28mm f/2.8 AI-s
Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s (52mm filters, 9 oz./250g). enlarge. You can still buy them brand-new at B&H Photo Video. You may be able to find these used at Adorama, and always can find them at this direct link to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay).
Fantastic as a general-purpose wide-angle lens for manual-focus cameras.
Also works as a high-performance lens on all digital cameras, especially FX, but must be focussed manually.
I'd skip it for AF and digital cameras, since the 16-35mm VR zoom is more practical, but much larger and more expensive.
This is Nikon's sharpest manual-focus wide angle lens.
Nikon let their designers go wild on this one. Instead of a simple 5 element design that every other 28mm f/2.8 lens uses, including the original AF version, this lens has EIGHT elements in EIGHT groups. This allows it a level of correction seen in no other Nikon wide angle.
No other Nikon 28mm lens performs this well: the 28mm f/1.4D AF has some barrel distortion and really is optimized for night photography, and every other 28mm lens just isn't designed as thoroughly.
This AI-s lens (1981-present) is completely different from the older AI lens. Nikon made a big upgrade to the optics when they upgraded it to AI-s, and they really pulled out all the stops.
Not only does this Nikkor uses 8 elements, it also uses floating elements to optimize its performance as it is focused at every distance.
This is also Nikon's closest-focusing lens, with a close-focus distance of 7 inches (0.6 ft), or 20 cm.
There is no sharper manual-focus wide angle lens made by Nikon, and it is the only Nikon wide angle, along with the 15mm f/3.5, that is completely free from barrel distortion at ordinary distances.
Optically this is an almost perfect lens, and one of the most perfect lenses you can get to fit a Nikon camera.
The manual-focus 28mm f/2.8 AI-s works great with most Nikon cameras, film and digital.
On the D3X, D3, D700, D300, D200, D2 and F6, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to set 28mm and f/2.8 to get full matrix metering, EXIF data and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.
The meters of cheaper digital (D90, D5000 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below) will not couple (or work at all) with this lens, so you'll be on your own guessing exposure using the rear LCD or an external meter, or get a tiny Gossen Digisix meter and hot shoe adapter to meter manually.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AI, AI-s" column for this lens.
History and Comparisons
Nikon made 28mm f/3.5 for its S-series rangefinder cameras. It's not very good, but it is tiny.
Nikon made the 28mm f/2.8 AI, which had 7 elements in 7 groups.
It lacks CRC and focuses to only 1 foot, and is also a great lens.
Nikon made an optically inferior 5-element 28mm f/2.8 lens that was sold as the Series E, and also as the first two iterations of non-D AF lenses.
Today's AI-s lens came out in 1981, and has been sold unchanged ever since, even as optically inferior autofocus versions came and went.
Nikon redesigned the crummy 5-element 28mm f/2.8 design, used for the Series E through the AF version, into a 6 element 28mm f/2.8 AF-D version. Its performance is still much poorer than this 8-element manual-focus AI-s lens.
8 elements in 8 groups.
Close range correction (CRC).
Seven conventional blades
Stops down to f/22.
Close Focus top
The 28mm f/2.8 focuses more closely than any other Nikkor.
It focuses down to 7 inches or 0.2 meters, which is closer than any of the macro/micro lenses. It does have some barrel distortion this close and remains sharp.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio top
Familiar 52mm filters.
Hard Infinity Focus Stop? top
This is great for astronomy; just turn to the stop and you have fixed laboratory-perfect focus all night.
Focus Scale top
Depth-of-Field Scale top
Infra-Red Focus Index top
Yes: red dot in depth-of-field scale.
Aperture Ring top
Filter Thread top
Does not rotate.
2.5" (63mm) in diameter by 2.3" (59mm) long, specified.
9 oz. (250g), specified.
HN-2 metal screw-in.
Nikon Product Number top
1420, as of April 2010.
2012 March: $540 new.
2008: $380 new from B&H.
Performance is just about perfect. Read accordingly.
There is some very slight coma in the corner at f/2.8 that is gone by f/4, far better performance than any other wide angle Nikkor wide open save the 28mm f/1.4D AF.
I've exaggerated this by shooting a gray field and placing these on a gray background.
Ghosts and Flare
It has no ghosts or flare, so feel free to put your light sources in your image.
Like all Nikkor manual focus AI-s lenses, the Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s is built to the highest mechanical standards of any lens ever made.
Anodized and enameled aluminum.
Threaded anodized aluminum.
Metal, rubber covered.
Feel like brass: smooth and silky with no play or need for damping grease.
Engraved into barrel and filled with different colors of paint.
Cast aluminum, anodized and enameled.
Engraved markings filled with different colors of paint coded to the depth-of-field scale.
Engraved into the metal and filled with paint.
Identity and Serial Number
On front of lens inside filter ring, engraved into the metal and filled with paint.
Ass-Gasket (dust seal at mount)
Sharpness is extraordinary.
The 28mm f/2.8 AI-s is diffraction limited by f/5.6. That's lens designer speak for "really, really good!"
As shot on the 24 MP Nikon D3X:
It's simply stunning. Even at 24MP, it's brilliantly sharp and contrasty even at f/2.8, and doesn't get any better as stopped down.
It's so good that it's diffraction-limited at f/5.6, meaning that it's slightly less sharp at f/8.
The sides are just as sharp.
The last few millimeters of the corners are less sharp due to some mild coma at f/2.8. They improve as stopped down.
As shot on Velvia
f/2.8: sharp all over with the exception of very slight coma in the corners, and some light falloff.
f/4: Fantastic, seems diffraction limited!
f/5.6: Ditto. I've never seen a sharper lens on my Nikon.
It seems to be a bit slower than f/2.8, probably closer to about f/3.0. That's not a big deal; cheating a bit like that allows Nikon to squeeze in a little more sharpness.
This is the sharpest manual-focus wide angle made by Nikon. Even Nikon's newest and best 16-35mm f/4 VR zoom isn't any sharper, except maybe in the last few millimeters of the corner, and it distorts.
If you want great sharpness and perfectly straight straight lines, go get one of these lenses new or second hand. You'll love it.
On some cheaper AF cameras you lose metering, but heck, mounted on your F6, F4 or FA you even get matrix metering.
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