Back in the “glory days” of Nikon’s legendary AI-s lenses, which provided outstanding optical and mechanical quality to film SLRs, there were so many great optics to choose from. Though the zooms provided good results on film, it was the primes that have maintained much of their resale value, due to their still stellar performance on today’s digital cameras (that said, Nikon’s old zooms are still “good” for the most part). Even today, a full set of a supposed AI-s “dream-team”—such as the 24mm f/2, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.4, 105mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2, 180mm f/2.8 ED, and 300mm f/2.8 ED—will still set you back a very pretty penny (all depending on the condition of the lens and the current demand, of course). There was a problem for photographers who didn’t necessarily demand top-tier performance: there were no cheap AI-s lenses to be found, and third-party options were always hit-and-miss. For this crowd, who still wanted to buy Nikon, their only option was to save up and acquire one or two lenses in their kit—though in fairness this can help improve one’s photography in some ways. In 1979 Nikon finally made more affordable options to the “general photography” crowd, their Series-E line. A more thorough explanation can be seen here, but basically, the Series-E lenses use similar optical formulas as their AI-s Nikkor counterparts (worth noting that all Series-E lenses are technically “AI-s” in function), use some plastic in their construction, and can be had at a bargain in an online auction house of your choice.
Seeing as the NEX-7′s sensor has gotten a lot of praise (and flak) for its ability to bring out both the best and the worst in lenses due to the extreme pixel density, I feel the camera makes a great testing platform for old legacy lenses to see exactly how they stack up placed in front of modern sensors that they technically weren’t designed for. By testing the Series-E line-up (in addition to lenses that I’m sure to keep such as the 105mm f/1.8), I have a relatively inexpensive way to get some base benchmarks for future tests to follow, as well as single out possible gems that present a tempting value proposition. Though not the first Series-E lens I have (that would be the 50mm f/1.8), this 35mm f/2.5 is the widest prime I have used, giving about a “normal” 50mm field of view (in 35mm format) when used on an APS-C camera. I have had the lens for about a week now, and generally am enjoying what it can do—when stopped down. After visting a local Japanese-inspired park today, I have come away with a good idea of what this lens is capable of.
When used at its maximum f/2.5 aperture—relatively slow by modern standards—images from the 35mm come out generally fuzzy, and contrast is simply not good. Background bokeh is also noticeably “busy”. However, when focusing at close to medium distances, the depth of field is delightfully thin. Finally, though not visible in the below shot, purple fringing is TERRIBLE (will detail that in the full review).
However, it isn’t all bad. When used in the “sweet-spot” range (I still haven’t determined yet if it is f/5.6 or f/8), everything in general improves.
I will detail this in the review, but honestly the only two reasons to use this lens on your NEX, m4/3′s camera, or Nikon DSLR is for a compact and dirt-cheap “normal” lens. To me, wide-open performance is important (keeping ISOs low, shutter speed up, and useable shallow depth of field among other reasons). The fact that this lens at its relatively slow maximum aperture performs just “okay” isn’t good enough for me. Keep in mind that for $50 shipped, I do not expect miracles from this lens. I am also using it on a very demanding sensor, so results on cameras such as the NEX-5n and Olympus EM-5 may very well be much better.
Anyways, I’ll conclude these impressions with just a few of my favorite pictures taken with it so far:
Thanks for dropping by, should have the full review up by Sunday (hopefully sooner). As always, have a great one.