Review Nikon 20mm f/3.5 AIS

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Andrew
Background

Not only do we want to look at lenses for use on the newly released Nikon Z series mirrorless cameras, but we can also use these vintage AIS lenses on the Nikon Df. There are also some modern DSLRs that are capable of using these manual focus gems.

Looking for something on the wide end, one of our local camera stores had a nice copy of the Nikon 20mm f/3.5 AIS. How does this lens, released between 1977 and 1984, hold up today?

Let's find out!

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Olympus PEN-F
1/100, f/5.6, ISO 200

Handling/Size/Weight
This is a small lens. Smaller than the newer Nikon 20mm f/1.8 AF-S.

You've go an all metal lens on your hands here.

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

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 AI/AIS 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.

The aperture ring has clicks for each setting. f/3.5 and f/5.6 are marked on the lens, but there is a detent you'll hit right after f/3.5. That will put you on f/4. That setting is not marked on the lens, but the Nikon Df indicates the aperture when used.

Speaking of the Df, the lens mounts perfectly and handles well on my favorite DSLR.

Since the size is so small, the Olympus PEN-F or EM5 Mark II can use this lens adapted with ease.

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Nikon Df
1/160, f/8, ISO 100

Weather Sealed
Not on this guy! An old AIS lens.

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Nikon Df
1/320, f/4, ISO 100

Image Quality
While it probably is not up to speed in relation to the thousand dollar state of the art Nikon lenses, this one can perform quite well.

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/3.5. 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. I find that wide open is not it's strongest suite, although it is by no means unusable. Even going to f/4, you could shoot there all day long and be happy. The lens is sharp, but I would not call it bitingly sharp.

It does fall off in sharpness from center to the edge at wider apertures. Shooting this lens on the Oly PEN-F, you get a 40mm field of view and the sweet spot of the lens all the time.

Shooting on the Df, you'll appreciate using it sot between f/4 and f/11.

I did not notice any real distortion on this lens either. There are plenty of brick walls in the sample images here and none of them were corrected. This is straight out of the camera stuff here except for some exposure tweaking

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

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Nikon Df
1/500, f/5.6, ISO 100

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Nikon Df
1/125, f/8, ISO 640
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Nikon Df
1/125, f/4, ISO 140


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Nikon Df
1/125, f/4, ISO 320

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 Oly PEN-F, focus peaking worked well with this lens and made it super easy to dial in. You may be asking why the dual testing? Simply put, I wanted to see how this lens might feel in use when I get the Nikon Z6, which should be in our hands come sometime November 2018.

The focus throw is good and you can go from close focus to infinity with not much movement.

What you also have going for you is that 20mm depth of field is generous, even at f/3.5, that when shooting further away subjects that say, 3 ft, you can just put the lens to infinity and shoot away!

Bottom line here, is that if you've ever used a Nikon manual focus AI/AIS lens, you know what to expect here. It is all good!

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Nikon Df
1/60, f/4, ISO 450

VR
No VR in the lens, but used on adapted cameras like the Olympus PEN-F 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.

We are looking forward to testing this lens out on the Z6.

With our time using it on the Olympus PEN-F, we set the focal length for the IBIS to use and off we were. No issues, whatsoever.

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Nikon Df
1/60, f/8, ISO 5000

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 20mm is helped by having a generous depth of field to help get things just right.

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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Andrew, have you tried it with your Z6 yet?
yes, I have. At the Corvette Museum in Kentucky.
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Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,107
Location
Los Angeles, USA
No problem answering at all. Found it used locally for $140.
Nice score! I just sniped an Ebay auction (at the last 5 seconds) for a minty used copy on Ebay for $182! Unfortunately 'Buy It Now' prices are well over the $250 mark and I heard in Japan they're fetching for over $300 over there. The good thing about these old MF Nikkors is that they'll probably last longer than most the modern lenses of today!

BTW - I also own a Nikon 50mm 1.8 AIS pancake style which was a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) lens, and it was only in production for two years. It's different because the construction is all-metal, versus the export version which is plastic. I've been looking for the 20mm 3.5 AIS to pair with this 50mm due to both being compact and sharing a 52mm filter thread!
 
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Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,107
Location
Los Angeles, USA
Looking good. Thank you for your review!! Can I ask how much you had to pay for the lens? If you don't want to answer, that is perfectly fine and won't hurt my feelings a bit.
Ebay prices are fetching well over $200-$300 right now for the 20mm 3.5 AI-S lens. In fact I just noticed all Nikkor MF lenses have started to rise in price, especially lenses that were low in production. For example the Nikon 28mm 2.8 AI-S used to cost anywhere from $150-200, but now that lens in clean condition is now in the $200-250 range.
 
Joined
Mar 20, 2017
Messages
1,129
Location
Central Ohio
Real Name
Andrew
Nice score! I just sniped an Ebay auction (at the last 5 seconds) for a minty used copy on Ebay for $182! Unfortunately 'Buy It Now' prices are well over the $250 mark and I heard in Japan they're fetching for over $300 over there. The good thing about these old MF Nikkors is that they'll probably last longer than most the modern lenses of today!

BTW - I also own a Nikon 50mm 1.8 AIS pancake style which was a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) lens, and it was only in production for two years. It's different because the construction is all-metal, versus the export version which is plastic. I've been looking for the 20mm 3.5 AIS to pair with this 50mm due to both being compact and sharing a 52mm filter thread!
One of my local shops gets used AIS lenses in pretty regularly. I'll keep an eye out for another 20mm. I think I got mine so cheap because the exterior was not in primo shape, but the glass was just fine.

If I see one, I'll let you know it's condition and price.
 
Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,107
Location
Los Angeles, USA
One of my local shops gets used AIS lenses in pretty regularly. I'll keep an eye out for another 20mm. I think I got mine so cheap because the exterior was not in primo shape, but the glass was just fine.

If I see one, I'll let you know it's condition and price.
I won the auction so I'll see how the condition looks. Perhaps @Terri French might want to get a copy of the lens? I've owned the 20mm 2.8 AIS and I think on a modern digital body 3.5 is more than fast enough. The 2.8 version didn't have the best corners.

Also I just want to add, this lens (I believe) is the widest MF Nikkor that has the smallest filter size at 52mm. Which is great because you can go from 20mm to 200mm and stay with a 52mm filter!
 
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Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,107
Location
Los Angeles, USA
I received my 20mm 3.5 AIS yesterday and it works great. Sharp on both my D750 and adapted to my A7III. I'll probably bring it for a spin this weekend to really test it out. What's interesting, in 2019 with super high ISO cameras, f/3.5 isn't so bad at all and the size trade off is quite nice especially since you can push your cameras much further compared to when this lens was made.
 

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