dPS Writer's Favorite Lens: Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

dPS Writer’s Favorite Lens: Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

A few years ago Nikon started revamping their lens lineup to include faster focusing, better coatings on the glass elements, and for the first time, no manual control over the size of the aperture. This series of lenses was given the “G” moniker, and one of the earliest that went into production is still one of the best: the 35mm f/1.8G.

This inexpensive little workhorse is not only supremely versatile but performs well beyond its price range in almost any shooting situation. It was designed to work for crop-sensor cameras, which Nikon refers to as DX models, but in many circumstances, it works just fine on full-frame FX cameras as well. I enjoy shooting mostly portraits and nature photography and there’s hardly a situation in which this 35mm lens doesn’t give me good results. It’s by far my favorite lens, and I’d like to share a little bit more to let you know why.

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Seattle skyline, photographed with the 35mm f/1.8G DX on a Nikon D7100.

One of the best features of the 35mm 1.8G lens is something that could also be seen as a significant limitation: it does not zoom in and out. It’s a prime lens which means it has a fixed focal length. So if you are used to twisting your lens to get a close-up view of your subject, you will have to train your mind to think about things a bit differently when using this lens. Since it is permanently stuck at 35mm you have to use your feet and get creative when shooting pictures. But once you get past this limitation you will start to notice that it pales in comparison to one of its most important strengths: a super wide aperture.


Fixed focal length, amazing results

If you’re not entirely familiar with what the term aperture means, it’s basically the opening in your lens that lets light pass through. This is an f/1.8 lens which means it has a huge maximum aperture, or opening, compared to some other lenses, especially most zooms. This feature allows the lens to capture much more light so you rarely have to use the flash, and also helps you get the kind of smooth blurry backgrounds you see in professional-style portraits. The f/1.8 aperture is the one key factor that makes this lens so incredibly useful and versatile. Even though it lacks the ability to zoom in and out it’s a tradeoff well worth making, in my opinion.

I took this quick snapshot of my niece while she was playing with her cousins, but the wide f/1.8 aperture on the 35mm lens gave me a nice blurry background.

I took this quick snapshot of my niece while she was playing with her cousins. The wide f/1.8 aperture on the 35mm lens gave me a nice blurry background.

Avoid dreaded pop-up flash issues

Before I got into more advanced photography several years ago I owned a decent pocket camera. While it did take good pictures in broad daylight, any time the sun even started to get low on the horizon it would fire the flash and bathe everything in a weird artificial light. I noticed the same thing happening to my friends with DSLR cameras too, and couldn’t figure out why even the more expensive cameras were always turning on the pop-up flash when the lighting was dim.

If you have wondered about this yourself, the answer almost certainly relates to the aperture of your lens. Smaller apertures let in less light, which therefore require the use of an additional light source like a flash in order to take a picture. The 35mm f/1.8 lens almost never has that problem because it lets in so much light (when you shoot at f/1.8), which can seem like a miracle from heaven if you are tired of shooting so many of your photos with the flash turned on.

The lighting in this church was very poor, but thanks to the f/1.8 aperture I got several photos of this baby at his baptism without using the a flash.

The lighting in this church was very poor, but thanks to the wide f/1.8 aperture I got several photos of this baby at his baptism without using the flash.

Whether you are out taking photos of nature and wildlife, doing paid portrait sessions, or just snapping photos of your kids playing around the house, the f/1.8 aperture is going to give you outstanding results if you are used to a lens with a smaller aperture. I was blown away when I first started shooting with this and other prime lenses and began realizing that I could use the natural light all around me to get the photos I was really trying to shoot. That, instead of constantly relying on a tiny little pop-up flash.

No zoom, no problem

Many years ago when some of my photographer friends first recommended a prime lens to me I thought they were joking. Why on earth would anyone want a lens that doesn’t zoom in and out? The fixed focal length of a prime lens, I soon realized, forces you to be more creative and puts you in a different frame of mind than a zooming lens by making you work around a limitation. In the years since, as my collection of lenses has grown to include several prime lenses, I keep coming back to this specific 35mm f/1.8 lens as a workhorse not just for daily pictures of my family but for professional photo sessions too. 35mm is somewhere between a wide angle and telephoto lens, which makes it ideally suited for a variety of types of photography. It’s not too zoomed out and not too zoomed in, so it’s kind of like the Goldilocks of camera lenses. It’s just right.

In the years since, as my collection of lenses has grown to include several prime lenses, I keep coming back to this specific 35mm f/1.8 lens as a workhorse. It’s not just for daily pictures of my family but for professional photo sessions too. 35mm is somewhere between a wide angle and telephoto lens, which makes it ideally suited for a variety of genres of photography. It’s not too zoomed out and not too zoomed in, so it’s kind of like the Goldilocks of camera lenses. It’s just right.

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The Cascade Mountains: shot with the 35mm 1.8G DX on a Nikon D7100

Is like “normal”

On a crop-sensor camera like the Nikon D3300 or D7200 the focal length of this lens is multiplied 1.5x which puts it right about 50mm, or very close to what the human eye naturally perceives. This means that the image you see when you hold your camera up to compose a shot is very similar to that which you would see without any camera at all. There is very little distortion, and everything just tends to look…well…

There is very little distortion, and everything just tends to look…well…normal. I know some people are put off by this type of lens because it’s so pedestrian that it borders on boring, and because it does so many things well it also excels at nothing in particular. However I happen to like the 35mm focal length precisely because of the photos I can get with it, and also because it’s wide enough that I can take pictures at relatively slow shutter speeds like 1/45 second and not worry too much about motion blur.

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Hay bales in Kansas: shot with the 35mm 1.8G DX on a Nikon D7100

Works on full frame too

One bonus feature, of this lens in particular, is that, unlike some other lenses that are designed for crop-sensor cameras, this one performs quite well on full-frame models too. If I put it on my D750 I can get outstanding results provided I shoot around f/4. If I use an aperture much smaller than that, however, it starts to exhibit some pretty bad vignetting on the corners.

This makes the lens ideal for situations where you want to get a little closer to your subjects for pictures that are a little more personal and intimate, and also for landscapes where you want to take in a much broader view of the scene. All this for a lens that costs about $200 and you can hopefully see why it is, without question, my favorite lens.

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Even though this lens is designed for crop-sensor cameras, it works fine on full-frame cameras like the D750 if you can put up with some vignetting around the corners. This allowed me to get right in the middle of the action while having a wide enough angle to get several people in the shot.

I recommend this lens often

I often have people ask me for recommendations when it comes to camera lenses, and if they are Nikon shooters my advice is always the same: The 35mm f/1.8G DX. I recently followed up with about a dozen friends and family members to see if my recommendation was to their liking after using the lens for several months. Every single one of them said that yes, the lens was great and did just what they were hoping it would do. Some said that it helped them explore new aspects of photography and while a few had since augmented their collection with zoom lenses or other primes, they all agreed that this particular lens worked like a charm.

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Theta Pond: shot with the 35mm 1.8G DX lens on a Nikon D7100

At this point, it probably sounds like I’m some kind of paid shill for Nikon, but I promise you that is not the case. I buy all my gear the same as anyone else and have never gotten any lenses, cameras, or other gear from Nikon or any other company. I just like this lens so much, and I think you would too, that I can’t help but gush about how it’s by far the favorite one in my kit and the one that gets used more often than anything else. But what about you? Do you have this lens and if so, what do you think of it? What other lenses do you like that you wish other people would learn about? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

But what about you? Do you have the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens? If so, what do you think of it? What other lenses do you like that you wish other people would learn about? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!


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Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.