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Nikon 20-35mm
© 2008 KenRockwell.com

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recomendations

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Nikon 20-35mm

Nikon 20-35mm f/2.8 D AF (77mm filters, 20.7 oz./588g, about $700 used). enlarge. You can get it used at these direct links to it at Adorama and at eBay.


December 2007, updated December 2010     more Nikon reviews

How to Use Ultrawide Lenses 11 August 2008


Introduction    top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recomendations

Ritz Camera


I personally buy from Ritz, Adorama and Amazon. I can't vouch for any other ads.


The Nikon 20-35mm f/2.8 D was introduced in the fall of 1993. It was Nikon's first professional ultra wide zoom. It immediately was found in every pro's bag, along with his 80-200mm AF-D.

The 20-35mm was introduced as a D lens. The D feature tells modern cameras the subject's distance to help exposure metering, especially with flash.

It was replaced by the 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S. The newer 17-35 goes wider and is easier for manual focusing, but since people ask, the 20-35mm is just as good for just about everything.

Having tried both on my D3, they are equally sharp, with the 17-35mm having a very slight edge at 35mm. If you spend more time looking at your photos through a microscope than shooting, forget either of these and get the 14-24mm, which is far superior in sharpness to anything.

If you want a bargain on a professional lens that's fully compatible with the D3, this 20-35mm feels and works great, is smaller and lighter and has less distortion than the newer pro ultrawide zoom lenses.

The 14-24mm AF-S doesn't replace either of these, because the 14-24mm can't use filters, and it too darn big and heavy to be practical, as well as covering a much more fun but less practical zoom range.

The 20-35mm was, and still is, expensive. They sold for about $1,500 new in the 1990s, about $600 used in 2007 and abotu $700 used in 2010. $700 is still a lot less than any other Nikon professional ultra wide zoom.

Compatibility: The 20-35mm AF-D works with everything Nikon has made from 1959's first F to today's D3. The only thing it won't do is autofocus with the D40 or D40x, but so what, it doesn't autofocus on manual focus cameras, either. The 20-35mm does give full exposure automation and a manual focus confirmation light on the D40s.

More at my exhaustive Nikon Lens Compatibility chart. This is an AF-D (screw) lens.

Nikon 20-35mm

Nikon 20-35mm.


Specifications    top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recomendations


Nikon calls this the Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8 D.



14 elements in 11 groups.

Expensive ground aspherical element. (the 17-35 uses cheaper-to-produce molded and glued plastic aspheric elements).


Filter Thread




9 conventional (straight) blades, my favorite.

Stops down to f/22 .


Close Focus

1.7 feet (0.5m), nowhere near as close as the 17-35mm.



3.728" extension from flange x 3.227" diameter (94.68 x 81.96mm), measured.

Nikon specifies 3.7 x 3.2" (94 x 82mm).



20.729 oz. (587.65g), measured by me, naked.

Nikon specifies 22.6 oz (640g).

Nikon HB-8 Hood

Nikon HB-8 bayonet plastic hood.


Optional HB-8 flocked plastic hood, same as 18mm f/2.8 AF-D.

If you don't have one of these hoods already, they are almost impossible to find.



CL-46 hard case, included. Optional number 62 pouch.


Made in



CL-46 case made in




Fall 1993.



Nikon made about 45,000 of these up through about 2000.


Performance    top

Intro   Specifications   Performance   Compared   Recommendations


Trellis. 20-35mm f/2.8D at 20mm, D3, f/8 at 1/250.

This was Nikon's flagship ultrawide zoom for many years. It works great, and stumbles only if you deliberately try to make it look bad by shooting it wide open in daylight. Distortion is better than newer ultrawide zooms.


Autofocus    top

AF speed is fast, as with most wide angle lenses. One full turn of the AF screw focuses the lens from infinity to four feet.

It focuses instantly on a D3.

Focus is entirely internal: nothing moves outside the lens.


Manual Focus    top

Nikon 20-35mm

Nikon 20-35mm Focus Stuff.

The 20-35mm requires moving a dorky M - A ring. It's easy: press the button above "Nikon" on the left with your thumb and rotate. It only takes a fraction of a second, but if that fraction of a second misses your shot, you're dead.

Once you've moved the switch, manual focus feels great.

The need for this switch is one of the reasons pro shooters started moving to Canon in the mid-1990s and have never had a reason to return to Nikon, even though Nikon's current pro lenses have fixed this problem. Modern Canon and Nikon lenses need no switch; just grab the ring.

Of course the magic ring of the newer lenses can be a problem when one is trying to hold the lens as steadily as possible, because you can knock the focus ring by accident. On this 20-35mm, the manual focus ring turns but doesn't do anything when in AF mode.

The 20 and 35 markings on the focus scale are infra-red indices.


Zooming    top

Nikon 20-35mm

Nikon 20-35mm Zoom Ring.

Zooming is excellent. The narrow zoom range is well spread out on the ring, so it's easy to set an exact framing at any setting. It's easy to zoom with one finger.

The front and rear groups move with zooming, but since they do so inside the barrel, the filter ring never moves.


Sharpness and Light Falloff (corner darkening)    top

Used properly, all lenses are sharp. The biggest thing that "better" lenses do is remain sharp when used improperly, like shooting at f/2.8 in daylight.

THe 20-35mm is as sharp as the 17-35mm. Galen Rowell said in the September 1999 issue of "Outdoor Photographer" that the 20mm f/4 AI manual focus lens was sharper than this zoom.


On a D3 full-frame FX camera:

At 20mm:

f/2.8: Sharp in center. Very fuzzy in the corners and far sides. This was as good as it got in 1993 wide open at 20mm; it's not a defect. Some falloff (darkening) in corners.

f/4: Center sharpness even better. Better, but still very soft in corners. Falloff much improved, invisible for real photos.

f/5.6: As sharp as it gets in the center. Still soft in corners. Falloff gone for brick walls.

f/8: Corners usable; falloff completely gone.

f/11: Corners still improving.

f/16: Corners at their sharpest.

f/22: Diffraction softens everything.


At 24mm:

f/2.8: Sharp in center. Very fuzzy in the corners and far sides, but much better than at 20mm. Some falloff (darkening) in corners.

f/4: Even sharper in center. Better, but still very soft in corners. Falloff much improved, invisible for real photos.

f/5.6: As sharp as it gets in center. Still soft in corners. Falloff is gone.

f/8: Corners usable.

f/11: Corners at their sharpest.

f/16 and f/22: Diffraction softens everything, worst at f/22.


At 28mm:

f/2.8: Sharp in center. A little hazy in the corners and far sides, but better than at 24mm. Some falloff (darkening) in corners.

f/4: Even sharper in center. Better, but still soft in corners. Falloff much improved, invisible for real photos.

f/5.6: As sharp as it gets in center. Corners usable. Falloff is gone.

f/8: Corners usable. Falloff is gone.

f/11 and f/16: Corners are at their sharpest.

f/22: Diffraction softens everything.


At 35mm:

f/2.8: Sharp in center. Soft in the corners and far sides. Minor falloff (darkening) in corners.

f/4: Even sharper in center. Still soft in corners. Falloff much improved, invisible for real photos.

f/5.6: As sharp as it gets in center. Corners usable. Falloff is gone.

f/8: Corners usable. Falloff is gone.

f/11 and f/16: Corners are at their sharpest.

f/22: Diffraction softens everything.

Nikon 20-35mm

Nikon 20-35mm f/2.8 D. enlarge.

Distortion    top

Distortion is better than most zooms. It's minor barrel at the wide end, and almost flat at 35mm. On film and FX digital, it's the least distorting ultrawide zoom I've characterized.

Distortion becomes more barrel at closer distances.

The 20-35mm has a complex (wavy) signature on film and FX, so you'll need a more advanced tool (possibly DxO if they have a module) to correct it fully. On DX digital, it's simpler and therefore easier to correct in Photoshop, but more distorted at the wide end.

Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research.

3' (1m) FX
10' (3m) FX
15' (5m) FX
15 ' (5m) DX

© 2007-2010 KenRockwell.com

* a little wavy; never completely corrects with this tool.


Sunstars   top


Blind Man's Last Sight. 20-35mm f/2.8 D AF, f/22, -1 stop exposure compensation.

With a straight 9-bladed diaphragm, you'll get 18-pointed sunstars if you push it.

There was a multi-coated filter on the lens for this shot on an FX digital camera at the 35mm setting.


Construction and Materials    topNikon 20-35mm

Engraved markings on front ring.

Overall: Lots of metal. Crinkle finish paint.

AF - MF ring: Plastic with metal lock button.

Zoom Ring: Painted metal with rubber grip.

Filter thread and bayonet hood mount: Anodized aluminum.

Front ring markings: Engraved and filled.

Barrel and aperture ring markings: Painted.

Serial number: Laser-burnt into bottom of aperture ring.

Mount: Chromed brass.

Black screw on mount to help when mounting on camera? Yes.

Nikon 20-35mm

Nikon 20-35mm. enlarge.

Use with Filters    top

No problem; even on full-frame, my conventional rotating polarizer or rotating screw-in graduated ND (each 7mm thick excluding threads) work without any vignetting at every aperture and focal length.

If you want to use two of these stacked (14mm thick excluding threads), it works great, but only from 24-35mm. There's vignetting with two stacked fat filters at 20mm at all apertures on film and FX Digital. It's still no problem on DX digital.

The filter ring never moves with either zooming or focusing.


Compared    top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recomendations

See Nikon Ultrawide Zooms Compared.

See Sharpness Comparison to all other 24mm lenses August 2010

See Compared to the Tokina 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 AF November 2010


Recommendations    top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recomendations

The 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S is more convenient for close and manual focusing, however the 20-35mm is a little smaller, just as sharp and much less expensive. The results from either are wonderful for most uses, so if cost is an issue by all means consider the 20-35mm.

Would I use this as my main lens on my D3? No, because the 17-35mm goes wider. Would I take this with my D3 or other FX or film camera when I want something smaller than the 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S or more practical for use with filters than the 14-24mm? Absolutely!

Would I recommend the 20-35mm for someone with a $600 budget instead of a $1,500 budget for an ultrawide for film or FX? Absolutely!

Would I use this on DX digital like a D40 or D300? No way; I'd rather use a smaller and more practical DX lens like even the 18-55mm kit lens. FX lenses are bigger and more expensive because they have to cover a larger image area.

Nikon has never made any junk, especially in its professional lenses. If you think you want one of these, go for it.

To save the best news for last, the newer plastic 18-35mm lens is sharper, albeit not by much and with more distortion.

If you want the sharpest possible lens, Nikon's newest 14-24mm is far superior to any other ultrawide zoom on the planet.

Help me help you         top

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If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

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The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!


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