Would you buy a specific type of camera body just to accommodate one particular lens?

It's a pretty sure bet that I would. My recent re-fascination with owning a full frame Nikon camera started innocently enough, I'd purchased a D7100 (APS-C frame) and just for fun I took a gander at the used, manual focus Nikon lens case at Precision Camera. My eyes locked onto two lenses that I wanted to add to my meager, existing collection of good Nikon vintage glassware. I own the Nikon 50mm 1:1.2 ais lens and find it to be pretty remarkable when I stop it down just a tad. I couldn't resist the pricing on two very clean brothers to that lens, the 55mm f2.8 Micro-Nikkor ais lens and the amazing and wonderful, 105mm f2.5 ais lens. These are both well made lenses that were built in the 1970's and 1980's when it was assumed that a lens would be made from metals that worked well together to reduce friction coefficients and to expand and contract, in concert, with heat and cold. Everything about the lenses is industrial strength and there are no small, electronic parts that will eventually fail and be impossible to replace. The glass on both lenses was/is immaculate and the focusing smooth through the entire focusing rack. 

I owned both of these lenses when I shot with the system in the film days and had always assumed (incorrectly) that they had been superseded by more modern designs and manufacturing methods. But the reality is that the lens companies have learned more how to fudge tolerances and assembly variances than they have learned better ways to design lenses for ultimate quality. Most companies still depend on very classic designs and  the makers use ED and aspheric elements to compensate for the necessary slop required to cost effectively mass produce products in large numbers, without hand adjustments. 

The last 105mm Nikon lens I owned was the 105mm f2.0 DC (or "defocus coupling") lens. It's outrageously good and it's the lens I used to make the three images (one above and two below) for the Austin Lyric Opera for an ad campaign years ago. I used the good camera of the time, a Kodak DCS 760 which was not full frame but it was closer than APS-C as it had a 1.3x crop factor. 

Once I bought the (under $200) 105mm 2.5 ais back a few months ago I put it on a D7100 and did a few tests. When the lens was stopped down to f4.0 it was very sharp across the frame. At f5.6 it was brilliant. But more importantly I really liked the very subtle transitions this lens made in tones and the graceful way the focus falls off. It must be one of the "bokeh lenses" that people discuss with such rapture. When I compared it to modern lenses there was a difference not in sharpness or resolution but in contrast and tonal transfers (the gradation from one tone to the next) that made this lens seem much more appropriate to me for current portrait work. The only issue was the focal length; it's a bit too long for a smaller frame and an even smaller studio. 

That was the slow motion rock slide of ideas that started pushing me toward getting some sort of full frame Nikon mount camera. I wanted badly to use this lens especially, but also the 50mm f1.1:2 at the angles of view for which they were designed. Didn't really matter to me which modern body to get as long as it used the right sized sensor to give me back those two focal lengths that I enjoyed using in "the good old days."

Well, after waiting all day for the post man to arrive the D610 I bought landed in the office. I went through and quickly adjusted all the menu items which was simple as they are largely (almost completely) identical to those of the D7100 and the D7000 before it. The first lens I put on was the 105mm f2.5. I plugged in the focal length and maximum aperture information to the camera and shot some test frames. The long focal lengths and fast aperture actually helped me achieve good focus manually and when I framed a few shots I was in my visual happy place. Two lenses make FF fun and situationally desirable: the classic 50mm and the classic 100-105. In third place is that in between focal length, the 85mm. Now I need to e-mail some of my favorite models and do some fun, studio portrait tests. Fadya, if you are reading this......

Below is a shot of the grumpy photographer/writer/editor of this site. What a serious looking guy. This must have been during the years in which he did not own a Nikon 105mm f2.5 ais lens......

Make him smile ( a little ). Buy a Kindle copy of his 


Anonymous said...

I have only discovered the 105/2.5 lens this year (I got the AI version) , and it immediately became my favorite portrait lens for D600. It is the first manual focus lens I have ever owned (not counting ancient Soviet fixed lens cameras in the 80s), and I am totally blown away by how wonderful it is, even wide open, and how well the manual focus works despite my inexperience. It is just an immense pleasure to photograph with it. I like my 85/1.8G very much too, but this one is very special.

Kirk, would you say that the 50/1.2 is equally special?

Kirk Tuck said...


Gordon Cahill said...

Done that. I bought a Sony/Zeiss 135 1.8 for my Sony A7. What a lens! Exactly like the 75mm Olympus on an EM1 except more. But no IBIS.

So I got an a99 to stabilise the 135.

Now I've got an A72 so I don't need the a99 but I think I'll keep it. It's a great camera.


almostinfamous said...

I shot with the Ai-s lens on a friend's D700 a few years back and it felt so good to use it. i couldnt find any copies locally and had to resort to buying a 105DC (i know; what a loss, right?)

I hope to see more from you with this lens and get my own full frame in 2015 and see what i've been missing out on. Happy New Year :)

Wolfgang Lonien said...

My answer to your headline question is yes - I bought an Olympus E-PL1 for the 20mm/1.7 lens which my wife had, and which didn't exist for my regular Four Thirds DSLR. And I still love that lens, tho by now I also have the 25mm/1.4 "Leica"-branded one.

There's also a difference between the µ43rds 45mm/1.8 (which is very very good) and the older 50mm/2 Zuiko macro lens (which is special). Since I don't currently own cameras with bigger sensors, these are my portrait lenses.

I'm not immune to the lure and the siren songs of bigger is better tho, but I simply cannot decide between old school DSLRs and newer and more compact ones like the original A7 which is probably the cheapest of those "full framers". So I keep using my µ43rds E-PL5, which I'm very happy with. The fact that the EVF can even be tilted upwards is maybe the number one reason that I didn't exchange it to an E-M10 or E-M5 by now (which both would be better in the studio of course, because you don't lose the viewfinder for the flash remote).

I'm just a hobbyist, so I'm more or less complete with my current gear. But yes, the lenses are the basics on which to chose a system, so I fully agree.

Have a happy new 2015. Cannot wait for your further posts and for the photos you're still about to take (a happy new year to Fadya if you see her, or if she reads this).

Barry Reid said...

You know, I think you are on to something when you mention tonal gradations. I have developed a love for the old contax fit Zeiss 28-85 for that very reason it handles subtle colour and tonal transitions beautifully. In a way that more modern lenses just don't.

hbernstein said...

Two other lovely lenses that "see" light differently than current Nikon offerings are the insanely inexpensive 70-150mm f/3.5 Series E and the lovely 25-50mm f/4. I know, they're both slow zooms, and the 25-50 is a bit wide for your tastes, but they are worth trying, even on a 4/3 body.

The 50mm 1.2 is probably the lens I use most often.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hbernstein, please note that I acquired and wrote about the wonderful 25-50mm ais earlier this quarter. I agree with your assessment!

neopavlik said...

I was able to hold off on buying the 105 DC for so long because I have the 105 Ai-S 2.5.

When a friend let me use the 105 for a few hours I thought the bokeh was better on the DC but liked the initial skintones more on the Ai-S.
As time went by using a DX lens I grew tired of manually focusing on the small viewfinders and when the deal popped up on that DC lens I took it.

The past few days I've been comparing the 105 DC vs. 85 1.8 G, you're post reminded me I still have a 105 Ai-s to add to the competition to see what I can see.

As soon as I find out what works best for me I can think about a variety of other lenses : 85mm 1.4 G, 50mm 1.4G , 50 Sigma Art, and now that 50mm 1.2.

MO said...


Aurèle said...

Very good article. À gain :)

The answer to your main question is "YES !".
I'm going to MF just for the rendering of the Pentax 6x7 105mm f2,4, with (obviously) a Pentax 6x7.
This smooth transition beetween tones, this sharpness with a touch of softness in the skin details, the pastel rendering of colors. Of course, the fact of using a huge piece of mecanics is part of the fun. The film too.

dierk said...

to answer your question:
I ordered the at that time new Nikon D3 especially for the new 14-24 Nikkor (I love wide angle!)

With the D3 I used the Micro Nikkor 105mm for portraits most of the time.

Since the Sony A7R came out I sold all DSLR and Nikon lenses but kept only the fantastic Micro Nikkor PC 85mm/2.8. This Micro Nikkor is the older fully mechanical version and it works great on an adapter on the A7R!! Did you ever consider this lens, Kirk? I even did portraits in profile with the tilted lens with both eyes sharp.

And I got the Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 and I love it for portraits, as I get very close for most shots and it is the only macro lens with f/2. I ordered the Canon version (as for the 85mm OTUS as well) and have an automatic aperture on the smart adapter.


Gary said...

Nice! And pick up a 28/2.8 AIS and 20/3.5 and you're set!

Mark Davidson said...

I actually bought a camera for the body and its quirky line of lenses. Topcon Super D.
Unwitting style from great engineers.

Craig Yuill said...

I am not sure I would purchase a camera just to use one lens. But I did purchase a Nikon V1 partly because it worked better with my existing Nikon F-mount AF lenses than mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers. I have thought about getting the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor, but already have a copy of the brilliant Tamron 90mm f/2.5 lens, which IMO is too similar to the 105mm to justify buying it. That said, I have kept an old AI-S 300mm lens because of its tanklike construction. Few lenses are made like that nowadays, and the ones that are typically cost a fortune.

Hugh said...


Bought Canon EOS just for the 135/2.0L
Kept my Pentax 67 just for the 105/2.5
Recently bought a Pentax Spotmatic just for the 50/1.4 Super Multicoated Takumar.
Bought an Olympus 24/2.8 to use on the 5d3 because i don't like zooms.
Was looking for a nikkor 105mm/2.5, but I expect the prices are going to go up :(

Fortunately most things can be used on a 5D3 with an adapter.

Bob Travaglione said...

Kirk... We all know that your new camera will be here in January 2015, a 5-way in body stabilized Sony A7000. I know I will not be able to resist this one. Happy New Year!

Kirk Decker said...

105mm has always been my favorite focal length. I've never liked 50mm, but for some strange reason (gear lust?) I got a 50mm f/1.2 and forced myself to us it as exclusively as possible for several months. It's become my one of my favorite lens - my go to lens for walking around and casual portraits.