GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 28mm f/2.8 AI-S
While there is no denying the convenience of modern auto-focus lenses with their lightning-fast, silent-wave motors and being able to change the aperture at the flick of a dial, there is just something intrinsically special about the manual focus glass of yesteryear. Whether that's the feel of the precision engineered, metal focus barrels or the fact that you illusion that you "do photography" when you focus manually, there is no denying their appeal to a few of us.
Nikon really went to town with some of these old lenses in terms of their optical performance. One such lens is the famed Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 Ai-s. A razor sharp, wide angle lens with CRC (Close Range Correction), enabling it to focus down to a mere 20cm, which allows for some interesting perspectives close up.
I've loved this lens since first using it on my Nikon D90 a couple of years ago. It was great on that, despite the lack of metering. Still, it helped me learn about f-stops because I actually had to think about what I was doing, rather than letting the camera do all the calculations. Now fitted to my D800, the lack of metering is a thing of the past and I have to say, it is even more of a joy to use than before. It's one bit of glass that will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands. Even then, you'll have to dig me up first!
Optically the 28mm f/2.8 Ai-s is just phenomenal. Crazy sharp even wide open, it only gets better as you stop it down. In my limited studio space, this lens has saved my bacon on a number of occasions and the resulting image quality has been great. If the optics of this lens were put into a modern AF shell, you'd probably be handing over the wrong side of £800 or more. The good news is that this peach can be had for £120-£150 on eBay, although prices definitely seem to be on the rise. If you're in the market for a wide angle lens for landscapes, architecture or even environmental portraits, then I'd highly recommend giving this lens some serious consideration.
"But its got no autofocus!!" - Err, so what? Last time I looked, landscapes and buildings tend not to move that much (If they are then you should probably be running the opposite direction or finding shelter), thereby giving you plenty of time to focus and compose your shot. What you do have is the depth of field scale for hyper focusing, something absent on modern glass, along with an aperture ring.
You also get longevity. This incantation of the 28mm lens was first manufactured over 30 years ago (1981). It's still going strong today, delivering fantastic results and will continue to do so for a long time to come. The life expectancy of modern lenses is just 10 years (look for the number in the circular arrows on your lens body - depressing huh!!).
The gearing of the 28mm allows for precise focusing of medium to close range objects, making it easier to use than you might think for a manual lens. Obviously this was intended by Nikon, due to the inclusion of the CRC element. Some manual focus lenses seem to lack the amount of barrel rotation ideally required for accurate focus, which can be quite infuriating when trying to nail a shot with just a few degrees covering a huge distance range.
Another reason to own this lens is for macro work. Reverse mount it to your camera and this wide angle prime turns into a very powerful macro lens, far exceeding that of standard 1:1 ratio lenses like the range of Micro-Nikkors. Naturally, working distances are very short but, if you are shooting extremely small subjects, like ants or jumping spiders you don't require a great amount anyway.
A standard macro lens won't cut it either as the magnification is nowhere near stong enough to get decent results from such tiny critters. Still, it can be bothersome catching the camera or tripod head on objects whilst trying to get close enough to your model. With good hand-holding technique or well designed tripod, these limitations can easily be overcome.
To sum up, the Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 Ai-s is worth its weight in gold and a great addition to your bag. When you nail focus, the detail it captures is just incredible. Despite being a wide angle lens, it is very versatile and is suitable for everything from tiny creatures, to landscapes and environmental portraiture. Take the time to use this lens properly and it will reward you with optical eye candy.