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.
(click to see the photo larger)
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.
Great review! Lovely example image.
We took this lens to Italy for a week to do a shoot of our products and some landscape shots. It did not disappoint!
So many of us look towards the high-end gear and neglect gems like this. An absolute steal!
I have a D750, I have read all sort of reviews about what lens to purchase, the 18-35 has been on my mind since a couple of weeks, thanks to you i now know what to purchase. Great blog, also very cool you answer to everything (Not like KR) i use lightroom to adjust and see that my photos are not very sharp, I’m using the 50mm 1.4d and the 50mm 1.8g, i need to get rid of the 1.8g. Bottom line is that i know that i need the 18-35 to have that look on my photographs, you know the one you see and think “That guy is a pro” If i may ask, do you use any Topaz software? Or do you stick to Lightroom and Photoshop? Thanks Matt!
Thank you so much! I read your review of the 16-35 and was set on that lens until I read this one. I’m going to the Galápagos Islands soon and don’t want to lug around a ton of weight! Thanks again and happy snapping!
Thanks for writing this, Matt. I’ve been stressing about this topic as I look to replace my 14-24/2.8 (too big, too heavy and no filters). I’ll be on a tripod at f/8 and above and usually carrying everything on my back.
It’s a great lens. I’d definitely use it over the 14-24. Good luck!
I’ve been following you for a while now and I really like your pictures. I have a question related to other brand lens. I also want to start doing landscape seriously and i found an offer for the tokina 17-35 f4. Since everybody recommends buying the same brand´s lenses… What would you recommend in this case?
This is a little late but when doing early morning or late evening landscapes, frequently there’ll be stars in your photos. In those cases, a 14-24 f/2.8 or even the 16-35 f/4 will help hold back star trails, unless of course that’s what you prefer. There probably aren’t a lot of your readers doing this but, when shooting the Northern Lights or for Astrophotography, that 18-35 would be pretty much useless.
Not everyday stuff but worth keeping in mind if you ever plan on doing that sort of thing. Of course the 14-24 is really expensive but Tokina’s 16-28 f/2.8 is pretty darn close for about the same price as the Nikon 18-35. And then, lens filters put another spin on the subject.
Hey Matt, thanks for the great review. I’m currently using the Nikkor 35mm f1.4G, and will be going to Melbourne for holiday early next year. Do you think that the 35mm focal length will be good enough for landscaping? I’m thinking if i is redundant to get the 18-35 since i already have a 35 and rarely shoot wide angle.
Hey Matt, thanks for the review. I’m definitely in the 16-35 vs 18-35 boat and I wanted to know your thoughts on the nano-crystal coating of the 16 (the only difference that might matter to me). It’s a bit of a gear head question I know, but I’m just looking for a pro opinion from someone who has landscape experience with both lenses. I know the idea is that is reduces flare and helps bring out rich colors. Does it make that much of an impact to colors or do you find that a little bit of post can do the same? Have you noticed that sun glare for the 18 is an issue compared to the 16?
I like having the sun in my shots, big on sunrises/sunsets. I’ve forced myself to use my 28 1.8 for a while now and I’m ready to go a bit wider, hence my questions. Thanks for your time and keep up the great work.
I still cannot decide on which wide angle lens to buy. I want to use the lens not only for landscapes, but also for city-scapes and night photography. What are your thoughts on this 18-35 for shooting sky lines of cities at night?
Hey Kris – I think it would be just fine. At this point, there’s not many times I’d recommend the 16-35 over the 18-35. Like I said, I’m not selling mine (16-35), but if I was starting from scratch, I’d buy the 18-35 in a heartbeat.
Good review. But for star burst, it really shows well if you use a 2.8 glass than f4. Don’t know how good does this lens capture the star burst.
Very true. But they usually cost an extra $1000 so that’s one expensive star burst 🙂
Good review but I’m not selling my 14-24 any time soon. For me, I love shooting the lens at 14mm. If you have a strong foreground object you can get an interesting composition but you need the wide angle to do so. It doesn’t work for every situation but at times it’s indispensable.
A good review and a very impressive Photo Matt. Was there any post processing??
There’s post processing on ALL of my photos 😉 LOL!
As for the light and color, not too much post though. Got there at the right time and mother nature took care of the rest 🙂
Good informative post as usual Matt. I agree that the 18-35mm would be a contender in the wide angle landscape category. It makes you wonder why Nikon would create a lens. It’s probably because 16-35mm sales aren’t where they want them to be?
I personally would shell out the extra 5-bills in order to get 4.0 and VR. I’ve shot low light musical performances at 1/15s without a tripod or monopod available. I’d get the stage sharp and the audience a bit blurred which is exactly the type of image I want. However if I didn’t already have the 16-35mm it would certainly be a tough choice.
Yep. That’s why I said “landscape” photography lens. VR and wider aperture settings don’t matter there 🙂
Agreed 🙂 Just mentioning other photography situations that your readers might also relate to. It’s always good (IMHO) to have a versatile lens that can be put into multiple situations 🙂
With the numbers overlapping on lenses so much, what do you carry if you only wanted to walk around one lens for landscape and city/people photos?
As long as you have an Android device, I don’t think it matters what lens 😉 (Sorry, couldn’t resist based on your Lightroom mag comment) 😉
Anyway, I don’t ever find myself doing both at the same time. I’m rarely in a city one minute and shooting landscapes the next. So I don’t have a lens for it. I supposed the 28-300 or 18-200 would work out well for it though.
Why is it that the Guys (not RC), and maybe not the Girl have issues with taking photos of city street people (not controllable models). Even with Maisel showing Scott his methods, Scott printed work recently is not on the street but the garage.Even with a recent tip on being less obvious it seems those tips are ignored. With morning and evening landscapes being shot, does anyone take people photos in between? My safe preference? In Los Angeles where every 18 year old student shoots with at least a D600, take pics of the photographer. They never complain about having their picture taken. ps. Yes, I still have a D90 (yes, Nikon still sells them) but I have a few years left on NAPP and Training, plus started a $10 Cloud membership since a bundle wasn’t coming. Plus thanks to Kelby Media will see you in Vegas.
Ummm… maybe because we don’t like street photography. I photograph outdoor family lifestyle portraits all the time (for $$). But landscape is my passion which is why I write about it.
Personally, not having people complain about having their picture taken on the street isn’t my problem with street photography. I feel that what you photograph has to inspire you, in order for you to be able to get out there and shoot it. My problem is I simply don’t care for street photography. It doesn’t inspire me. I look at other people’s photos and, honestly, it doesn’t do much for me to make me want to get out there and do it.
I knew I needed more than a Kodak Brownie after I saw the work of W. Eugene Smith and the photojournalists of that period. Now I don’t need the camera nor see the picture if I can hear McNally’s story behind the picture. If I could only tell those types of stories but I need those faces…
The 18-200 goes everywhere I go and has paid off a thousand times – it’s a very nice all purpose “work horse”.
Good question wgchinn. In my personal experiences I would lug around my 24-70mm most often.
Hey Matt, Wow … that is one beautiful photography! The sharpness and clarity in the foreground is amazing! Well done! Just FYI. I tried the live view method of focusing that you showed us on Photography tips and tricks a week or so ago, and man does that work! What a fantastic tip! Thanks a lot!
Thanks Dennis – I used that technique when I was taking this photo actually. It’s amazing that in a year I’ve gone from barely using Live View to not being able to live without it.
I NEED to find that Live-View photo tip if it’s around. As far as I can figure out it is worthless (I can’t even SEE it when outside) and yet so many serious photographers use it so it can’t be.
Yeah, I’ll post it here on the blog this week. It’s tricky but when you figure it out, it helps A LOT!!!
Matt: Already have a 12-24 f4 and a 24-120 f4 from Nikon and use a D300. Would you purchase the 18-35 if you already owned these lenses to shoot landscapes? Thanks
Nope. I’d stick with what you have. Two very good lenses there. 🙂
Thanks for the review, Matt. I’ve been looking for a wide-angle zoom for a while now, and have had trouble settling on one. Your opinion has gone a long way towards pointing me in the right direction…it’s between the 16-35 and the 18-35, and I get the feeling I cant go wrong with either one.
Great! I’d definitely go with the 18-35mm in that case. Cheaper, lighter and smaller – but just as good of a lens.
What a beautiful shot. You’ve sold me on the lens – thank you so much for the review.
Gorgeous shot, Matt. Love the light in the foreground. So, would you use this lens for anything other than landscapes? Or is it just too wide to be practical for much of anything else? I’m in need of something in the wider ranges for my D7000, but I would also like to use it for other things as well (general walk-around type stuff, maybe some portraits). But, I’m thinking maybe 35 stops a little short for uses like that. Been kicking around the Tamron 24-70 you’ve talked about in the past. Cheaper than the Nikon 24-70, but…$1300 is still a big chunk of coin.
Hey Mike – Not sure what else I’d shoot this wide. I’m definitely not an environmental portrait shooter so any portraits I do shoot are very tight with my 70-200. The Tamron 24-70 is actually a great landscape and portrait lens so that may be the way to go. Honestly, I rarely find I shoot my landscapes ultra wide at 18mm. 24mm works great.
Thanks. I’m shooting a friend’s sr. pictures in a few weeks…thinking of renting the Tamron for that and putting it through some paces. Also considering the Sigma 24-70, as it’s a bit cheaper. Bill Fortney once recommended the Nikon 16-85. It’s only a 3.5-5.6, but, apparently, very sharp in the right conditions. And, it’s got a nice range. Plus, Bill knows a thing or two about this stuff…;)