If you are a Nikon shooter, you probably have been watching the Z camera launch with interest. Maybe you have even decided to go out and buy a Z6 or Z7. Along with these cameras came the release of the ‘S’ lens series, lenses designed to be used with the Nikon Z cameras. We bought both the Z6 and Z7, and are enjoying using them in our assignments and workshops. Take a look at my earlier posts if you want to hear more about our impressions of these cameras.
But one thing has become very apparent with this new camera system; the new dedicated lenses for the Z camera system are outstanding. If you just look at the MTF charts, the specs are incredible. Better sharpness, especially at the edges of the frame. And better contrast. Of course it is one thing to read a chart, and another thing to use the lenses in the field and really see if you notice a difference. So I decided to do just that, shoot one of my favorite focal lengths side by the side. Battle of the 35mm!
I love the 35mm focal length. Maybe it relates back to my beginnings as a journalist, but the 35mm is my favorite prime travel lens. 35mm captures just enough for a wide angle shot, and sees the world similar to the human eye without distortion. And for environmental portraits, the 35mm is stunning. I have been using the Nikon 35mm F1.4 G lens for a long time, and even the thought of replacing it made me lose sleep. But the Nikon Z7 was proving to be an excellent travel camera, so I went out and bought the 35mm F1.8 S lens for the Z7. The S lens was a little longer, but lighter and about half the cost. It must be noted the new lens was F1.8, not F1.4. Also worth noting is the Z7 with 35mm 1.8 utilizes in-camera body stabilization, so the new 35mm had stabilization and the old version didn’t. Speaking of dates, the 35mm F1.4 G was released in 2010. A lot has changed in 10 years, and lens design, optics and performance have advanced to match the high resolution cameras on the market today.
I decided to shoot both lenses at F1.8 and look for differences. Since lenses generally are not as sharp when used wide open, in theory the 35mm F1.4 stopped down to F1.8 would have more acuity than the 35mm F1.8 S lens. But the results proved just the opposite. Above is the image using the 35mm F1.4 at F1.8 on a D850. I consider the D850 and Z7 files almost identical, so I didn’t bother using the same camera. I wanted to see how the lenses performed on cameras with dedicated mounts (no adapters). Honestly I like this image; a touch of sharpness on the front of the plant, and beautiful soft bokeh flowing into the background.
But then I took the same shot (on fixed tripod) using the Z7 with the 35mm F1.8 S lens. Take a close look at the same sharp spot on the plant. The new Z camera lens is noticeably sharper. The bokeh also looks excellent…not quite as smooth as the 35mm F1.4. But color/contrast also looked excellent. Other tests have show the new 35mm F1.8 S lens is sharper across the board at different apertures. It was hard for me to imagine using a different 35mm prime, but I am now turning to the new ‘S’ prime as my go-to travel prime.
Curiously, I own another lens that is a favorite travel prime…the 28mm F1.4 E. This lens is new (released 2017), and the MTF charts and real world performance are truly outstanding. I would imagine it is close in performance to the new 35mm F1.8 S lens, and MTF charts reflect this. Does this mean the older version 35mm F1.4 is not a good lens? Hardly…it is a workhorse lens and produces beautiful sharp images…the portrait at the top of this post was taken with this lens a few months ago in Morocco. But this quick performance test did reveal to me the new S mirrorless lenses are optically outstanding, and something I will be investing in as new releases become available. I already have my 85mm F1.8 ‘S’ on order….