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Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX as only lens for D5100?

edited July 2012 Posted in » Nikon D5100 Forum
I am about to buy my first DSLR (D5100) and I'm torn between getting the kit lens or getting the body only and buying the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S ($200 on Amazon).

I have 3 young kids, and I am looking to take some indoor photos without flash. According to reviews, the 35mm lens will work well in lower light situations. I also love the ability to blur the background.

So my question is the D5100 is only $100 more when purchased with the kit lens ($650). Or I could go body only ($550) and get the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S lens ($200) to use as my only lens until I can get another lens some day. Is this crazy? As a complete novice, should I just get the kit lens? Would that be more flexible, or would it just not provide the blurred background and low light performance?


Note: I asked this question on another forum, and received a wide range of opinions. Some feel that the kit lens is really necessary because the 35mm just isn't able to handle much more than standard indoor low-light situations. Others feel that the 35mm is the lens on their D5100 99% of the time. What is the general feeling here? I know it would be only an additional $100 to get the kit lens as well, but I'd rather not get it if I can be happy surviving 6 months with only the 35mm. Once I have more money and a better understanding of photography, I could then purchase another lens.


  • Hi Tom. I have both lenses. To make the story short: Beginner's Photography (Like Ours), its about versatility. The 18-55 is a very versatile lens, it does cover basically all day to day needs. And although the 35mm 1.8G is capable to get a more artistic look (Bokeh), it is a little harder to master. You are the zoom, and it is a challenge to keep the things you like to be sharp in focus (Due the narrow depth of field). If you are familiar with this term, and know how to control your camera to get exactly what you want of it, go for the 35mm, but, if instead you are learning and trying to polish you habilities you should go for the 18-55. They are both excellent lenses. To buy them used is also an option.
  • edited September 2012
    tomg1, I've got the two lenses you mention above. I love the way the 35mm works, but as ajc says, you become the zoom. If you're coming to the D5100 from a compact with a zoom, it takes some getting used to. The 18-55mm is a good starter lens and is great place to begin. The VR is brilliant but remember to turn it off and ramp up the shutter speed to capture your kids in motion. For $100 the kit lens is amazing. You can get the 35mm used for next to nothing, but you should take a look at the 50mm f/1.8. That's a good lens too.
  • edited June 2014
    Hello @Tomg1. I just got my first prime lens today. I got the 35mm f/1.8G for my D3100. I have just started using it, but I really think I am going to like it. To try and help you out some, if this is your first DSLR camera, I would go a head and get the kit lens with it. Did you look around? Sometimes you can actually get two lenses with them. My husband did when he bought his as Costco. Anyways, the kit lens will give you versatility. Like the other two already said, the 35mm you are the zoom. I have shot a lot of photos of my little nieces and nephews with the kit lenses and they do a very good job. Once you get more used to the camera and want to take the next step, then I would suggest the 35mm or the 50mm. I hope this helps. I know it is all very confusing when you first get that camera. There are a lot of free ebooks to help you out. Good luck.
  • edited July 2014
    I have also read that for portraiture you don't want to go any lower than 50mm due to facial distortion, but I don't speak from experience. Maybe someone else can give this rumor some merit or not.
  • edited July 2014
    As to facial distortion, it is definitely an issue, though with a DX format you're probably OK at 35mm. Wide angles close up will tend to exaggerate perspective. You know those cutesy shots of puppies with disproportionately enormous noses? Those are wide angle close up. Rules are breakable too, and not every good portrait is a closeup. It depends on how much of a person you want in the picture, how many people, what environment you need to include.

    Just for grins, I include a link here to some portraits by the famous photographer Arnold Newman. Now, of course, none of us here is Arnold Newman, nor do I even play him on TV, but check out his portraits of Frank LLoyd Wright and Stravinsky for a dramatic example of how to break the rules.

    On DX format, a 50mm is a really nice portrait lens for indoors, giving good head and shoulders coverage from a comfortable distance with normal perspective. Up toward 85mm is a nice length for outdoor portraits, but you may have difficulty indoors getting far enough away. On FX, a typical indoor portrait lens would have been an 85mm, with a 105mm for outdoors. Nikon made legendary lenses in those lengths back in film days.

    Once upon a time, an SLR camera would typically come with a single "normal" lens to start with, and you'd zoom with your feet, so to speak. 50mm was the normal focal length for 35mm, and 35mm is normal for DX. Prime lenses in either length are likely to be optically very good and very fast for relative bargain prices. Millions of photographers got along with normal lenses and a fair number of them got good pictures too. It's surely possible.
  • edited July 2014
    Barrel distortion is very common in wide angle lenses. In general, going wider means more barrel distortion. You can use this to your advantage if you want a shot of someone to loom large against the background (e.g., a shot of a football player looking like a giant against the background of the stadium). For portraits, they tend to enlarge people’s noses or give them fat cheeks or large foreheads (depending what you put in the center).
    The 35mm f/1.8DX has a bit of barrel distortion. It’s more pronounced if you fill the frame which means you’ll be fairly close to the subject. Even then, it’s very tiny; you might not even notice it. If you’re going to shoot portraits with this lens, then there are 2 ways to correct the issue.
    1. Photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom allows you to correct lens distortion.
    2. Take the shot a bit further from the subject, then crop the photo later to fill the frame. This tends to minimize the distortion effect.

    I agree with @bruto; 50mm is a good portrait focal length. There’s usually no visible barrel distortion. Going longer to 85mm is even better because the lens distorts the other direction (pincushion distortion) just a tiny bit which serves to compress the facial features a tiny bit. It’s generally agreed that such portraits are more flattering but still look natural.
  • edited July 2014
    Lens distortion is not the real issue here; it's perspective. The closer you are to a subject, the more the perspective will show. If you put even a perfectly rectilinear lens up close to a face, it will have a huge nose and be distorted because of perspective. If you back up and shoot from a distance, the face will appear flatter. This will be the case whether you use a longer lens, or shoot the short lens from further away and crop. I will try to append a quick and dirty JPG I took to demonstrate this. If it comes through, you will see the same mannequin head taken close with the kit zoom at 18mm, then close but with the same head size with the same lens at 55mm, then from a bit more distance with the 55mm cropped. You will see immediately that the closeup shows a different perspective, and even a different head shape.
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