The focal length of the camera lens defines its fundamental property. We are talking about such things as angular field of view, relative aperture, depth of field and depth of focus. It is customary to fit lenses to cameras that have a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal measure of the format. Such a lash-up delivers a “normal” angle of view. If the lens mounted is shorter than the diagonal, the angle of view will be wide-angle.
This Nikon 17-35mm is designed to fit on a compact digital (DX) with a format that measures 16mm height by 24mm length. The corner to corner measure of this rectangle is approximately 30mm. In other words, a 30mm on your camera delivers a “normal” view.
The focal length of a lens is a measurement taken when the lens is focused on a far distant subject. We measure from a point called the rear nodal to the focused image which will be the surface of the image sensor. When a wide-angle lens is mounted such as this this one, set to 17mm, the rear nodal must be positioned 17mm from the imaging chip. This is a super short distance, only about ¾ inch.
Such a close lens positioning is virtually impossible, not enough room for lens barrel, glass, mount, aperture and other stuff. What to do? The optician must shift the rear nodal more to the rear. Normally it would fall somewhere within the lens barrel. This shift can be extreme, it could be made to fall in the air behind the lens. This design elongates the back focus distance; now there is room for everything. This is accomplished by inserting several lens elements, some with positive power and some with negative power. The correct combination resembles an inverted telephoto. This is known as a retro-focus lens. Such a lash-up is how you get a 17-35mm zoom to fit on a DX camera.