hi John,
    Just a quick update. I ended up springing for (a used copy of) the 35mm 1.4G. I must say, that the 2D and 1.4G are worlds apart! The rendering of the 1.4G is very delicate and beautiful making this a true “people” lens. It just sucks in light and makes the most beautiful images. This is my new favorite lens – it’s simply just WOW!
    Having shallow DOF (f/1.4) combined with wide angel view, really opens some creative possibilities.
    I think the 1.4G and 2D differs alot in rendering and bokeh, and you buy the former for this and not whether it’s sharper than the 2D.
    The 2D is of course still a nice little lens and has size and weight going for it. And the old school rendering and more harsh bokeh actually gives a certain look, that I believe can be cool for gritty street photography.
    For my “people-centric” style of photography however, I don’t mind the larger size and heavier weight of the 1.4G given the wonderful output it delivers. So the 35mm 1.4G is the keeper for me and the 35mm 2D has been sold off yesterday.
    Just my two cents after experience with both,
    Mads

    • Great feedback, I’m glad you found a lens you really like. It always comes right down to personal preference and shooting style. Enjoy the lens!

  • I’m considering the f1.8 versus the f2 for street and other uses. From what I read, the 1.8 is prob a better all round lens but not as compact. Thoughts?

    • If you’re shooting with a dx camera I’d go with the 1.8… You can pick one up for less than $200 and its size is similar to the f2D. If, on the other hand, you meant you were considering the FX 1.4G (ideal for full frame Nikons) I’d say it’s a preference thing. I shoot primarily with the Nikon Df and that lens because I like how small it is and it doesn’t intimidate people. If you don’t mind a little more size and less money in your bank acct, the 1.4 will be a more robust lens. Your call. Best advice I could give is try them both and return the one you don’t like. Also, depending on how often you shoot in low light you may want to consider the 1.4 for that extra speed however I shoot in near darkness quite a bit and other than a little auto focus search (rarely) I have no complaints with the 2D… I’ve never had a lens that didn’t need to search a bit from time to time in very low light. It’s a pain but it’s a reality. Hope that helps.

  • Definitely agree with your summary. This is an under rated and over looked lens particularly for travel and floating between F3, F4, F5 and D750. I’m collecting the D series despite how DXO ranks the big brother G’s ( of which I have a few). Moreover, this particular D series class has more manual focus throw than G lenses which makes manual control much more pleasant and reliable.

  • Great review John! You give just the essential about this lens, and that’s all that is to say. No need to say that it could be better at large aperture or that isn’t as sharp as other counterparts. Who cares?! I’ve been using this lens since a couple of months now and I so love its rendition. The more I use it the more I like the focus ring feeling, so that I try to manually focus as much as I can. After a while it could even be faster than AF, which by the way performs very well.
    In the end, this lens gives me plenty of joy using it and great results. For the price and size, I wouldn’t want anything else.

  • Okay. I think (I think), you have convinced me to finally purchase this lens. I have been umming and ahhing for months and months and months. I would like a replacement for my 35mm DX f/1.8. I tried the newer 35mm ED FX version, but it is much bigger (not to mention much pricier). So I think I will just buy the f/2 it and see how it goes. I am pleased with the 50mm AFD for FX. I’m generally not that fussy and prefer lighter kit…

    I’m also looking at getting the 24mm AFD too.

  • Hi John,

    Thanks for the review. You make the comparison here against the F1.4, but since then Nikon has released the smaller and lighter FX version F1.8 which is supposed to be much sharper (but suffers from vignetting, albeit correctable). I know the F2 is still smaller, lighter and cheaper than this new one, but given that the gap is now much narrower, would you still recommend the F2 over the FX F1.8?

    I’m planning to use this on a D750 for travel and street photography.

    Thanks!

  • Hi John,

    what are your thoughts on either a,

    35&50mm sigma art + nikon df or shooting with the Fuji x100f & Nikon df 70-200 f4 combo.

    I’ve owned the x100s but sold it to buy a 35mm art. With the release of the x100f I’m tempted to go back to the little black box.

    Cheers

    • Philip, It just depends on your preferences. My setup for a long time was the Nikon Df and x100s (then t) and I loved it. Personally, I would probably go with the Nikon and Fuji for a couple reasons. The fuji can literally be dropped in your coat pocket and go with you anywhere. The nikon can not. However, the Nikon is one of the most versatile cameras out there and the image quality is uncompromising. If you shoot low light the Nikon is about as good as it gets. The 70-200 lens is massive… It’s a wonderful lens for landscape (urban or otherwise, I’ve written some articles on the site about using a 70-200 lens for things like this), wildlife, etc… However, it’s a pain to “drop in” your backpack and hit the trail with. I’m finding I leave it at home more often than not because it takes up the most room in my bag. This all depends on you though…. If all I wanted was landscape, urban landscape, or panoramas (it’s excellent for reducing parallax when creating these) then I would certainly take it everywhere. I shoot primarily street photography so I would be taking the Nikon Df with a 35mm or the X100f or both for their light weight and small footprint. Sorry if that isn’t much help… I think it really depends on your preference and what you are going to be shooting primarily. I spent almost a year shooting with the X100S as a personal challenge and loved it… I now shoot primarily with a Leica M and a 35mm lens and am perfectly happy. I do have other cameras for other situations (each tool has a different use). The Nikon Df is still in my stable of cameras but I’m eagerly waiting for the next generation with a slightly larger sensor so if you don’t already have one I would recommend waiting until the end of the year if you can (should be announced by then according to rumors). I hope that helps!

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