Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S Test & Review

Sharp, smooth, and reasonably priced, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S is a highly versatile and useful lens in Nikon’s expanding lineup of Z-mount primes.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S. Photo by David Coleman " havecamerawilltravel.com
Text & Photos By David Coleman
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The 35mm focal length has a lot going for it as a fast prime. Being a little wider than a “normal” perspective of a 50mm, it gives more space to include the visual context of surroundings. Not surprisingly, it has been a favorite of some great street and observational photographers like Joel Meyerowitz and Lee Friedlander. [1]

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S

Considering it’s still relatively early days for the Nikon Z-mount system, Nikon has released a surprising number of fast primes around the 35-50mm focal lengths in fairly short order. Some of them are even quite reasonably priced. The lineup includes:

Nikon has also roadmapped another 35mm S lens, most likely an ƒ/1.2 along the lines of the 50mm ƒ/1.2. But at the time of writing it has been teased and rumored but not yet officially announced.

So far, there’s not a direct version of the venerable F-mount 50mm ƒ/1.4the ƒ/1.2 is a different kind of lens, a lens I’ve written about before. But, of course, thanks to Nikon’s foresight in developing an adapter system, you can use the F-mount 50mm ƒ/1.4 on the Nikon Z cameras with the FTZ II adapter.

Another to add to that list is the one I’m focusing on here: the 35mm ƒ/1.8 S.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S
  • Z-Mount Lens/FX Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/16
  • Two ED and Three Aspherical Elements
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • Weather-Sealed Construction

The full name of this lens is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S. Nikon has set an MSRP at $850. It’s a prime lens designed for Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless Z cameras. It will also work on DX cropped-sensor cameras, in which case the operational focal length is equivalent to what a 52mm lens would be on a full-frame body.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S

Nikon NIKKOR 35mm ƒ/1.8 S In Brief

One of the defining features of this lens is its sharpness. Through a combination of analog optics and in-camera image processing, the results are impressive. I’ve found it to be reliably very sharp across the whole frame.

As with many of their lenses, Nikon uses a number of proprietary technologies in their lens that turn up in the lens specs. These are some of them that apply to this lens and turn up in the form of codes.

To begin with, the “S” right there in the name refers to Nikon’s S-line. This is a designation Nikon assigns to some of its Z-mount lenses. It doesn’t stand for a particular word but is intended to bring to mind ideas like superior and special. In practice, it’s not as exclusive as something like the red badge Sony applies to some of its lenses. But the common thread is excellent optical performance.

  • STM: Stepping motor. This refers to a smooth and quiet motor for adjusting autofocus. That’s good for still photos, but it’s especially good when shooting video.
  • ED: Extra-low dispersion glass. Designed to reduce the risk of chromatic aberrations (purple fringing), this special kind of glass is commonly used in better lenses.
  • AS: Aspherical lens. These lens elements can do multiple good things to help optical quality, but probably their most important is in minimizing lens distortion, thus keeping straight lines straight.
  • N: Nano-crystal coat. This is one of the lens coatings Nikon often uses to help with ghosting and flare.
  • SIC: Super integrated coating. A different, but complementary, type of lens coating, again to protect against things like ghosting and flare.

Build & Handling

Like many of the Z-mount lenses, it’s lighter and sleeker than some of the older F-mount lenses.

Some of that is because they can. One of the attractions of the mirrorless redesign is to be able to make smaller and lighter lenses.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S

The sleeker comes down again, in part to “because they can.” But it’s also about minimizing the places where water and dust could enter the lens.

And because many of the lens-related controls can be moved off the lens and onto the camera, the on-lens controls can be minimalist. So there’s a large ring and an A/M switch, but that’s about it.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 40mm f2 Prime Lens for Mirrorless Z-Mount Cameras
For size comparison: on the left is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 40mm ƒ/2. On the right is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S. Both are without lens hoods (the 40/2 doesn’t come with one; the 35/1.8 does).

In Use

Nikon touts this lens’s sharpness. And I’ve found it to be just that. Sharp from corner to corner, even wide open. So no complaints on that score from me. 

It’s a quick and light lens to use. I’ve found the focus to be fast and accurate. And while I’ve used the manual focus only rarely, the large focus ring operates smoothly and works well.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S

It’s worth noting how the M/A switch works here. With most of their mirrorless lenses, Nikon has simplified the old autofocus/manual focus switch that adorned so many of their F-mount lenses. On this lens, it works like this:

  • When set to A, the lens works in autofocus mode and the ring becomes a utility ring. By default, it’s set to manual focus, and turning the ring will be a manual focus override. But you can also customize what it’s used for and set it to something else, such as exposure compensation or aperture. The customization is set in the camera’s settings. Look for the settings on the camera’s setup menu for Custom Control Assignment, Custom Controls, or Custom Controls (Shooting).
  • When set to M, the lens works in manual focus mode.
  • Both of these are overridden if the camera itself is set to manual focus on the camera’s menu settings–in that case, you must set focus manually.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S

Sample Images

I’ll put together a larger collection of sample images I’ve shot with this lens and post them separately. But here’s just a small sampling.

These were all shot on a Nikon Z8, originally in RAW, and lightly processed in Lightroom. While I haven’t applied any of Lightroom’s extra optical corrections tools here, like many newer mirrorless lenses, it automatically applies some corrections by default at the time the photo is taken. Since my purpose here is to test real-world results rather than to run laboratory tests, I’ve left those defaults on.

You can click on each image for a full-size version for a closer look.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S Prime Lens Sample Image
Taken with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S lens on a Nikon Z8 at an aperture of ƒ/1.8.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S Prime Lens Sample Image
Taken with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S lens on a Nikon Z8 at an aperture of ƒ/1.8.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S Prime Lens Sample Image
Taken with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S lens on a Nikon Z8 at an aperture of ƒ/11. For a good test of edge-to-edge sharpness, zoom in and look at the writing on the planes on the very far left and right of the frame, as well as the wires and hardware on the turret at the top and railings around teh rest of the ship.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S Prime Lens Sample Image
Taken with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S lens on a Nikon Z8 at an aperture of ƒ / 1.8.

Things Worth Knowing

What’s in the Box?

It comes with:

It takes 62mm screw-on filters.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm F1.8 S
It comes with a plastic lens hood, model HB-89.

Compatibility

This lens is designed for Z-mount full-frame cameras, but you can use it on Nikon DX Z-mount cameras as well. On those, the perspective becomes the equivalent of a 52mm focal length on a full-frame camera. Or, put another way, the angle of view on DX is 44 degrees compared with 63 degrees on FX full-frame.

Lens Manual

You can find the lens’s manual here.

Firmware Updates

Many newer lenses are as much electronics as they are glass. That’s especially true of the latest generations of autofocus mirrorless lenses. And that means that, in many cases, they can be upgraded with firmware updates.

At the time of writing, there has so far been one firmware update issued for this lens. The update tweaked the way the focus ring could be used by adding support for linear manual focus.

It was issued in December 2022. If your lens is newer than that, it’s possible that it might already have the firmware applied (in my case, it was already applied out of the box).

You can find the firmware file here. The process for applying it uses the camera’s menu system, so you’ll need to put the lens on the camera before you can proceed. With that, the process is basically the same as updating the camera’s firmware, except that rather than updating the “C” firmware, you’ll want to update the “LF” firmware (which stands for lens firmware). I’ve posted a guide on how to update firmware on the Nikon Z8; the process on other Nikon mirrorless cameras is identical or very similar.

Wrap Up

I like this lens a lot, and I’ve found myself leaving it on my Z8 often as an everyday-use lens. I have some of the other alternatives listed here, but I like the versatility of this lens in terms of both perspective and speed. The ƒ/1.8 maximum aperture is great in low-light shooting (especially with the camera’s stabilization kicking in), and it also offers excellent opportunities for smooth bokeh and blurring backgrounds.

Sure, it’d be even more convenient if it was a bit smaller, but I really have no complaints about this lens.

Other Alternatives

Nikon has several other primes around this focal length.

For street photography, where you want small and unobtrusive gear, the 40mm f/2 or the 28mm f/2.8 are probably more logical choices. While not quite as fast (in the aperture sense), they’re tiny and quick (in the operation sense), and inexpensive.

And, of course, there are several zooms that span this focal length, from the classic 24-70mm ƒ/2.8, to the 28-75mm ƒ/2.8, to the 24-50mm ƒ/4-6.3, or one of the several other slower zooms also in Nikon’s lineup. But none of the zooms are faster than ƒ/2.8.

I’ll be very interested to try the 35mm ƒ/1.2 when it’s released, although it’s likely to be a significantly larger and heavier lens than this one. 

Price & Availability

Nikon has set the MSRP for this lens at $850, which is basically a middle ground for Nikon’s Z-mount lineup. But Nikon also often runs instant rebate details, meaning you can often find it for substantially less. And used copies in great condition also turn up. 

Buy New

Check the latest price and availability at:

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm ƒ/1.8 S
  • Z-Mount Lens/FX Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/16
  • Two ED and Three Aspherical Elements
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
  • Weather-Sealed Construction

Buy Used

There are also good odds of finding used copies in great shape. Good places to check include:

  1. Lee Friedlander, in particular, also often used a slightly wider 28mm lens.[]

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David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.

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