Using Nikon DX Lenses on FX Cameras

Camera lenses project a circular image onto the camera’s sensor plane because of their round glass elements. The projected image circle must be large enough that it covers the rectangular sensor.

Because they are only required to cover the DX sensor, Nikon DX lenses project a smaller image circle. These lenses can be smaller and lighter than the Nikon DX lenses, but they are not compatible with FX cameras. This law applies to the entire Canon ecosystem. EF-S lenses are designed for a smaller APS–C sensor and cannot be mounted on full-frame EF bodies.

Nikon’s backward compatibility is a great feature. Mounting DX lenses to FX bodies was always possible. The FX DSLR automatically crops the image frame so that the DX sensor is visible only.

FX Image Circle

You can also set the camera to output full FX frames regardless of mounted lenses by using Shooting Menu -> Image Area-> Auto DX Crop -> OFF.

This could cause problems with DX lenses due to extreme vignetting. This is what you see when mounting many types dedicated DX lenses, especially zooms, onto FX bodies. This is an example of what you can see using a Nikon 18-20mm f/3.5-5.5.6G DXVR lens mounted on a Nikon FX cam (one frame taken from a HD video sequence with a Nikon D600).

Nikon 18-200mm on FX

Bad news: High quality FX lenses such as Nikon’s golden “trinity”, are expensive and bulky.

It’s not always as easy to use DX lenses. My Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX is a lens I love dearly, as well my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 ATX Pro DX. These lenses are the best in DX, as they are small, lightweight, affordable, and still deliver excellent results. These lenses are compatible with all FX frames, which many owners might not be aware of.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G X on FX

Nikon’s only modern fast 35mm lens for FX was the f/1.4G professional prime. The affordability aspect of the 35mm F/1.8G ED has seen a significant improvement. The 35mm f/1.8G DX, while still being the most affordable lens Nikon has ever made, is one of Nikon’s most loved lenses.

What can you expect from it on FX? It was quite pleasant. FX corner performance was not great, and there is some vignetting. Vignetting can be tolerated at larger apertures (larger that F8). A prime lens with a large aperture is often used to focus attention on a single object. Corner sharpness is rarely critical. Vignetting can be pleasing to the eye and can be corrected. As this is the purpose of the lens, the center performance remains outstanding.

The small 35mm is easy to carry around and makes street photography very convenient. 35mm is considered moderately wide angle on FX, which gives you a little more freedom to create interesting compositions than a 50mm lens.

These are just a few examples.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX at f/1.8

35mm DX at f/1.8G (straight from the.NEF, distortion and vignetting uncorrected)

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX at f/5.6

35mm DX at f/5.6 f/1.8G DX (straight from the.NEF – distortion and vignetting were not corrected)

These photos are very usable, according to me. The photo at f/2.8 can be adjusted in Adobe Lightroom to correct for vignetting. Compare it with the attached photo taken using the Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8GED lens – one Nikon’s professional FX lenses.

The photographs below were taken at 35mm F/2.8. But which lens was used? These photographs can be hard to distinguish at a glance. The top photo was taken using the 35mm F/1.8 lens, while the bottom was taken using the 24-70mm F/2.8 lens.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G DX at f/2.8
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G at f/2.8

Zooming in to 100% pixel detail makes little difference as corners are not in focus. (In both cases, 35mm f/1.8 can be found on the left)

The smaller image circle becomes visible at longer distances and starting at f/5.6. Vignetting in the corners increases with decreasing apertures. Personaly, I use fast prime lenses with large apertures to medium apertures. However, this lens is less useful in bright light without an ND filter. You will need to use smaller apertures. The 35mm f/1.8 DX lens is great for street photography but less for studio work, e.g. Studio work requires shallower apertures to achieve depth of field.

Side by side 35mm Center
Side by side 35mm Corner

Uncorrected image, focal point at Infinity, f/5.6. Vignetting can be intrusive.

35mm f/5.6 Uncorrected

Vignetting at f/22 is clearly visible (just like the dust on my Nikon D600 sensor).

35mm f/22 Uncorrected

Image uncorrected with close focal point at f/5.6 Vignetting at this focal distance is less prominent than at infinity and therefore not as intrusive.

35mm f/22 Uncorrected

Vignetting at f/22 is clearly defined but is less severe than at greater focal distances.

35mm Close f/22 Uncorrected

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro DX

I also want to mention the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens. It is considered one of the most versatile ultra-wide-angle lenses available for DX. It performs on DX the same way as an FX 16-24mm f/4.0 lens. What happens if you mount it on an FX-body?

The vignetting at 11mm is quite extreme.

Tokina 11-16 @ 11mm

The vignetting disappears at 15mm

Tokina 11-16 @ 15mm

Zooming in at 16mm makes vignetting less noticeable, until there is virtually no visible vignetting at 16mm f/2.8.

Stopping down can improve the corners – this is the extreme right-hand edge at 15mm F/2.8 (left) and 15mm F/5.6 (right).

Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm

Corner performance is significantly lower than FX lenses. However, if you’re willing to accept this, you can get a very inexpensive ultra wide angle lens that you can use up to 15mm at f/2.8. The Nikon 14-24mm F/2.8G ED and the Tokina 16-28mm F/2.8 Pro FX are the closest lenses.

Tokina 11-16mm @ 15mm Edge

Conclusion

This post will show you how to use DX lenses that are not only popular but also very versatile. These lenses can be very creative and cost-effective, despite all odds. This is particularly attractive for amateur photographers who are moving from DX to FX.

You can accept the limitations of this setup if you are able to. Your DX lenses might still be useful before you move on to FX. You can still get FX’s better low-light performance and brighter viewfinders, as well as more control over depth in field.

Are there any DX lenses that can be used with FX? Let us know in the comments.

Here are some examples of the 35mm F/1.8 from Trento, Italy.

35mm f/1.8G Sample #1
NIKON D600 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 2500, 1/80, f/1.8
35mm f/1.8G Sample #2
NIKON D600 + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 900, 1/80, f/1.8

Some examples of the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, from the streets of Trento, Italy:

Tokina 11-16mm Sample #1
NIKON D600 + 11-16mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, ISO 250, 1/30, f/2.8
Tokina 11-16mm Sample #2
NIKON D600 + 11-16mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, ISO 1400, 1/30, f/4.0
Tokina 11-16mm Sample #2
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