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Nikon AF-I vs AF-S Lenses

Alan -- , Oct 14, 1998; 01:21 p.m.


I am seriously considering buying a AF-S 500mm f4 lens to replace my manual 500mm lens. However, I know that the AF-I is also available and wonder if there is much difference between the two types of lenses. I am aware that the AF-S incorporate the silent wave motor but besides this, are there any other improvements over the AF-I lens? What about the optical and handling qualities of the two types of lenses? Is the AF-S faster in focussing?

Last but not least, how much do you think the manual Nikkor 500mm f4 lens costs in the second-hand market assuming the lens is in mint plus condition?

Any professional advice is appreciated.


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Joe Boyd , Oct 14, 1998; 05:14 p.m.

It ain't professional, but here's my opinion.

... the AF-S incorporate the silent wave motor but besides this, are there any other improvements over the AF-I lens? I'm not aware that the AF-S underwent any substantial optical or mechanical re-design (aside from the Silent Wave motor) from the AF-I.

What about the optical and handling qualities of the two types of lenses?

Physical dimensions of the the AF-I and AF-S are about the same and both weigh anywhere from 25-50% more than your current AI-P. So, the tripod and head you're using now should be suitable for either of the AF lenses, unless your current tripod/head only marginally handle the AI-P. The AF-I lens uses the same 39mm filters as the AI-P, while the AF-S uses 52mm filters. The good news is that 52mm filters are easier to obtain than 39mm filters, here in the US.

Is the AF-S faster in focussing?

Yes, although I can't cite any specific numbers.

I guess the bottom line is that unless the AF-S is substantially more expensive than the AF-I, the AF-S is a better deal than the AF-I.

Here in the US, the AI-P goes for anywhere from $3K to $4K, depending on who is selling it. I have no idea what the market is like in East Asia.

Don Baccus , Oct 14, 1998; 06:33 p.m.

"... the AF-S incorporate the silent wave motor but besides this, are there any other improvements over the AF-I lens?

I'm not aware that the AF-S underwent any substantial optical or mechanical re-design (aside from the Silent Wave motor) from the AF-I. "

According to the comparison chart at B&H photo's web site, the 500/4 AF-I's built with 10 elements in 7 groups, while the AF-S's built with 11 elements in 9 groups. So it appears that the optical formula has changed. As to how much better the AF-S might be, I don't know. I've never heard anyone claim that the AF-I 500/4 is a crummy lens, though, so I wouldn't let this alone drive my decision. The AF-S is about 10% shorter and lighter, and 20% smaller in diameter, than the AF-I so I wouldn't be surprised if the new optical formula was developed to accomplish this slight shrinkage rather than improve optical performance. B&H's web page is at www.bhphotovideo.com if you'd like to check this information out in greater detail, go to the "AF telephoto lens comparision chart" section of the Nikon section of the 35mm section of the photo section of their site :)

Shun Cheung , Oct 15, 1998; 05:53 a.m.

All three Nikkor AF-S lenses available so far (300/2.8, 500/4 and 600/4) are optically different from their AF-I counterparts. The AF-S lenses are also all a bit lighter too; apparently Nikon is using some plastic (or perhaps carbon fiber??) parts in the lens barrel. (I noticed that when I was touching part of the barrel of a 500/4 AF-S; it wasn't drawing heat from my hand as metal would.) I think AF-S is a slight improvement from AF-I. IMO if one finds a good deal on a used AF-I, it is worth going for it.

Concerning prices in the US, B&H is currently (Oct 1998) selling a new grey-market MF 500mm/f4 P for US$4200, so I wouldn't pay anywhere close to $4000 for a used 500mm/f4 P. As far as I know, mint ones are around $3500 or so and drops to the high $2000 range for those with a lot of wear on them. I suppose the prices in South East Asia are quite a bit lower.

Robert Smith , Oct 15, 1998; 05:39 p.m.

Alan, I have the AF-l and have handled the AF-S...IMO, the two are so fast that the apparent advantage of the AF-S was hard to really notice. The AF-S is quieter, longer by 1.5 inches, smaller in diameter by 1 inch, and lighter by 3/4 pounds. Filter size would be a factor if you have 39mm filters, the new lens takes 52mm. The bottom line for me would be if the prices were close, I'd probably go with the new design, but if there were substantial price savings I would go with the AF-l and not worry about the choice.

Optically, I think there is less of a difference (improvement) between the AF-l and the AF-S than the AF-l and the 500/4P, but that is just opinion and worth exactly what you paid for it :-)

Quinn F. Harry , Oct 16, 1998; 02:36 p.m.


This isn't professional either, but I would first ask how often do you want to change batteries? Meaning: I own and shoot a Nikon F5 and a N90s. I've rented 500 and 600 AF lenses. They wasted my batteries - as much as one set to two rolls of film. I ended up (and still do) manually focusing to save batteries. You may want to consider staying w/ manual. Sell/trade the 500 for a 600 f/4.



Shun Cheung , Oct 16, 1998; 06:28 p.m.

It is true that AF-I and AF-S lenses tend to use up batteries, but if you need to change batteries as often as every two rolls of film, something seems to be very wrong.

A friend of mine has had an F4s for several years. Each set of batteries would last 40, 50 rolls. He bought a 300mm/f2.8 AF-I last year and his battery usage suddenly dropped down to somewhere around 20 rolls per set.

Peter Bick , Oct 16, 1998; 09:52 p.m.

Shun left out the 400/2.8 AF-S lens that has been out for some time now. It is approx. 3.5 lbs lighter, considerably smaller than the AF- I 400 and does focus faster. I do not find it to more than 10-15% faster. All the AF-S lenses have new optical designs and an iris with more blades in it that render out of focus areas in a very pleasing fashion. I can see the difference in my chromes between the AF-I and AF-S 400. Nikon has used carbon fiber in the design as well, the focussing rails for instance are carbon fiber in the 400 as is the 2 piece hood.

Battery usage with the F5 is no different for the AF-I or AF-S lenses as far as I can tell, having shot approx 4000 rolls now using the 300 and 400. The one post of 2 rolls/set suggests something else is wrong.

One major advantage of the AF-S lenses is the full time manual focus capability when the switch is set to the M/A. This manual focus has no lag in takeup that the AF-I lenses have. This can be used effectively to save on battery life as well.

Happy shooting.

Alan -- , Oct 17, 1998; 12:43 p.m.

Hello eveyone,

Thanks to all of the above for your advice.

I bought the AF-S lens and shot four rolls of chrome today and am impressed with the focussing speed. The lens hood is a bit long though compared to the manual lens. And no, I did not have to change batteries after every two rolls. I was using the NiMH batteries for your information.

Yes, I like the M/A switch which allowed me to fine tune the focussing manually.

Let's hope today's outing will yield some decent shots.

Thanks once again to all of you for sharing your experiences with me.



Rob Hadlow , Oct 17, 1998; 02:03 p.m.

Alan, a wise choice that you made. The AF-S is in my opinion a vast improvement over the AF-I. The S version is lighter smaller and almost the same size as the 500F4P manual focus version. And the speed , terrific !! As a wildlife shooter this is the choice I would make. Cheers Rob Ha

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