First, get a load of this: Thom Hogan reports that although the Nikon Contest 2012-13 is now open, users of the only premium film SLR still being marketed, the Nikon F6, aren't invited.
Oh, perfidy! Film is officially the poor stepchild now, I guess. Before it was just de facto.
An awesome (overused term used advisedly) lens
Apropos of stepchildren, I suspect 35mm might be the poor stepchild focal length of Nikon's recently refurbished ƒ/1.8 line of FX primes, too. They'll probably jump right to the other short teles and get to 35mm, the perennially neglected focal length clad in rags and cowering in the corner, late if ever.
If there was a 35mm ƒ/1.8G lens for FX, I would have rented that one.
That's not sour grapes, exactly: the 35mm ƒ/1.4G is an awesome lens (hush, you lot of reproving pommies: I'm a proud American and I said awesome and I do mean awesome) optically, truly wonderful. I'm loving (and approving of) Nikon's designers' choices.
Examples? No shots for you! I checked the lens out with test shots taken around the house and the yard, and boy are those dull. The mess does look better the more bokeh there is, I'll say that.
As with all lenses, I suggest people evaluating shots taken with this lens stop scrutinizing photos anxiously for one pet quality or another and take in the overall gestalt of the lens's look instead. Its image quality is quite wonderful. Might even be the best Nikkor I've ever used, although the 24–70mm ƒ/2.8G should probably be mentioned in the same breath.
But it's imposing in size, weight, and especially price: currently $1,619 at B&H. That's really stiff for a single focal length, even of this quality. I'm struggling to convince myself that it makes sense for a low-lens-count shooter like myself (my ideal SLR lens complement is two, a 35mm and an 85mm, which I use in about an 80/20 proportion respectively), but for someone who wants a wider selection of lenses, especially someone who doesn't shoot with a 35mm a lot, it would be that much more difficult to justify.
If you shoot 50mm, no-brainer: although it is navigating the peepers' gauntlets with some difficulty, the new 50mm ƒ/1.8G is an objective with a great overall gestalt. Go for it. It would be perfection on the D600, D800, or D800E.
I suspect the old AF Nikkor 35mm ƒ/2D would do fine on this camera too, at least for my purposes. That's a lens that I know thoroughly—I reviewed it when it came out and I think I've owned five of them over the years, including one during the "oil on the aperture blades" period, and there's certainly nothing wrong with it. It's not get-outta-town beautiful like this new one, though. I especially love the ƒ/1.4G's performance wide open and one and two stops down; the transition to o-o-f is gentle but the lens is so sharp that a little blur makes the in-focus objects pop. But naturally. And the in-focus areas are subtly smooth-sharp, not harsh-sharp. It's a really pretty look. A lens to fall for. Or maybe that's just me.
And I've yet to find a weakness with it. Still looking. No VR? Okay, if you like.
The D800E and I are going to an opening tonight, so we get yet more low-light testing, this time with an emphasis on focusing. The light/weather today in Waukesha could not possibly be less appealing. As drab as can be. (Cue Muttley snigger from Universe.)
In the hand
I'll steal Erwin Puts's word, haptics, to talk about the D800E's ergonomics.
To begin with, there's big and there's big. It sorta depends on what you're used to. If you're accustomed to any of the Canikons with vertical grips, the 1Ds/D3x style cameras, then the D800E is going to seem rather light, even just a touch cramped. Coming from the other direction—from Micro 4/3 or a digicam or a rangefinder—it's a bit of a handful.
Similarly with the lens. Most people today are used to zooms, and if you're used to anything but the cheapest kit-type zooms, a 20 oz./600g lens that sticks out from the camera 3.5 inches/~9cm and takes 67mm filters isn't going to seem burdensome. You're probably accustomed to worse.
But if you're coming from (say) the World's Most Perfect Lens, the Lumix 20mm ƒ/1.7 for Micro 4/3 (3.5 oz., 1.8" long, and 46mm filters), then it seems like Bigfoot up against Natalie Portman. To plunk you into my somewhat weird world, the Nikkor is bigger than my medium-format lens, which admittedly is just a normal (80mm for 6x6cm); a moderate-wide 60mm would be bigger. (Sorry for the crappy product shot. One thing perpetually on the to-do list is to set up a tabletop for product shots. Not hard. And not done.)
Curiously, I think it's only because I've been shooting with a 6000-series Rollei for the past year or so that the Nikon seems so nice and handy. Had that monster not acclimated me to biggish and not-so-wieldy hand cameras, I might have a different take on the D800E.
As it is, the D800E seems mighty comfortable. I'm not overly familiar with Nikons—the last two I used were the D3 and the D700 back when they were newish (thanks, John C. and David N.), yet the D800E feels familiar and the controls are more or less where I expect to find them. Haven't cracked the manual or Thom Hogan's Guide yet, although no doubt I'll learn a lot more when I do. Individual photographers might have one or another pet peeve about this or that control, but I doubt there's much that won't seem like second nature soon enough. Stumbling around in the dark the other night, "I" (i.e. my conscious mind) didn't remember where the top LCD light was, but my finger did. (It's on the shutter-button collar with the on-off switch.)
The grip is long enough for all my fingers, just; you can do that thing where you hang the camera off your right-hand fingertips as you muck around with cards; the card bay is easy to access (unlike the A900, which stupidly mounts CF cards with the ridge on the wrong side. Fumblefingers me has cursed that many a time). One habit I picked up shooting Leicas—I think originating, for me, with Tom Abrahamsson; if I'm remembering that right, thanks, Tom—is to hit the shutter button not with your fingertip but with the palm side of the first knuckle on your index finger—it's easier to squeeze rather than jab the shutter button that way. Anyway the Nikon's shutter release position allows me enough room to do that.
The camera doesn't seem heavy. It's a decidedly middleweight 35+ oz./1 kg, but that's offset by the volume or bulk of the camera, and it doesn't "read" heavy to the hand. The lens is another matter; it feels like a glass paperweight, no question, and it makes the combo feel heavyish. Again, depends on what you're used to. I've always been suspicious of the conventional phrase "the lens balances well on the camera," but, if any combo will illustrate that concept, this one does. It just seems like the camera and lens has the right heft and weight to be stable as can be as you shoot.
Altogether it's a very appealing, businesslike but operator-friendly feel. Despite that, it has little "object quality." It reminds me of my RAV4: smooth and capable, decent looking if you're down with the look, quite well put together, but few pretenses. The D800E is solidly in the black polycarbonate blob school of haptics that Nikon's been rockin' with for a coon's age now.
Oh, I forgot...
...The perfect prime match for the camera is the new AF-S Nikkor 28mm ƒ/1.8G, I should mention. Saw that one at Milwaukee's best camera store, Mike Crivello's, the other day. Didn't think of it earlier. Kind of a sleeper lens that some shooters I know of are quietly loving. How much would you have to crop to get down to the 35mm angle of view? Down to 32 or 33 MP, maybe? What a hardship. Much more palatable cost, too.
Anyway, the D800E feels very smooth and capable, nicely ergonomic, and just comfortable as can be to shoot with; a real enthusiast's camera. But with the heavy 35mm (or, for most peoples' mileage, any respectable zoom) it's a camera you shoot with both hands. However comfortable your left hand feels under the lens, you do need to use it.
As soon as my progeny stumbles awake, I'm going to try to press him and some of his friends into service to pose for some portraits; I expect to encounter reluctance, if not outright resistance. Stay tuned.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
A book of interest today:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Nikhil Ramkarran: "I've had the D800E, this 35mm and a few other bits of Nikon kit in my Amazon cart for a couple months now itching to pull the trigger. Been grinning like a fool since you decided to test this combo (and yes, I will remember to go through your links if my benefactor ever gets around to giving me the thumbs up)."
Mike replies: Not to be selfish, but be sure you take it out of your cart and re-select it before you actually do the inevitable, or we won't get credit for it...we don't get credit for anything you buy that's already in your cart, ever, even if you put it there during a session that originated from TOP. Only things that you both select and also buy during a visit directly from TOP get counted in our column. And it really does help, so many thanks [/business mode].
Aaron: "I've been really enjoying the Nikon 28mm ƒ/1.8. I got it a few months back and am using it on my D700. Paired with my 105mm (and/or 50mm, sometimes), it's been great. Just a little wider and a little longer than your 35/85mm combo. Very nice rendering—I really like the transitions between in- and out-of-focus areas. I really like the look of photos at 28mm and ƒ/1.8: there's enough in focus to be an interesting photo and the backgrounds out of focus enough to recede a bit, at middle focus distances."
Tom Kwas: "Plus one for the 35mm/85mm reality. I look back on years of professional photography, and that's what I've used even extrapolated to 120, 4x5 and 8x10. Since I shoot APS-C, what I need is a 24mm ƒ/2 (or ƒ/2.8), and a 55mm ƒ/2 (or 60mm ƒ/2 or ƒ/2.8)...since Nikon makes a killer 'G' series 60mm for a decent price, all I need is the 24mm in the 500 dollar range...where is it? Where is it?"
Mike replies: I know. I kept asking the same question, only with Pentax. They also make a killer 55mm for APS-C.
CMS: "In full agreement with your assessment of the 35mm ƒ/1.4G, which is my most-used lens on the D700 for one and a half years now. I bought it when getting tired of waiting for a 35mm ƒ/2 AF-S. Unfortunately the current 35mm ƒ/2 isn't up to the task, as the corners get soft when used wider than ƒ/8. As if that wasn't enough, both my AF and AF-D samples are affected by the oil on the aperture blades problem."