GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 80-200mm f/4.5n
When it comes to bang-for-buck, old glass can often be a good choice for amateur photographers, people on a budget, or those looking to experiment with different focal length lenses to those they already own. While legacy lenses often lack the ability to autofocus, have no vibration reduction or even meter on some modern DSLRs, what they do offer is unrivaled build quality and in some cases, superb optics.
One such lens is the Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5n ai. At one point in time this was Nikon's professional telephoto zoom and held that title for 4 years before being replaced by the slightly faster f/4 Ai-s in 1981. It was essentially the 70-200mm f/4 of its day, which should give you some idea as to its performance.
Nowadays, this once expensively priced lens can be picked up for a bargain. My copy set me back less than £25 but, you can expect to pay 3 to 4 times that for a mint copy. Sometimes more. So what do you get for your money?
Well first and foremost (and perhaps the main reason to purchase it), a staggeringly sharp lens. Even wide open, the 80-200mm is a just an absolutely stellar performer, delivering crisp, highly detailed images, with next to no colour fringing in high contrast conditions. The image opposite is a 100% crop of the portrait below. It was shot wide open at f/4.5 with minimal sharpening in post production.
The sharpness is also matched by very nice, creamy bokeh throughout the focal range, which really helps with subject to background separation. Even the busiest of backdrops can be rendered non-distracting. Ghosting and lens flare are also very
well handled. Although both are present with a bright light source directly shining into the lens, the effect feels quite natural and aesthetically pleasing.
The 12 glass elements are housed in a robust body. No composite plastics here. Just solid metal and a rubber grip. This is why these superbly engineered lenses are still going strong, almost 40 years later. Modern glass definitely won't have such longevity, with the electronic components crapping out after a decade - if you're lucky. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the construction would mean it was an extremely heavy lens, when the reality is that it actually weighs slightly less than a Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 VR. Go figure!
The push/pull design allows for surprisingly quick framing and focusing on your subject and once you get used to the lens, this only improves. If like me, your eye sight isn't what it once was, you can rely on the green dot inside the viewfinder to ensure critical focus. I have tested this quite extensively, first by shooting by eye alone and then by what the camera states. Upon comparison, the camera suggested focus was indeed more accurate. You can also use the Live View feature if your camera has it, although again you are relying on your eyes, as opposed to the cameras detection system. For best results, the lens is best used on a tripod. This helps minimize motion blur and improves chances of nailing focus. Being an f/4.5 aperture, this is 1 and 1/3 stops slower than f/2.8 lenses. On grey days or low light situations, this can make a difference between getting a sharp image or an out-of-focus one, as you have less light to see your subject clearly in the viewfinder.
The 80-200mm f/4.5n isn't without its flaws though. Like most lenses of this design, it can be more prone to attracting dust. Generally this isn't a problem unless you get some large debris behind the rear element. Otherwise it's no big deal. The older any lens is, the greater the chance of it developing fungus, haze or separation, so be sure to check the lens before purchasing.
The other common issue specific to this type of lens, is zoom creep. Once the felt strip inside the zoom barrel wears thin, it will slide on its own if the lens is tilted. There are quick fixes for this, like applying electrical tape to the body of the lens to increase friction. As yet, I've not come across a repair guide on the Internet. I would prefer to fix my version properly. If you're reading this and know of one, please drop me a message so I can share the information.
Other than that, this is a fantastic lens with a very useable zoom range. It's not the fastest optically but then again, as the resulting photos are very sharp wide open, you're not forced to stop the lens down to tweak crispness. Like all manual focus lenses, they aren't ideal for moving subjects or child portraits, unless the subject is co-operative and sits nice and still. Mine always seem to have damn ants in their pants!
If you're in the market for a telephoto zoom lens but don't want to spend a small fortune for fantastic image quality, give this old beauty a look. The optical performance will reward you with superbly detailed images. There are a lot of Nikkor 80-200 versions out there and it's confusing as to which is the "correct" one. The way to quickly identify the f/4.5n is the "8" on the aperture ring is red and the rear element is housed behind a retangular baffle, as pictured right. Alternatively, you could look at the slightly faster Nikkor 80-200mm f/4 Ai-s which replaced it. I owned that a few years ago and can vouch for its prowess too.