Review Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5

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Mar 20, 2017
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Background

This is a low priced, but extremely capable legacy lens. I love shooting the Nikon Df and along with that, shooting legacy lenses or older AF glass. I was looking for a reasonable wide to middle telephoto walk about lens. Certainly you could go with something more modern, perhaps the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR. I already owned that lens and it is a fine performer. However, there is something that I like a lot about the renderings of the pre AF-S glass.

Handling/Size/Weight

Against something like the Nikon 24-85/3.5-4.5 VR, this is a bigger, heavier lens. It is a solid metal construction. Relatively, I do not find the lens heavy at all and I also shoot Micro 4/3 as well.

The zoom ring on every version of this lens that I've used has always been smooth and responsive. Budget modern zooms never really felt this good to me. While I also like the image rendering, the handling is good. You have plenty to hold on to and going from 28mm to 85mm is quick and easy.

The one big downfall of this lens in the handling department is manual focus. You have to actuate the switch on the camera body to go to manual focus as there is no full time override, like you'd get on the 24-85/3.5-4.5. On top of that, the focus ring is very tiny and hard to find. I basically don't use the manual focus feature of this lens unless I am using the macro mode.

How's that for a segue!



This lens a has a dedicated macro mode, which is great if you do not want to also carry a dedicated macro lens with you. The downside of the convenience? You lose auto focus and macro focal length is 28mm. You'll be putting the front element of the lens very close to the subject. Not the best for insects or skittish subjects, but OK for static things.






Image Quality

This lens is capable of good image quality even wide wide open. Aperture runs from f/3.5 at 28mm and then goes to f/4.5 at 85mm. As with most older lenses, it performs better stopped down. Noticeable improvement is seen at f/4 and f/5.6 respectively on the focal length range.

It's IQ reminds me very much of the Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D.

Sharpness does suffer a touch at the longer end, but it is not something that is a deal breaker.

It is basically good to go from wide to tele range.


Nikon Df
1/80, f/8, ISO 180 @ 72mm


Nikon Df
1/100, f/11, ISO 400 @ 28mm

Now, lets be 100% honest with each other here. Is this lens as sharp as a modern lens? Technically no, but we can sometimes put too much of a premium on ultimate sharpness. That is not always needed or desirable - and to be totally honest uber sharpness can be a bit of an overblown concept.


Nikon Df
1/60, f/3.8, ISO 900 @ 55mm


Nikon Df
1/30, f/3.5, ISO 1600 @ 28mm

Focusing

The focus was always very accurate. Speed is lacking compared to more modern designs. However, it is fast enough to handle most things. You may miss a shot or 2 if you have to wait for the lens to focus from close focus to infinity. The screwed gears design of this lens is not up to the speedy standard of the current AF-S marked lenses.

Since this lens requires a camera body with the AF screw in the body, you'll need a higher spec DSLR body if you do not want to use this lens as manual focus only.




Nikon Df
1/100, f/8, ISO 450 @ 85mm


Nikon Df
1/100, f/8, ISO 140 @ 85mm



Nikon Df
1/100, f/8, ISO 100 @ 45mm

Bottom Line

Most of the time, when you discuss what is considered legacy lenses, you'll get a lot of people that would not even give them the time of day. Not sharp enough, not fast enough, too heavy...too clunky.

I can understand how this lens would not be for everyone...but I challenge you to do this. Give up going out to a fancy dinner one night a month. Spend the sub $100 dollars on a lens like the 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 or even the 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D. Find out for yourself how these lenses perform. I think you'll see that they have more going for them than against. On top of that, you'll get to see that they are not the old clunky dinosaurs you've probably got envisioned in your head.

If you are a pixel peeper and obsessed with the penultimate of image quality, then this is not for you. However, if you are trying to find that bit of a different look then definitely give this lens a try.

Here are some additional images for you to look through.


Nikon Df
1/500, f/4.5, ISO 400 @ 85mm


Nikon Df
Macro Mode on tripod
1/30, f/3.5, ISO 250 @ 28mm


Nikon Df
1/250, f/5.6, ISO100 @ 40mm


Nikon Df
1/320, f/8, ISO 200 @ 35mm


Nikon Df
1/100, f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 85mm


Nikon Df
1/60, f/11, ISO 200 @ 28mm


Nikon Df
1/320, f/6.3, ISO 200 @ 50mm


Nikon Df
1/320, f/8, ISO 200 @ 85mm
 
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Some additional images from a weekend shooting:

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Joined
Nov 25, 2019
Messages
2
Thanks for the review—very nice set of photos! Actually, I just bought the lens on ebay. In good condition they sell for less than $50 only.

You mentioned Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D in your review. I have it and I like it a lot. The attached photo was shot with my D600 and 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D.

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Joined
Feb 4, 2006
Messages
589
Location
San Antonio, TX
Nikon sure makes good lenses, I'd say my 28-80 f/3.3-5.6G super cheap AF lens is almost as good as the 28-85 and with half the optical elements. But I don't dare drop it.
 
Joined
Nov 25, 2019
Messages
2
I got my 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF lens recently. Mine is the newer version with slightly wider and more easily gripped hard rubberized cover manual focusing ring. The lens is in very nice cosmetic condition and I paid on ebay $42 for it only.

After a couple of hundred shots I have to say that it is optically much better than the other old zoom lenses (35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 D, 28-70mm f.3.5-4.5 D and 28-80mm D/G) I have been using before. 62mm filter size is helping here for sure—but makes this lens quite bulky and heavy. Also the colors are very good and slightly more saturated. I have read some complaining that the sharpness falls at tele end but with my copy it is actually opposite. This lens is softest at 28mm. Center sharpness is ok wide open, better at f/5.6 and very good at f/11. At 85mm the center sharpness is very good already wide open and edges are very sharp at f/11 and remain so at f/16.
Papaya Tree_12Dec19_3833.jpg
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Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,439
Location
Los Angeles, USA
View attachment 1627386
Background

This is a low priced, but extremely capable legacy lens. I love shooting the Nikon Df and along with that, shooting legacy lenses or older AF glass. I was looking for a reasonable wide to middle telephoto walk about lens. Certainly you could go with something more modern, perhaps the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR. I already owned that lens and it is a fine performer. However, there is something that I like a lot about the renderings of the pre AF-S glass.

Handling/Size/Weight

Against something like the Nikon 24-85/3.5-4.5 VR, this is a bigger, heavier lens. It is a solid metal construction. Relatively, I do not find the lens heavy at all and I also shoot Micro 4/3 as well.

The zoom ring on every version of this lens that I've used has always been smooth and responsive. Budget modern zooms never really felt this good to me. While I also like the image rendering, the handling is good. You have plenty to hold on to and going from 28mm to 85mm is quick and easy.

The one big downfall of this lens in the handling department is manual focus. You have to actuate the switch on the camera body to go to manual focus as there is no full time override, like you'd get on the 24-85/3.5-4.5. On top of that, the focus ring is very tiny and hard to find. I basically don't use the manual focus feature of this lens unless I am using the macro mode.

How's that for a segue!

View attachment 1627387


This lens a has a dedicated macro mode, which is great if you do not want to also carry a dedicated macro lens with you. The downside of the convenience? You lose auto focus and macro focal length is 28mm. You'll be putting the front element of the lens very close to the subject. Not the best for insects or skittish subjects, but OK for static things.

View attachment 1627388

View attachment 1627389



Image Quality

This lens is capable of good image quality even wide wide open. Aperture runs from f/3.5 at 28mm and then goes to f/4.5 at 85mm. As with most older lenses, it performs better stopped down. Noticeable improvement is seen at f/4 and f/5.6 respectively on the focal length range.

It's IQ reminds me very much of the Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D.

Sharpness does suffer a touch at the longer end, but it is not something that is a deal breaker.

It is basically good to go from wide to tele range.

View attachment 1627390
Nikon Df
1/80, f/8, ISO 180 @ 72mm

View attachment 1627391
Nikon Df
1/100, f/11, ISO 400 @ 28mm

Now, lets be 100% honest with each other here. Is this lens as sharp as a modern lens? Technically no, but we can sometimes put too much of a premium on ultimate sharpness. That is not always needed or desirable - and to be totally honest uber sharpness can be a bit of an overblown concept.

View attachment 1627392
Nikon Df
1/60, f/3.8, ISO 900 @ 55mm

View attachment 1627393
Nikon Df
1/30, f/3.5, ISO 1600 @ 28mm


Focusing

The focus was always very accurate. Speed is lacking compared to more modern designs. However, it is fast enough to handle most things. You may miss a shot or 2 if you have to wait for the lens to focus from close focus to infinity. The screwed gears design of this lens is not up to the speedy standard of the current AF-S marked lenses.

Since this lens requires a camera body with the AF screw in the body, you'll need a higher spec DSLR body if you do not want to use this lens as manual focus only.



View attachment 1627394
Nikon Df
1/100, f/8, ISO 450 @ 85mm

View attachment 1627395
Nikon Df
1/100, f/8, ISO 140 @ 85mm

View attachment 1627396

Nikon Df
1/100, f/8, ISO 100 @ 45mm


Bottom Line

Most of the time, when you discuss what is considered legacy lenses, you'll get a lot of people that would not even give them the time of day. Not sharp enough, not fast enough, too heavy...too clunky.

I can understand how this lens would not be for everyone...but I challenge you to do this. Give up going out to a fancy dinner one night a month. Spend the sub $100 dollars on a lens like the 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 or even the 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D. Find out for yourself how these lenses perform. I think you'll see that they have more going for them than against. On top of that, you'll get to see that they are not the old clunky dinosaurs you've probably got envisioned in your head.

If you are a pixel peeper and obsessed with the penultimate of image quality, then this is not for you. However, if you are trying to find that bit of a different look then definitely give this lens a try.

Here are some additional images for you to look through.

View attachment 1627397
Nikon Df
1/500, f/4.5, ISO 400 @ 85mm

View attachment 1627398
Nikon Df
Macro Mode on tripod
1/30, f/3.5, ISO 250 @ 28mm

View attachment 1627399
Nikon Df
1/250, f/5.6, ISO100 @ 40mm

View attachment 1627400
Nikon Df
1/320, f/8, ISO 200 @ 35mm

View attachment 1627401
Nikon Df
1/100, f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 85mm

View attachment 1627402
Nikon Df
1/60, f/11, ISO 200 @ 28mm

View attachment 1627403
Nikon Df
1/320, f/6.3, ISO 200 @ 50mm

View attachment 1627404
Nikon Df
1/320, f/8, ISO 200 @ 85mm
I just picked up a minty copy of this lens up for the price of a dinner (for two) at Olive Garden! So far on my D750, it looks decent from 28mm with slightly soft'ish corners and at 85mm plenty sharp on the 24mp sensor! I also ordered a knock-off hood for $6 (didn't come with one) from Ebay. My lens appears to be from the later serial numbers, so it's probably one of the last lenses Nikon made of this series.

As cool as mirrorless is, you can have an amazing FF lens and DSLR setup for chump change if you know what to look for and don't pixel peep corners too much!
 
Joined
Mar 20, 2017
Messages
1,586
Location
Central Ohio
Real Name
Andrew
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #8
I just picked up a minty copy of this lens up for the price of a dinner (for two) at Olive Garden! So far on my D750, it looks decent from 28mm with slightly soft'ish corners and at 85mm plenty sharp on the 24mp sensor! I also ordered a knock-off hood for $6 (didn't come with one) from Ebay. My lens appears to be from the later serial numbers, so it's probably one of the last lenses Nikon made of this series.

As cool as mirrorless is, you can have an amazing FF lens and DSLR setup for chump change if you know what to look for and don't pixel peep corners too much!
I don't have mine anymore. I've been using the Tamron 17-35 a bit more...but think I might get it back again or find another copy of the 28-105/3.5-4.5 for walk around. Those are inexpensive as well...but I've been looking in my archives and I really like what I shot with the old 35-135/3.5-4.5 lens on the Df. Since the camera stores are open again here, I might make a trip over there and see what they have in stock! Might be time to add some old screw drive lenses back into the mix!! :)
 
Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,439
Location
Los Angeles, USA
I don't have mine anymore. I've been using the Tamron 17-35 a bit more...but think I might get it back again or find another copy of the 28-105/3.5-4.5 for walk around. Those are inexpensive as well...but I've been looking in my archives and I really like what I shot with the old 35-135/3.5-4.5 lens on the Df. Since the camera stores are open again here, I might make a trip over there and see what they have in stock! Might be time to add some old screw drive lenses back into the mix!! :)
There are better modern lenses, but some of these old screw driven lenses are selling for quite cheap. Also I think Nikon did best at the 28mm wide with these zooms. I had the Nikon 24-50mm AF lens, but I think the 28-85mm is better. I believe this was the kit lens for the Nikon F4 when it was released, so it wasn't too far behind (at the time) of the flagship Nikon 35-70mm 2.8 AF.

Also when shooting single point AF, these screw driven lenses are pretty accurate in focusing. Using either single point or group AF on my D750 yields a pretty high keeper rate. I'll shoot with the lens seriously this weekend and post some samples.

I sort of want a D780 for the OSPDAF, it'd be fun with these screw drive lenses. Too bad Nikon axed the vertical grip! 😡
 
Joined
Mar 4, 2005
Messages
15,439
Location
Los Angeles, USA
I received my lens earlier this week. My copy seems sharpest at 28mm, weakest at 85mm. Stopped down though it sharpens up nicely. Minimum focus distance is somewhat long, but the macro feature comes in handy as well! The lens is snappy enough and it's a nice knock-around lens to keep in the kit!

A couple snaps from the other day with the D750:
50200930638_163c993b21_h.jpg
Test samples with the Nikon Nikkor 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Lens (Late Model). Purchased for $40 USD.
by Jonathan Friolo, on Flickr

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Test samples with the Nikon Nikkor 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Lens (Late Model). Purchased for $40 USD. by Jonathan Friolo, on Flickr

50201481846_689d098f5c_h.jpg
Test samples with the Nikon Nikkor 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Lens (Late Model). Purchased for $40 USD.
by Jonathan Friolo, on Flickr

50201741807_914ef87722_h.jpg
Test samples with the Nikon Nikkor 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Lens (Late Model). Purchased for $40 USD.
by Jonathan Friolo, on Flickr


Test samples with the Nikon Nikkor 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 AF Lens (Late Model). Purchased for $40 USD.
by Jonathan Friolo, on Flickr
 
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