Review Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AIS

Mar 20, 2017
Central Ohio
Real Name

image © NikonUSA

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.

Nikon Df
1/400, f/4, ISO 100

Looking for something on the wide end, one of our local camera stores had a nice copy of the Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AIS. How does this lens, released between 1971 and 1984, hold up today?

Let's find out!

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

This is a small lens. Smaller than the newer Nikon 28mm 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.

On 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.

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

Nikon Df
1/640, 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/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.

In a word, it works very well to capture crisp images. I find that wide open it is just as sharp in the middle of the frame as it is at f/8 and f/11. What gets better are the edges of the frame at smaller apertures. I would call this lens bitingly sharp. I'm not sure you could get a whole lot better in a modern lens than this. Modern lenses will give you the convenience of auto focus, but image quality wise - if 28mm is what you want, this is a great option.

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 56mm field of view and the sweet spot of the lens all the time.

Shooting on the Df, you'll appreciate using it shot wide open, but if you want greater depth of field, go through to f/8!

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.

Nikon Df
1/80, f/2.8, ISO 100

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 28mm depth of field is generous. Not as generous as the 20mm f/3.5 AIS that we also reviewed, but not bad either. When shooting further away subjects that say, 5 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!

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

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.

Nikon Df
1/800, f/4, ISO 100

Bottom Line
This lens is a bit sharper than the Nikon 20mm f/3.5 AI/AIS lens. However, if you need the 20mm focal length on FX size sensors, there is no substitute. If you need something in between 20mm and 35mm and want the size convenience of a prime lens, this Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AIS is just fantastic.

All the awesomeness of a made for task manual focus lens are there, plus image quality that should satisfy even by today's standards.
Feb 17, 2020
The picture of the lens is not a 28 2.8 AI-S, nor was it released in 1971.
The AI-S was released in 1981 and is still being produced today.
Mar 4, 2005
Los Angeles, USA
I'm a big fan of the Nikon 28mm 2.8 AI-S, it's sharper than many modern lenses with excellent colors, contrast and rendering. It's a Nikon classic! Saying that, I did sell my copy eventually since I much prefer the wider FL of the 20mm 3.4 AI-S, soft corners and all! ;)
Last edited:
Mar 20, 2017
Central Ohio
Real Name
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #4
I'm a big fan of the Nikon 28mm 2.8 AI-S, it's sharper than many modern lenses with excellent colors, contrast and rendering. It's a Nikon classic! Saying that, I did sell my eventually since I much prefer the wider FL of the 20mm 3.4 AI-S, soft corners and all! ;)
I eventually sold the 28mm MF lens as well. Just too redundant across some of my other lenses and they are AF.

It is a great lens, though for sure and I'm glad I had an opportunity to use it when I did.
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