Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS: a mini-test

Started Jan 7, 2018 | User reviews thread
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jarek leo
jarek leo Contributing Member • Posts: 967
Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS: a mini-test
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Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS

At my blog I published a mini-test of what many believe to be one of the finest 28 mm lenses in history: Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS. I tested the Nikkor on a loaned Nikon D850, in the breaks between its trips to Nikon service for – so far unsuccessful – attempts to remedy the camera’s issues. This is a summary in English of my test originally written in Polish.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

In its history Nikon has produced several models of 28mm primes in various speed versions: f/3.5, f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.8 and f/1.4. f/2.8 versions have always provided an optimal combination of size, weight, price and quality. But the version tested here, which was marketed in 1981 and can be still ordered new, although waiting time is pretty long, is unique in having as many as 8 lens elements in 8 groups with floating CRC (Close Range Correction) system and minimum focusing distance of just 20cm. It is famous for very low distortion and excellent optical quality, particularly in close range.

Specifications: 8 elements in 8 groups with CRC system; 7-blade aperture; aperture range: f/2.8-f/22; maximum magnification: 1:3.9 at the minimum focusing distance of 0.2m.; weight: 250g; dimensions: 63mm (diameter) x 53mm (length); filter thread: 52mm.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

To put the lens in proper perspective, a few words on history of Nikon’s 28mm f/2.8 primes. From 1974 to 1981 Nikon manufactured a good Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 Ai, made of 7 elements in 7 groups, with no CRC system and minimum focusing distance of 0.3 m. In 1979 Nikon designed a much inferior optically lens, i.e. E-series Nikon 28mm f/2.8 with the compact Nikon EM SLR in mind. The optical scheme with just 5 element in 5 groups was directly incorporated in the first generation of AF Nikkors (before “D” designation), and as AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 it survived until 1995. In 1981 Nikon marketed the best ever AiS version tested here; it is still offered alongside inferior autofocusing models. In 1994 Nikon redesigned the AF lens into 6-element AF-D Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, which still does not catch up with the reviewed lens in terms of optical quality.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

Before I present results of the mini-test, just a few words on how to tell the Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS from externally very similar earlier Nikkor Ai version having a simpler optical scheme and no CRC. In a nutshell the superior model has focusing scale starting from 0.2m and multi-colored depth-of-field scale engraved on a silver chrome ring.

TEST

All test photos were taken with a loaned Nikon D850. It suffers from problems with intermittent freezing but this issue does not affect image quality.

Chromatic aberration

Although designed 36 years ago and with no low dispersion glass, even wide open the Nikkor displays hardly any traces of CA.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

Bokeh

Bokeh in wide-angle lenses is harder to define as they are usually used stopped-down and with enormous depth of field, but the option to focus from 0.2m. and CRC system are excellent incentives to use the lens close up and at f/2.8. Nikkor’s bokeh looks neutral to me and absence of an aspherical lens element makes it free from infamous “onion rings”.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

Distortion

Barrel distortion is very low for a wide-angle lens.

Vignetting

The lens vignettes pretty strong on Nikon D850 and light distribution across the frame does not get perfectly uniform until f/8, although already at f/5.6 vignetting should not be bothersome in a majority of situations.

Flare

Although I tried very hard, I was unable to induce flare, ghosts or contrast reduction in the lens in against-the-light situations. This flare-resilience is a testimony to the quality of NIC applied to the lens elements in the times when nobody dreamt of nano crystal coat, which some think is a must in lenses used on digital sensors.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

Sharpness and contrast

I took photographs of a collage to analyze sharpness and contrast in the center and edge of the frame at various apertures. Here I am showing the whole picture and fragments at f/2.8, f/5.6 and f/11.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/11, the whole picture

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8, extreme edge on the left, center on the right

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/5.6, extreme edge on the left, center on the right

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/11, extreme edge on the left, center on the right

Contrast is good already at full aperture opening, and becomes excellent at f/4. Sharpness in the center is very good at f/2.8 and phenomenal already at f/4. The edge quality is a more complex matter. Extreme edges are only acceptable from f/2.8 to f/4, improve at f/5.6 and become very good at f/8. The mid-range between the center and extreme edges is good already at full aperture opening, gets very good at f/4 and excellent at f/5.6.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

RECAPITULATION

It must be stressed that back in 1981, when the reviewed lens was marketed, nobody could dream of using it on a 46 megapixel sensor nor foresee that such a sensor would be ever made or what demands it could set on optics. Therefore, I am full of admiration for the Nikon’s designers seeing the excellent results the lens produces on Nikon D850 and I need to conclude that a very-well designed lens for film cameras continues to behave at least acceptably on the most recent digital sensors.

Nikon D850, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS, f/2.8

On several counts Nikkor 28 mm f/2.8 AiS is close to perfection. It allows for close range photography with excellent optical quality owing to CRC system and minimum focusing distance of just 0.2m. It displays neutral bokeh, minimum distortion, hardly any CA, high contrast and excellent center sharpness already almost from full aperture opening. Also mid-range areas between the center and extreme edges show good sharpness already at f/2.8 and quickly become very sharp upon stopping down. The only cons include pronounced vignetiing and inferior sharpness in extreme edges. All in all, this is still an excellent lens and second-hand prices at around 280 USD for copies in good shape are perfectly acceptable given what we get in return.

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