How well do older Nikon lenses fare on a digital body?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ethan_freund, Jan 8, 2012.

  1. Has anyone tried using older Nikon lenses on their digital bodies? If so how does it compare to the newer ones?
  2. It will help if you mention (or use this site's search feature with) the lens(es) you have or are considering. There have been many, many discussions here addressing the suitability of given older lenses on newer bodies. You'll see threads addressing physical compatibility, relfection issues, metering/distance issues, and more. But it's too much ground to cover when referring only to "older lenses." More details needed!
  3. Lots of people do this. The single best one-stop resource for this is at Bjørn Rørslett's web site:
    Ken Rockwell also discusses the use of old lenses on digital cameras, but Bjørn's site is better for getting a quick evaluation of the merits and usability of older lenses because of his decision to write capsule reviews of many lenses on a single page, rather than giving each lens its own page and going to exhaustive detail about each one.
  4. SCL


    I've been using older Nikon lenses as well as other manufacturer's older lenses (mostly Tamron Adaptall II) on Nikon Digital bodies (D100 and D300) and for me they work fine...the quality of the output in many cases matches current production lenses of equivalent design. I also tend to shoot stopped down to the sweet spot of each lens, which certainly helps the final product.
  5. Depends on the lens. Keep in mind that lenses made before digital don't have coatings designed to cope with the shiney digital sensors. I had a lot of problems with older lenses and ditched all of them. Some are better than others--my 20mm f2.8D was OK, my 85mm f1.8D was the worst Nikon lens I've ever owned (when used on D300.) My conclusion was that just as cameras have changed over the past 25 years, lenses have changed just as much.
    Kent in SD
  6. You'll also find lots of information about this topic on a dedicated flickr group I don't think that the lenses changed that much in the last decades and I'm very pleased with the results that I obtain constantly with a 50 mm f/1.4 Nikkor from the 70s. The 24 mm f/2.8, that many people found "not that good" on digital bodies makes me happy as well. Then, you have the 35mm f/2, which is excellent in its own right. These are lenses that I constantly use. Nanocoating and special glass can indeed change the contrast and flare resistance but if you're not looking at pixel level, you will not see much difference in the end image.
    The lenses I cited above are all manual focusing and most of the modern Nikon bodies do not provide metering information with them. However, since you have immediate feedback by the histogram of the picture, it's really easy to adjust the settings to obtain great pictures.
  7. I guess it all depends on how picky you are. There are those who like to shoot brick walls to evaluate "quality", and those who don't! (No offense, guys! :) )
  8. Any Nikon lens you can mount on your camera is capable of taking compelling photos. While forum discussions about the minor differences between lenses is fun, it's of little real consequence. When I bought my D700 I had six different Nikon lens series: AI, AI-s, Series E, AF, AF-D, AF-s. While some were more convenient to use than others, all were optically fine.
  9. In addition to the issues and recommendations pointed out above, realize that before the advent of digital bodies, it took quite a bit of effort for the average photographer to examine the performance of lenses at the individual pixel level (or film equivalent thereof). Now, just about everyone can do so just by a few keystrokes. As a result, while the old lenses continue to work exactly as well as they always have, expectations for lens performance have been raised because of "pixel peeping" and everyone's complaints can now be spread widely because of the Internet.
    For example, on a full sized sensor body, the edge performance of my relatively new 16-35mm f/4 zoom Nikkor is much better than that of my old 20/2.8 AFD, 28/2.8 AIS (close focusing model), or my 35/f2 AFD, even when stopped down to f/4. Did the somewhat softer edge performance of these lenses bother me when I was shooting film? Not especially. They still made great images, and I still occasionally use them when I want a less conspicuous rig and edge performance isn't a big deal, ie, for many informal / candid people shooting scenarios.
    The effects are (generally) not huge, so experiment with any old lenses that you have, determine your own level of tolerance, and then balance that against your budget. Only you can tell what you'll be happy with.
    Tom M
  10. Older lenses from about 28mm on up work fine (on FX); they might not perform as well as the new top-level lenses but they don't cost nearly as much either. In wide angles there can be some softness in corners at wide apertures and/or vignetting but with the lenses that I have used this hasn't been an issue. For super wide angle I would recommend getting a modern lens.
    On DX the pixel density is very high and focusing on older (screwdrive AF type) lenses can be imprecise relative to the requirements of this high pixel density and the high magnification required to make a print from the smaller sensor image. I would recommend getting AF-S lenses for use with DX cameras for the added precision. On FX the old type AF Nikkors work about as well as you'd expect from using them on 35mm film cameras, or better, when it comes to autofocus performance. Of course AF-S lenses are more precise here too.
  11. My experience with using older MF and AF Nikkor lenses on a Full-frame D700 has been the exact opposite of Kent's. In my opinion, most of this "made for digital" and "special coatings" hype is pure marketing garbage. Comparing >30 year old MF Nikkor primes to modern lenses (mainly zooms, I'll admit) I can see no degradation in contrast between new and old, and I've never had a problem with ghost-images or flare either. However the corner definition of many older Nikkors does fall behind when compared to newer designs - this being mainly due, as someone previously stated, to the ease of pixel peeping these days. And it has to be said that the introduction of cheap aspheric elements has raised the bar for super wideangles, zooms and wide-aperture primes, while VR has done wonders for longer lenses.
    Another thing we shouldn't forget when comparing old lenses to new, is that condition is everything. Any lens that's been abused by overcleaning (ie scrubbing!) or neglect will lose the "sparkle" from its images. I suspect that much of the disdain thrown at older lenses is down to their past treatment and physical condition, and not due to their inherent design or coatings.
    Anyway, a few MF Nikkors that stand out as having stood the test of time are: Any of the 50mm standard lenses of f/2, f/1.8 or f/1.4 aperture; almost any Micro-Nikkor, but especially the 55mm f/3.5 and f/2.8; the MF 105mm f/2.5; 35mm f/2 MF, but not the AF version; 75-150mm f/3.5 series E; 28mm f/2; 20mm f/3.5 or f/2.8; 400mm f/5.6; 80-200mm f/4 zoom; and finally (controversial *) 85mm f/2. There may be many more, but those are all the ones that I can recommend from personal use.
    * Many people don't rate the 85mm f/2, but I can see very little wrong with my sample - see 100% crop below. Perhaps I just got a very good copy! Overall, it's not quite as good as the Samyang 85mm f/1.4, though. If I was buying afresh today, the Samyang would be my first choice of MF 85mm.
  12. Some will be great, some will not.
    My 55mm f3.5 micro and 105mm f2.5 AI are SPECTACULAR on my D90.
  13. mtk


    @Peter....Yes, I couldn't agree more about the two you mentioned. My 55 3.5 micro cost me 29.00....I can't believe the images this thing is capable of, especially when tripod mounted!
  14. I am a big fan of old MF Nikkors. My 45/2.8 AI-P (not so old guy...), 50/1.2 AI-S and 105/2.5 AI-S are great performers on my D700 / D7000 bodies. I also have a very good copy of 85/2 that's very good and several other primes that I'm not ashamed at all to use at this time, like 24/2.8 AI, 35/2 AI-S or 135/2.8 AI-S. Lot of fun to use these old performers, especially considering the size, weight, build quality and cost!
  15. While we all rave about manual Nikkors the TO didn't specify if he ment 'old' Nikkor AF lenses or 'old' manual Nikkors, zooms or primes...
    I can recommt the very good manual 35mm/2 pre Ai*, Ai or AiS, 105mm/2.5 Ai and AiS**, not to forget the small and cheap 200mm/4 Ai and AiS as well.
    The AF 35mm/2 is crap till at least f/4 (compared to its manual forerunner), the AF 85mm/1.8D and non D is very good from f/2.5, the 'old' AF 105DC, AF 135DC and AF 180/2.8 are nothing short of great. Some month ago I wrote a blogpost about fast Nikkor primes:
    *I made a little test of my 32 year old Ai'd Nikkor 35/2 OC Auto against my AF-S 35/1.4G from f/2 to f/8 and was really impressed from that oldtimer:
    **the 105/2.5 Ai renders OOF highlights better due to it's curved aperture blades than the AiS with straight blades
  16. I use the micro nikkor 55 2.8 on my D700. It spends a lot of time on my d700.
  17. I purchased one of those Fotodiox Lens Adapters so that I could attach my older MF Nikon lenses to my Canon digital cameras. Everything must be done manually so for convenience I would not recommend it. On my Canon cameras you can manipulate the shutter speed, but the aperture comes up as "00" on the LCD.
    Trying to focus is not exactly easy either, because you must open up to the largest aperture to focus, then stop-down to get the correct exposure, or DOF. Other than that, I don't see much difference between the sharpness & contrast of those lenses and some of my more sophisitcated AF lenses.
    For example, I use a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AI attached to my Canon 30D for close up and Macro work with the PB-4 bellows extension. This combination works great since I don't have to wait to develop the film before I can see my mistakes.
    The 28mm f2.8 is also a pretty good combination for close up work because of it's size. So far these are the only 2 Nikon MF lenses I tried with my digital cameras, but I have 13 others.
  18. I use mostly MF Nikkors and have been happy with them on every camera they get used on be it an F2 or D2xxx, haven't tried any D3xxx cameras. Count me in on being happy with the 85/2 and 50/1.4, solid equipment for many decades and dirt cheap now. Also have a 28/3.5, 300/4.5 and a really ancient and ratty 80-200/4.5. I've not been a fan of autofocus so I have no push to upgrade any of these old-timers and can focus them easily on the DX bodies. I've always felt that the lenses Nikon made before AF were all pro grade stuff, it was certainly priced that way but built to last and it has. Sure there were a couple of less than great performers like the 24-120 and the 43-86 was a lens all its own. Having said that, the 17-55/2.8 is as good as any lens I've ever used so they are still doing something right. Bottom line for me anyway is that any of the old glass is still good useful gear.
    Rick H.
  19. I had a number of older Nikkor lenses form 20mm to 500mm. When I got my D7000 I also updated the lenses. I have not looked back. I really didn't mind the lack of AF, I liked manual focus and still do, at times. I think the older lenses seemed to have better build, but the glass in the new lenses -- even the cheaper ones -- is probably better than those 20 year old lenses.
  20. Among my most used lenses, there are some MF lenses. They work absolutely fine, but I'm not going to say the nano-crystal stories and designed for digital designations are nonsens. I don't think they are.
    The old lenses (for me, Ai 24 f/2.8, Ai-s 35 f/1.4, Ai-s 105 f/2.5 and a Ai'ed 105 f/2.5, and a relatively old AF 180 f/2.8) do have a different character than the newer lenses (like my 16-85VR). The newer lenses have a more contrasty, more satured result. More "punch" or "pop", and most people like that look. The old lenses have far more muted colours, their results do not jump of your screen. But in my view, this also means more subtle handling of mid-tones, more details that do not get lost in overcooked contrast (comparing unprocessed RAW images, so it's *not* the post processing). Especially when going to B&W, I like better what I get with these older lenses, especially the 35 and 105 render nicer B&W images in my view. And in terms of sharpness, they don't disappoint at all. The 35 f/1.4 typically needs stopping down, wider open has a bit a lot of character, for many people too much of it - I love it because of its flaws though (and use it wide open frequently to get maximum flaws). The 105 is a pure gem - very affordable, small and light and plain spectacular optics.
    So, for most people, the newer lenses are better (AF is convenient), but the old lenses do bring in something that the new ones do not have too.
  21. I have also been told that some of the Leica R lenses with a Leitex adopter are amazing on a D700. With samples on Flickr. I've looked, there are some pretty amazing results and some mediocre results as well. The good ones are really good though from a sharpness and color rendition sense. But of course that's generally subjective. Point is that many older MF lenses work very well on newer DSLR's and you don't have to have the latest greatest nano-tech to get great looking photos. I think the group is the Leitex group over there.
  22. I use older AI Nikkors exclusively on my D50. And I love the results. My most used 3 are the 24/F2.8 , 35/F2 , 50/F2. These equal the angles of view of a 36mm , 52mm and 75mm respectively.
    The shot below, taken today along NYC's 7th Ave, was made with the 24 at F4.
  23. I do use the Nikkor 50/1.4 AI-s on my Olympus camera 4/3 with one of the highest pixel density because of the smallest sensor size. I am happy with it. A stunning lens. At the distance of 1-18 meters at f2.8 it outperforems my 25/2.8 Olympus digital lens at 2.8... Here are 100% crops of JPEG. Nikkor (the cars) and newest Zeiss (the box beneath, all is 100%).
  24. I use 3 Nikon bodies: D100, D200, and D300s. I have quite a few non AF Nikon lenses from my film days. They all work well with these bodies, even though I have to use manual mode for focusing, shutter speed, and aperture settings. I try to use the sweet spot on each lens as well, especially for my professional work. My favorite lens of all these is the 104mm F4 Micro Nikkor. Using it at F16 to F22, with or without extension tubes, yields razor sharp images. I do use it mostly with my D300s, mounted on a rock solid Bogen 3035 Leg Set with a 3047 Head. But for the most fun, I have a lens made in the days of the cavemen: A Spiratone 400 mm F6.3. It totally sucks at any aperture other than F16. But it does have a tripod collar, so when I put it on my D300s and secure it to a tripod, I now have a 600mm equivalent. Slow as anything and with the preset, you have to focus wide open, then stop the lens down manually to F16, and then shoot. It really is fine for subjects that are static and well lit. The point is that this nearly 50 year old lens still works fine on a newer Nikon body. Now if only I hadn't traded my prime Nikon 300 F4.........
  25. Definitely don't buy into the notion that it has to be new to be good. Just look at the construction and feel of the older
    Nikkors. They are spectacularly built. Today you get lots of plastic, Chinese and Taiwanese construction and bigger
    quality gaps. Optically you could pick some of them apart but not so much that most would ever notice. I have the 50mm
    1.2, 55mm micro 2.8, 25-50 f/4 zoom and 85mm 1.4 ais. They all work great on my D700 and I would put the 55mm up
    against anything for sharpness and the 85mm for bokeh.
  26. Because of their often considerably more compact size many MF lenses complement their larger AF VR zoom bethren well.
    I carry and use a lot the 20mm f4,0 and 45mm f2,8 AI-P lenses, now on a D700, formerly on a D200. Strange that Nikon has ceased to make this kind of compact lenses.

Share This Page