GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 180mm f/2.8 AI-S ED
If you're looking for something a bit different in a prime portrait lens for your kit bag and you're on a budget, then you might want to consider the reknowned Nikon Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 Ai-s ED. First introduced in 1983, this gem from yesteryear was still manufactured up until 2006! Obviously there was still demand for this lens, as the auto focus versions were launched in 1986, yet Nikon continued production for over two decades!!
I'm a fan of old glass, as I eluded to in a review of the Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 Ai-s. The 180mm f/2.8 Ai-s ED is another stunning lens from back in the day. Surprisingly easy to nail focus with and extremely sharp, this lens can be had for around £150 on eBay. I was fortunate enough to get mine for considerably less than that and is another lens I refuse to part with - well, unless I can get a good deal on the AF-D version, which is optically identical.
What I love about this lens is the bokeh, together with the incredibly detailed images it renders. It also compresses the scene and it's very flattering to the subject's features. While I did very much enjoy the 50mm f/1.8D for portraits in the past on my D90, I do find it not as complimentary to a model, as the longer focal lengths on the full frame D800 are. Now I prefer the 105mm f/2.8VR Micro Nikkor and the 180mm f/2.8 Ai-s.
The 180mm is definitely not a lens for shooting the kids with, unless you can get them to sit still for two minutes - which lets face it, doesn't happen too often. Still, when afforded those rare opportunities, this lens will deliver the goods for posed portraiture, no problem. It should be pointed out that there are two flavours of this lens. For the best image quality look for the version with the gold ring just above the focus barrel. This indicates that it is the ED version with Extra-low Dispersion glass. The older version lacks both the gold ring and the ED element and isn't as sharp.
If you're using this on an entry level to enthusiast body, you'll probably not have any metering. Not a big whoop if your subject is stationary, as you can always use an external light meter or chimp your exposures. On a professional body, this lens is a dream to use and produces beautiful image quality. I love using it. It feels great in your hand and manual focus just feels so much more rewarding when you nail a great shot. Still, if I had the choice between this and the AF-D version I'd definitely have the latter.
Until such times I'm happy playing with the manual focus version and enjoying what it gives me in return.
So before you rush off and get yourself an 85mm f/1.8D for all your portrait needs, (which don't get me wrong is a beauty of a lens) give this fine piece of well engineered glass some consideration. Learn to use it to its best abilities and I'm sure you'll fall in love with it too.