Irrationally rational lens buying. Cine ready Nikkor. No longer naked in the 35mm focal length range.

Nikon 35mm f2.0 MF lens. An optic for the affluently-challenged. 

I've always been a 50mm adherent, when it comes to primary lenses for full frame camera, but lately my vision seems to be widening out a bit. I've been wrestling with the idea of an efficient and economical, two lens kit that could do a majority of street shooting and personal work and I finally settled on pairing an 85mm f1.8 and a good 35mm lens. I looked at the Sigma 35mm Art lens and while I would dearly love to shoot with it I would despair of carrying it around. I remembered that I liked the Rokinon 35mm t1.5 cine lens when I had one for the Sony a99 but it's big and not the most comfortable lens as far as holding it in my hands. Too many rough edges and hard rings.

Today I looked at the Tamron 35mm f1.8 VC lens and I was impressed by the general fit and finish of it but if I'm honest with myself I've been craving a more "blue collar" solution. Something small and comfortable and simple. After playing with the Tamron and the Sigma for a bit I wandered by the (danger! danger!) used cases at Precision Camera. There was the lens I was looking for. It's an old, traditional, manual focusing, auto indexing lens from the 1970's or the 1980's.  It is the 35mm f2.0 lens. One that used to be in the bag of nearly
every working photographer I ever met.

The reason it was so popular is because the 35mm can be a bit of a chameleon in the right hands. It can take on a wide angle look when used one way, and it can take on a  normal, or even short telephoto look when used in another way. The f2.0 aperture is fast enough for everything I can think of to shoot (presuming you'd also want something to be in the field of focus).  And compared to the ever growing size of modern 35mm lenses it's almost a pancake lens by comparison. I bought this very clean one for around $200 and came home to put it through its paces on my D810 camera.

At first blush it's quite useable wide open but the real value starts around f4.0 where it becomes very sharp. At 100 percent on a 36 megapixel file, the results at f4.0 and f5.6 were very good. No real linear distortion and very well controlled flare. What else do you really need in a 35mm lens?

You may notice that I'm a sucker for older, Nikon AI and AIs lenses and there are multiple reasons for that. First off, the lenses were very well made back then and seem nearly bullet proof when it comes to general use. Modern lenses have several features that can go bad and render the lens more or less useless. One is image stabilization which, while very useful in some situations, is also the feature that breaks more often than anything else on a lens. Next is the AF which, in cases of lenses that manual focus by wire, that if the AF motor breaks the lens is unfocusable. The third is the electronically driven aperture which sometimes fails when those gold plated camera to lens connectors go south.

But beyond simplicity equalling reliability the real appeal of the MF lenses if in the making of video with DSLR cameras. The lens rings have much longer throws than the AF lenses and this means more precision in manually focusing with image peaking or magnified views. It's also a smoother and more linear throw which means you might have a fighting chance of using MF optics for some primitive focus pulling.

The fully manual aperture mechanism means the lens can easily be used on any camera upon which it can mount. On Nikon's own lower rung cameras (D7100, D7000) it means you can change apertures while shooting video instead of having to stop rolling, exit live view, change the aperture and then reverse the procedure to start shooting again.

While I will love my Sigma 24-35mm Art lens if I ever get around to buying one I am currently really happy with the 35mm AI lens because, for the price, it has lots of great features; beginning with image quality.

I don't advise you to start buying Nikon's older, manual focus, prime lenses any time soon. At least not until I've finished fleshing out my inventory with a few more lenses in various focal lengths...


Anonymous said...

There ya go again, writing about how wonderful all the "old" manual focus lenses are. I was hoping you would keep it to yourself...just driving up the prices and having to look further for good ones.

Maybe the folks who keep the forums going with the "old lenses suck" song are onto something.


Anonymous said...

Funny, the first Nikon I ever bought was an F3HP with a 35 f2. Shot many images and while I enjoyed a tokina 28-70 I used that 35 a bunch. Still have the 35 and use it on D7000. It just seems so crisp compared to the new stuff. I still have the F3 as well. It's like and old favorite uncle that I keep around for nostalgia.

Omer said...

I recently bought the Nikkor 28mm f2.8D for the same reasons. It is much smaller than the new f1.8G version, and while not digitally optimized (clinical sharpness, nano coating,) it is pleasantly competent. The Ai-s manual version is considered better but I can no longer accurately manual focus with the current OVF focus screens so the D version was the choice. No complaints.

Gato said...

I'm with Anonymous -- I wish you would quit praising stuff I'm trying to buy. I've been shopping eBay off and on for a 35mm for a while. Now it will be a month before I see another good buy. LOL

I just scored a really nice 105, the other vintage Nikon lens I had been lusting for, so guess I can wait a little longer on the 35.

Alan Fairley said...

I happily used the 35mm f2 AIS on my D800e for a couple of years, but last spring sprang (as it were) for the 35mm f1.8G.
While I loved the feel of the old lens and was happy with the look of the images, the newer lens has noticeably superior corner sharpness, though the two are pretty close by the time you get down to f5.6. Well worth the couple hundred bucks price differential to me since sharpness across the frame is important for my style. Curiously, that's not the case with the 28mm f2 AIS and the 28mm f1.8G; those lenses are pretty close across the frame at all apertures.

Mark Davidson said...

When I moved to Nikon in 1972 (Nikkormat) my two lenses were the 35 f2 and the 85 1.8. Beautiful lenses both but I found myself using the 35 almost all the time.

I traded that kit for a Leica M4 with a 50 f2 Summicron in 1974 and was happy for the quality but sad at the loss of the 35. I was never able to scratch together the money for a Leica 35 f2 so I sold the Leica in Japan and got another NIkkormat and the same two lenses.

It was a a joy to use and never did I recall complaining about shortcomings the way we do now.

Anonymous said...

You have brought a smile to my face. When I was an asopiring photographer looking to a career in photography, I junked my old Pentax Spotmatic and replaced it with a NIkon F with the standard prism, and a (drum roll) 35/2. I still have it and a couple of other lenses, I am just too sentimental to get rid of them. I got the 35 simply because I wasn't sure what I was going to do, and thats what just about everybody had. It was the pro's alternative to a 50 in those days. I found myself in (in this order), TV newsfilm, a Commercial studio, an industrial position with an aircraft manufacturer, and then freelance writing and photography. I generally stayed in the industrial area, with little jaunts into advertising for a client that paid especially well. When I went into digital with a D3, my first lens was th 17-35 Which has been my all time favorite lens. The 35 to me isn't a WA, its perfectly normal.
I'm now older and retired and I don't like shlepping all the heavy stuff, and I'm now in m4/3. I am especially taken by the panasonic 20mm. Guess I've almost come back home.

Alan Fairley said...

I want to add one thing to my earlier comment re the f2 and f1.8. As part of my checking out the 1.8 to see if I should buy it and sell the f2, I checked how the focus stacked up (after I had fine tuned the AF for the 1.8). I walked around and shot multiples of some typical shots with both lenses at f2. I thought I had become pretty good at focusing the f2 manually (despite the D800E's abysmal screen), but auto focusing was by far more accurate over a series shots. (There is too much slop in the green dot for me to use it as an autofocus aid, the dot stays green over a range of lens rotation, albeit a small range.). My conclusion is that unless you are using Live View to focus, you are better off with a well-calibrated AF lens.

Rufus said...

Now thats what I am talking about ! Put this on your D750 and for most of things you shoot, this will be all the camera you will ever need. Small , lovely IQ and fun to use.

Panny FZ1000? Pfft... why bother with a bridge?

Anonymous said...

Funny you say that, I've found the 35mm on my D700 to be one of my favorite set ups. I have the AF-D version of the lens which combines the best features with out any of the modern issues, the AF is driven by the body motor and so it the aperture settings, yet the lens is completely mechanical. Best of both worlds.

Now only if I can get my hands on the 25-50 f/4, and I swear that lens has been going up in price ever since you talked about it.