what are the GO TO Nikkor manual focus lenses?

Started Jul 12, 2011 | Discussions thread
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Michael Benveniste
Michael Benveniste Senior Member • Posts: 2,999
Re: Two questions, two different answers...

KenHill wrote:

Nice shot! One thought comes across when discussing Nikon MF lenses is that you never hear the term "bad copy." It would be interesting to hear when the term "bad copy" became an acceptable description of the product. The QC in MF lenses is evident and the materials and workmanship a lot better.

I first heard about "bad copies" or a "bad batch" with the 35-105mm AI-s in 1983, and in fact I delayed purchasing one as a result. I still own it.  Sample variation was not an uncommon phrase back then, and writers like Ctein have been noting frequent instances of decentered and tilted elements for a very long time as well.

Several things have happened over those 30 years. First and perhaps foremost are that people's expectations have changed drastically. With 35mm film, people were typically pleasantly surprised if a shot yielded a good looking 11x14 or 11x16 print. Now people regularly view on-screen crops at far greater magnification and expect to be able to print eye sharp 20x30" (or larger) prints. People were also far more likely to blame themselves for focus errors.

The second thing to happen is that typical lenses have gotten more complex.  Consider fixed aperture mid-range "pro" zooms.  Nikon started with a 35-70mm f/3.5, which evolved into a 35-70mm f/2.8.  A 28-70mm f/2.8 was revolutionary when Angenieux first introduced one; now 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses have made them passé, and Tamron has taken the next step by adding VC.

The third thing is that it's now cheap to test lenses, at least in terms of cash outlay.  Doing a good lens test is still quite demanding in terms of time and discipline, but that doesn't stop people form complaining about the results of their own sloppy tests.

The final thing may surprise you.  At least in the U.S., after adjusting for inflation, lenses have gotten less expensive for the same capability.  In 1986, for example, a 20mm f/2.8 AI-s cost $380, which the BLS inflation calculator says equates to $810 in today's money.  But you can buy that exact same lens with a better warranty at B&H for $675, and the autofocus version with the same optics is about $560.  A 15mm f/3.5 was about $1000 back then; after adjusting for inflation a 14-24mm f/2.8 is actually less expensive.

The combination of modern plastics and the loss of helicoid focusing action has taken away much of the great tactile feel of metal manual focus lenses.  But I'm in no a hurry to pay $750 for a Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 and even less of a hurry to drop 4 large on an Otus or CP.2 normal prime.  I occasionally enjoy "retro-tech," but when it's "go time," I reach for my modern gear.

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I miss the days when I used to be nostalgic.

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