For a long time I was considering to write a review of the Nikon 18.5mm f/1.8 lens, but wasn’t able to find the time. Busy work schedule and taking photos with the lens, instead of writing about it, kept me from doing it. But now, after more than 8 months of use, I’ve finally managed to sit down and put my thoughts on paper.
What is it about this lens that makes it so special in the Nikon 1 realm? It is a relatively fast standard prime, which comes at a reasonable price point. At the time of writing the price in EU is around €180. I’ve paid €200 in February 2013 and found the price more than justified considering the very fast autofocus action, the very good optical performance at wide open apertures and some unique features of the N1 cameras which increase the usability of this lens greatly in comparison to any other standard prime. I will go into more detail on that later, the point that I’m trying to make is that people who compare the 18.5/1.8 to a much larger and material intensive 35/1.8, and whine about its price, are simply wrong. The 18.5/1.8 is one hell of a lens, which is worth every penny.
What you will often read on forums is that the 18.5mm f/1.8 is cheaply made. In my opinion this is plain wrong. True, the 18.5mm is made of light materials and is therefore a light lens, which may give you a cheap first impression. But at second glance, you will discover that it is very solid. It is in fact as robust as any I have ever owned, including the hefty Zenzanon E II 75mm f/2.8 and the highly-regarded Zeiss 45/2 for Contax G. Just look at the images below.
The lens has a metal mount, since it’s so light, I’m guessing the lens barrel is made out of aluminium alloy and a paint-job extremely resistant to abuse. After 8 months of intensive use mine still looks like brand new. There are not many lenses out there, which are able to withstand the ravages of time this well. And mine even fell from the desk down to the floor a couple of times. No dent, no scratch, nada!
For the price the 18.5/1.8 delivers excellent optical performance. It is very sharp straight from maximum aperture, between f/2.8 and f/3.5 sharpness reaches excellent levels. At f/5.6 it is still very good, beyond that, diffraction begins to take its toll. At f/1.8 purple fringing can be quite visible on edges with extreme contrast, like branches in front of an overcast sky. Stopping down to f/2.5 and beyond corrects this problem and makes it a non-issue. Worth noting is that PF can be remedied in post processing quite easily, in fact Nikon 1 cameras do it automatically when shooting JPGs. Vignetting and barrel distortion are moderate, but considering the price point, these flaws are well controlled. Check out the reviews on photozone.de, dxomark.com and slrgear.com for more technically oriented tests of image quality, performed under lab conditions. Or take a look at my link collection with links to all available technical and non-technical reviews, samples and videos.
Having a hybrid-type AF system employing both contrast and phase-detect sensors, Nikon 1 cameras and lenses are known for their super-fast and precise focusing. The Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 is no different. It focuses fast, very fast. People who own many of the other N1 lenses claim that it is one of the fastest. I can’t comment on that, since I only own the 10-30mm and a couple of MF C-Mount lenses. What I can say is that the 18.5mm is faster than the 10-30mm and much faster and much more confident in low light. If you are familiar with the way C-AF works, which is the mode N1 cameras switch to under low light, you will most likely never encounter a situation, in which the 18.5mm won’t be able to acquire focus. Just place your focus-point on vertical lines with strong contrast and you will be fine.
The AF motor is not only fast but also utterly silent. Only by placing you ear on the lens barrel will you be able to perceive the faintest noise. Switching to electronic shutter and sticking to f/1.8 will enable you to shoot in a stealthy way, paralleled by no other camera of this type or class. This is good news if you are into street photography. Stopping down, however, results in moderately loud noise coming from the aperture blades closing down.
When capturing Full-HD video, the AF is silent and smooth. AF hunting, which can spoil any video, can be observed under very low or otherwise tricky lighting conditions. That being said, the AF is even capable of using face detect successfully to focus smoothly on faces right up to lighting levels as low as f/1.8 at ISO1600 or ISO3200. This should suffice for most applications. Since the lens has no vibration reduction, you will however need a tripod or a steadycam.
Combined with some very nice features of Nikon 1 cameras, the 18.5/1.8 exceeds the usability of many other standard primes on their respective cameras. Most cameras can’t expose shorter than 1/4000th of a second. Some DSLRs and more expensive mirrorless cameras can go up to 1/8000th. Nikon 1 cameras can go as short as 1/16000th of a second. Most cameras neither can achieve 10 or 15 frames per second while still being able to use autofocus, the Nikon V1 and V2 can. What this means is that unlike any other lens on other cameras, you can use the 18.5/1.8 wide open even under most intensive sunlight, without needing to add bulk and weight by using an ND filter on your lens. Combined with the fast operation, especially the AF, and the high burst rate this results in an enjoyable shooting experience (fast shooting with a light and small yet capable camera/lens combo), unparalleled by any camera or lens combination on the market. Regardless of how much money you are ready to spend.
The Nikon 18.5mm f/1.8 is one very light, small and capable lens. The build quality is great, the image quality excellent keeping the price point in mind, the AF among the speediest and the usability factor unsurpassed by any lens and camera combination on the market. To top it all off, with a price of around €179 in Germany ($186 in US and £175 in UK) at the time of writing, this lens is a bargain and a must-have for any Nikon 1 user.
You can view all my images taken with the 18.5/1.8 on my Flickr set. Below are some of the nicer pictures I have taken with the lens in the past 8 months.
You won’t pay a dime more than when making a direct purchase on amazon, but I will receive a small commission. Thanks for the support! 🙂
If you are not a regular amazon customer but would still like to support my work, you can do so by making a modest donation through PayPal. It would be most appreciated.
Follow me on: