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35mm f/2.8 AI
Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AI. You ought to be able to find them used at Adorama.
December 2007 More Nikon Reviews
The Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 is probably the least expensive lens in Nikon's line, along with the slowest 50mm, at any given point in time.
Compatibility: On the D2, D3, D200, D300 and F6, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to input 35mm and f/2.8. This gives full matrix metering and EXIF data, and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.
It won't couple well to the cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below). It works perfectly every professional film camera (F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6), with Matrix metering on the FA, F4 and F6.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AI, AI-s" column for this lens.
Production History and Perspective
Nikon has been making 35mm f/2.8 lenses since 1959. There are many mechanical and cosmetic variations, but only four optical versions. I'm discussing the optical variations here.
This sample is the newest 5 element optical design, made through 2005. This AI version of this optical design was made from 1979 through 1981.
The first version, made from 1959 through 1962, has seven elements in 5 groups. Nikon called this the Nikkor-S 3.5cm.
The second version, called Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8, has 7 elements in 6 groups. Nikon made these from 1962 through 1974. I've got one of these I'll be testing, too. It works very well, but has a lot of ghosts if pointed into the sun.
Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AI.
This newest optical design has 5 elements in 5 groups. It was introduced about 1979. The same optics are used in the AI-s version introduced in 1981 and manufactured through about 2005.
Since the AI version came in both optical design #3 and #4, the way to identify which is which is that the newer version has the color-coded depth of field scale raised to be flush with the focus scale. The older AI version has a more traditional look where the color-coded scale is on the same barrel over which the focus ring rotates.
Serial numbers are the easiest give-away between the third and fourth optical AI versions. This newer AI version starts at serial number 350000 and ran through about 500000. The older AI version had larger serial numbers running in the 800000s.
All the AI-s versions are the same newest optical formula as the one tested here.
Name: Nikon calls this the Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AI.
Optics: 5 elements in 5 groups. Spherical design, multi coated.
Close Focus: 1 foot 0.3 meters.
Weight: 8.302 oz. (235.4g), as measured by me.
Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AI.
Performance is great. It has much lower distortion than a zoom, it's bright and easy to focus, and super sharp.
See my Nikon Professional Normal Zoom Comparison for exhaustive side-by-side image examples.
A Nikon hallmark for decades, focus is fast and easy. There is no play and it can flick with a single finger.
The precision with which manual focus Nikkor lenses operate is one of the reasons I converted from Minolta to Nikon instead of Canon in 1983, and have never looked back.
It's sharp! It's sharp and contrasty in the center, even wide open.
It's a little softer in the far corners of the full-frame D3 at f/2.8, but not by much. Stop down and it's better, and perfect at f/11.
The interesting thing about this 35mm f/2.8 AI is how sharp it is how far out to the corners. The last few millimeters take some stopping down, but if you stay out of those last few millimeters, it's sharp and contrasty even wide open quite a ways out.
On a DX camera it's probably just about perfect, even in the corners of the DX frame.
There is a little coma in the corners at f/2.8, much improved at f/4 and gone by f/5.6.
This is a little better than most other Nikon fixed wide angles.
Lateral Color Fringes
None, on my D3. This helps make the images really pop, especially with bold graphic elements.
The distortion is among the lowest I've seen on Nikon wide angle lenses and zooms. It's almost invisible, and requires deliberate effort and a straight edge on my monitor to see it.
Distortion appears to be at a minimum at about 2 meters (7 feet), and increases at closer distances.
Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires a lot of data collection and computation.
© 2007 KenRockwell.com
Flare and Ghosts
There are two green ghosts of you have the sun in or a little out of your image. On is just a little bit closer to the center of the image than the light source itself, and the other, more visible ghost is on the other side of the light source if you draw an imaginary line through the center of the image.
The ghost takes on the size and shape of the diaphragm. Therefore it becomes smaller and brighter as one stops down.
Light Falloff (Corner Darkening)
Falloff is mild, even wide open. As typical for Nikon manual focus lenses, it's much less stopped down a stop to f/4, and completely gone at f/5.6.
My diaphragm appears properly calibrated.
Oddly, I seem to get underexposure in dim light requiring about +1 to +2 exposure compensation as the light gets darker.
Its no big deal since compensating exposure has always been a part of photography, but darned if I can figure this one out right now.
It's fine in daylight, but then again, I usually dial in -0.7 with my other lenses and shoot this 35mm f/2.8 straight.
35mm f/2.8 AI at f/8. Crop from D3 image at 100% (43" or 1.1m wide print!).
The 7-bladed diaphragm gives uniform 14-pointed stars on brilliant points of light.
This is a crop from a much larger image at 100% on a D3.
Sunstars become more prominent as the light sources become more brilliant and the lens is stopped down further.
Bokeh is fairly organic and pleasant.
Nikon's manual focus lenses have been the world standard for decades against which all other lenses are judged. I prefer the manual focus feel to any Leica lens I've ever held.
For $25, I have another 25-year-old lens which looks and feels as if it just came from the factory.
Filter Threads: Metal.
Focus: Metal covered with waffle-pattern rubber.
Aperture Control Ring: Metal.
Markings: Engraved and filled with paint.
Lens Mount: Metal.
Serial Number: Engraved and filled with paint on front identification ring.
Made In: Japan.
Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AI.
Want a great, cheap lens for FX digital cameras and film? This is it.
Want a lens with distortion so low it's perfect for graphics, architecture and things requiring straight lines to stay straight? This 35mm f/2.8 AI is especially good.
I wouldn't bother with it for DX cameras. For DX cameras, even the cheapest 18-55mm kit lens is wonderful.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
Thanks for reading!
Caveat: The all the ads below come from third parties. I don't see them before they appear on your screen. See more at my Buying Advice page. Personally I get my goodies at Ritz (the store, not the hotel gift shop), Amazon and Adorama.