Over the past four years, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of using prime lenses with my Leica M system for personal work. So much so that I’ve been introducing primes to my Nikon system on my commercial work wherever possible. Whilst I’ve always had the Nikon 85mm f1.8G lens as part of my kit, I’ve more recently added the superb 50mm f1.4G and the 35mm f1.8G lenses.
Naturally for commercial work, there are numerous times when you need something wider than a 35mm so in this respect I’ve always relied upon my trusted Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 Zoom or the Nikon 16-35mm F4 G ED VR Zoom. Both zooms are naturally heavy in relation to primes so I have been looking for an opportunity to try out a lightweight, wide angle prime.
Much to my pleasure, a recent opportunity popped up test an older, mint condition, Nikon 24mm F2.8 AI-s lens. This manual focus lens has a big reputation for build quality, being constructed of metal as opposed to plastic and optical performance. It was introduced in the late 1970’s and was still being made in 2013 until Nikon switched the lens construction to the plastic casing.
Using a legacy AI-s lens on the D810 is very straightforward, it mounts in the same way as current AFS lenses but you will then need to go into the “Non CPU Lens Data’ menu to manually input the 24mm focal length and f2.8 aperture information to have full colour matrix metering, EXIF data, and finder read out for the aperture. Thankfully, you only need to do this the once and not every time you mount the lens.
The camera will now work in aperture priority mode, naturally by using the ‘old school’ technique of rotating the aperture ring on the lens, or on manual mode. Even though it’s a 24mm lens, depending on what you’re shooting, you still need to be precise with your focusing, especially on a full frame DSLR. For those of you not used to using manual focus lenses, the focus dot in the bottom left of the viewfinder comes in very useful and is fully functional with this lens.
Using the lens is as easy as using any other lens, the aperture clicks are precise, the focus ring is smooth and it’s a great compact, lightweight lens to have in your kit. In terms of the image quality, it doesn’t disappoint, it has a great minimum focusing distance of 0.3m, creates some nice bokeh with lens fall off wide open if shooting scenes with distinct foreground and background separation. When shooting more generic scenes such as landscapes etc you’ll want to work somewhere between f8 to f11 where the lens is at its optical best.
In terms of post-production, I haven’t tested the lens for long enough or done side by side comparisons with more recent 24mm prime lenses to give a thorough opinion. Based on the files I have worked with, I’d say that they are great for the age of the lens, probably slightly less micro contrast than the newer generation of lenses and optical coatings and less edge to edge sharpness than the higher end premium offerings. However, with good post production it’s an amazing lens for the money as they can be picked up for between £150-£300 which is a fraction of the cost of a premium 24mm prime lens from Nikon or Sigma etc.