Review Nikon 135mm f/3.5 AIS

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Background
More manual focus lens fun, this time a longer telephoto! Yes, the Nikon 135mm f/3.5 AIS lens is next up on out list of legacy lenses to review!

Previously, we owned and reviewed the Nikon 135mm f/3.5 Q. We link to that review later on here, but a bit of a spoiler - this AIS lens is better in most respects than the Q version it replaced.

Let's find out how this sub $100 legacy lens performs.

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Handling/Size/Weight
For a mid to long ranged telephoto lens, this is relatively small. It is an almost perfect size when mounted on the Nikon Df.

This lens has a built in, telescoping metal lens hood.

The AI and AIS versions of this lens are basically the same optically, so if you can find either one, this review should cover you for both.

You've got an all metal construction, as you would expect for a lens built before AF lenses were the norm.

It is easy to find the aperture ring and differentiate it from the focus ring without even looking at the lens.

On this copy, the exterior is in great shape. The aperture ring feels solid and clicks into place at each step.

I must say that there is something very satisfying when using a manual focus lens. While the more modern Nikon AF-S, full time manual focus override, lenses are more convenient - there is something quite different about the way that Nikon made their manual focus lenses. Manual focusing is satisfying, and just feels right. The focus ring is dampened, but only really moves when you want it to. It feels so smooth and the throw is such that getting precision and accuracy is almost effortless.

Used on an adapted camera, it just fits right on the adapter. Using it on the Nikon Df, it just mounts on and setting it up in the non-CPU lens menu allows the aperture feeler to accurately report correct EXIF information.

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Nikon Df
1/160, f/8, ISO 1250

Weather Sealed

Not on this guy! An old Pre AI lens.

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Nikon Df
1/160, f/3.5, ISO 180

Image Quality

This lens is sharp and contrasty. I'd say right off the bat that could hold it's own against a lot of the modern optics out there.

One thing I'd like to point out and I find this to be true for all Nikon manual focus lenses that I own: There is a potential for the aperture ring to move slightly past the widest setting. When this happens, it degrades a image quality quite noticeably.

So, for this lens, you can turn the aperture dial just to the right of f/2.8. I first captured this example on the Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Q lens. That review is linked to the left and it is shown in the first set of images.

I mention this as it is easy to do accidentally. I just want everyone to be aware if it. It may be normal, but those may not know could appreciate the heads up.

IQ - In a word, it works very well to capture crisp images, even at /3.5. I find that wide open it has very little to complain about. It does get better stopped down, but even at f/4 you could use this with the aperture ring glued there. The lens is sharp, but I would not call it bitingly sharp. You can enhance that sharpness in post, though to your liking.

Shooting on the Df, you'll appreciate using it between f/4 and f/11, but don't shy away from wide open if you need it.

I did not notice any real distortion on this lens either.

The bokeh on this lens is pleasing and smooth.

As I usually do, here are images to let the lens speak for itself.

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Nikon Df
1/160, f/4, ISO 140

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Nikon Df
1/125, f/4, ISO 100

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Nikon Df
1/200, f/4, ISO 100

Focusing
This is manual focus all the way, but since it was made to be manual focus, working the ring is a satisfying experience.

On the Df, the AF confirmation point worked well...better when using the middle point, especially if shooting at f/5.6 or smaller apertures. You can always start shooting wide open,then close down the aperture after you got the focus nailed down. I found that I did not need to do that much and is not how I generally shoot.

On the Nikon Z6, focus peaking worked well with this lens and made it super easy to dial in.
The focus throw is good and you can go from close focus to infinity with not much movement.

This would be a good portrait focal length lens. Bottom line here, is that if you've ever used a Nikon manual focus lens, you know what to expect here. It is all good!


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Nikon Df
1/160, f/3.5, ISO 800
VR
No VR in the lens, but used on adapted cameras with IBIS, you do now have the ability to take advantage of it. Even the new Nikon Z mirrorless cameras have in body image stabilization that will work with this lens.


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Nikon Df
1/250, f/4, ISO 110

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Nikon Z6
1/250, f/4, ISO 100

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Nikon Z6
1/500, f/4, ISO 100

Bottom Line

Not much is thought of manual focus lenses in this age, but i think people forget how easy it is to work with them once you give them a chance. The 135mm is an excellent optic that on full frame sensors is a great portrait length and on adapted cameras like Micro Four Thirds gives you 270mm field of view, but in such a small package.

Another reason to give these older lenses a chance is the newer technology in the camera bodies. Here, we have punch in focusing and focus peaking when adapted to either a Micro 4/3, Fuji, Sony mirrorless camera as well as the newly released Nikon Z cameras.

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Nikon Z6
1/250, f/8, ISO 100

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Nikon Z6
1/640, f/5.6, ISO 100
 

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