|From left to right|
Zhong Yi Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI, Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro Nikkor pre-AI
I started my photography journey in that time period right as film SLRs were being surplanted by the DSLR.
I had and used a Nikon N90s with a 35-70/3.3-4.5 lens. Not the cream of the crop to be sure, but it did quite well for me in that transitional period until I was able to afford a Nikon D50.
Even at that time, the predominant lens type to use were ones with auto focus. Other than a few times needing to override a tricky shooting situation, AF was always accurate enough for what I needed 99% of the time. Manual focus only lenses were not something I thought about or considered.
Chatting with some friends, the discussion took to manual focus lenses, specifically of Nikon F-mount variety and how great primes from the bygone era are available used and inexpensive in most cases.
So I did a little research, stopped by my local camera stores and did a little snooping.
I walked out of the one store with a Nikon 105/2.5 AI. I had already toyed with adapting Nikon F lenses on my Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, so I already had an adapter purchased, a Fotodiox brand.
I'm now hooked on the fun, functionality, and image quality of these lenses. You might be asking yourself, "Why did the other Nikon F mount lenses you tried before not peak your interest in manual lenses?" That is a good question, and the answer is simple. Even the older AF D type Nikon lenses sacrifices manual focus ergonomics for auto focus speed. I found that, at least with the lenses that I had access to, the AF throw was very short and often did not allow for enough precision to make using them in a manual focus mode practical. Not to mention that a lot of the lenses would have a very small and difficult to find/use focus ring.
This is not the case with the lenses purpose built to be used as manual focus. The focus rings are buttery smooth. The focus throw is long enough to make exacting adjustments, without being too long. Going from closest focus to infinity is not impossible to do with just one turn of the focus ring.
The Nikon Df is a great platform for using manual focus lenses. You can setup the non-AI and AI lens types in the camera menu for accurate EXIF data input.
It has an adjustable aperture indexing tab. This allows lenses with the aperture indexing notch to accurately report the aperture in use when you turn the aperture ring on the lens. For the pre-AI lenses, the aperture indexing tab folds back to prevent it from getting damaged. Note that a pre-AI lens does not have the proper clearance for a lot of the modern DSLRs indexing tab. I bring this up because you'll want to make sure that you do not damage your camera mounting a lens on incorrectly or one that is not compatible with your camera body. Before mounting a vintage lens, do your research and make sure that the manufacturer has the lens on their compatibility list.
Another great feature of the Df is the focus confirmation lights in the viewfinder. Older and entry level Nikon DSLRs have just one light to confirm focus. The Df contains 3. The same dot as all the others, but 2 additional indicators, arrows, to show in which direction you should turn the focus ring to be in focus. This, along with what you see through the optical viewfinder, helps you nail that focus.
A great option for using these Nikon lenses is to adapt them to a mirrorless camera. My mirrorless of choice is the Olympus PEN-F. Using a Fotodiox Nikon to m43 adapter is easy. The PEN-F also allows an option to register your non-native lenses in the camera for accurate EXIF.
Bonus on the adapted lens route is the fact that you do not need to be concerned with hurting anything like the AI lever because there is none.
After thoroughly enjoying the Nikon 105/2.5, I do more research.
The favorites seem to be the 105mm ,135mm, and the fast 50mm/1.2 AIS lens. For longer focal lengths, the Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AIS ED is touted as a must grab. The Nikon macro range lenses are also much appreciated, like the 55mm/3.5 and f/2.8.
Back into the camera stores I go...and I walk out with 2 more manual focus lenses for under $100 each. The Nikon 55mm f/3.5 pre-AI and a surprise lens - still in F mount but not a Nikon branded lens. It is the Zhongyi Creator 85mm f/2. I recently shot both these lenses in Yellow Springs, OH. Decided to do some street photography with them, to good effect.
I've been bitten, and bitten hard by this manual focus lens bug. While I would not necessarily use these for my paying jobs (I require speed/accuracy of the AF systems I use), they are a great, often over looked optic that are really fun to use.
I did not delve deeply into the actual lenses themselves in this post. I plan on doing a review of each lens separately. Going over the pro/con of each with sample images. I'll add more reviews of additional manual focus lenses as I acquire them.