35mm may be the most interesting focal length for a prime. On an APS-C sensor, they are equivalent to a "normal" 50mm. On a full frame 24×36, they give a really nice perspective from within the action, near the people and a view of the larger scene at the same time. My preferred. At the moment, Nikon makes a 35mm 1.8 but it doesn't cover a full-frame or a film. The 35 mm 1.4G does, but this pretty large ultra-fast lens punches a 2000 € hole in your bank account. And both are G's devoid of an aperture ring. No way here to set the aperture on a F4 or FM/2/3a camera.
Why not a wide-angle zoom, then ? There are for sure plenty of them giving outstanding image quality. Yeah, but the affordable ones have too small an aperture. And the faster ones would cost me an arm.
So, i already know that i'll keep my 35mm F/2, because i need it work on a D3100 and a FM2. But how does it behave ?
The lens reviewed here is an AIS, manual focus. It's said to be optically inferior to the 35mm f/2 AF-D (see review on www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/35af.htm). Let's see by ourselves (clic on the pictures to enlarge).
At f/2, the definition is already good in a large centered spot. If small details are clearly defined, the general contrast is spoiled by a slight haze. On the edges, at 100% crop, the image is seriously blurred, and the small letters are unreadable.
At night, very bright spots display a halo, the coma flare. I was able to shoot some very nice images with this 35mm in such low light conditions, although they may not have been technically correct.
At f2.8, central definition and general contrast are getting better. On the edges, the trend is the same, but it doesn't catch up. The quality is still poor.
At f/4, the centre image is precise and neat and the edges still lagging far behind.
At 5.6, is this is it? Not quite. The image is chiseled in its centre, the edges are not too bad, but not really good either.
At f/8, at last, the image is evenly sharp.
I bought this lens used twenty years ago and still use it today. It is beautifully crafted, all glass and metal, etc. I knew there was softness with the diaphragm wide open. It was obvious on prints 30×20 cm or larger. The pixel gazing trial shows the extent of the issue and is rather disheartening. The yield of this 35mm is not accurate in the whole field unless you stop down the aperture to f/8. Nevertheless, i have to say, i shot my best pictures with this very lens. With an average resolution film, like the HP5 Plus, it was just fine. But with a modern digital sensor, like this 14 million pixels in a 24×16 pack, the old design shows all its cracks. Not that all old lenses are passe. My 50mm 1.8 AIS passed the same test with flying colors.
If you plan to buy a 35mm, well that's a brilliant idea! But you should avoid this one. The AF-S 1.8G seems a good choice, but limited to DX cameras. The extra stop of the 1.4G should appeal to pros only, whose needs are worth fifteen times the price of the 1.8. Personally, I'd go for the lightweight and inexpensive Nikkor AF-D at f/2. But for now, I keep my old "special effects" lens and try to do with its shortcomings.