I am trying to price out a 35mm f/1.4 lens for my Nikon D7000, and I am shocked to find that B&H sells them for almost $2,000, whereas the f/1.8 sells for a couple hundred.

Am I looking at the wrong things?

Here is an example of the two I found. They don't seem very different to me, yet the price f/1.4 is far more expensive. This does't seem right. Am I way off base?

Low cost lens, f/1.8

High cost lens, f/1.4

What makes the more expensive lens cost so much more?

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    Please, capitalize and punctuate your questions correctly. It doesn't take much more of your time, and makes the site nicer for everyone else who will find these questions later. – mattdm Dec 31 '10 at 22:51
  • Additionally, if you haven't already found them, there are a TON of lens review websites out there... Many that give incredibly detailed reviews on everything you'd ever want to know about a particular lens (and a lot you probably don't as well). Check out the community wiki post for a great cheat sheet for many of these sites: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1520/lens-review-sites – Jay Lance Photography Jan 1 '11 at 0:44
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    Get the 50mm f/1.4G for $350. It has the same aperture as the $2,000 35mm but at a fraction of the cost. A little longer focal length but still short enough for your D7000. – bperdue Mar 8 '11 at 20:46
  • See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2593/… – mattdm Mar 29 '11 at 23:05

Welcome to the wonderful world of retrofocus lenses. As difficult as it is to create any lens that focuses all of the wavelengths of light at the same point (and that gets more difficult as the lens gets wider in any case), there's more than that going on in most wide-angle lenses* for SLRs. Pentax offers a wonderful example of the transition -- they have a 40mm "pancake" lens that is about as small as a colour-corrected lens can be, and they accomplish that by restricting the maximum aperture to f/2.8 and choosing a focal length that almost exactly matches the distance from the film/sensor to the lens mounting surface.

When the focal length of the lens gets any shorter than that distance, you actually need two different "lenses" -- one that acts like, say, a 35mm lens in front of the camera, and another that acts like a longer lens between the sensor and the wide-angle lens. Both of these lens groups require more correction the wider the lens gets (light rays refracted from the periphery of the lens are bent more than rays passing through the center, and are subject to more chromatic aberration, spherical aberration, coma, etc.). That means more corrective lens elements, often more complicated focusing mechanisms to change the relationship between lens elements/groups, more interelement reflection (which means more and better coatings) -- it all gets to be pretty messy from an engineering sense. And yes, it costs more.

Take jrista's advice: the f/1.8 is more than two stops faster than what you have now, and unless you find yourself really needing the extra 2/3 stop, keep the extra $1500. If you do need to upgrade, you can get a pretty decent trade-in on your f/1.8.

*I say most because there are some lenses (particularly older fisheyes) that actually require that you lock your mirror up before you install them. You're not likely to run into them anymore, but they exist nonetheless.

  • I didn't know that lenses existed that required you to lock up your mirror to install! Cool info thanks! – dpollitt Dec 2 '11 at 14:16

Remember, you were concerned about getting great image quality wide-open? There's no such thing as a free lunch. And a cheap lunch may have adequate nutrition without being gourmet. More expensive lenses use exotic elements, and a lot more glass overall. Note that the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G weighs three times as much as the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G, and is over twice as big. (The f/1.4G also covers a full-frame image circle, accounting for some of this.)

Plus, the more expensive lens has a more solid build, more aperture blades, and is probably better sealed. It likely has a faster AF motor, too. It's a top-level lens.

  • Someone voted this down. I'm curious as to why. – mattdm Jan 2 '11 at 13:26

Lenses come in all forms, even for the same focal length. Here are the available Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 lenses at B&H online. There are two manual, and one AF lens, with the latter being the $1800 lens. It appears that the AF version is new, and contains some of the most advanced optics and multicoating available, which is probably why its price tag is so high. The wide aperture, which is pretty wide for a lens of that focal length, is also a significant contributor to the cost. If you want a lot of light with good wide-open quality, you need a lot of glass, and glass is expensive.

In contrast, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 lenses from B&H are about as cheap as you can get, running about $190. The f/1.8 is 2/3rds of a stop slower than the f/1.4, so for less than a single stop less light, you can save yourself $1600. The f/1.8 should offer acceptable quality wide open, so the question you have to ask is: do you need that extra 2/3rd of a stop worth of light?

For some contrast, here is the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L lens on B&H. Its been around for a number of years, yet still costs $1350. Thats less than $500 lower than the brand spankin new Nikkor 35mm f/1.4. Simply put, light costs. If you need a lot of light, you need to be prepared to spend the money for it.

  • wow, as a beginner this is pretty shocking! would the 50mm f/1.4 for about 450$ be a better choice then for low light portraits than the 35mm f/1.8? they are both about the same price – kacalapy Dec 31 '10 at 22:35
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    @Kacalapy: At this point, I think its time you exercise your personal reasoning skills, and make a decision. I think you've pretty much asked the same basic set of questions half a dozen times now. There really isn't much more information any of us can give you, and we certainly can't make the decision for you...you have to make it for yourself. You have cost, quality, and light...pick a ratio of those three that you find acceptable, and go for it. – jrista Dec 31 '10 at 22:58
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    Also, there is no current Nikkor 50mm f/1.2. Are you sure that's what you mean? – mattdm Dec 31 '10 at 23:09
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    And, not to be too irritating, but I do feel compelled to point out that this is one of the reasons people suggest researching the lens options in a given system before buying into it. – mattdm Dec 31 '10 at 23:15
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    If I may step into this discussion - Kacalapy, I don't understand why you spend so much time about this subject. Following this forum for the last couple of weeks, you seem to ask many questions - which is great for a beginner - and got many answers that pretty much cover most of what you need to know at this level. You just have to let loose somewhat and start actually taking photos with your new gear. This is the one and only true way to learn photography. – ysap Jan 1 '11 at 9:56

The short answer, the 35 f/1.4 is more expensive than the 35 f/1.8 because:

  • The f/1.4 lens is full frame lens, it projects a larger image circle, and also has a larger aperture so it's a more difficult lens to design and manufacture.

  • Lenses with higher optical performance also tend to have better build quality elsewhere (e.g. metal bodies) and last longer.

  • Nikon will sell fewer f/1.4s so they need larger margins to recover the R&D cost.

  • People will pay the higher price.

  • +1 for mentioning that the image circle of the 35/1.4 FX is much larger than the 35/1.8 DX lens – unexplainedBacn Oct 3 '11 at 14:17

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

It's because it's what the market will bear.

We have no idea the R&D costs or the production costs into making such a lens--unless those people here who have speculated are, in fact, optical engineers involved in the development and mass production of such lenses, in which case I'll stand corrected. We don't know if it costs a team of fifty engineers working around the clock for two years to squeeze out that extra two stops, or one engineer made it when s/he got around to it after all the other lenses got equipped with VR. We can guess by reading between the lines in Nikon's financial statements, but we don't know.

And how are such lenses produced? Hand-made? I doubt it, but it's possible. I've heard anecdotally that Zeiss lenses are individually hand made and tuned, and it's that attention to detail that is reflected in their cost.

So while @Stan Roger's answer provides some potential optical engineering challenges that have to be overcome for such a lens, we on the outside of the production facilities have no idea if those problems were the major ones, or if solving them warrants the price. Other answers could also include interesting discussions about the exchange rates of yen to dollars, marketing projections, or other such topics. All guesswork.

Nikon feels that the lens should cost this much. I, for one, think that they're overpriced. If enough potential customers feel this way, look for price decreases in the coming months/years. If the lenses sell at their current price, then Nikon priced them accordingly (and I'll be looking for another 50mm f/1.4 equivalent for my d300).

EDIT: Not to say "I told you so", but, I told you so. Samyang just announced a 35mm 1.4 full frame lens that will retail for €379, a fraction of the Nikkor's price but with similar specs. Will it be better or worse? I'll wait until lens reviews come out. But will it be that much worse as to justify quadrupling the price for the name of Nikon? All discussions about the cost of the technology that goes into the lens, etc, are all justifications given by sales and marketing. In the final analysis, if you have a competitor willing to undercut you by this much, the perhaps you have overestimated your market.

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    A bit of time spent with view cameras can teach you an awful lot. You get to look at a lot of lens technology simply mounting the lenses in the shutters (shutters are sold separately from the lenses, and you usually have to separate the groups in order to mount the shutter on the lens and the lens/shutter to the lens boards) and you have a century's progress at your fingertips to look at. You might want to try it some time. – user2719 Jan 2 '11 at 0:48
  • Dude. Seriously. Could you possibly be more condescending? Maybe you should try running a business sometime, and see what it takes to set prices. – mmr Jan 2 '11 at 1:52
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    Been there, done that. I don't think anybody's going to begrudge anybody an adequate profit margin -- none of the makers are in it for charitable write-offs. That said, the really fast glass doesn't exactly spring off the shelves, and except among amateurs it's not about prestige -- pros buy what they need (they have their own profit margins to watch). Fast glass costs more to make, between exotic materials, aspherical elements and weird focus mechanisms. It's not about condescension. Take a look at large format equipment if you get a chance -- it does help. – user2719 Jan 2 '11 at 2:05
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    But to say that it's purely technology is to buy into the marketing reasons that the companies give, rather than paying attention to the profit motive. Canon makes an equivalent lens that's selling for $1.4k, certainly cheaper than the Nikon. I have used neither, and so cannot say which one is better, but on paper, they are equivalent. So is Canon undercharging, Nikon over, both under, both over? That's the market and pricing, not the tech or the materials. I suspect that the tech, materials, production, etc, are dictating a bottom edge, but I don't think we're seeing it (yet). – mmr Jan 2 '11 at 2:28
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    On the update: "Similar specs" is kind of pushing it, don't you think? Samyang's lens is manual focus, with a totally different design. No doubt there's less of a markup, but, still, they don't really look similar even on paper. I doubt Nikon is concerned. (And I bet they Sanyang doesn't have a five year warranty.) – mattdm Mar 8 '11 at 16:43

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