Nikon non-AI lenses compatibility and conversions - an apostate's tale

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by jdm_von_weinberg, May 21, 2012.

  1. Background
    Back in 2004 when I finally decided I needed to go digital, I was faced with the fact that my nice collection of Nikon lenses was "non-AI"-- that is pre-1977 lenses with the solid prong and which required the Nikon Twist (aka, shuffle, don't write) to "index" their maximum aperture for the TTL exposure systems on cameras like the Nikkormats and the F1 and F2.

    I wanted to know whether my lenses would work on Nikon digital SLRs or not.

    I wrote Nikon in the USA, no answer.
    I wrote Nikon in the UK, also no answer.
    I asked my friends who had newer Nikons. Wisely, as it turned out, they would not let me try my old lenses on their bodies.

    I looked all over the internet, and one of the few discussions I found on how to use non-AI lens Nikkors was Bob Atkins essay at on how to adapt them to Canon EOS cameras. Elsewhere, Bob also praised the Canon operating system as being natural for Macintosh users, as I recall.

    So to make a long story no longer, I ended up getting a Canon EOS camera and a bunch of cheap Nikon>EOS adapters for my Nikkors. Of course, I also started investing in Canon lenses to get AF and all the conveniences, but I was able to use my PC-Nikkor and other lenses without much more inconvenience than they were on my older Nikons. Also, there was stop-down TTL metering as well.

    However, if I could have got the information I am going to present below (and if the recent Nikon digital bodies had been available then), I might be a digital Nikon user today (I still shoot my old film Nikons regularly).

    Information on non-AI lenses and conversions

    First - here is a link to the Nikonians' compatibility table for Nikon and Nikon/Nikkor lenses:

    Here also is John White's site. As a 'preservationist' I am personally reluctant to modify old lenses. However, I know that there are otherwise well-meaning people who do not agree with this viewpoint. By all accounts (and he has been doing this for a long time I think back to 1977, in fact), White does a very nice job. If you need to covert, he is, I think, the place to go

    However if I understand his website correctly, you can now safely mount non-AI lenses on the following: D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000 and D5100.
    If this is not so, respond here immediately, if you please, so a disclaimer can go in. Since some bodies can be damaged by non-AI lenses this is not just a curiosity issue. Always exercise care and you take your own responsibility for any lens cross-mounting you choose to do.

    White's table at gives details on the conversions and what is needed (BTW, also to put newer lenses on pre-AI bodies, but that's another story).
  2. go on down
  3. Exegesis
    What got me started on this train of thought, was that I happened to pick up a copy of Modern Photography from May, 1977. In that issue, Herbert Keppler's column had a then-current list of what lenses Nikon themselves would convert to AI. I present this for your information, as I personally will leave all my old Nikkors as they came from the factory. However, potential difficulties in conversion might, for example, have an impact on the purchase and prices of items for sale.

    Here's the list, note that Nikon would not convert older non-AI lenses :
    Nikkor lenses that Nikon would AI in 1977:
    Lens Serial No.
    6mm f/2.8 Fisheye 628001 & higher
    8mm f/2.8 Fisheye 230011 & higher
    16mm f/3.5 Fisheye 272281 & higher
    13mm f/5 .6 175021 & higher
    15mm f/5 .6 321001 & higher
    18mm f/4 173111 & higher
    20mm f/3 .5 421241 & higher
    20mm f/4 103001 & higher
    24mm f/2 .8 242821 & higher
    28mm f/2 280001 & higher
    28mm f/2 .8 382011 & higher
    28mm f/3.5 195531-301010; 625611 & higher
    35mm f/1.4 350001 & higher
    35mm f/2 717011 & higher
    35mm f/2.8 255311 & higher
    50mm f/1.4 532011 & higher
    50mm f/2 742111 & higher
    55mm f/1.2 184711 & higher
    85mm f/] .8 219901 & higher
    105mm f/2 .5 234011 & higher
    135mm f/2 175011 & higher
    135mm f/2 .8 189311 & higher
    135mm f/3 .5 111111-720100; 831211 & higher
    180mm f/2.8 312011 & higher
    200mm f/4 304411 & higher
    300mm f/4 .5 326511 & higher
    300mm f/4.5 ED 173101 & higher
    400mm f/5.6 256031 & higher
    400mm f/5 .6 ED 260001 & higher
    28-45mm f/4 .5 Zoom 174011 & higher
    43-86mm f/3 .5 Zoom 438611 & higher
    50-300mm f/4.5 Zoom 740101 & higher
    80-200mm f/4 .5 Zoom 101911 & higher
    85-250mm f/4 Zoom 184771 & higher
    45mm f/2 .8 GN 710101 & higher
    55mm f/3.5 Micro 238011 & higher* *Combined use with the new PK-13 required after modification.
    105mm f/4 Micro 174011 & higher† †Combined use with the new PN-11 required after modification
    from Herbert Keppler MP 1977:05

    and here is it in an pdf format (apparently Excel files are not allowed here)
  4. That's it folks. I thought it would reach those who need to see it better here than on the classic cameras forums.
  5. JDM--thank you!!
    I am ALWAYS amazed at the depth of your knowledge on these subjects.
    You present great photos, too!
    Thanks again...
  6. I will just put in a shameless plug for John Whites services. I have had him modify two lenses a 58mm f/1.4 and a 50mm f/2.0. I have to say that his craftsmanship is exemplary.
  7. I just had a quick email chat with John White the other day and I'm sending him a Vivitar Series 1 135mm to mod this week.
    JDM, yes, those DSLRs - the ones with the least going on in the mount area - can take non-AI lenses. I think the D3200 can be added to that list.
  8. Our all friend Ken Rockwell has a very nicely compiled list about Nikon lens compatibility on his website - just do a search and you'll find it (PN prohibits a direct link).
  9. This site shows which parts on a Nikon camera could be damaged by mounting non-compatible lenses:
    For example, mounting a non-Ai lens can damage the Ai tab (at about 1 o'clock) and/or the EE switch at about 8 o'clock). Note that the ridge on a non-Ai lens might be shallow enough to slide by the Ai-tab - careful measurement or mounting can confirm this - but pay attention to the EE switch as well.
  10. Incredible work JDM. Good job!
  11. For what it's worth my pre-Ai AU-1 focusing unit (for the 600mm, 800m and 1200mm lens heads) mounts fine on my
    Nikon D700.
  12. I am glad if this is of some use. Let my fall to the demon Canon be a lesson to you all. Many a poor boy has been ruined by the wiles of EOS......
  13. Just to add a bit of info here, according to this post by Gabor Szabo the Nikkor-S 58/1.4, Nikkor-S 35/2.8, and the Nikkor-H 28/3.5 can be mounted on modern DLSRs with AI follower tabs (D200, 300, 700, etc) without modification.
    I can personally verify that my 28/3.5 will mount without damaging either my D50 or D300, although the rabbit ears will make contact with the AI tab on my D300 and makes dismounting the lens a bit tricky. You have to pull the AI tab away from the lens a bit with your fingernail so that the rabbit ears can slide by it. If I were going to use this lens more often, I'd remove the rabbit ears, but I use it more on my Nikkormat than on a DSLR.
    According to the table posted above, my 28/3.5 has a serial number outside of the ranges that Nikon provided AI conversions for. I wonder why. My only guess is that it would be due to the different construction used for the lens mount (number of screws, etc.)
  14. Some pre-AI lenses don't have that ridge of material that damages the AI coupler or the little switch I don't have a name for that detects that your non-G lens is fully stopped down. Those can mount without damaging the camera. But be careful! Keep an eye on those mount parts and if the lens applies any sort of pressure to them, stop what you're doing, they can break pretty easily. If you don't know exactly what I'm talking about, stick with AI and later lenses only!
    If you do mount a pre-AI lens you need to do exposure yourself. On a camera that will try to use the meter (a D300, D7000, D700, etc.) it will read the exposure with the aperture open but the meter doesn't know if you've stopped down, so you need to dial in an exposure compensation. E.g., if you've got an f/1.4 lens on and you've stopped down to f/4, that's a 3-stop difference between what the meter sees and what will happen when you shoot and the camera releases the aperture, so set exposure compensation to +3.
  15. As Andy says, I'm sure I've read that there are pre-AI lenses that don't foul the mount (or EE coupling prong) at all, although I don't own any - the oldest (non-Leica) lens I own is still AI. I vaguely wish that Nikon would allow the D700 (or D800) to be modified in the same way that the F5 aperture ring can be, although I'll admit that I've never had my F5 modded. I kind of wish you could tell the camera that a lens was AI-S even if the camera didn't have a prong to detect the indent, so that I could still shoot AI-s lenses with auto-aperture. Somehow I doubt that's high on Nikon's priority list, compared to flogging the latest AF-S lenses, but it would have been nice.

    Still, I'm sorry the lack of information meant that we lost JDM (whom, I must admit, I always thought was a Nikon shooter). When I first switched from Canon, I was lured by the "Nikon lenses are backward compatible to the original Nikon F" talk. It took me a while to get around the "sort of, for some bodies, if you modify the lens and/or don't want all the features" small print. (Canon EF lenses may only go back to 1987, but I have to admit that, if they work, they do all seem just to work, with no caveats.) Other than owning an F5 rather than an F75 as a back-up body for compatibility reasons, I admit it's not made much of a difference to my life, other than answering posts about it on this forum quite a lot.

    Looking on the bright side, at least it's not the M-mount.
  16. Hmm. That Nikonians chart has a few glitches (which is odd, because I'm sure I've posted them about it before).

    Their "NO!" for pre-AI on F5 should probably read "MF1,2,7,8". AF (non-D) lenses are obviously also "2" (surely all non-D lenses are, as on the F6?). I should poke them.

    KR mentions that the F5 properly supports intrusive lenses (permanent mirror lock-up), although that hasn't stopped him levering the mirror out of the way on a recent digital so he could test a fish-eye. I keep the vague hope that someone will justify my F5 by giving me an old 6mm lens. The other missing compatibility thing I'm aware of is the "E" bit of PC-E lenses (not "E" as in "cheap AI"). I've lost track of whether everything since the D3/D300 can do this, or if it's been saved for the high end.
  17. gib


    put a non ai 85mm f1.8 lens on my D3100 successfully and used manual mode....
  18. whom, I must admit, I always thought was a Nikon shooter​
    But I am, I just shoot my digital work on Canons. Since I went digital, I've bought a bunch of Nikon lenses and cameras -- I admit, all pre-AI, but still Nikons.
  19. JDM - thank you for the clarification. I shall rest easy knowing that I'm still a Nikon shooter even if I end up using everything via an adaptor on my GF2!
  20. Well, I wasn't actually claiming to be a Nikon user still on account of my use of Nikkor lenses on Canon bodies, since I still shoot my Nikkormat EL, Nikon F, and Nikon F2 bodies (e.g., , , , to mention only a few of my many Nikon posts).
    Not that the use of Nikon glass on other cameras should disqualify one from posting on this forum, although it's a little like dancing in galoshes, ain't it?
    My tastes are catholic (little c) and (with the exception of one Kodak Signet 35 camera) I never met a camera I didn't like.
  21. My dirty [not very] secret is that I still have my 300D, my Eos 620 and my Eos 500. Off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you whether I used one of them (or my Bessa R) more recently than my F5. I've certainly used my Pentax 645 more recently, but that probably doesn't count as an alternate system (until Nikon decides that what it needs is a medium format camera - and Fuji obviously decided it was worth a try...) I've been meaning to get a Nikkor/Eos adaptor, but it'd have to be a G-friendly one.

    Still, I'm planning on sticking to black-and-yellow (and a red dart) for the foreseeable future. My wife will kill me if I switch systems. (The GF2 is technically hers, so I'm not counting it. Even if my most recent lens purchase was a 14-42...)
  22. In my research (!) on Nkon PC shift lenses, I gathered the following lowdown, correct me if I'm wrong:
    F 35mm/f3.5 PC, 52 dia filter, and up: F mount, not for AI mount
    F 35mm/f2.8 PC, 52 dia filter, 870001 and up: F mount, not for AI mount (850001 and up?)
    K, Ai 35mm/f2.8 PC, 52 dia filter, Sl. 900001 and up: ok for AI mount (906201 and up?)
    AiS 35mm/f2.8 PC, 52 dia filter, AIS mount
    K, Ai 28mm/f4 PC, 72 dia filter, Sl. 179121 (174041?) to 180900 are non-AI (although Nikon manual says not to use this with DSLR if is 180900 or less, others say that the non-AI version does not have a lip at the mount edge, so even this non-AI version can be used on AI-mount or DSLR body). After 180900, the lens barrel was shortened, and ok for AI mount
    AIS 28mm/f3.5 PC, 72 dia filter, ok for AIS mount cameras
    The notation "K" means "new Nikkors, F type", ie. not for AI mount cameras.
    Then comes the slew of PC-E lenses 24/f3.5D, 45/f2.8D Micro, 85/f2.8D Micro, and the PC 85/f2.8 Micro D, all with 77mm filter, and obviously AI-compatible (though I wouldn't be able to say whether they have motors, aperture ring, tilt, etc...they're out of my league!).
    I'm sure the above notes, put together from diverse sources and liberally re-stated, contain many errors, and it will be my pleasure to have someone set the record straight...thanks!
  23. I have a few K series lenses that date to the same time my F2 does...I could never bring myself to convert them and this is why I bought a D5000. :)

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