Ai 200mm f/4 any good?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by raczoliver, May 23, 2015.

  1. I am going on a trip next month that is going to involve some hiking and trekking, but also portrait oportunities in some remote areas, and I'm thinking what to bring. Obviously I want to keep my gear light, so I was thinking 2-3 lenses at most. The camera is a D700. I have a 24-120mm f/4, I'm also planning to throw in the 85mm f/1.8 because it's so light and versatile, and I want something longer too for landscapes. Eventually I think I'll end up buying the 70-200mm f/4 in a couple of months, but for now I don't want to spend as much, and ideally I'd need something lighter. I have a DC 135mm f/2 that I use a lot for portraits, but it's neither light, nor much longer than the 24-120mm zoom I am bringing. I need a telephoto that is cheaper and lighter than the 70-200mm f/4, and longer than 120. I see that some of the old Ai lenses can be had for really cheap, and my first thought was the Ai 135mm f/2.8, because it has a very good reputation, and it is much smaller and lighter than my DC 135mm f/2. But then I stumbled accross the Ai 200mm f/4, which is even cheaper, longer, and since I'd be using this mostly for landscapes, I really don't need a larger aperture. I could get one in good condition for $110. The question is, how does this lens perform? I don't want to buy and use a complete dog, but keep in mind that I'll be using it on the relatively low resolution D700, and if I really don't like it, I can sell it for the same price after the trip. Like I said, eventually I'll get the 70-200mm f/4. Nevertheless, I want to come back with good quality landscape shots that can be blown up reasonably big and hung on the wall. How does this lens compare to say the AF 180mm f/2.8D, or dare I ask the long end of the 70-200 f/4 zoom?
  2. Of all the lens reviewers I've found Bjørn Rørslett to be spot on with the lenses I own. He says the AI 200mm f4 is great. I'd trust him.

    I own the old pre-VR 70-300 ED IF f4-5.6. I'm continually amazed how sharp it is at the long end. You can get this in excellent condition for less than $100. It's very lightweight, also.

  3. I used that lens for some time and found it to be excellent.
  4. I also have the 70-300 mentioned by Al Derickson, and find it quite decent, at least on film. It seemed capable of delivering nice sharp slides at any length. I was tempted to keep it for my digital, but AFS and discount put it back in the F4 bag.
    If you're willing to manual focus, consider the old AIS 80-200 F4, or the earlier Ai 80-200 F4.5.
    I have had the AIS for many years, and found it quite nice to use, though in some the push-pull zoom is annoyingly loose.
    KEH has all of these in the hundred dollar or less range.
  5. I have an Ai 200/4 and liked it very much on the D700, it indeed weighs nothing, the sliding hood makes it uber compact and yet you still get 200mm. My images are clearly not taken with my usual 70-200 heavy zoom but they are always acceptable and certainly better than cropping too hard or getting no images at all.
    Compared to climbing or long hiking with a 70-200 zoom either f/2.8 or f/4 the Ai is a genuine benefit to have in your kit and has made my journey easier and yet still productive on several occasions in the past 8 years. For it's relatively bargain price, I value it highly in the convenience stakes.
    I've not yet tried it on the D810........
  6. Don't forget the previous version - which was released before the Ai era but is often found with the factory conversion ring. I have the 'C' multicoated version and on the D810 it really performs well and certainly easily beats all of the non-pro zoom lenses I have pitted it against. It's a little larger than the last version but still compact.
  7. Thanks for all the responses. If looks like I can't go very wrong with this lens for its price, so I ordered one. It should be in my hands in two days, so I'll have a couple of weeks to play around with it before I use it for anything I consider critical.
  8. I have 5, five 200mm f/4 lens. Nikkor-Q, Q.C, AI, AI-S 2 of them, all of them as sharp as my hardly used new AF-S 70-200/4VR, some of the old 20mm even sharper. Tested, same time, same subject, tripod, same lighting all on f/8. My extremely fussy photographer friend checked them, unknown which is which and twice pointed out the best two, witch was not the new AF-S 70-200mm f/4 VR. Most of the Namibia lion, chetah, etc images was shot with the tine 200mm f.4 AI-S.
  9. I bought one in the late 70's I think it was only $149 but was quite good.
  10. Having owned the 200/4 AIS for some time, I found it to be fine at 12MP, but when I moved up to 36MP it no longer was all that great. CA and not 36MP-worth of sharpness. I now own a 180/4 APO Voigtlander and a 180/3.4 Leica Telyt - both of which easily beat it wide open in the areas of sharpness (center and even more so off center) and contrast and CA, though they are a bit heavier and larger. It's a fine, compact lens, but it shows it's age at higher than 12MP.
    The 70-200/4G AFS VR also handily beats it at 200mm at any aperture.
    Bjorn is generally spot on in my experience as well (there are a few exceptions that I put in the lens copy variation category), but he has not reviewed this lens on FX digital AFAIK and I suspect he would not have a glowing review of it if he did, especially at 24 or 36MP resolution.
  11. It's very good and you will get good results with it. I'd have also suggested the 80-200/4 mf lens which I have and was very inexpensive. Results with that are also excellent.
    Rick H.
  12. The Rorslett reviews are all a bit out of date now.
    I had a 200mm Ais f4 and it was a perfectly sharp lens on film - very versatile and easy to carry around. However, I sold it when I got an AIS 180mm 2.8 and I've never looked back really - I still have it and if you could afford it I'd get one of those - although it is bulkier than the 200mm.
    Used carefully though, the 200mm on digital is very promising - look out for loads more feedback online about its performance.
  13. I have also seen the Ai-s 180mm f/2.8 ED, but it appears like that lens is much more expensive. The one I saw in excellent condition was around $500. I suppose not many people want to get rid of it. I think this 200mm should get the job done for now, and later on I will see if I need an upgrade, either to a zoom or another prime.
  14. You could also get the 180/2.8 AF-D or AF, both of which are sharp ED-IF formulations. I bought 180/2.8D in near-mint condition for under $500. It is light and relatively compact, and a very high performer.
    Of course, the 200/4 AI is unbelievably light and compact. The issue will be whether you get a good specimen or a lesser one. Sometimes the clean lens is the bad one nobody liked. My 200/4 had a clean body, but was optically very disappointing -- disappointing on the 12MP D3.
  15. On the D700, the old AI 200/4 is a very good lens. It does have some CA since it is and older design that lacks ED glass but you won't see it unless there are high contrast areas in the picture. Sharpness is good and background rendition is generally smooth. The AI and AIS versions are similar mechanically and the same optically. Both have a built-in hood, and 9 aperture blades. My preference is for the AIS version since the aperture shape is rounder - the AI version has slightly shorter aperture blades which don't fully overlap so the opening has a saw-tooth effect which may show up in some pictures.
    Another option is the series-E 75-150/3.5. You trade a bit of reach for more speed, the ability to zoom and the ability to focus much closer. It's the same size as the 200/4.
    Or consider the AFS 70-300VR. It's a bit bigger and more expensive than the 200/4, but is more compatible with the D700 metering system, plus it has AF and VR. It's not the best at 300mm until you stop down a bit, but is fine up to 200mm.
  16. Another option is the series-E 75-150/3.5. You trade a bit of reach for more speed, the ability to zoom and the ability to focus much closer. It's the same size as the 200/4.​
    Glad you suggested this. The 75-150E is a cult classic that produces a rendering of rare beauty. I love that lens! They are very inexpensive ($100-130), but one usually has to find a fix for the floppy one-touch zoom ring. It can be fixed properly for about $125, or you can kludge it.
  17. I've used both the 200mm f4 AI and also an AIS version of the same lens for several years and have been very satisfied with the results from both lenses. You don't have to stop down the 200mm f4 to get crisp results. I'm impressed with the smoothness of the background bokeh as well.

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