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17mm and 18mm Sharpness Comparison
© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Images   Analysis   Teknik   Comparison Table   Recommendations

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August 2010     More Nikon Reviews   Canon   Leica   Pentax

 

Lenses Compared   (not to scale, See also the Comparison Table.)

Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR

 

Nikon 16-35mm

 

 

Autofocus Zoom

Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S

Nikon 17-35mm

Autofocus Zoom

Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D

 

Nikon 18mm f/2.8

 

Autofocus

Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s

Nikon 18mm f/3.5

Manual Focus

Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X

Tokina 17mm

Autofocus

Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

 

 

Tokina 17mm

 

Manual Focus

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Teknik   Comparison Table   Recommendations

Let's compare the technical performance of several 17mm and 18mm lenses for Nikon.

Not shown here are the current 14-24mm AF-S, 18-35mm AF-D and the ancient 18mm f/4 AI (1974-1982).

These were not shown for the sake of my own sanity. These tests take forever to get everything to match well enough so that the only thing we're seeing is differences between lenses, and not differences in the procedure.

Another reason for only comparing six lenses is that the other three lenses I would have shown here are already included, because:

The 14-24mm AF-S has performance almost identical to the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR, so read accordingly.

The 18-35mm AF-D has performance almost identical to the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, so read accordingly.

The 18mm f/4 AI (1974-1982) has performance almost identical to the Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s, so read accordingly.

On most computer monitors at 100 DPI, these are small sections from what would be gallery-sized 56 x 37" (140 x 95cm) prints, if printed in their entirety. At smaller sizes, these differences would be much less obvious.

You may click any image to get to that lens' detailed review.

There isn't much difference between these in the center, so feel free to skip to the corner images to see the real differences.

 

Maximum Aperture, Center  Center: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      Corner: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      top

Nikon 16-35mm VR Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s
Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

 

f/5.6, Center                            Center: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      Corner: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      top

Nikon 16-35mm VR Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s
Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

 

f/11, Center                             Center: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      Corner: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      top

Nikon 16-35mm VR Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s
Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

 

Maximum Aperture, Corner    Center: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      Corner: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      top

Nikon 16-35mm VR Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s
Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

 

f/5.6, Corner                            Center: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      Corner: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      top

Nikon 16-35mm VR Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s
Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

 

f/11, Corner                             Center: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      Corner: Maximum    f/5.6    f/11      top

Nikon 16-35mm VR Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s
Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL

Analysis         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Teknik   Comparison Table   Recommendations

Center

As expected, they all look the same in the center, with the exception that wide-open, the Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL has less contrast, the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S and Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s are a little softer, and the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR and Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X are a little sharper than the Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s. At f/5.6 and f/11 and smaller in the center, they all look the same.

Ultrawide lenses aren't about the center; ultrawide lenses exist for what happens in the corners.

 

Corner

Wide-open

As foretold in previous reviews, wide-open, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR is superior, and the manual-focus Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL is surprisingly good, however that Tokina is softer in the center wide-open and has so much falloff that you won't see the corner sharpness.

The Nikon 17-35mm AF-S is the worst, as expected, because it's the only last-generation zoom here. Not shown here, but as seen in prior comparisons, the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L and 16-35mm f/2.8 L II are the same; while Canon's previous-previous generation 16-35mm f/2.8 L is a bit worse. This is what you get from previous-generation zooms; the Nikon Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR and 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S are worlds ahead of these.

The Nikon Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D looks quite good by comparison wide-open, but it's fatal flaw is that in normal use where I'm not equalizing brightnesses, the Nikon 18/2.8 has so much falloff t f/2.8 that the corners are just about black, and the fatal flaw in the Nikon 18/2.8 is that the corners don't sharpen-up when stopped down as do the other lenses.

 

f/5.6

These lenses are surprisingly similar at f/5.6 in the corners.

The classic Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s is a bit softer, but the real standout is how soft is the Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X, and how great the manual-focus Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL is by comparison. How about that!

 

f/11

As expected, by f/11 these lenses become similar in the corners. The Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR, Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s and Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL look the same at f/11.

The Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D and Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X look worst here.

Not shown in these snippets is that the real-world difference between the Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D and Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X is that the Nikon 18/2.8 never gets very sharp throughout most of its sides and corners, while the Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X is very sharp throughout most of the image, including the sides, but gets much softer very fast in the farthest corners.

Thus images from the Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D are much more usable, since there is never an obvious part of the image that suddenly gets soft, while images from the Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X suffer from a rapid falloff in sharpness as you approach the farthest corners. This would be irrelevant for normal and telephoto lenses, but with wide lenses we often need sharpness right out to the corners, in which case, the Tokina can have an obvious and abrupt loss of sharpness, while the Nikon 18/2.8's corner and side softness doesn't call attention to itself.

Not seen here, but the Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D has a curved field that makes it look worse in these tests at 200 constant meters, and much better in real-world shooting where things in the corners tend to be closer than in the center.

 

Teknik         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Teknik   Comparison Table   Recommendations

Everything was shot on a 12MP full-frame Nikon D3.

I used a tripod not for sharpness, but to try to hold each camera in the same position from shot-to-shot to help these images stay in alignment to make nice, neat looking comparisons.

I equalized exposure so that all images look as bright as each other.

This is trivial in the center, but needs mentioning that for the corners I sometimes had to use two or three stops more exposure at large apertures for some lenses to keep their corner images as bright as the rest.

For instance, if I didn't use widely different exposures for some lenses wide-open for the corner comparisons, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR's corners would look fine, while the Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D's corners would have been almost black.

Since the purpose here is to compare sharpness, I did this so we can compare sharpness equally. I address falloff at each lens' individual review.

At small apertures, there is little difference between these lenses in falloff.

 

Comparison Table         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Teknik   Comparison Table   Recommendations

 
Filter
77mm
77mm
77mm
72mm
72 or 77
67mm
Threads
Plastic
Metal
Metal
Metal
Metal
Metal
Barrel
Plastic
Metal
Metal
Metal
Metal
Metal
Length
4.92"
125mm
4.2"
107mm
2.28"
57.8mm
2.46"
62.5mm
3.18"
80.8mm, later 2.6" 65mm
2.7"
70mm
Weight
678g
730g
376g
358g
406g or 440g
280g
Weight
23.9 oz.
25.8 oz.
13.3 oz.
12.6 oz.
14.3 oz. or 15.5 oz.
10 oz.
Price, USA,
August 2010
Available as
New
New
used
used
used
used
Availably
Stock
Order and wait
Always here at eBay
One a week here at eBay
One a week here at eBay

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Images   Analysis   Teknik   Comparison Table   Recommendations

As foretold in my other reviews, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR is the world's sharpest ultrawide zoom. It's also better than any of the fixed lenses here.

The Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S isn't a standout here in the lab, but it is the choice of today's professional journalists because it's tough and fast, and more then sharp enough when you know what you're doing.

The Nikon 18mm f/2.8 AF-D also looks bad here, but just happens to be half the size and weight of either zoom, is built as pro-tough as the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S, and is also unbeaten in speed. It is uncommon, and a great lens for a pro traveling light.

The classic manual-focus Nikon 18mm f/3.5 AI-s is a great, lightweight lens for use on any FX or 35mm camera. It works great on the D3X and the F6 and more, and while not that popular, still a great lens. Remember, it is manual-focus and needs a little fiddling in menus for use on newer cameras, and once you do that, metering and EXIF data all work great.

Either Tokina lens is great for bargain hunters. The Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X lens works swell, and can't be beat for $200.

The deal of all is these is the manual focus Tokina 17mm f/3.5 SL, whose performance continues to impress me after having bought this sample used in Plainview, New York in 1984 for $150. Even after over 26 years of use, after buying it used, it still cranks out great images on film and on my D3. It's a bit soft at f/3.5, but as you can see, stopped-down to f/5.6 and smaller, its as good as everything else for making actual pictures. it is the smallest, lightest and least expensive lens here.

 

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