A couple of months ago Nikon sent me their brand spankin new 35mm f1.4 lens to toy with and review. So excited, I nearly clawed down the UPS man, who gladly handed over the package for fear I’d eat his hands because I was so hungry for this glass. I opened my package carefully, taking in its brand new scent, feeling its smooth unmarred new surface, moving its super slick focus ring, checking out the reflection in it’s super smooth lens. Yes, I smelled this lens. You just.Don’t.Know.How.Cool.It.Is. You see, I have something to admit. Even though I’m a girl, I’m a little bit of a closet gear-head and we Nikonians have been waiting for this lens.

At first I set out to showcase one singular awesomely fun shoot with this review. Pretty, yes. Useful, nah, not really. I want to write a REAL working review from a range of REAL situations with REAL obstacles we wedding & portrait photographers face on a day to day basis. These are real clients and real images from their real shoots.

Silly wedding photography using the new Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens with the exposure set at f3.2 and 1/40 of a second, taking advantage of the night time ambient light in the lobby of this hotel.

First, let’s say hi to the big elephant in the room. This lens retails for $1799 US, and pro gear never really goes on sale. So why, oh why would we consider an investment like this when we could get others at a fraction of the price? Let me break down what I found to be it’s best points for you:

  • It’s wide without being too wide. Its focal length is 35mm, meaning when put on a full frame sensor, it has a nice wide range of view. Wide enough you can shoot in tight spots, get right up close, or shoot a whole scene, yet without the distortion that the rad 24mm f1.4 has.
  • 35mm fixed lens is a classic, so its resale will be good in the future. It’s also a super popular focal length right now, and great for the more photo-journalistic shooters. If I had to pick one fixed lens for my bag, it’d be this one.
  • It’s a small lens, so the distance the light has to travel is short, which translates to excellent exposures in low light. Hold onto your hats, because this means that the Nikon 35mm f1.4 can see in the dark, especially when paired with the D3 or D700 body.
  • It’s a fixed focal length, meaning you have to zoom with your feet (yes, move those feet!). This forces you to slow down if you’re a happy clicker.
  • Fixed lenses tend to be sharper than zooms. This one is so sharp, I have to do more retouching. I’ll pick and choose my battles and this is one I’m happy to lose.
  • FAST auto-focus. Like F-A-S-T. It kept up with me and my clients running at the same time. If you’ve ever seen me shoot, I’m a textbook example of Photo A.D.D. if there ever were such a thing.
  • Silent Wave Motor: Its autofocus is whisper quiet. Great for shooting in large echo-ey churches.
  • The color is brilliant. Looking back over my shoots in the last month, I’m impressed at how naturally poppy they are. I love my colors poppy.


Shallow Depth of Field

I chose a low aperture for these portraits. The super shallow depth of field gives a really dreamy quality and isolates the distractions from the focus of the image. For you beginners out there, this lens is called 35mm f1.4 because… wait for it… you can set it as low as f1.4, all the time, anytime, which means that just the tip of an eyelash, center of a flower, or thread of a veil is in focus. That also means that GADS of light comes on through, so any physically short lens that opens so wide is fantastic for gloomy or dark scenes (eh hem, stormy winter Northwest days or romantically lit wedding receptions!).

nikon 35 1.4 lens review of a real wedding portrait

Nikon 35mm f1.4 set at f1.6 for a super shallow depth-of-field

I pushed it to the max for this series- set at it’s maximum aperture of f1.4, the 35mm lens still performs extremely well and even has a little vignette naturally built in (we added some on top of what the lens gave us in Lightroom, so think it’s about half this much when stopped wide open). This playful couple is miraculously sharp since their faces are on the same plane, which I swear never happens! It IS possible to shoot a group shot at f1.4! I wouldn’t suggest it though…

nikon 35mm f1.4 lens during a seattle engagement shoot showing shallow depth of field

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens set at f1.4, it’s maximum aperture. You can see how shallow the depth of field is on their little wheaty snack.

I backed off a few feet for this shot to see if I could isolate them against the busy background while still getting a full-length shot. I was standing on a hill, which explains why the grass in front of the couple is in focus just like their faces, but their feet are soft- my plane of focus was shifted diagonally, kinda like a tilt-shift/PCE lens (nerd alert. told you… closet gear head.).

Nikon 35mm lens review of engagement portraits in a field

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens set at f1.8 keep the foreground in focus and let the landscape go sweetly soft in full length portraits


Bokeh is a silly word. It just means “the out of focus parts.” Good versus bad bokeh is subjective- I personally like a little shape and distraction in my bokeh, but I also enjoy a smooth bokeh from time to time. Most importantly, I like it when an abundance of bokeh is deliberate and used in moderation.

These cherry Blossoms are back-lit and give you an idea of some textured/slightly specular bokeh.

Nikon 35mm f1.4 review of cherry blossom engagement portrait

Nikon 35mm f1.4 captured at f2.2 to keep both faces in focus but simplify the busy backlit background

Overcast skies plus grass give a really smoooooth bokeh and uber vibrant colors. The distance of lens-to-subject-to-background also plays a part in how fuzzy-smooth the background is.

lens review real engagement shoot Nikon 35mm f1.4

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens set at f1.8 and the grass has very smooth bokeh on an overcast day

Flare, Aberrations, and Back Lit Scenes

In this scene, we were under a dark dark tree. It was really bright out, but overcast, so the light was like 5 stops different under here. This is at the top of a bluff, so the water is behind this couple, and you can’t see it, because like I said…. they’re WAY back-lit. This scene is a recipe for disaster, so I was excited: I expected ghosting or unsightly full-on flare-glare, but there was none! The image is crisp and clean and auto-focus picked up immediately. Neat-o. You’ll see some chromatic aberration on the edges of the trees and her right hand, but I’ve found it’s unavoidable and can happen to even the best of lenses, which is why there’s a super simple fix in Lightroom and Photoshop. To be honest, the very first thing Lily and I did was try to MAKE chromatic aberrations appear, and we couldn’t, so I was surprised (but relieved) we got it here. The fact that the lens performed above and beyond what I expected in this situation outweighed a little fringe. No big deal.

backlit portrait under a tree using the new nikon 35mm 1.4 lens

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens set at f3.5. The challenge lies in the lighting- they are extremely backlit which usually yields ghosting and the kind of flare no one likes.

In another shoot that I can’t show here (boudoir shoot, as a surprise for a woman’s fiance, so mums the word for now!), we had an extreme silhouette situation where she was standing in front of a window. It was sunny out, so the difference in exposure between outside and inside was drastic and extreme. The 35mm 1.4 auto-focused quickly and cleanly, where my other main go-to lens couldn’t hold a focus point! In fact, the light was so harsh, I couldn’t actually see her face- this happens quite a bit when shooting near windows for me, and I was blown away by the ability of this lens to see when I actually couldn’t (I can’t believe I just admitted that I couldn’t see… a photographer who can’t see? gasp!).

Lens Flare? Well, I live in Seattle. My last five shoots have been rained on, because after all, it’s May, thus, I have no good flare to share other than the kind we manufactured in the next section. If it’s miraculously sunny here while I still have my sticky paws on this lens, I’ll try and get a good lens flare shot and post it here. Hip Hip Hooray! We have had sun!!

Lens flare captured by the Nikon 35mm f1.4. The aperture was set at 7.1 for this frame.

Lens flare captured by the Nikon 35mm f1.4. The aperture was set at 4.5 for this frame.


Low Light Capabilities

You already saw the first image in this post, shot at night in the hotel lobby, with available light. Great color and sharper than Dexter’s knives.

Here we tested with double lighting during a wedding reception. Low light plus a strobe behind the couple let us be dramatic with light yet let some of the ambient color sneak back in. Getting the whole room in there was a breeze. The couple stayed sharp and the audience fell out of focus, which I love. We shot at 1/60th of a second to let some of the ambient light back in, but since the lens is 35mm, the couple’s motion is stopped and not blurry (simple rule of thumb: shooting at a shutter speed the same as your focal length is usually the threshold for camera shake, so we could have easily shot at 1/30 or maybe lower if I didn’t have an overload of espresso that day! The couple would have had movement though, so this is why I chose 1/60th. They were waltzing I think!)

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens review dark wedding reception

Nikon 35mm f1.4 set at f1.6 at 1/60th keeps the couple sharp while the guests fall into soft focus. The flare on our strobe is dreamy but not overwhelming.

Image Stabilization? Doesn’t need it. Being short in size and a fast lens at a maximum aperture of 1.4, you can shoot REALLY slow. I shot the following at 1/15th of a second using only the vibrant ambient light available during this romantically lit wedding reception since this lens is so short and opens so wide. The fingers are sharp as a tack. I’m sure I could have pushed it further and put the shutter at a slower setting, but this was the image I wanted.

nikon 35mm f1.4 lens review of real wedding reception using only ambient light

Nikon 35mm 1.4 lens set at f1.4 at 1/15 of a second and using only available wedding reception light


This is probably the single most important factor when you’re buying a lens, so here are some unretouched AND UNSHARPENED examples (because most of us sharpen our images for web viewing since resolutions vary and the images have to be so small to see on screen!). You may ask, why shoot at f5 when this lens is so beautiful at f1.4? Because babies move FAST and I wanted her in focus. Right? Right! Oh, and the “sweet spot” of lenses (sharpest aperture) tend to be between f4 and 8, although it depends on the lens.

My apologies to my lovely clients- the following image is un-retouched and shows this baby’s goobers in all their glory, which we would normally remove before posting. Don’t forget, all babies are ripe with goobers so this is not a reflection of their ability to de-goober their baby for a photo shoot! It’s the nature of baby-dom!

lens review sharpness of 35mm f1.4 Nikon by baby photographer in Seattle

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens set at f5. You can see the fine details in her sweet baby skin and typically characteristic baby goobers, most likely the day’s lunch!

If you want to download the full resolution image of this sweet lil baby, click here. This is a personal, non-commercial license for you to download and look at, not to repost or redistribute, just so we’re clear. I just really want you to see the sharpness for yourself!

We’ve found that when photographing adults, we have to do more retouching than we normally do because this prime lens is so flippin sharp, so for the sake of seeing WAY too many pores, we’re not gonna show you them. The baby image is testimony enough. Bad for our time management, great for our clients!

Focus Distance

Minimum focus distance on the 35mm 1.4 is 11.67 inches. Suits me wonderfully for uber close portraits and wide-angled details.

pink and white m&m's as a wedding favor in a review of the professional gear nikkor 35mm f1.4 lens

Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens set at f2.5 and 1/200 of a second for this detail of the wedding favors, m&m’s!

pink and orange peonies and orchids in a wedding bouquet for a review of the nikon 35mm f1.4 lens

f5.6 at 1/125th was the exposure for this detail shot of bridesmaids flowers with the Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens

canoodling engaged couple in black and white for a reveiw on the nikon 35mm lens
Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens in a close-up canoodling pose. My aperture was set at f2.8 to keep both sets of eyes in focus.


Size, Shape, and Weight

The new Nikon Nikkor 35mm f1.4 is larger than my 50mm, and almost half the size of my go-to lens, the 24-70mm. It’s also 2/3 the weight, and fits in all of my bags. What more do you want to know? (Yes, Andy, this is a shout out for you). It comes in black (Yes Lucas, this is a shout out for you), although you can get those new lens decals to cover it if you want. If you do, I’ll slap you because she’s pretty and sleek just as she is and does not need a new dress, sir.

Technically speaking:

  • Filter thread: 67mm
  • Dimensions are 3.27″x3.52″
  • Weight is 21.2 oz, so more than an apple and less than a grapefruit.
  • You can use it on full-frame bodies like the D3 or D700, as well as cropped sensors like the D300 or D7000, and even newer film cameras (as long as you can adjust your aperture in-camera).

Nikon Nikkor 35mm f 1.4 lens in a real working review for wedding and portrait photographersNikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f1.4G lens available at B&H


In summary, I love this lens, and my smile fades when I think of sending it back to the warehouse. It’s sharp, fast, sees in the dark, is compact, color is great, and is perfectly wide for on-the-go shooting. If you’re looking to get your first prime, I feel like this one is better than the 50 (because I like to shoot wide personally). If you’re looking to splurge on one lens, Nikon makes GREAT glass and anything in their pro line will treat you right, so give this one a thought.

After reading through this long real-situation 35mm f1.4 lens review (thank you!) what do you think? What are you hoping to add to your bag? Do you have this lens- what do you think of it? Any real-life-lens-using questions that you’re itching to ask? Leave me a comment and I’ll continue the discussion! (and if you do want to get it right meow, click on any of those links to B&H in NYC. It’ll help me pay for mine ;).