A while back I wrote about the Nikon 16-35mm lens being my favorite landscape lens. But recently I’ve had the chance to try out a new wide-angle lens and I think I’ve found a new contender as the top wide landscape photography lens – the (recently new) Nikon 18-35mm.
First – The Nikon 16-35mm Lens Is Still A Great Lens
Let me first say that this write-up isn’t meant to convince you to ditch your 16-35mm lens if you have one. It’s still one of the best lenses out there for landscape photography if you ask me. So if you already own one, I’d keep it and be perfectly happy with it. The 18-35mm doesn’t offer anything better to warrant going through the hassle of selling the 16-35 and buying a new lens. This post is meant more for people that don’t own a good wide angle landscape lens yet and are looking for one.
Why I Wanted To Take The 18-35mm For A Test Run
I’ve had the chance to take the 18-35mm for a test run a few times. A while back I rented one from Lens Pro To Go. Scott Kelby bought one and I’ve also borrowed it a few times. I’ve heard some great things about the lens so I really wanted to put it up against my revered 16-35mm. For starters, it’s a lot less than the 16-35mm. The 16-35 costs around $1250 and the 18-35 is $750 – that’s $500 less. Not to mention it weighs a lot less. I’m not a gear-head. I want as little gear as possible. I absolutely hate carrying a lot of gear around, and I’ve always liked that landscape photography doesn’t make me do that. So a lens has to be light and fit into my smaller bags without taking up too much room.
What Do I Look For In A Landscape Lens
So what am I really looking for when testing out a lens like this? Mainly, 4 things in this order: 1) Does the focal length work well for landscapes 2) Image sharpness 3) Size/weight of the lens and how well it fits into my bag, because I like to travel light and 4) To some degree, auto-focus reliability. This lens did great in all 4 categories.
First, I think the 18-35 focal length is great for landscapes. I don’t like to shoot really wide for me landscapes. It tends to compress everything in the distance and make it look really small. I like to bring the landscape to the viewer, so losing 2mm from the 16-35mm didn’t bother me one bit.
Next, this lens is every bit as sharp as the 16-35mm. Not more… not less… I found the images nearly identical when it came to sharpness. Here’s a shot I took out west, with the 18-35 . If you click larger to see it, you’ll notice it looks plenty sharp. And when I printed it, it help up and looked amazing.
As I mentioned earlier, this lens is light. So light that when you pick it up you’re surprised at just how little it weighs. It’s smaller than the 16-35 too so it takes up less room. And (this is a big one), it takes the same 77mm filters I already own, which is great because that tends to be the most popular filter size.
Finally, I do look a little at auto-focus. While I find myself manually focussing with live view more and more lately, I still do use auto focus and I want the lens to auto focus quickly and reliably. This lens did both just as well as the 16-35mm.
What I’m Not Looking For
I’m not looking at the f-stop range on a landscape lens. See, the f-stop on landscape lenses doesn’t matter to me. Having a “fast” lens that can shoot at f/2.8 is great if you’re shooting handheld in low light. I’m almost always on a tripod and would never shoot landscapes at f/2.8 or f/5.6 for that matter.
Also, I don’t do techie lens reviews. There’s plenty of websites out there with diagrams about diffraction, bokeh, and chromatic aberrations. I don’t care about any of that stuff. Nobody is going to look closely enough at my photos to look at the edges to see diffraction or critique the bokeh or chromatic aberrations. Only other photographers do that 😉 So, personally, I don’t care about any of that stuff, and I couldn’t tell you one way or another how this lens stacks up against anything else when it comes to those things.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a big fan of the Nikon 16-35mm lens for landscape photography. I think this lens is every bit as good. If you have a 16-35, I wouldn’t sell it and buy this one (I’ll probably keep mine). But if I was in the market for a wide angle lens today, this is the lens I would buy.