Review: Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI-S

"Beautiful" - Fargo, ND

 

A few months back I acquired an older beater of a lens: the legendary Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AIS.  It is in pretty rough shape, but it was dirt cheap, so I took it without hesitation.  As I have mentioned before, my old D700 doesn’t get used very much anymore.  Since I bought the X100 last fall, I have really moved away from carrying the big, heavy, bulky Nikon around at all.  While not unmanageable, the size and weight of it definitely present a set of concerns when I reach for a camera.  It’s simply not a carry-everywhere camera for me, and I have been tempted to sell it a few times–but I have resisted thus far.  Part of the reason is that I have literally zero interest in purchasing the successor model, the Nikon D800/800E.  Another big, heavy camera with some insane amount of megapixels and ISO that goes to unprecedented (and I’d argue not very useful) levels?  No thanks.

But I digress.  Back to the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AIS.  This lens is, certainly by today’s standard, incredibly small.  It’s built very well, which one expects from a lens of this age; no plastic on this puppy, as the newer, more cheaply-made Nikkor lenses are.  This is solid metal, and as such does possess some heft.  It is only a few millimeters longer than my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-D, but heavier.  It features a built-in hood, which is a rarity among SLR lenses, but can be useful.  Personally, I can never be bothered with carrying around lens hoods (it’s easier to just use your hand, and saves space in your bag) so this is a benefit.

Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AIS

 

One of the things I like about this lens the most is it’s size.  Frequently, portrait lenses are massive.  In Nikon’s own lineup, one would only have to point to the rather large Nikkor 85mm f/1.4, the Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8, or the behemoth Nikkor 135mm f/2 DC to see this play out–anyone who has used these lenses (especially the last one) knows that they are very large, very heavy, and quite cumbersome.  Beautiful as the results from those lenses can be, if it is that big I simply won’t reach for it.  And at 1/10 (10%) of the cost of the Nikkor 135mm f/2 DC, this lens is reasonably priced.  So…a great lens with a reasonably fast aperture for less than $100?  There must be a catch!  Well, that depends on you.  Read on and see…

You will have to focus the lens yourself, which some people are not used to and can’t be bothered to do.  In fact, since most people put their DSLRs on “Auto” mode and shoot away with their 18-200 f/dark kit zooms, one might hardly expect them to focus the lens.  If the camera does everything else for you, why not let it focus too?  If that’s you, move right along.  For the rest of you, manually focusing your glass is very easy, and can be quite satisfying.  Older lenses also will not couple properly to some of the lower-end Nikon DSLRs, so make sure yours can take this type of lens before taking the plunge.

I find myself putting this lens on my D700 about half the time I take it out now, and I have also used it on my older film-era Nikon (FM2) as well.  It produces excellent results on both film and digital.  It is sufficiently sharp without being too sharp; these days it seems that lens sharpness is almost an obsession.  In fact, behind ever-higher ISO power (the holy grail of digital cameras nowadays), lens sharpness is the second-biggest thing people are after, it seems.  Anyone who has taken portraits will tell you that a good portrait lens should not be razor-sharp when shot wide open.  It should render the out-of-focus areas pleasantly, while also being a bit soft overall; the last thing you want are unflattering details on your subject.

Overall, I can recommend this lens highly–especially for the money you are likely to shell out for it: not much.

PROS:

  • Very compact
  • Built-in hood
  • Fast aperture (though not as fast as some)
  • Very pleasant bokeh, or out-of-focus background areas

CONS:

  • Older lens, which means it is all manual; some cameras won’t recognize the lens
  • Aperture not as fast as some (though this helps in size and weight)

 

If you have any thoughts or feedback, I’d love to hear it.  Get in touch in the comments down below, or drop me an email.  Also, feel free to share this post, or other posts on my blog with others who may enjoy my work too, using the social network buttons below, or simply emailing the link.  Thanks in advance!

-Trevor

 

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8 thoughts on “Review: Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI-S

  1. Hi, I’m thinking to get this one, would you mind to show us some masterpiece sample took by this lens please?

    Alex

  2. I got one of these lenses in a thrift store for $30. I had no idea when I bought it what an amazing lens it would turn out to be. After using it for a while I started looking for ai/ais lenses on a regular basis. I have 5 old, metal Nikkor lenses now.

  3. any experience with the 105mm 1.8 that has the 9 blade diaphragm? Same era I think – it was the fastest 105mm available in the ai-s manual scheme. In my experience with some older lenses it seems the 9 blades casts a smoother, less obtrusive bokeh. I want the 105mm but the 1.8 costs more. Thanks for the review!

    • I don’t have any experience with it myself, but the extra stop compared to the cost was too much for me. I have found recently that I find “bokeh” rather boring. But in answer to your question, from what I have heard the 1.8 is indeed a good lens, but the older optics produce a softer image, which is great for portraits–the last thing you want in a portrait lens is that razor-sharpness that makes blemishes on your subject stand out. That’s all I got, sorry, hope it helps.

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