There are 8 lenses total in the “consumer” lineup of Nikon’s Series-E’s. You can take this post as a bit of a guide for help choosing which lens may be right for your photography. Lenses are arranged from wide-angle to telephoto. Links to the full reviews are located in the headings. Also, below two pictures are in a much bigger size than they are displayed here. Click on them to see more detail. First up, the 5 primes in the series:
28mm f/2.8–The Odd Man Out
As blunt as I was in the review’s conclusion, the 28mm E is the weakest performer of the Series-E primes. Running at about $100/€82 on the market, this lens is in the upper-end in price compared to other Series-Es, and doesn’t present as good a value proposition as them either. Though the 28mm performs admirably in a few areas, such as central sharpness at all apertures, bokeh smoothness, and overall shootability—image qualities such as corner sharpness and flare control do much to tarnish its overall reputation.
For m4/3 users, the 28mm E is a rather useless lens, as it becomes a very slow “normal” lens with a 56mm field of view. On APS-C, it performs as an okay short “normal” with a 42mm field of view. When used for panoramas, wide-angle performance can be simulated, doubling the lens’ versatility.
35mm f/2.5–The Poor Man’s Macro
The 35mm E is a very good lens overall. In general, central sharpness is great (especially at close-focus), the reproduction ratio is the highest of all the Series-Es, and at $50/€40 a high value proposition is presented. Despite the great value, corner sharpness at larger apertures is very bad (but not as bad as the 28mm E), and bokeh is mostly distracting.
On m4/3 the 35mm E behaves like a 70mm short portrait (though without a fast aperture), while on APS-C it performs as a 52mm “normal”. I particularly feel the 35mm E is at its best when used for close-up shots. With the high sharpness and contrast at the optimum f/8 combined with the close 1-foot focus distance, faux-macro work is possible (though some cropping may be required). Many of my first close-up lens product shots were taken with this lens.
50mm f/1.8–The Little One that Could
If I had to choose one lens that embodies the whole point of the Series-Es, it would be the 50mm E. It does just about everything right:
- It’s the lightest and most compact Series-E, and the second lightest lens Nikon has ever made
- It’s fast
- It’s sharp even in the corners
- It has smooth bokeh
- It controls purple fringing well
- It has no distortion or noticeable vignetting
The only aspects in performance I could possibly moan about are the lackluster bokeh highlights, flare control, and focus shift at f/4-5.6. Even then, the good far outweighs the bad, and at only $50/€40, the 50mm E is probably the best value you’ll ever see in a Nikon lens. On a m4/3 camera, the 50mm acts as a 100mm medium portrait lens, while on APS-C, a short portrait.
100mm f/2.8–A Fast Telephoto in a Compact Package
Though the 50mm E is a great lens, 50mm’s from almost all manufacturers are great, so its optical performance isn’t particularly surprising. When lenses move into wide-angle or telephoto territory, performance has the potential to drop-off with cheap lenses. Not so with the 100mm E. It is very sharp and contrasty (sharp even wide-open), with great background bokeh, good depth of field control, with it all wrapped up in an extremely small and lightweight optic. The only areas that leave a bit to be desired are flare performance and heavy focus shift (only really affecting DSLR shooters).
What really surprised me is how the 100mm E kept up so well with the much more expensive and larger 105mm f/1.8 AI-s at equivalent apertures. At the current market price of $80/€63, it really is a bargain for the amazing performance it offers. On m4/3 the lens behaves like a 200mm long telephoto, while on APS-C, a 150mm intimate portrait lens.
135mm f/2.8–A Bit More Reach, A Bit More Length
The longest and heaviest Series-E prime, the 135mm E isn’t a pocketable lens. However, it is very fast, a great performer, and doesn’t break the bank at $90/€71 (just like every Series-E). It is strange this lens is branded as a Series-E because it is almost completely made of metal (also sporting a metal slide out lens hood). Only a few parts, such as the aperture control ring, are plastic. Weight-wise, it’s only a bit (40 grams) lighter than the AI-s version. Areas the 135mm E performs admirably in are overall sharpness, bokeh smoothness, and flare control. The only things that bug me are the need to stop down hard to f/11 to attain optimum performance, as well as the heavy longitudinal chromatic aberrations (which can usually be edited out).
The 135mm E is a great choice for m4/3 and APS-C users alike, as it gives an almost super-telephoto 270mm field of view on m4/3, and a 200mm long telephoto on APS-C. That said, this lens may only work exceptionally well on m4/3 cameras with in-body image stabilization due to camera shake.
So, most of the primes are great in the Series-E lineup. But what about the 3 zooms filling in the rest of the range? Again, click on the below two pictures for more detail:
36-72mm f/3.5–This One Should Do Better…
The smallest and lightest zoom in the Series-E lineup, the 36-72mm is also the only zoom of “pancake” design, fully collapsed at the 72mm length. On a full-frame camera, this lens would cover a generally useful range, from wide angle to short telephoto. On APS-C, a little less useful “normal” to mid-telephoto. Finally on m4/3 the 36-72mm would perform as a telephoto zoom. What I generally liked about this lens had mostly to due with its small size and shootability. Sharpness was generally good at or near optimum apertures, but in general, detractions such as distortion, flare control, and the pitiful close-focus distance do a lot to keep this lens from performing well. This is the one Series-E zoom I generally would not recommend for most photographic applications, even at the relatively cheap price of only $40/€30.
75-150mm f/3.5–A Solid, Compact Performer
This simple, compact, 2x zoom has a lot of things to like and not a lot of things to gripe about! Sharpness is generally great (peaking at f/5.6!), bokeh is smooth, the lens focuses exceptionally close at 150mm, and there is no distortion. The only area I would have liked to see improved is the handling of purple fringing. Though never really noticeable, purple fringing doesn’t completely go away until f/16. Ouch. Other than that, this $100/€80 2x zoom is a great performer. On m4/3 this lens functions as a great telephoto zoom, from 150mm-300mm in 35mm-format field-of-view.
70-210mm f/4–Pretty Much an AI-s Nikkor
This final zoom is the heaviest, largest, and longest-reaching of all the Series-E’s. The 3x telephoto zoom range and fast f/4 aperture lends the 70-210mm to use for outdoor sports photography or portraiture. If you take a detailed look at my review, you’ll find that any negatives found with the lens are merely nitpicks–the 70-210mm is amazing in most every way (save for the nasty flare control!). This lens matches–or beats–the 75-150mm in all areas. The only reason to own both is if you need the compactness. Other than that, this $110 lens also presents a much higher value!
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the Series-E lenses. I thought I might find a break-out hit (like the 100mm), but I am pleasantly surprised to find overall performance to be great in nearly every lens. The only areas each lens’ AI-s counterpart (if it has one) are sure to perform better in are flare control (thanks to multi-coating), slightly higher optimum sharpness at a larger aperture, and impeccable build quality. If those aspects of a lens aren’t particularly important to you (they aren’t to me), you can find some great optics in the Series-E lineup at a great price.
In case you were wanting to know how well each lens performs technically compared to each other, I would put them into this order from “best” to “worst” (value is not taken into consideration):
- 100mm f/2.8 E
- 70-210mm f/4 E
- 50mm f/1.8 E
- 75-150mm f/3.5 E
- 135mm f/2.8 E
- 35mm f/2.5 E
- 28mm f/2.8 E
- 36-72mm f/3.5 E
Keep in mind that at optimum apertures, all these lenses are capable of performing well. Though I hesitate to recommend the 28mm E and 36-72mm E, you can’t go wrong with any of these lenses as long as you know what you will be using them for.