Monday, October 3, 2016

Reviewing the Nikon Nikkor AIS 20mm f/3.5

I wanted to try this lens for quite some time, and I finally found a copy in reasonably good condition (those 80s wide angle lenses were often dragged through all kinds of deserts and forests, so some of them are a bit rough). This was the cheaper alternative to the Nikon Nikkor AIS 20mm f/2.8 lens. But does cheaper necessarily mean worse? Let's find out.

Typical scene for a lens such as the Nikkor AIS 20mm f/3.5

+ As expected, its mechanics are stunning. Focus still smooth, aperture clicks as solid as the boulders of an Egyptian pyramid.
+ small, light, unobtrusive. Just perfect for trekking or similar adventures.
+ Optics on very good levels, with a couple of footnotes (see right below)

- slightly complex distortion, it has a tiny waviness in the middle.
- more vignetting than I would've liked, but not a big deal (it's gone by f/8 anyway)
- front element a bit too close to the edge, susceptible to damage.

Intended Users
Great for:
  • full-frame users on a budget. Lack of autofocus is not a big deal with an ultra-wide
  • landscape photography, particularly for long walks, when weight is an issue
  • urban & street photography (though not necessarily in very low light)

Not for:
  • DX. There is no sense in using this lens on DX - any 18-xx kit lens will do fine.
  • Low-light photography might reveal the fact that this is "only" an f/3.5 lens. If you expect to take a lot of low-light shots, you'll probably need a faster lens, such as the Sigma Art 20mm f/1.4
  • compositions where absolutely straight lines matter (e.g. architecture). Then again, you'd need something different altogether for such a scope

Final Verdict
I must admit, in the recent years I've come to appreciate those old AI and AI-S lenses. They are very well made, they offer incredible focus precision, and they have nothing to envy optically - indeed, on some occasions they are better than their modern counterparts. The Nikon Nikkor AIS 20mm f/3.5 is such a lens. Although not perfect, it's well above what I'd call "good enough". In the used market, it can be found at very competitive prices (just make sure you get a copy in good condition). Paired with the fact that it's an ultra wide-angle lens, with which manual focus isn't very difficult, this is a lens I'd warmly recommend. I'm keeping mine!

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