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mercer

Nikkor 35mm 1.4 - a long, near useless review... with pictures

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First I'd like to say that I appreciate that the Lenses sticky thread is now it's own Sub-Forum. It really allows members to post more specific topics and it allows readers to ignore topics that may not be useful for them.

With that said, @noone had a great idea creating a topic with one of his favorite lenses... so I figured I'd follow suit with one of my favorite lenses...

Nikkor 35mm 1.4 ai-s

As I started writing this brief, real world review, I realized that this lens represents a larger story of me as a filmmaker as it chronicles the highs and lows of my life since I started shooting my film...

So what started as a brief review morphed into a much longer story. If you don't have the time or inclination, stop now.

For those that are still interested... here we go...

I love fast, wide angle lenses. They offer shallow depth of field while allowing you to get close to your subject. And a fast 35mm straddles a wide angle FOV and a normal FOV making it almost the perfect full frame, focal length for my style of filmmaking.

This is my second copy of this lens and truth be told... I've almost sold this lens a half a dozen times over the past year.

My first copy I bought when I started shooting my film. I had a simple game plan... the Canon 24-70mm f/4 IS lens for daylight and the Nikkor for lowlight.

Here are a couple frames from the first shots I took with the lens for my film.

F19FF7CE-8FE3-436A-B10F-56C9B8702BCA.thumb.jpeg.c691a0477bdc981512e9b6122b62dfdc.jpeg

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For some reason I decided to go a different route for my lowlight shots and bought a Canon 35mm f/2 IS lens. In most ways, the Canon is a better lens, but it lacks the charm of the Nikkor even if it did match my zoom a little better.

At the time, my film was moving along at a steady pace, so I decided to keep the Nikkor for a different, upcoming film...

Well...

Life had a different plan, like it often does, and some unforeseen medical issues in my family slowed production to a near grinding halt. With those medical issues came some unforeseen financial issues and I was forced to sell a bunch of lenses. For a brief time I thought I'd be forced to sell my camera as well, but I luckily made it work.

Before I sold the Nikkor, I decided to take it out for a final spin. Here are a couple frames from that last day with the lens...

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By this time, I was also forced to sell my Canon zoom and my Canon 35mm f/2. Over the next 6 months I raided my closet to test any and every lens I had that could work for my film. Luckily, during that time, I found a Canon 28mm 1.8 listed on eBay "For Parts" for peanuts. Needless to say, I won the auction and found another one of my favorite lenses born from need.

For the next 6-8 months, the Canon 28mm 1.8 lens became the only lens I used to shoot my film and at the time, I couldn't be happier with the results. But I still missed my Canon zoom and my Nikkor 35mm 1.4.

Last year, I came into a little extra money and immediately sought another copy of the Nikkor and after a few weeks, I found one.

With the extra money in my account, I took the opportunity to test a bunch of lenses I couldn't otherwise afford but always wanted to try. I tested some beautiful lenses but being a hobbyist, I needed to contain my obsession and build a couple logical lens sets.

I used the end of my sporadic shooting days to test a lens. My method was simple, use my main actor as a model in the same locations I was shooting my film.

Here are a few frames from those tests...

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FA980D4A-BAA0-436C-9FA3-31A7DF65DEC2.thumb.jpeg.09462a8f6fc8fc943f988704a308812b.jpeg

After hours of deliberation and footage, I finally realized that I don't change lenses that often and I grew to like the idea of a single POV, from a single lens, as if the lens' FOV represents an invisible narrator's eye. I used my feet to zoom and put together a simple rig consisting of a closed monopod with a tilt head and a tape measure pouch clipped onto my belt. The bottom of the monopod fits snuggly inside the tape measure pouch giving me a stable image with a handheld-like flexibility.

During these tests, I realized that I had way too many lenses and could easily shoot a short film a month, for well over a year, and never reuse the same lens...

What was I thinking?! I am just a hobbyist with no delusions that I will make the next great indie film. 

This was getting out of hand.

So I set up a final round of testing and narrowed down my keepers to a grand total of 5 lenses with the only "set" consisting of my Canon FD 50mm 1.2 L and my Canon 28mm 1.8.

At the time, I even contemplated selling the Nikkor 35mm 1.4 one more time to keep with my minimalistic utilitarian approach.

 But after some careful thought, and some good advice from some other EOSHD members, I decided to keep it. Although I was still unsure if I needed the lens, after a recent go at some of the footage with my mediocre color skills and my crappy monitor, I came up with these frames from one of my test shots...

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Although, I realize that none of these shots are particularly spectacular, but each one represents something I like about cinematography and tells a story about my life over the past 3 years.

Sometimes the gear we buy is more than just tools for the stories we tell... they become part of the story... part of the journey. Maybe I am being too sentimental but when I look at these perfectly imperfect images taken with a perfectly imperfect lens, I remember the moments that brought me from then to now and what I learned during that process...

This lens taught me that my equipment is better than I am. I learned that I don't have to shoot everything wide open and that I probably shouldn't if I ever want to pull focus on an actor walking. I learned that some lenses have a vintage look when wide open, but when stopped down can look crisp and modern. But most importantly, I learned that I need very little to make a movie and gear is the least important.

If you're interested in a more technical review, I recommend Ken Rockwell's review of the lens. He gets into the nitty gritty of the characteristics of the lens. I feel he's a little too hard on the lens but everything he writes is dead on accurate...

https://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/35f14ais.htm

For me, I can sum it up in one paragraph...

The Nikkor 35mm 1.4 ai-s lens has a warmer tone and when shot wide open, the images are dreamy, a little soft with a ton of coma on the edges. Stop it down to f/2 and it cleans up a little. By f/2.8 it's like you're using a different lens and that lens is as sharp as a knife. It's like having two lenses in one with both being sharp enough with a bunch of character.

So there you have it... thanks for reading. 

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Funny thing is I had the Nikon 35 1.4 and hated it.     To be fair though mine had issues when i got it that I knew it had before I did.    It was just a bit too "vailed" for me wide open and I thought it was not really usable wide open so I would have been better with a slower 35.

 

I might have thought better of it with a better copy though and 35mm lenses have not been a thing for me really either.

It probably did not help that i mostly used it mounted bare on Pentax DSLRs at the time (they fit kind of mounted on Pentax turning the other way but as ever, do this at your own risk).

You have showed that may well have been just my copy.

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It seems that a lot of people have love or hate for the lens. In a lot of ways, the lens is infuriating. On occasion the WB will seem off with this lens, to the point that I set daylight WB at 5000 instead of 5600 sometimes.

And you're right it does veil wide open, but the contrast can be added back nicely in post creating a soft, contrasty haze instead of a low-con veil that some vintage lenses have.

Some of the older Zeiss lenses have this too... maybe it's micro contrast?

I think Olympus OM Lenses will forcefully mount on Nikon cameras too. 

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14 hours ago, mercer said:

The bottom of the monopod fits snuggly inside the tape measure pouch giving me a stable image with a handheld-like flexibility.

Shit, that's a good idea.

Great write up and fantastic images. If do decide to sell that lens again, holler.

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4 hours ago, Thomas Hill said:

Shit, that's a good idea.

Great write up and fantastic images. If do decide to sell that lens again, holler.

Thanks! We were walking to a location one shooting day and an impromptu shot came up, rather than extend the monopod, I stuck it inside the pocket of my hooded sweatshirt and that worked a lot better than my laziness thought it would... the tape measure pouch was bought the next week at Home Depot.

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Great write-up!

I've heard bits of it before, but not the total picture.  I have had a journey through film-making as well, with it being signposted with various equipment and tests, trials, and realisations.  

There's a huge debate over equipment and if it matters or not, and I think one element that doesn't get enough attention during these discussions is inspiration.  If a piece of equipment is inspiring to use, then that can and does have a real impact on the creative process.  Even if you could get an identical image out of two bits of equipment the one you like using will be the one that makes you pick it up and go shoot, and when you're shooting you'll be in a better headspace as you're looking at the images and using the equipment and enjoying the experience, and this will ripple through your directing, cinematography, and all the other creative aspects.  

Unfortunately sometimes the equipment that inspires us is expensive, or cumbersome, but so be it.

We should all be so lucky to find a lens we love, and then have time to go shoot with it.

..and speaking of flawed but lovely vintage lenses, the Cosmicar is sitting and waiting patiently for some filter adapters - I haven't forgotten!

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20 hours ago, kye said:

Great write-up!

Thanks, Kye! It's not your traditional review but hopefully somebody more talented than me will be inspired by it and make a great film with this truly unique lens. 

20 hours ago, kye said:

I've heard bits of it before, but not the total picture.  I have had a journey through film-making as well, with it being signposted with various equipment and tests, trials, and realisations.  

This "review" barely scratches the story of how my life has changed since I started my film, let alone since I became interested in filmmaking. I could probably write a small book.

20 hours ago, kye said:

There's a huge debate over equipment and if it matters or not, and I think one element that doesn't get enough attention during these discussions is inspiration.  If a piece of equipment is inspiring to use, then that can and does have a real impact on the creative process.  Even if you could get an identical image out of two bits of equipment the one you like using will be the one that makes you pick it up and go shoot, and when you're shooting you'll be in a better headspace as you're looking at the images and using the equipment and enjoying the experience, and this will ripple through your directing, cinematography, and all the other creative aspects.  

I'm actually surprised that more filmmakers aren't interested in lenses like the regular visitors of the Lenses sub-forum are. In a digital medium, where we often discus processing, sensors and specs, manual lenses gives us a physical connection to the recording process as we manipulate the image in real time for effect. I guess they humanize the machine on some level. 

20 hours ago, kye said:

..and speaking of flawed but lovely vintage lenses, the Cosmicar is sitting and waiting patiently for some filter adapters - I haven't forgotten!

It's a great little lens. I look forward to seeing your Micro footage with it!!!

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7 hours ago, BTM_Pix said:

Sounds like you all need a HipJib

I suspect my overhanging fat bastard stomach would interfere with smooth operation.

Haha. This looks pretty slick but a bit much for my needs. One day, something like this will be perfect for me, though. 

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8 hours ago, BTM_Pix said:

Sounds like you all need a HipJib

I suspect my overhanging fat bastard stomach would interfere with smooth operation.

 

Two tape measure pouches!

Looks pretty slick but that unattached third tripod leg is a bit scary.

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12 minutes ago, Thomas Hill said:

Two tape measure pouches!

Looks pretty slick but that unattached third tripod leg is a bit scary.

Yeah, he could do himself a serious injury there !

What they don't really explore in that video is that when the bar rotates around fully, you can use a central mounting point for a monopod instead of using the two outlying ones for tripod legs.

If you put a gimbal on a short monopod in it then I could see how you would get some pretty good jib shots from this by leveraging the stabilisation and pan/tilt controls of the gimbal with it.

Discontinued though by the looks of it.

HipJib-Video-TripodMonopod-Mount-For-Movie-Cameras-Like-Paillard-Bolex-Arriflex-etc.-01.thumb.jpg.a0c1c482030dfb54634f53609df8356e.jpg

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27 minutes ago, BTM_Pix said:

What they don't really explore in that video is that when the bar rotates around fully, you can use a central mounting point for a monopod instead of using the two outlying ones for tripod legs.

I was thinking the same thing. As it is, the tape measure pouch adds no weight to my bag, I use a carabiner to clip it to the bag's handle and if I don't want to use it, I have a monopod at my disposal as well. I figured this out because I hate carrying around tripods and since the monopod is attached to my center of gravity, it's actually less shaky than my monopod by itself. 

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The MogoCrane belt looks like it will accept any tripod with a 1/4-20 thread on the bottom, so for the price of the belt, it may be worth a try to get some small and smooth jib shots. 

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13 hours ago, mercer said:

Thanks, Kye! It's not your traditional review but hopefully somebody more talented than me will be inspired by it and make a great film with this truly unique lens. 

This "review" barely scratches the story of how my life has changed since I started my film, let alone since I became interested in filmmaking. I could probably write a small book.

I'm actually surprised that more filmmakers aren't interested in lenses like the regular visitors of the Lenses sub-forum are. In a digital medium, where we often discus processing, sensors and specs, manual lenses gives us a physical connection to the recording process as we manipulate the image in real time for effect. I guess they humanize the machine on some level. 

It's a great little lens. I look forward to seeing your Micro footage with it!!!

I guess we could put it another way by saying that film-making takes so long to learn and films take so long to create that lots of life stuff happens during the process lol.

I didn't used to be that interested in lenses, focusing more on post, as it was infinitely adjustable under controlled and non-time-critical circumstances, but the thing that got me onto lenses was the realisation that film is 2D and all / most of the cool stuff that we like is in service of trying to put more of that third dimension back into it.  We blur backgrounds, we try and have the subject lighter or darker than the background, we like sliders and camera movement as they add depth by parallax, even the old orange/teal helps there to be colour contrast between the talent and the non-talent parts of the image.  And in this task, the lens is the adapter / converter between the 2D world that begins with the image sensor and the 3D world of everything that happens before the light goes through the lens.  So if you want more 3D pop, the 3D to 2D converter (the lens) is an absolutely critical component, and even more than that, once that 3D information is lost, it's stupidly difficult to put it back in in post.

I completely agree with you about the imperfections of a lens having a humanising effect over a very digital (and depending on the camera, sometimes very brittle and thin) image and processing pipeline.  I guess this is where we start to look at the various distortions and their relative aesthetic qualities and if we like them or not.  For example, people tend to like a slightly softer lower contrast image for skin tones and a softening to compensate for digititis, some like a lower resolution as an OLPF, field curvature and lens pincushioning, but then there are things like CA which I dislike intensely but others prefer, edge softening which is nice for some compositions but not for others, etc.

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20 hours ago, BTM_Pix said:

Sounds like you all need a HipJib

I suspect my overhanging fat bastard stomach would interfere with smooth operation.
 

 i doubt it. it may limit your angle of attack in the vertical orientation however 😉 plus i have to wonder what other spectators are thinking once an operator starts on a few hip swinging motions and  a thrust or two forward perhaps 😎

on a more serious note. i wonder how that would work if you tried walking with it ?  would footage be better or worse if movement besides panning or tilting was involved. considering at this point if it is discontinued, it cant of been a runaway success. upon further thinking would you be better off with two legs of a tripod as opposed to a single monopod leg. Two point of contact would help limit sway , would it not ?

edit : there is a used one on ebay the owner has this to say about it

Rollei Rolleiflex Hipjib tool to turn your tripod into a jib. Condition is Used. Shipped with USPS Priority Mail.

This is a weird tool, but useful in a pinch. Basically turns any tripod into a jib. This one is from the kickstarter.

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11 hours ago, mercer said:

Here's another product that's been around for awhile that works similarly. 

https://mogopod.com

I may get a cheap Benro head for my monopod so I can do some more complex moves if I want to.

i'm intrigued, why a cheap benro   what sort of complex moves are you talking about? do they have a nice cheap fluid head  ? actually i'll start a new thread so i dont hijack this thread any further if you feel inclined  please explain your motivations there :)

 

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Thanks!

These shots are great, I recognize the 5D look, which I do miss in newer camera's(hopefully the new R6, R5 will bring it back, allthough I am shooting with an alexa LF this weekend, I hope I dont fall madly in love with that camera ). These nikkor lenses have been on my radar for a long time, but never actually made the purchase. Had some back luck with vintage lenses before. (Still have my leica summicron-r lenses though). I might get these and compare it to the summicrons. (did the same with the zeiss contax, but liked the overal look and handling of the summicrons more, allthough the contax is a stop faster).

 

 

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8 hours ago, leslie said:

i'm intrigued, why a cheap benro   what sort of complex moves are you talking about? do they have a nice cheap fluid head  ? actually i'll start a new thread so i dont hijack this thread any further if you feel inclined  please explain your motivations there :)

 

I have a Benro monopod already and they sell some inexpensive heads... nothing more to it really.

As far as complex moves... maybe I overstated with the word complex... just basic crane movements. It's just I came up with the monopod/tape measure pouch idea out of need to have a quick, easy and cheap handheld-like solution. I never intended to do anything more than stay steady while being as mobile as possible. But with these belts, a monopod, and a tripod head, basic jib arm movements seem easily possible.

No need to start another thread, I don't care if things go off topic. Conversations evolve naturally. 

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