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Current view on 35-105 AIS Nikkor, etc?

Alan Clayton , Sep 05, 2006; 06:36 p.m.

The 35-105 AIS was widely disparaged in its day: is this still the consensus view? As older gear is generally becoming cheaper is it time to revisit this lens?

Dealer prices for this model in the UK are between 110 and 175GBP, but there are many unsold on their shelves: I don't know if it's because they are generally over-priced, or because it just remains a mediocre and unregarded lens.

I have been offered a smart clean one for 60GBP (inc. dealer warranty). It seems a fair price, but there's no point buying marginal performers just because they're "a bargain" ... (If it truly is a dog I have plenty of other top-line lenses to choose from: it would be used for 'chromes/slides).

I know about the variable quality of the 35-105, and its other limitations, but there ain't much web info on its actual image-making performance. For example, a few example images I have seen did not appear critically sharp, but did seemingly have nice out of focus rendition.

So, my specific question is: how is the 35-105 AIS currently regarded, and is it a worthwhile piece of gear to have in reserve?

And to open up the debate a little, are there any other oldies that should be reappraised, not least for use on digital cameras?

Over to you folks, thanks. AC


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Steve Bingham , Sep 05, 2006; 07:14 p.m.

Depends on your needs. I would certainly pass on this lens. There are so MANY better lenses out there!

Michael Ging , Sep 05, 2006; 07:22 p.m.

There are very few Nikkors that I would not carry in a camera bag. This and the 46-86 are two that I would not. I know some people love these lenses and will tell you how good they are, I just have not found these to be my cup ot tea.

Michael Ging , Sep 05, 2006; 07:26 p.m.

Alan , you should be able to buy the primes lenses on ether end of the zoom range for the price of this lens. You just can't get better lenses than a 35mm F2 or 2.8 nikkor, and a 105mm 2.5 lens.

Matthew Currie , Sep 05, 2006; 08:55 p.m.

I will add a slightly contrarian viewpoint here. Despite its several shortcomings, I find my 35-105 acceptably sharp most of the time, and a rather handy lens for walking around with. With that said, there are those shortcomings that would make it a poor choice for spending much money on, unless you're ready to accept them. (I know Alan says he's aware of these, but just in case others are not....) First, it is not a true zoom in the traditional sense. It is a variable focal length lens, but it is not even close to being parfocal, so you must refocus every time you move the zoom. Second, the macro setting is ergonomically clumsy, and not very macro either. Third, of course, it is slow, though that is compensated for a little by its compactness. Finally, at least in my sample, the zoom action is loose and floppy, and I've been told that this is more usual than not, and essentially impossible or uneconomical to correct. And of course, the zoom flop means one must ride the focus constantly as well. The zoom flop also makes the lens essentially useless for any kind of serious macro work unless you are willing to carry a roll of tape to make it hold its settings.

In my own lens arsenal, it's more of a snapshooting lens, for occasions where the versatility of a smallish zoom is needed more than the stability, speed and optical excellence of primes. But within those limitations, it's really not such a bad dog.

Norm Carr , Sep 05, 2006; 09:43 p.m.

I shot a few weddings, portraits, events and suchlike with one, years ago. Sure it's probably not the sharpest among the Nikkors, but it's not a dog, either. I wonder if there's sample variation at play here, because the one I had wasn't all that bad. Not stellar, but acceptable, especially for hand-held stuff. I've never condidered absolute sharpness the ultimate quality of a lens anyhow - there a threshold above which any improvement is negligible, especially in hand-held 35mm.

Anyhow, I liked the way it handled, which is why I used it. Very easy and forgiving, balanced very cooperatively on an FM-type camera body. useful close focusing feature. Biggest shortcoming was it's a variable aperture and only a 3.5 at the widest. All-in-all I found it a very useful lens, for a while, especially for those times I didn't want to schlep a bag around. But maybe I'm a freak.

Alan Clayton , Sep 06, 2006; 04:51 a.m.

Thanks folks. Well, I have lots of quality primes and a few 28-xx independent zooms, so I am not short of lenses. My normal lightweight/walkabout kit is a FE + 24mm, and occasionally a 50 or 105, but added together these are a) valuable, b) heavy and c) changing lenses "on-the-hoof" is not always convenient. A decent 35-105 zoom would be a big help.

This should have been a pretty decent lens (Nikkor made a good 'un with the 35-70/2.8), but it appears that it's redeeming features are few compared to its deficiencies. So my Tamron 35-80 SP may have to come out of retirement, but its slightly warm colour rendition (compared to Nikkors) is not greatly to my liking. However, I can opt for a cooler film, like Astia, to compensate.

The images I have seen from the 35-105 were all portraits, and while not critically sharp this did not spoil the images ... and the "bokeh" was rather nice. However, I don't do portraits.

Michael Axel , Sep 06, 2006; 12:01 p.m.

Alan, My standard answer is that I believe there may be differences between lens lots. Some of my sharpest lenses, like the 24 f/2 AIS and 45GN, have been branded as dogs in these forums. I'd take everything here with a grain of salt and not be influenced too heavily by this forum.

Albert Smith , Sep 06, 2006; 03:39 p.m.

Nice small, well built lens. It covered my most used focal lengths back in the '80s, and I often took it and a 24mm f/2.8 Nikkor as a mini-kit to many countries in Asia. It was fine optically for most outdoor situations, but I would always try for at least f/8. The lens has sloped DOF scales for f/11 and f/22 at every focal length, and I used them often for hyper focused shots.

The one negative thing I could never get use to on the zoom was the macro ring. On this lens you need to press the button and engage the macro ring at any distance below 4 feet. This was both time consuming and counter intuitive. Now besides the main focus ring, you also have an additional focusing ring, and both would need precise tweaking to get the lens in focus. I use my prime 35mm lens very close to subjects for candids, and stopping to engage a macro ring to get less than 4 feet away, which also means refocusing, meant that stealthy candids with this lens were not as easy to pull off as with my 35mm Nikkor.

The other problem for me was that I missed many shots due to the aperture, especially at the long end. There was a world of difference between f/2.5 and f/4.5, when shooting at 105mm, both in terms of handholding and selective focus. The darker finder and very gradual focusing ring made for a more slow process focusing when compared to say that 105mm f/2.5, and yes, I missed shots while racking the focusing ring back and forth deciding if I had hit the point of focus.

That macro button and the slow f-stop were enough of a hassle for me to just go back to prime Nikkors. The zoom would be fine if your subject matter is not going to be such that it is time critical while you manually adjust all of those rings and collars when shooting close-up, or if the lighting is not too dark.

Peter , Sep 06, 2006; 05:45 p.m.

If the original AI manual version of the 35 -135 was not highly regarded, wasn't the AF version of this lens quite well regarded? I have not used it but seem to have recalled hearing quite good things about it. At the moment however, instead I own a 28-85 AF (the second AF version.) Its a top little lens - well made, robust, sharp and quite cheap. Ken Rockwell agrees.


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