Yeah. I might have to return the 70-210mm Nikon AF-d zoom lens I bought last week. It's too sharp, focuses too quickly and it takes too much work to get it to flare. I feel like I wasted $70.

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

I've been on a nostalgia buying spree lately and every once in a while I'll head into downtown Austin and walk a circuit I've done so many times I could probably do it with a blindfold on. The funny thing is that every time I walk it (about 4 miles) there is so much that's changed. Just in the last week a ten story building I've walked by since I arrived in Austin in 1974 has vanished. Last week it was there and today it was gone. Imploded. New restaurants open and close quicker than live theater productions. And the weather makes everything look different nearly every day. 

I like to walk it for the exercise and to see what people right now. I also like walking it with a camera in hand because I can shoot tests that I can compare to similar shots I've made in weeks, months or days past with a collection of different cameras and lenses. Finally, I like the walk because you get to meet interesting characters. Out in the suburbs the best you can usually do is to meet interesting cars.

Today part of my walk was about casually testing an older, used lens I bought a week ago for my growing collection of ten year old Nikon digital cameras; it's a 70-210mm f4-5.6 AF-d that uses a push-pull mechanism to change the focal lengths. By current standards it is considered to have too small a maximum aperture, it's too heavy and the focusing motor makes actual noise. The biggest knock against it for most people is that there is no image stabilization. So, why did I shell out "big bucks" for this lens (which hit the market in 1992)?

I guess I should first point out that my primary camera system, the one I'm using for the lion's share of my paid work, is the Panasonic GH5, along with a cool collection of Panasonic and Olympus Pro lenses. The vintage Nikons are more a dalliance or a "days off" camera. Something familiar from the ancient days of early digital. 

Because the cameras exist in a secondary tier I'm not that anxious to toss around major cash building a system around them. I'd like to put together just enough of a lens family to be able to toss all the Nikon stuff in a bag and go shoot an art project or personal project with them. A way of taking a break from the day-to-day commercial shooting and re-connect with a different kind of shooting. 

In this vein I've tried to limit myself to an average lens acquisition price of around $100 per. Once I picked up the D700 I started thinking about getting a longer lens than my 105mm and a shorter lens than the 85mm. A 70-210 fills both requirements in one package. A week and a half ago I saw a lens I should have bought at Precision Camera's used department. It was the 70-300mm f4.0 G VR lens. I owned one back when Nikons were my serious cameras, and it was a great lens, but I hesitated because it would have busted my fictive budget of $100 (it was priced at $249). By the time I overcame my good sense and fiduciary responsibility and circled back to snag it fate had interceded and someone else had become the lucky owner. 

While I looked through the rest of the used lenses I came across two minty examples of the 70-210mm. It was a lens I bought and sold during my last foray (D810, D610, D750) into primary Nikon shooting. While I mostly used the 70-200mm f2.8 lens for my work I added the 70-210mm f4-5.6 as a "beater" lens to use in rain, snow, sleet and dust storms. Something I could use in environmentally stressful situations and then toss if it became in operable. Three or four years ago I was surprised  at just how nicely the lens performed. 

When I checked the prices I almost laughed. $79. I asked my sales person to pick the best of the two and bought it. 

There were two things I wanted to test today. One was the 70-210mm and the other was how the lens would perform on a DX (cropped frame) camera. I put the lens on the D2XS and headed out in the crisp Spring air. 

Hey! Guess what? This lens works really well. It will flare if you point it at the sun. It will be unsharp if you miss focus. But for the most part it's nicely sharp, snappy, well behaved and does a good job when used wide open; a great job when stopped down a stop or two. The performance is all the more impressive when you consider that everything here was shot on a cropped frame camera which means that the lens becomes the equivalent of a 105mm to 315mm lens and that all of these images are handheld by a man with a coffee addiction. For all but the most demanding work this lens is a good complement for either the D700 or the D2XS.

Another building block in the Minimalist Photographer's B-team lens collection. 

Go ahead. Find the longitudinal chromatic aberrations. Tell me why this will not end well....

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.


  1. Minolta developed a cult following with their 70-210 F4. When my $100 version developed glitches I went with a 55-200 (Sony) kit lens and was equally pleased.

  2. Kirk, this will not end well. But it is still fun to see you enjoy a big chunky DSLR without an EVF. Not to be too picky: but that wonderful 70-300/4 lens you mention does not exist, no wonder it disappeared so quickly!

  3. Damn, you've got some really blue skies in Austin!

  4. Someone once observed that nearly every famous photograph you’ve ever admired was made with “old” equipment.

  5. Well the proof is in the results. Nice color, contrast, sharpness, middle tones, and so on into the night. But, really, what good is it if you can't impress your fellow photogs with your hardware?

  6. Yup, love my 70-210AF-D Nikkor as well! Some of my best photos were taken with that lens, both on film and digital! It actually worked really well with my old D80, which was a welcome surprise in one of my old European vacations! Still in my gear cabinet and won't leave anytime soon.
    Together with a lot of other lens gear I just cannot let go of, even though I'm mostly M4/3 nowadays... Cripes, there are even a few old medium format lenses there and some are superb - that Zeiss Flektogon zebra is still one of the best wide-ish lenses I've ever used!

  7. I can see it now ... I have the 70-210 F4 now what about F2.8. Hmmm, What could I use... oh I see it now creamy bokeh. Long reach great optics! Stabilization I don’t need no stinking stabilization. When I drink coffee the cream swirls and I see 80 mm then it morphs into 200. Tack sharp. Made by craftsmen the old school way. Let me swing by Precision Camera. We got to support local business. I am retro! I am a hipster! Gimme gimme gimme. Its an oldie but a goodie. In an age of retro, it screams and trumps retro! None of the millennial competitors knows how to shoot hand held! Youth and experience vs Experience and treachery. Lens Rentals recommends it! It's over the $100 limit but the kid's college is paid for. I got to have a Nikon 80-200 F2.8. And it's continuous F2.8. My god, it has buttons and focus limitation. I got to have it, Got to have it, Got to have it.

  8. I used to shoot the "ancient" 70-210 f/4 on my first DSLR pair, a D50 and D70S. On the 6mp Nikon bodies it was always sharp enough, had great color, and that constant f/4 was nice as well. On the higher mp bodies though the later 70-210 like yours had superior sharpness.

    From this lens I moved to a 70-300 Quantaray branded Tokina 70-300 f/4-5.6 that I made thousands of photos with. I bought it at a pawn shop for $70. From 70-200 it had excellent sharpness, but would flare easily without the hood. I still love many of the photos I made with this inexpensive lens.

    Yes, contemporary lenses are superior, but are they 10-20 times the price superior?

  9. I too have the 70-210 AF-D. I bought it second hand (about 5-6 years back) to use on my D800E which I owned at the time. The reason for buying the lens was that although I had a full kit of premium Nikon lenses, I wanted something reasonably light for the tele-zoom category, and a blogger (was it you or Ken Rockwell, or both?) mentioned in a post that most users had found this 70-210 to be of high quality and much better than expected. So I got mine on eBay, and didn't expect too much. However I was simply amazed how well it worked on my D800E, and for peanuts!

    Now the DSLRs are all long gone: Olympus and Leica are what I use these days, but I kept the 70-210 (and a few of the other low cost, high use lenses) to use on my Nikon film SLRs, and sold most of the premium lenses to finance my newer micro 4/3 system. (If I ever bought a 'nostalgia' DSLR it would have to have the screw type AF so that I can use my old lens.)

    I sometimes think that lens trends have as much to do with fashion as quality, or we would all still be happily buying or (worse from Nikon's point of view) simply using these old-but-great lenses.

    Peter Wright


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