Review: Nikon 28mm f1.4 E ED (Nikon F Mount)

When the Nikon 28mm f1.4 came in for review and was announced, I was a bit hesitant. Why? Well, while I was excited about the lens for sure, I’m still not a person that believes that DSLRs are necessarily the future despite the fact that I acknowledge how good they are. And to that end, I believe that if Nikon has a full frame mirrorless camera system and made this lens for it, it would be an even bigger winner than it really is. But the current Nikon 28mm f1.4 is a dream lens in so many ways. If you’re a street photographer, portrait photographer, or a photojournalist then you may really enjoy what this lens offers.

In fact, this is hands down my favorite Nikon prime lens with the exception of the company’s 105mm f1.4.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sharp
  • Weather sealing
  • Nice bokeh
  • Nice look overall
  • Good build quality
  • Fast autofocus in most lighting situations
  • This and the Nikon 105mm f1.4 are all you seriously need.

Cons

  • On par with the pricing of the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus
  • It’s an E lens, so you can’t use it with film cameras and have aperture control

Gear Used

We tested the Nikon 28mm f1.8 with the Nikon D810.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Nikon listing page

Focal length
Maximum aperture
Minimum aperture
Lens construction
11 elements in 8 groups (1 aspherical lens)
Picture angle
74° [53° with Nikon digital cameras (Nikon DX format)]
Closest focusing distance
0.35m
Maximum reproduction ratio
1/8.3
No. of diaphragm blades
9
Filter/attachment size
Diameter x length
(extension from the camera’s lens-mount flange)
75×77.5 mm
Weight
520g
Supplied accessories
72mm Snap-on front lens cap, Rear lens cap LF-1

Ergonomics

The Nikon 28mm f1.4 is a lens that when you look at it, seems a whole lot like many of the company’s other primes. And indeed on the outside it really is. But it’s bigger, beefier, and the exterior is dominated by a textured plastic, the big rubber ring, and golden writing and branding in just the right spots.

Turn to the front of the lens and you’ll find a pretty big front element. The Nikon 28mm f1.4 is pretty large overall, but I’ve come to expect this with lenses in this range.

Turn to the side of the Nikon 28mm f1.4 you’ll find the MF/AF switch. This, besides the focusing ring, is the only control on the lens. The autofocus has manual override.

Build Quality

The Nikon 28mm f1.4 has weather sealing built into it. This is evident from the moment that you affix it to a camera and you see the rubber ring on the mount. But the lens just feels solid overall. Is it as solid as a Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus? No. That lens has metal on the exterior and Nikon incorporates plastic with autofocus. Zeiss, on the other hand, is manual focus. Attaching the Nikon 28mm f1.4 onto a camera like the Nikon D810 allows you to fit it into a variety of different camera bags such as those from Manfrotto, BlackForest, Hawkesmill, and Peak Design.

During one of our testing rounds, it rained the the lens survived with no problems at all.

Ease of Use

The Nikon 28mm f1.4 is an autofocus lens. So as long as you’re not accidentally switching the autofocus to the off position you shouldn’t have a problem using this lens. It’s pretty straightforward. The Nikon 28mm f1.4 doesn’t have such an effective depth of field scale, so if anything you’ll be playing a guessing game when using it for something like street photography at times. What that translates into is the fact that European tourists coming into Brooklyn with their big Nikon D810s can attach this lens to their camera, shooting in Program auto (P for professional mode) and still get great photos as long as they remember to keep the focusing switch in autofocus mode.

Autofocus

In good lighting, the Nikon 28mm f1.4 and the Nikon D810 focus pretty fast. But as the light tends to go down, don’t expect such stellar performance. The Sony a9 and Fujifilm’s higher end offerings can be faster at this point as mirrorless cameras and their autofocus technology now performs really well. However, the Nikon D810 and the Nikon 28mm f1.4 will pretty much always be accurate. So you don’t need to worry about that at all.

To ensure that I wasn’t having issues with the lens, I put it on the Nikon D7500 too. Same performance. For extra measure, I cleaned the contacts and it kept giving me the same performance. If you’re using it for street photography, ensure that you stop your lens down. But if you’re using it for quicker captures, you may want to reach for Nikon’s 28mm f1.8 instead due to its significantly faster autofocus performance as a result of lighter elements inside of the body.

Image Quality

If you’re a fan of Nikon’s colors, then you’ll be happy to know that the Nikon 28mm f1.4 is pretty much consistent with everything that you’ve come to expect from Nikon. This lens is fantastic is so many areas of image quality parameters. It keeps the distortion down, doesn’t suffer from fringing issues when dealing with images right out of the camera, has nice bokeh, and is pretty darned sharp. For a lens that’s right under $2,000 you have to expect that the quality is just top notch. And in all honesty, that’s all that I’d truthfully expect from a lens like this.

Bokeh

The Nikon 28mm f1.4 lens is an offering that has gorgeous bokeh when shooting wide open. It’s creamy, but don’t expect it to be Leica creamy or like something with a longer focal length. I like Zeiss’s bokeh more comparatively speaking, but again, that’s with the longer 35mm f1.4 Milvus. The bokeh won’t be distracting and will still be good for storytelling purposes that many photographers will enjoy. I’m not one to fix myself over bokeh all that much, and so let’s move on.

Chromatic Aberration

In my tests, the Nikon 28mm f1.4 didn’t suffer from many major issues when it came to chromatic aberration, distortion or any other usual problems. For me, that typically means that images can be sterile and so you’ll have to use alternative methods like white balance locking and other techniques to create a photo with more character to it. This sterile nature though is something that we’ve come to expect.

Color Rendition

My typical means of working with cameras these days is to just use 5500K or 3200K white balance. But within those parameters and when shooting in AdobeRGB, the colors aren’t totally, completely accurate when it comes to skin tones. But I don’t think that that’s a problem with the lens more so than the camera. For example, look at the purple on his forehead. Still though, if you’re a Nikon user then expect typical Nikon results.

If you’re using auto white balance and don’t care about color rendition in the same way that most people care about dynamic range and high ISO output, then you’ll probably be okay with the results simply due to the fact that most folks unfortunately don’t know any bette in regards to what’s possible.

Sharpness

Where this lens truly excels is with sharpness. The Nikon 28mm f1.4 is fantastically sharp and does this by using organic sharpening. What I mean by this is that it isn’t trying to throw you off using other methods like producing really high contrast photos the way that Sigma may do. Instead, you’re getting pure pixel for pixel sharpness. It lacks the micro-contrast and 3D look that Zeiss can deliver but again, some photographers may prefer this look.

I didn’t do my typical flash tests with this lens simply because I genuinely feel like it isn’t a lens that people may use a flash with. It’s feel and image quality leans itself more towards street overall.

Extra Image Samples

 

Conclusions

Likes

  • Beautiful image quality
  • Simple to use
  • Good autofocus in good lighting
  • Not too heavy

Dislikes

  • The price is having me scratch my head.

The only thing that is making me scratch my head about the Nikon 28mm f1.4 is the fact that it is pretty much on par with the price of the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus–an arguably better lens. But the 28mm f1.4 has autofocus though lacks the image quality, character, and build quality of the Zeiss optic. Still though, I feel like most professionals may reach for the Nikon 28mm simply because they understand what’s possible with sharpening and other editing techniques in post-production.

But that’s just me nitpicking personally. In truth, there is nothing wrong with the Nikon 28mm f1.4 E lens. It’s sharp, has fair autofocusing speeds, nice bokeh, Nikon-like colors, a solid build quality, and is reliable. However, you’re paying quite a bit for a lens like this. If you’re a working professional, then it would make sense to get a lens like this although some may still want to reach for a good zoom lens. And besides the build quality, I’m sure that most folks wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this lens and the 28mm f1.8 with the exception of distortion. Still though, the 28mm f1.4 is amongst my favorite Nikon lenses in addition to the Nikon 105mm f1.4. If you had these two lenses, you probably wouldn’t need anything else.

The Nikon 28mm f1.4 absolutely deserves an Editor’s Choice award and five out of five stars. You can get it for $1,996.95 on Amazon.