At the moment, Nikon users have only a few options for Nikon branded 35mm lenses. The high end 35mm f1.4 G intended for full frame bodies, the 35mm f2 AFD with the same intention for full frame, and the 35mm f1.8 DX intended for cropped frame bodies. Not really worth mentioning as it’s not really a lens that is easily bought new, but the 35mm f1.4 ais which was built with the intention of use on 35mm film bodies. The G is very expensive for the average and hobbiest photographer, leaving them with the choice of the 35mm f2 AFD or the 35mm f1.8 DX.
I used to shoot with the 35mm f2 AFD and did not enjoy that lens. There was nothing characteristically exciting about it, the 7 blade aperture left much to be desired for shallow depth of field shots, and the focal ring was not too wide and not to my liking. I picked it up when I used to shoot with a D300 to get a roughly 50mm equivalent, and while it served it’s purpose, it was never a lens that I could get excited to use. After a year or so of shooting with it, I sold it off and picked up the 35mm f1.4 ais second hand. That lens has it’s own set of troubles, but still produces photos with a very characteristic look unique to that lens. I can easily distinguish a photo taken with this lens. Both the f2 AFD and the f1.4 ais are pro lenses in a sense that they display a distance meter on the lens, in both feet and meters, and both are built very well, solid metal and cool to the touch.
That brings me to the 35mm f1.8 DX. I bought this as a gift for my wife to shoot with on her D5000. She wanted something fast that would help in low light and something good for portraits, and this was a nice solution I felt. It’s a chubby little lens and upon initial handling, clearly not a pro lens. It feels flimsy and turning the focal ring has an odd, paper-against-paper feeling to it, not the nicely greased, smooth turn you would get from an ais or Zeiss. That’s when it struck me, there is not distance meter on the lens. If you want to measure the distance between yourself and your subject, as I often do for street photography, you simply cannot with this lens. You have to rely entirely on the viewfinder and your eyes. Shooting from the hip with this thing is very difficult unless you switch it to auto-focus, and then a lot of the fun is gone.
However, this is an odd and interesting lens when pairing it with a full frame body, in my case, my D700. I’ll get this out of the way first, I love odd quirks that give a lens real character. I love vignetting, and I love bizarre bokeh. This lens vignettes like crazy, giving daylight shots a nice vintage feeling to them, especially when boosting the saturation in a shot. Low light situations are rendered nicely and the vignetting is not quite as prominent. The bokeh is mah mah, nothing special, but you can get decent subject isolation with this lens on full frame. I think a lof of people are looking for modern equivalent of the 35mm f2 AFD and are looking at this lens as the only alternative within their price range. So to confirm here, YES, you can attach this to a full frame body and shoot with it. NO, I would not recommend buying this lens for your full frame camera. I would strongly recommend this lens for someone shooting DX(cropped frame), it’s a fine little lens and produces nice results. For full frame users, this lens is not a pro piece of gear, this is a consumer grade product that might almost fall into the catagory of “toy lens” if you insist on pairing it with a full frame body. The strong vignetting alone gives the results a fun and playful look, but without pp, you’re stuck with strongly vignetted shots even when you’re not wanting them.
For the time being, the mid-range 35mm remains the f2 AFD, or for the adventurous, the f1.4 ais which is an odd piece of glass that requires a lot of patience. All photos in this post were shot with the 35mm f1.8 DX on a D700 body and processed in Aperture and Photoshop.