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Lens Reviews

Nikkors Shootout at 70mm

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: lens, comparison, nikon, lenses, nikkor, 35_70mm, 28_70mm, 70mm, scan, coolscan, f100, manfrotto, film

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Very pleasing portrait perspectives can be accomplished starting at 70mm focal length. Using APS-C DX format, this focal length is equivalent to 105mm, so the perspective further improves.

Two zoom lenses providing this focal length, qualify as "pro" Nikkors as they are both "fast" - constant f/2.8 aperture - quite free of aberrations and very well built. They are the 28-70mm f/2.8D ED IF AF-S (predecessor of the newer 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S) and the more modest 35-70mm f/2.8D AF. Considering using just one of them eventually, I proceeded to compare them in a quick shoot-out at 70mm.


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My home's front door


I chose as target the front door of my home, at 16 feet (4.9 m), deep in the shade so as to not introduce artificial contrast. It has a paint finish that seemed suitable for the purpose and it is not a flat surface. For film, the very good grain and low contrast Fujicolor Superia Reala 100. The camera: Nikon F100, on a Manfrotto/Bogen carbon fiber tripod and a large Manfrotto ballhead.

What follows are the raw scans of a small center section from the negatives, made with a Coolscan IV ED at 8 bit depth. No unsharp mask was applied nor any other imaging enhancement made. The lens ID on the images below comes from a laserjet printed sign at the upper edge of the negative and was digitally pasted at the chin of the sun face. The sun face was at the center of the negatives. The focal length and aperture sign in white lettering was added digitally. To see them full size, click on the mages below.





Although there were only a few scattered clouds in the sky, they were rapidly moving about as it was going to rain, making subtle changes in the available light, the lenses consistently rendered slightly different contrast.

Click for a moderate enlargement

The AF Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D and AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8D ED IF







Despite the different contrast, it is evident both lenses have a pro level quality sharpness and are comparable at all apertures, at this focal length.



MTF tables grade these two lenses at 3.7 the 28-70mm AF-S and 3.8 the 35-70mm AF. The slight edge of the second over the first may very well come from that contrast variation observed here. Although it is not only through these statistics that you get to know and appreciate a lens, they are most valid to the point of this simple test. 

Click for a moderate enlargement

35-70mm f/2.8D AF and 28-70mm f/2.8D ED IF AF-S





The 28-70mm f/2.8D ED IF AF-S lens is very sharp, very very fast to focus, a little heavy (nicknamed "the beast") and expensive at USD1,430; USD1,330 (Imported) in the US* 

If you need the wider angle in a single package and the focusing speed, this is the one to have.


The 35-70mm f/2.8D AF lens is also very sharp, not as fast to focus -obviously, not having a Silent Wave engine- but less heavy and expensive, at USD680; USD550 (Imported)* when new.

It seems a pity this lens is ignored or early dismissed by many that find it "too limiting" in its focal range or its front element rotating "an unbearable nuisance" when using a polarizer.


Evaluations combining objective and subjective elements place the 28-70mm AF-S at the highest score value of 5 and the 35-70mm at a very close 4.5, obviously considering the extended focal length range convenience of the AF-S, faster AF and IF characteristics. 

MTF tables reinforce the results show here, at the long end -usually critical for most zooms- where they both render excellent similar images in terms of resolution; with slightly more contrast from the 35-70mm f/2.8D AF. 

The conclusion is that if you cannot have the 28-70 f/2.8D AF-S, with the 35-70mm f/2.8D AF you obtain at least the same optical quality if not slightly better.

This may become more relevant in the near future, when digital photography use expands. The current 1.5X crop factor in Nikor DSLR DX sensors, makes the 70mm focal length of these lenses an ideal effective 105mm portrait lens.

For film, if you still miss the wider end, get a 24mm f/2.8D AF for even more coverage than the 28mm. If you yearn to cover that lower end with a zoom, then go for the great complementary 20-35mm f/2.8D AF if you can't have the 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S.

All in all the two lenses compared make one want to become a better photographer. 
I am the one having the need to do them justice. So I'll keep them both while saving for the 24-70mm f/2.8G ED IF AF-S Nikkor.

I may later make again this comparison on a FX body. In the meantime ....

Have a great time 


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Originally written on August 8, 2002

Last updated on January 20, 2021

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 46140 posts