What we have been doing with your donations

Our readers frequently ask us about the performance of classic Nikkor lenses, some of which were kept from the film days, some inherited and others acquired at an auction or a garage sale. Considering the high cost of modern Nikkor lenses, older lenses can be of great value, especially AF-D and Ai-S manual focus models that could be snatched for 3-4 times less than their modern counterparts. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I never owned those older classics or had any access to them, I have never been able to test and review them. While building our lens database, I realized that it was very difficult to obtain information on older lenses and almost impossible to find product images. So I decided to look at local product listings and auction sites like eBay to find old lenses of good value. Not the hard to find / rare items, but the ones that are commonly found everywhere. Thanks to the gracious support of our readers, I was able to find a few good deals and use some of the money to fund this project.

Classic Nikkor Lenses

My current goal is to evaluate these older lenses in my Imatest lab and assess their performance on the high resolution Nikon D800E DSLR, similar to what I have been doing with all other lenses. I know that some older prime lenses can resolve plenty of details on modern DSLRs, so they could be of great use for landscape, architecture and street photographers that do not necessarily care about autofocus capabilities of lenses. The plan is to do resolution tests and provide some other data like chromatic aberrations, distortion and vignetting. For now, I am not planning to do full blown reviews that span multiple pages, since those take long time to write and I am not even half way done with reviewing all current lenses – those are obviously my top priority (by the way, the new Nikkor 18-140mm lens arrived today, so I will start testing it pretty soon).

If you own a classic Nikkor lens that has been gathering dust on your shelf, please contact me. I will gladly accept lens donations (please consider doing that in the name of science!), but if you are looking to sell them, please send product samples and the condition of lenses and I might be able to purchase them at market value, depending on our budget. Another option would be to send lens(es) to me for free evaluation. Basically, I would assess the lens performance in the lab (again, in the name of science!) and send the lens back to you.

Here is a sample Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 Ai-S lens page that has some Imatest data in it. Once we have a good number of these tests done, you will be able to sort lenses by their performance, which is another feature that many of you have been asking for. By the way, this particular lens is still in production today, so it might not be a good representation of our current project (which is to perform tests on discontinued products) – I just could not resist buying it for less than $100.

I believe a lot of people could potentially benefit from this project, so I am excited to share these details with you. Please let me know what you think!

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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.


  1. 1
    ) Ricardo Vaz

    Hey Nassim, Im a long time reader and a Nikon user. The more I read about gear, more I tend to think that fullframe Canons are a step further Nikons. The thing is I am used to Nikons and I dont intend to sell my lenses to go to the Canon team. So I ask you, why have you choose nikons over canons?
    I really appreciate your job here, thanks for all the usefull information you provide!

    • Ricardo, thanks for bringing this up. I have used both and I have been historically used to Nikon gear, which is why I write about it more than any other on this website. However, I am well aware of Canon lenses, which are truly superb. The way I look at both systems is, Canon lenses are better than Nikon lenses, but Nikon DSLRs are better than Canon DSLRs, at least for now :)

      But you are right – we do need to shift focus towards Canon DSLRs and lenses in the future. My current goal is to evaluate all Nikkor lenses in production, along with some older classics as outlined in this article, then I will probably buy a Canon DSLR and start evaluating Canon lenses. Long term goal, but something I definitely want to do. The problem is time – I wish there was more of it!

      • 9
        ) Anna

        Oooh! So excited to hear about your plan to do more Canon reviews in the future! Can someone help with the Canon evals? Am I being greedy for wanting them sooner rather than later? If I could, I would help, but I’m truly a novice. I absolutely love your site, but a big portion of it is “irrelevant” to me as a Canon user (sorry, but I just don’t get anything out of Nikkor lens evals). The how-tos and general photography articles are great, and that’s why I come here.
        It feels like there’s no comparable site to yours with regard to Canon, a site that takes the same thorough approach you take to reviewing gear. At least, I haven’t found one. Can’t wait for your Canon reviews, as I’m sure other Canon users here.

    • 10
      ) Jason


      Hey sir, i was curious as to why you think Canons are a step further than Nikon`s in the fullframe category, a step further how, in what way?

      Before i got my D800 for landscapes i also looked at the Canon 5D III. I ended up with the D800 because not only did i think it was slightly better of a camera in the landscape category, i also felt more comfortable with the Nikon.


      • I think he meant to say full frame lenses :)

      • 12
        ) Radovan

        Same here. 5 years ago I was ready to jump into FX from Nikon D90 and previously owned Nikon N70. Choice was D700 or 5DMkII. Both great cameras. But after trying both and how they feel in hands, my choice was pretty easy. Nikon was better feel quality and all body just feel right. When new D800 and 5DMkIII was out I was checking both again. Even all focus problem with Nikon and I already owning almost 10 Nikon lenses I read lots of good things about Canon. So I try it again and again something was missing there. Even comparison between D4 and 1Ds, was the same.
        I think both companies have great cameras and lenses. Some better here som there.
        Too many people doing only testing new gear and comparing them against each other. And lots of people think this is photography.
        Nasim love your site because it is also about knowledge , and you explain and educate. This is what we need. New tips for shooting. I know you have to make some how money on al of it. But looks like you write more and more about equipment. But still big fan. Doing great job. Used to love read other sites and you getting on top of my reading list. Hope you stay there.
        I have some older manual focus lenses so looking forward to it. I just start with one by accident and now I have 5. If you’ll be interested in doing test on Nikon 55mm f/1.2SC I can borrow you lens for test. It is hard to find good reviews on manual lenses.
        Again great job everybody in PL.

        • Radovan, thank you for your feedback. Yes, I have been writing more about gear lately, but that’s because of two issues. First, I have gear that I have to send back and finish reviewing and those reviews take a lot of my time. Second, Roman has a family issue and he cannot fill in with his how-to/post-processing issues as I do this, so it has been mostly me posting lately. Other team members cannot write as much, as they are all extremely busy and have other commitments.

          My goal is to finish up these reviews and start writing more about photography. In fact, I am hoping to do a few videos or eBooks by the end of the year, so we will see how that goes. Do not worry, we won’t become gear-centric – certainly not something I would want to see.

      • 14
        ) Ricardo

        Well, I meant full frame bodies. I do not own D800E or 5d mkIII but the more I read, more I come to the conclusion that the canon 5dmkIII is a superior body (image quality wise), specially in low light conditions. Im not talking about grip or build construction but only IQ. I could be wrong, as I have said I dont own none of these or even have tested myself. Its just a internet based conclusion, but I´ll be very glad to be wrong, this way I dont need to change brand later!

        • 16
          ) MartinG

          It is not about better, it is about you. The 5d mkIII is a fine camera which excels at different things when compared with the D800. The D800 does have some areas of performance where it leaves all others in the shade. The 5dIII has its own strengths which make it a great choice too. The question is more about what sort of photographer you are and what your preferences are.
          To know which one suits your style you should try both. Reviews and technical discussions about which is “better” are actually somewhat irrelevant at this level. If you can consistently get more out of one brand or camera, then it is better for you, that is all that counts. I own the D800 and I think it is a great camera. I have used Nikon since I swapped to digital. I also recognise that this is just a personal choice, and not really a technical one. Way too much time goes into debate about brand vs brand.
          If you think a Canon 5dIII system would suit you, buy it and enjoy it. If you are undecided and still wondering which one to buy, then you should try both because the quality is really about the interaction between camera and photographer. If you rely on reviews alone, you will never be sure.

          • MartinG, totally agree with everything you’ve said. I was kidding of course, the 5D Mark III is an excellent camera, as I have shown in my Canon 5D Mark III review. There are some things I like about the Nikon DSLRs more than Canon DSLRs, but most of it is subjective, like ergonomics. Nikon D800 has more resolution and is better at noise + dynamic range, but the Canon 5D Mark III has other strengths as well. At the end of the day, these are all tools. I prefer to shoot Nikon, because that’s how I started my photography journey and I got used to the system. Many of my friends and industry peers shoot with Canon and they love their systems as well. So at the end of the day, none of this really matters. I have no problem dumping my Nikon gear and switching to Canon. In fact, I might just do that as some point once I am done reviewing all Nikon gear :)

            • 26
              ) MartinG

              I think reviewing older lenses is a brilliant idea.
              If you review every single lens and every camera body first, plus any new Nikon releases, none of us who find the reviews and articles so informative will mind if you begin reviewing Canon equipment. :-)
              Can you please wait until after the new 300 F4 VRII, the D400, the 24-70 VRII, and the 58 1.2 G, etc?
              I am however now looking forward to seeing reviews for the older nikkors.

          • 28
            ) norms2017

            “…because the quality is really about the interaction between camera and photographer.”

            Very well said…+1 on this one…

  2. 2
    ) Anna

    Hi Nassim,
    It was interesting to read that you acquired the lenses through online auctions/sites (at least some of them). I’ve been very skittish about buying camera equipment online and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Would you please post an article about how you go about selecting an online vendor on auction sites like eBay, or even Amazon (if you use them). What are some key things to note, what are red flags, how do you buy without seeing and touching something like a lens. I bet most of us would really appreciate it.

    Thanks for all the great work on the site. :)

    • Anna, that’s a great idea! Definitely added that to my to-do list. Meanwhile, check out this article that we published a while ago.

  3. That’s quite a lineup of lenses!

    • Thanks Aaron and I am hoping it is just the beginning! :)

  4. 4
    ) Steve

    Nice collection of Nikkors! I have a few AIS Nikkors, but one of them, a nice 50mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, happens to have a non-functioning aperture (always open to f/2.8).

    • Steve, that happens quite a bit unfortunately, as lenses age. So when buying lenses, I always make sure to ask if the aperture blades work or stick when changing. I also test everything right after I receive it, so that I can report the damage or send it back to the seller.

      • Thanks, Nasim. I generally test products like cameras and lenses before purchasing them, and this Micro-Nikkor worked flawlessly for many years before developing this problem. As it happened, I got into digital anyway, and my need for AF lenses eclipsed my desire to spend money/time fixing this lens. However, I may at some point have it fixed, because I still have a film Nikon body that could use it, if I ever wanted to shoot film again.

    • 31
      ) Spy Black

      Fixing stuck apertures is fairly simple, for the most part. Chances are it has oil gluing it open. I had an 85mm f2 Ai like this. I brought it to a place in NYC called Photo Tech that fixed it for $85, and it’s now good as new. If you’re in the NYC area you may want to check them out. Otherwise look to see if there is a reputable camera repair shop in your area and have them take a look at it.

      • Thanks, Spy. I live in Texas now, and could indeed take that lens to a place called Archinal Camera Repair. As I mentioned above, not sure if I want to make the time/money investment on a lens that may in actuality get little use, since I’m currently into digital with AF (Nikkor) optics. Though I do recall that this Micro-Nikkor was amazingly sharp on 35mm film!

  5. 13
    ) Hans Ernst

    Hi Nasim,

    I was very pleased to read this article and I think you apply your money very well.
    I find some of the comments I read here, lets say “questionable”, you show a very professional aproach.
    Which makes me feel confident that the equipement you buy is upto standard.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Hans, thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it.

  6. 15
    ) Ricardo

    Nassim, I´ve read your Lens Calibration where you wrote about front and back focusing problems and I have a question. I´m from Brazil and Im going to USA next year to buy some photo gear and maybe go to Yosemite. I think I will get a wide zoom, a sigma 35mm 1.4g and a new body. My concern is getting a bad copy of a soft lens and only notice that when I´m in the middle of the woods or even when I get back home. If the problem can be solved with Fine Tune there is no problem, but Im worried about getting a Front or Back focusing lens that cant be fixed with Fine Tune. So, there is a way that I can quickly test the copy I get in the store?


    • Ricardo, if you are planning to buy the Sigma, you can also get a USB dock and adjust AF as needed. If you do not want to go that route, then simply print out a test sheet and try doing the AF test as show in that article. If there is a problem, exchange for a different unit. I do not think any store will let you try different cameras/lenses while you are in the store.

  7. 17
    ) preston

    Nassim, that is a great idea and I’m very excited to see the results. Back when I just had my D90 I was frustrated with the lack of a modern affordable 24mm prime (like the 35 1.8 that I loved but wasn’t quite wide enough on DX for my style of street photography) so I bought a 24mm 2.8 ais from ebay. I had a lot of fun with it but the image quality was terrible – much worse than my 18-55vr was at 24mm! I think I may have gotten a bad copy which is a risk with old lenses.

    I know you are short on time with so many projects in mind, but could you please try to test multiple copies of the same lenses if the opportunity arises? After reading Roger Cicala’s posts about much sample variation there is ( http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2013/09/there-is-no-perfect-lens )I have grown more wary of trusting single reviews.

    • Preston, definitely always a risk with buying old lenses. That’s why it is important to test them right away and return the item if there is a serious issue (make sure that the seller is reputable and has a return policy).

      And in terms of testing multiple copies – I do that all the time, as much as possible. Lenses do vary in performance and I am well aware of that. Just like Roger pointed out in his article, a single lens might be strong in the center and weak in the corners, while another copy is average in the center, average in the corners. It is rare when lenses differ completely, as manufacturing norms are generally good, but dropped packages and other issues do result in variances. In my experience, sample to sample variation is not a night and day difference though – maybe 5-10% at most on new lenses. As lenses age, variance certainly becomes an issue, so if I see that something is not right, I will definitely try to find another sample to verify my findings. That’s why my reviews take forever, as I spent too much time in the lab verifying all these different scenarios – I am sure Roger Cicala would relate to that :)

      To me, a lens review is not just about its pure performance and optical characteristics. If you are after that, you will find plenty of conflicting information from different sources. Image crops are irrelevant in most cases, since your eye might not see any difference between a superb and a very good lens, but software will. That’s why I moved away from providing crops to doing scientific measurements, as the latter is much less subjective. In addition, with software I realized that my previous testing methodologies were not adequate and needed to be completely revised. For example, I used to focus in the center for center crops and focused in the corners to compare corner performance. Overtime, I realized that this approach is bad, since many lenses suffer from field curvature and their center performance often does not match their corner performance in the same frame. Some lenses will be extremely sharp when you focus in different areas, but look really bad on a single flat image. So how would one even find out about field curvature? Unfortunately, many sites still do that today, as they do not fully understand the implications of such testing. In the real world, you would never focus on different parts of the frame – you focus in one area and hope that the rest of the frame is sharp. And if the lens suffers from heavy field curvature, you would wonder why one part of the frame is super sharp while the other is total junk. The review would show excellent center to corner performance and you would think that you have a bad sample. Not the case, obviously.

      I am planning to provide detailed information on my testing procedures soon. I think once you read that, your trust in lens reviews will diminish even more. In short, let me just say that testing lenses is a very complex procedure that requires a lot of time and effort. After spending so many hours in the lab, I very much doubt that most review sites bother with such details…

  8. 23
    ) preston

    Haha, thanks for the detailed reply! I have grown to trust your lens reviews more than just about any other site (on equal terms with the polish lenstip.com, who has their procedure published) precisely because I can tell that you approach it scientifically (data from controlled testing with as few variables as possible) but with real world photography practices in mind also (like your point that field curvature will affect sharpness depending on where the focus is set but you shouldn’t try to minimize this in tests because you can’t capture a shot with the focus in multiple parts of the frame simultaneously).

    The reason I didn’t return the 24mm right away was because I thought it was my fault the lens wasn’t sharp. This was still in my first year of owning a dslr and I still assumed that a beautiful metal lens with no apparent damage couldn’t be “broken” (in my then black and white understanding of the term with respect to lenses). Also, it was my first experience using a manual focus lens so I thought that focusing manually must be much harder than I had anticipated!

    Speaking of replacing old lens tests with image crops to the new imatest data, can you please move the 70-300 vr to the top of that list? I already own the 70-300 but am really curious to see how the numbers match up to the 70-200 f/4 and the 300 f/4! And eventually the 300 f/4 vr and the tokina 70-200 f/4. . . :)

    • Preston, thank you! I had already reviewed the 70-300mm, but did not do any Imatest tests. Definitely have that in my to-do list, since it is not the only lens that I did not test…many more to come! I am working on Fuji stuff right now, let me finish that and then I will get back to all the Nikkors.

  9. 24
    ) Sash

    Hey nasim,

    Great news for me reading this article..
    Im still dreaming of a test made on 17-35 2.8 afd, on d800..

    (hopefully itll be decent since i owe the lens already ;)

    Thanks for your great work!

  10. 27
    ) Nicolas

    Hi Nasim,

    Some friends offered me a 35mm f/2. This one: http://www.destoutz.ch/lens_35mm_f2_690117.html. If you want, it can be send to you for test, and then you return it to me (I live near Boston). You can contact me in private if you are interested.


  11. 29
    ) BDJ


    I have one of the Nikon 50mm E Series pancake lenses sitting around if you’d like to borrow it. It’s a great budget lens and I’ve used in on my m4/3 system with an adapter. If you ever decide to do testing on Canon FD mount lenses, then I have a whole pile of them for you to try.

  12. 30
    ) James


    I think this is a great project and really look forward to reading your evaluations. I have been purchasing Manual focus lens’s last few months. I think I have around 10 now after following a group on Fred Miranda site. I’ll include a link to the thread if you want to see some nice photo’s using these old lens’s. they have a lot of very knowledgeable and very nice and helpful people there. One of the posters listed this link to Nikon serial numbers that I have found invaluable in verifying what the lens is and years it was made. I have found a few that were listed incorrectly.
    http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/929565/3291#lastmessage Fred Miranda Nikon manual focus users
    http://www.photosynthesis.co.nz/nikon/serialno.html#105 Listing of lens type and serial numbers.
    I will continue purchasing MF lens’s and can probably send some to you to test.

    Look forward to reading more on this project.

  13. 32
    ) Spy Black

    If I wasn’t using them all the time, I would lend you some of my Ai Nikkors, as I’d be curious how they’d fare on typical modern tests, especially my 105mm f/4 micro and my 135mm f/2 and 300mm f/4.5 tele’s.

  14. 35
    ) JAMES

    My first attempt to post this failed, so apologies if it runs twice.

    Old style Nikkors, with the metal focus rings, had continuously adjustable helicoids and the internal lenses were held by grub screws. A Nikon, or any good repair lab could put a Nikkor on an optical bench and with a little work return it as good as new. The E series for example were glued and had a basic focus system, if they wore out or were damaged it was ‘game over’.

  15. Would you accept sample images? I happen to love AF-D lenses and shoot with them professionally. Here’s a list of what I’ve used:

    Nikon 50mm 1.8D
    Nikon 80-200 2.8D (the push pull version)
    Nikon 180 2.8D
    Tokina 100mm 2.8D

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