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