Best Nikon Pre-AI lenses for Nikon DF

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by iKokomo, Sep 14, 2020.

  1. I recently got a Nikon DF and I learned that it is the only DSLR that can use unmodified Nikon Pre-AI lenses. I am mainly a portrait photographer.

    I do have some manual AI lenses like the 50mm f/1.2, a 28mm, and a 105mm.

    I was wondering what the best (reasonably priced, cheaper) Nikon Pre-AI (or even non-AI) lenses that I should look for? I am mainly a portrait photographer.

    I would prefer to stick with Nikon branded lenses.
  2. If you haven't done it before, look here. Bjørn Rørslett knows a great deal about photography, lenses, particularly Nikon lenses, and a lot of other stuff.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Pre AI. you must raise the tab or risk damage. I have a considerable variety of AI and a few Pre all have been very good to excellent on the DF. Just a question of programming them in. Manual or Aperture, focus indicator and meter work perfectly with AI.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
  4. Old scalloped focus-ring Nikkors in good condition tend to fetch more than later AI versions these days, so there are few bargains to be had.

    I got rid of all my pre-Ai lenses many years ago, because quite frankly they weren't very good. Some of the longer telephotos, like the f/4.5 Nikkor Q 300mm, were absolutely terrible, even compared to cheap off-brand alternatives.

    Single coatings on the earliest lenses account for some of their failings, leaving very few that can stand comparison with their later multi-coated Ai and Ai-S embodiments.

    Some people claim the 'Sonnar' design version of 105mm Nikkor has a superior rendering to its later replacement. I wouldn't know, the f/2.5 Ai-s version that I bought new in the late 1970s seems perfectly OK to me, but I actually prefer the f/1.8 105mm Nikkor that's only available in Ai-S version.

    There's a lot of undeserved mystique surrounding some older lenses, and most of it is purely imagined IMO.
  5. P.S. Condition and sample variation count for a lot.
    For example: I have two samples of pre-AI 50mm f/2 Nikkor S.C. (multi coated). One has had an obvious bash to the filter ring and shows signs of hard use, while the other is immaculate and near-mint. Yet the near-mint sample is actually slightly less sharp than the beat up one.

    So you can't judge a book by its cover, and the general reputation of a lens is no guarantee that you're going to get a good 'un.
  6. If a lens is commonly agreed to be very good, it is not cheap anymore. The 85mm seem to be regarded highly and that is reflected in the pricing.

    The exception confirming this rule seems to be the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5. From where I sit, it appears to be available everywhere at very low prices.

    As rodeo_joe mentions, sample variation is a relevant factor. For that reason I prefer to buy well worn lenses. Not only are they cheaper, they are typically well worn because it was somebody's favourite lens. Besides, I don't mind a little play og dryness in the focusing ring - it can easily be remedied if I fall in love with the lens.
  7. So many of these got picked off for use via adapters on other(digital)mounts and/or by cult followers that prices are now often bloated. I like the old 85/1.8, 80-200/4.5, and the Micro Nikkor 55/3.5. E series lenses like the 100/2.8(rivals the 105/2.5) and 75-150/3.5 are sleepers that got dissed by non-owners in the echo chambers. Don't be surprised by the lack of NAI bargains. You're about a decade late to the party.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
  8. I collect S&W revolvers also, and have had similar discussions with friends a couple of times.

    Say you take a near perfect, barely used, 1920s S&W M&P in 38 Special, and put next to it one that's somewhat worn but still cared for and a third one that's beat to heck but has a clean barrel.

    Nearly always, the barely used one will shoot poorly, while the more used ones will shoot a lot better(it can be a toss up between the "lightly used" and "beat to heck" one as to which is better). By "shoot better' we mean both the ability to hit the target(accuracy) and how reliably we can hit the target(precision) even though a lot of folks will confuse the two. Usually precision is more highly valued, as accuracy can be compensated for.

    We've had the discussion from that if a gun needs some wear to "settle down" and break in, or if the barely used ones are often that way because they shot poorly whereas the worn ones were good out of the box and were shot a lot more.

    I think we can pretty well eliminate a break-in period for lenses, as absent abuse(not use marks, but glass damage, or impacts serious enough to change the element alignment), but in my mind it gives rise to the question-were the good samples used a lot because they were good, and the near perfect ones not used because they were bad out of the box?

    Of course, there are plenty of camera lenses out there bought by rich amateurs that always carried them in padded bags and otherwise handled them carefully. Even pros might have bought a lens for one or two jobs and then never used them again. Studio photographers, as a rule, are a lot easier on their gear than photojournalists, so that's not a one size fits all answer either.

    Still, though, I wonder if there is some truth to it.

    As to the original question-I've only ever used the chrome nose Sonnar 105mm f/2.5. I recently picked up an AI 105mm Gauss, and I'm going to be interested in comparing the two. Practically, I don't expect a huge difference, but the Sonnar has never let me down.

    The 200mm f/4 is a classic one for me. It's not as sharp as some other 200mm lenses, but it weighs nothing and the simple formula means that it holds contrast fairly well(especially since there's no separate hood to use).

    The 55mm f/3.5 Micro was mentioned above. I have a couple of copies of this lens. For macro work, I find that I prefer them very much to the much-revered f/2.8 AI-s. The AI-s is, splitting hairs, a better lens than the f/3.5 at infinity, but get closer and I find the f/3.5 a clear winner. The early ones(you can find the S/N cut off on-line) have what's called a "compensating aperture" that opens up wider at closer focus distances. This is handy for non-TTL meters, but can mess with your exposure if you don't know it's there on a TTL meter. Its cut-of date roughly corresponds to the F Photomic T finder, which was the first TTL F. Some compensating apertures have also been disabled for this reason.
  9. I've blown the trumpet for the 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E zoom quite a few times, but one sample I came across was a complete dog. I guess one bad apple can spoil any barrel's reputation.
  10. Not correct in that form - it's the only FX DSLR that can use those unmodified lenses; they can be mounted on quite a few Nikon DX consumer bodies; without metering, of course. I'd probably stick those lenses rather on a mirrorless body - they meter with them and I also get the benefit of instant access to a magnified view for focusing.

    Owned a few, still have one sitting on the shelf; they all were OK (except for the loose zoom ring, of course). Too bad the one copy of the Kiron 70-150 I acquired had a mechanical problem; would have loved to do a comparison.
  11. A pretty easy DIY fix Dieter.
    I don't remember the exact details of removing the focus/zoom collar, but it wasn't difficult. This hides two felt friction rings that get compressed and sloppy. The felt rings peel off quite easily, and can be packed out with strips of thick paper or thin card underneath*. Re-assemble and the job's done.

    I seem to remember that it took me about 45 minutes without any repair manual to refer to the first time. That came down to about 30 minutes on a second lens.

    *If you think this is a quick'n'dirty fix, it's exactly what was done by Nikon's UK repair centre when I returned a 70-210 zoom that went sloppy after a couple of months use!
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
  12. The only pre ai nikkor I have is the 50/1.4 on a nikkprmat FT2 and I find it to be a good lens although my Zeiss Milvus 50/1.4 does outperform it especially wide open.
  13. Thanks Rodeo_Joe - I know about the DIY fix. I very rarely use the lens though and have applied a temporary fix in form of a piece of paper pushed in at an appropriate position; it creates sufficient friction to hold the zoom ring in place. Which reminds me that I have not used the zoom or the 105/2.5 on a D810 or the Sony A7RIII - might have to do that some time.

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