In the dynamic world of photography, both amateurs and prosumer photographers have found a silver lining in companies like Viltrox. Such players bring out what is colloquially known as “3rd party” versions of lens models commonly sold by camera brands. Except they do it at a much more affordable price point without skimping on the aesthetics. The Viltrox 35mm f1.8 lens is a stellar example of the brand’s commitment to delivering excellence at an accessible price point. It’s going to appeal to a lot of photographers looking for an affordable prime lens for everyday photography. With commendable results with hardly any visible aberrations, it offers a lot for just USD 379. If you’ve been on the fence about buying a 35mm lens for street photos and more, this one is an enticing proposition for you.
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
35mm (on full-frame cameras) has often been the go-to focal length for street photographers. Many say it offers a comforting balance between immersing yourself in your immediate surroundings and staying just outside of them. Others say it offers the closest perspective to what the human eye sees. It does give you a great sense of where the photo was shot, allowing viewers to feel like they were there. I personally feel it’s about 5mm too wide, but countless street photographers have produced visual magic with this focal length. As a DSLR owner, I have pored over so many websites looking to find an ideal full-frame 35mm lens for my collection. And when I made the move to mirrorless cameras, I still continued this.
But finding one that gave me really good results without burning a hole in my wallet wasn’t easy. Nikon users will testify that the 35mm f1.8 S Z-mount lens is probably the top of the pack. As stellar as the results from this lens are, at nearly USD 700, it’s not a lens that everyone would part their hard-earned money for immediately. Here’s where the Viltrox 35mm f1.8 lens steps in as a promising option. It offers a combination of quality and affordability that’s hard to ignore. There’s quick autofocus and no noticeable focus breathing. Bokeh lovers have nothing to complain, and the lens gives you considerably sharp results too. At first glance, you might even think it looks like its Nikon counterpart.
Aside from the occasional softness at lower apertures, I don’t really have any complaints about this lens. Even then, it’s not a complete miss. It just doesn’t turn out as sharp as you hope it would. That could also have more to do with the optics than the focus itself. You don’t get Nikon’s S lens sharpness from this, but I dare say it does better than the F-mount AF-S 35mm f1.8. This lens emerges as a solid contender, bridging the gap between creative expression and affordability among 35mm wide aperture autofocus lenses. I’m giving the Viltrox 35mm f1.8 Z mount lens four out of five stars. Want one? Check them out on Amazon.
- Looks a lot like the Nikon 35mm f1.8 S lens
- Above average build quality for this price
- Autofocus is snappy
- Sharpness is still admirably good while not quite reaching Nikon S series levels.
- Aperture ring for those who like to fiddle around with this
- It has a USB C port for firmware upgrades
- I wish it were smaller. f1.8 lenses for DSLR mounts were almost half the size
- If you’re a pixel peeper, you’ll wish the sharpness was better. For most of us, this is a non-issue.
- No weather sealing, so don’t take it out in the rain
I used the Viltrox 35mm f1.8 (which we got to keep) with my Nikon Z6 II and my Flashpoint X R2 speedlight.
If you’re a user of Nikon’s S line of Z-mount lenses, you’ll feel right at home with the look and feel of the Viltrox 35mm f1.8. There are three visible distinguishing marks on this lens. The large aperture ring and a red dot to assist you with lining up the lens during the mounting process are the first two. The third is a red square with some alphabets on it, probably indicating something about the internals of the lens.
I would say this lens is comfortably heavy at 370 g / 0.82 lb. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same weight as its Nikon counterpart. At nearly 90mm in length, it’s just 4mm longer than it. Safe to say then that Viltrox was heavily inspired by the original.
The de-clicked aperture ring in this lens is a welcome addition; videographers who want to use this lens will no doubt enjoy this feature. The filter size is a rather small 55mm. This might make it challenging for users to find the appropriate-sized adapter rings for square and rectangle filter holders.
Unfortunately, there’s no weather sealing in the Viltrox 35mm f1.8. But for everyday street work, you should be fine if you avoid rain and sand. I couldn’t see any dust on the sensor after using the lens for a few days. I’d probably avoid using it anywhere near the desert.
It’s more of a two-handed operation when you take pictures using a lens of such length and girth. But by no means does this mean you can’t free up your left hand and shoot with just the right if you want to. It’s light enough to allow you to do so. The body of the lens looks and feels like it’s made of similar material used on Nikon’s 50mm and 35mm Z-mount lenses. The large manual focus ring is metallic, just like the rest of the lens exterior. The focus ring can also be customized on your Nikon Z camera to do other functions, such as changing aperture, ISO, or exposure compensation instead. It’s not something I realized when I initially began testing the lens.
I quite like the lens hood. I don’t think I ever took it off while reviewing this lens. It’s quite protrusive though, and I never felt the need to keep slapping on the lens cap as long as the hood was on. And it’s streamlined to fit within the width of the lens itself, not bulging out like a wedding gown like some lens hoods too.
On one of the days when I was testing it out, the humidity outdoors was the worst I’d ever experienced. It was probably well above 70% that evening. And nearing 95F in temperatures in the shade. I stood for over 30 minutes, waiting for the condensation on the lens to subside. This has never happened to any of my gear before, and I’m not blaming the lens in any way for this. Given the extreme conditions, I was genuinely concerned that the electronics of the Viltrox 35mm f1.8 would mess up in some way. No such issues though. After the condensation cleared up, the lens began working like a champ.
Ease of Use
I kept the aperture ring at the A notch and continued to adjust the aperture with the front dial of my camera as I usually do. There were a couple of times when I took the camera out, and this ring was set to a random aperture value. It probably brushed against the edges of the camera bag and turned. Not too many times though, maybe just a couple only.
If you’re a street photography purist, you might lament this lens’s lack of a distance scale. Seeing as how not many mirrorless lenses have that these days, I wonder if they’ll soon become a thing of the distant past. Focus peaking all the way if you want to use manual focus here.
Autofocus on the Viltrox 35mm f1.8 can keep up with fairly quick-moving subjects on the street, but I wouldn’t yet use it at a place like a sporting event. Eye-AF tracking is accurate most of the time. For a lens that was made without an official handshake with Nikon, autofocus is surprisingly good. And quiet. Oh so quiet. You can’t hear any movements inside during auto-focusing, and that’s pretty darn impressive.
The minimum focus distance is disappointingly at over one foot. It’s 40cm / 15.7 in, to be precise. No macro photography with this lens sadly. Lately, I’m pretty used to having lenses focus more closely than this. So it was frustrating to have to keep stepping backward often when trying to get more background separation using this lens at f1.8
The autofocus was reliable even in some particularly challenging lighting conditions, such as this backlit underwater scene, which I shot through some very thick aquarium glass.
If I were to nitpick, it would only be that the sharpness isn’t astounding. But really, for this price point, I can’t really complain. It punches above its weight in many categories; sharpness just isn’t one of them. It’s not bad; it’s just that the sharpness isn’t jumping out at you on your screen. Nothing that can’t be fixed in editing.
Bokeh is quite creamy at f1.8. The bokeh balls are more cat-eye-shaped when wide open. The depth of field falloff is definitely pleasant to view.
Most of the photos I shot were RAW files using Nikon’s Standard picture profile had accurate colors. To be very honest, I wasn’t expecting this at all, and it was a pleasant revelation.
There is no noticeable flare or vignetting, even when shooting directly into the sun. You might find some purple fringing at 200% if you pixel peep.
There is slight barrel distortion. The before and after distortion correction images above will illustrate this better.
Viltrox’s 35mm f1.8 for the Z mount doesn’t exhibit the sharpness characteristics that the more expensive Nikon 35mm f1.8 S lens does, and that’s understandable. But if you were expecting this lens to be a tit-for-tat affordable replacement of its more expensive counterpart, this is the first aspect where you’d be disappointed.
I found that at f2.8 and above, sharpness was much better, even outside the image’s center areas. At narrower apertures, it’s still quite acceptable.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy The Viltrox 35mm f1.8?
If you’ve been frustrated with the lack of a good autofocus 35mm lens for your Nikon mirrorless camera, the Viltrox 35mm f1.8 Z-mount lens should be on your radar. In terms of value for money, it offers a much better performance than the handful of manual focus 35mm lenses you might find suited to your camera. Work within its sharpness limitations, and you should find yourself quite pleased with the results.
Want one? Check them out on Amazon.
Taken from the Viltrox Store page: