CAN AN OLD LENS STILL SHINE?
Welcome to a review of the Nikon 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AI-S lens. For those of you who are not sure, there are 2 versions of this lens – The older AI-S version (manual focus) released in the 1980s, and the later AF-D version (autofocus) in the 1990s.
This review covers the older AI-S version, which I got for a crazy $35. I thought it will be a good idea to share why I got this classic lens, my experience with it, and if this lens is still relevant in the digital era – How well will it work with a modern camera? Read on to find out!
|Price||Got a good condition pre-owned for just US$34.50. Not joking.|
|Links||Official Website: Nikon|
Get from eBay: Click here
Not a plastic lens. Metal and built like a tank.
Prone to flare, as expected from old lenses. But still surprisingly good.
Even after 30 years, there is minimal zoom creep and everything is still smooth.
$35 for a good lens? Why not?
Good for almost everything, except for sports and action photography.
An oldie that still shines.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
All right, let us now walk through the classic lens itself – How the mechanics and optics fare, and how well it does after decades.
THE BUILD & QUALITY
The original box, cap, and hood did not come with my purchase – A small drawback, but the build quality of this lens is amazing nonetheless. Considering that it is over 30 years old, the lens is still in one piece with only some minor cosmetic scratches.
The mechanics are also in good condition… Although this decades-old lens does suffer from a bit of zoom creep from the years of usage, the internals is still smooth and sound – That goes to show a well-designed, well-built lens… and some people really know how to take good care of their lenses.
One thing I do like about old lenses is that they use a lot of metals and are structurally solid. Unlike most modern lenses, there are also no rubber rings on this lens. The focus ring is actually metal with “built-in-grip”, it will never have issues of expanding floppy rubber and becoming loose.
For the guys who have not used old lenses before, this is going to be a little strange. Instead of the “usual modern” zoom ring, the 35-105mm uses a push-pull zoom mechanism instead… Quite a lot of these similarly designed old lenses actually ended up with bad zoom creep, but not as much on the 35-105mm – There is some zoom creep, but it still seems to be holding up pretty good for a 30 years old lens.
The interesting part about this lens is that it is capable of switching into macro mode. Push a tiny button below the zoom, twist it, and the minimum focusing distance turns into 14mm. So yep, the range of this lens pretty much covers street photography, landscape, portrait, products, macro, and just about generically everything.
Lastly, an uninteresting aperture ring sits at the end of the lens. While it does click into place, it is a little thin for my fat fingers. A little uncomfortable to work with, but otherwise does no harm.
Nikon stays faithful to using the F-mount, and it has not changed for donkey years. There has been some advancement in circuitry and stuff, but I had no problems mounting the 35-105mm onto my Nikon D610 and take photos as-it-is. However, being a manual lens, the DSLR did not register the aperture and focal length; These data are also missing in the EXIF.
Likewise, without this data, the DSLR is unable to give accurate metering. You are basically back to the good old days of exposure guestimation with this lens. Not recommended for newbies… but it does force people to learn the exposure triangle fast.
NO WEATHER SEALING
There are no rubber gaskets and this lens is not weather-sealed in any way. Stay away from shooting in bad and wet environments with this lens.
OPTICS & GALLERY
Now the build and mechanics of this lens is a definite pass, but how well does this old chunk of glass fare? I have used this lens for a while now, and surprisingly, the optics of the 35-105mm is way better than some crappy modern lenses.
Here are some sample shots from the Nikon 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5.
- Lens flare magnet. It’s an old lens without nanocrystal lens coating nor advanced glass elements.
- Not much distortion throughout 35mm to 105mm.
- This lens is sharp, even wide open. If you cannot get sharp photos with this lens, something might be wrong with your copy… Or your manual focus technique.
- A nice thin plane of focus at 105mm, f/4.5 wide open.
- Nice BOKEH! It’s a macro lens after all.
- The sweet spot seems to be at around f/8.
- It has a unique vintage touch.
SPECS & USEFUL BITS
That’s all for this review, and here is a small section on some extras and links that may be useful to you.
THE SPECS AND WORTHY CONTENDERS
When it comes to zoom lenses, there are plenty of options. But I will put the 35-105mm side-by-side against other modern full-frame zoom lenses, so you can decide if this lens is even worth your time and money.
|35-105mm f/3.5-4.5||24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G||Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6|
|Price (USD)||(Used) About 30 to 200||(Used) About 400|
(New) About 600
|(Used) About 700|
(New) About 1000
|Filter Size (mm)||52mm||72mm||77mm|
|Elements||16 elements in 12 groups||16 elements in 11 groups||19 elements in 14 groups|
|Close Focus||14 cm (in macro mode)||38 cm||50 cm|
|Angle of View||62°||84°||74°|
|Max/Min Aperture||3.5-4.5 / 22||3.5-4.5 / 22-29||3.5-5.6 / 22|
As it seems, the 35-105mm has a smaller build when placed beside the modern zoom lenses… It is also obviously missing the modern-day conveniences of VR and AF. But interestingly, this old classic is able to switch into macro mode, and the glass quality is not shabby at all.
- Built like a tank.
- Good optics.
- Pretty lightweight for a “full metal lens”.
- Actually, a good deal if you can find one of these in good condition.
- Good all-purpose lens – Landscape, macro, portrait, street, products, food, etc…
- Full manual lens – Zoom, focus, and aperture.
- Not a beginner-friendly lens.
- Not suitable for high-speed photography, unless you have ninja reflexes.
- No weather sealing.
WHY I GOT THE NIKON 35-105MM – WHO WILL WANT THIS LENS?
This is a small extra for those of you who are curious enough. What makes a “serious hobbyist photographer” desperate enough to buy a classic lens? Why would anyone still want to buy an old lens these days?
Truth is – I drowned my 24-70mm in seawater in a bad accident and had no money to get a replacement. When hunting for deals on eBay, I stumbled on a Japanese seller with a good condition 35-105mm. Although it is not the AF-D version, the price is just too irresistible (3000 yen) to pass for a mighty decent lens – So I decided to give this old classic a chance to shine again.
Anyone else with a serious budget constraint and looking for a mighty decent lens can consider this classic. Although a manual lens, it really is a pretty good alternative for almost anything – Landscape photography, product, macro, portrait, etc…
While this lens may be decades old, it has withstood the test of time. Sure thing, it does not have the modern conveniences of built-in stabilization, auto-focus, and it is a manual lens – But the optics are still mighty decent by today’s standards.
If you do not want to spend hundreds on a lens and don’t mind a manual lens, then hop online and do consider getting yourself one of these. The Nikon 35-105mm is actually still an excellent all-round lens that is good for most types of photography.
W.S. Toh is a senior web developer and SEO practitioner with over 10 years of experience in building websites. When he is not secretly being an evil tech ninja, he enjoys doing photography and working on DIY projects.