There are 8 lenses total in the “consumer” lineup of Nikon’s Series-E’s. You can take this post as a bit of a guide for help choosing which lens may be right for your photography. Lenses are arranged from wide-angle to telephoto. Links to the full reviews are located in the headings. Also, below two pictures are in a much bigger size than they are displayed here. Click on them to see more detail. First up, the 5 primes in the series:
28mm f/2.8–The Odd Man Out
As blunt as I was in the review’s conclusion, the 28mm E is the weakest performer of the Series-E primes. Running at about $100/€82 on the market, this lens is in the upper-end in price compared to other Series-Es, and doesn’t present as good a value proposition as them either. Though the 28mm performs admirably in a few areas, such as central sharpness at all apertures, bokeh smoothness, and overall shootability—image qualities such as corner sharpness and flare control do much to tarnish its overall reputation.
For m4/3 users, the 28mm E is a rather useless lens, as it becomes a very slow “normal” lens with a 56mm field of view. On APS-C, it performs as an okay short “normal” with a 42mm field of view. When used for panoramas, wide-angle performance can be simulated, doubling the lens’ versatility.
35mm f/2.5–The Poor Man’s Macro
The 35mm E is a very good lens overall. In general, central sharpness is great (especially at close-focus), the reproduction ratio is the highest of all the Series-Es, and at $50/€40 a high value proposition is presented. Despite the great value, corner sharpness at larger apertures is very bad (but not as bad as the 28mm E), and bokeh is mostly distracting.
On m4/3 the 35mm E behaves like a 70mm short portrait (though without a fast aperture), while on APS-C it performs as a 52mm “normal”. I particularly feel the 35mm E is at its best when used for close-up shots. With the high sharpness and contrast at the optimum f/8 combined with the close 1-foot focus distance, faux-macro work is possible (though some cropping may be required). Many of my first close-up lens product shots were taken with this lens.
50mm f/1.8–The Little One that Could
If I had to choose one lens that embodies the whole point of the Series-Es, it would be the 50mm E. It does just about everything right:
- It’s the lightest and most compact Series-E, and the second lightest lens Nikon has ever made
- It’s fast
- It’s sharp even in the corners
- It has smooth bokeh
- It controls purple fringing well
- It has no distortion or noticeable vignetting
The only aspects in performance I could possibly moan about are the lackluster bokeh highlights, flare control, and focus shift at f/4-5.6. Even then, the good far outweighs the bad, and at only $50/€40, the 50mm E is probably the best value you’ll ever see in a Nikon lens. On a m4/3 camera, the 50mm acts as a 100mm medium portrait lens, while on APS-C, a short portrait.
100mm f/2.8–A Fast Telephoto in a Compact Package
Though the 50mm E is a great lens, 50mm’s from almost all manufacturers are great, so its optical performance isn’t particularly surprising. When lenses move into wide-angle or telephoto territory, performance has the potential to drop-off with cheap lenses. Not so with the 100mm E. It is very sharp and contrasty (sharp even wide-open), with great background bokeh, good depth of field control, with it all wrapped up in an extremely small and lightweight optic. The only areas that leave a bit to be desired are flare performance and heavy focus shift (only really affecting DSLR shooters).
What really surprised me is how the 100mm E kept up so well with the much more expensive and larger 105mm f/1.8 AI-s at equivalent apertures. At the current market price of $80/€63, it really is a bargain for the amazing performance it offers. On m4/3 the lens behaves like a 200mm long telephoto, while on APS-C, a 150mm intimate portrait lens.
135mm f/2.8–A Bit More Reach, A Bit More Length
The longest and heaviest Series-E prime, the 135mm E isn’t a pocketable lens. However, it is very fast, a great performer, and doesn’t break the bank at $90/€71 (just like every Series-E). It is strange this lens is branded as a Series-E because it is almost completely made of metal (also sporting a metal slide out lens hood). Only a few parts, such as the aperture control ring, are plastic. Weight-wise, it’s only a bit (40 grams) lighter than the AI-s version. Areas the 135mm E performs admirably in are overall sharpness, bokeh smoothness, and flare control. The only things that bug me are the need to stop down hard to f/11 to attain optimum performance, as well as the heavy longitudinal chromatic aberrations (which can usually be edited out).
The 135mm E is a great choice for m4/3 and APS-C users alike, as it gives an almost super-telephoto 270mm field of view on m4/3, and a 200mm long telephoto on APS-C. That said, this lens may only work exceptionally well on m4/3 cameras with in-body image stabilization due to camera shake.
So, most of the primes are great in the Series-E lineup. But what about the 3 zooms filling in the rest of the range? Again, click on the below two pictures for more detail:
36-72mm f/3.5–This One Should Do Better…
The smallest and lightest zoom in the Series-E lineup, the 36-72mm is also the only zoom of “pancake” design, fully collapsed at the 72mm length. On a full-frame camera, this lens would cover a generally useful range, from wide angle to short telephoto. On APS-C, a little less useful “normal” to mid-telephoto. Finally on m4/3 the 36-72mm would perform as a telephoto zoom. What I generally liked about this lens had mostly to due with its small size and shootability. Sharpness was generally good at or near optimum apertures, but in general, detractions such as distortion, flare control, and the pitiful close-focus distance do a lot to keep this lens from performing well. This is the one Series-E zoom I generally would not recommend for most photographic applications, even at the relatively cheap price of only $40/€30.
75-150mm f/3.5–A Solid, Compact Performer
This simple, compact, 2x zoom has a lot of things to like and not a lot of things to gripe about! Sharpness is generally great (peaking at f/5.6!), bokeh is smooth, the lens focuses exceptionally close at 150mm, and there is no distortion. The only area I would have liked to see improved is the handling of purple fringing. Though never really noticeable, purple fringing doesn’t completely go away until f/16. Ouch. Other than that, this $100/€80 2x zoom is a great performer. On m4/3 this lens functions as a great telephoto zoom, from 150mm-300mm in 35mm-format field-of-view.
70-210mm f/4–Pretty Much an AI-s Nikkor
This final zoom is the heaviest, largest, and longest-reaching of all the Series-E’s. The 3x telephoto zoom range and fast f/4 aperture lends the 70-210mm to use for outdoor sports photography or portraiture. If you take a detailed look at my review, you’ll find that any negatives found with the lens are merely nitpicks–the 70-210mm is amazing in most every way (save for the nasty flare control!). This lens matches–or beats–the 75-150mm in all areas. The only reason to own both is if you need the compactness. Other than that, this $110 lens also presents a much higher value!
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the Series-E lenses. I thought I might find a break-out hit (like the 100mm), but I am pleasantly surprised to find overall performance to be great in nearly every lens. The only areas each lens’ AI-s counterpart (if it has one) are sure to perform better in are flare control (thanks to multi-coating), slightly higher optimum sharpness at a larger aperture, and impeccable build quality. If those aspects of a lens aren’t particularly important to you (they aren’t to me), you can find some great optics in the Series-E lineup at a great price.
In case you were wanting to know how well each lens performs technically compared to each other, I would put them into this order from “best” to “worst” (value is not taken into consideration):
- 100mm f/2.8 E
- 70-210mm f/4 E
- 50mm f/1.8 E
- 75-150mm f/3.5 E
- 135mm f/2.8 E
- 35mm f/2.5 E
- 28mm f/2.8 E
- 36-72mm f/3.5 E
Keep in mind that at optimum apertures, all these lenses are capable of performing well. Though I hesitate to recommend the 28mm E and 36-72mm E, you can’t go wrong with any of these lenses as long as you know what you will be using them for.
recently came across your article and have been reading along. i want to express my admiration of your writing skill. great to know that!
How would you say 28mm or the 35mm fair for video use? Thanks!
On a tripod I would think both would be just fine to get a stabilized image, but I would stop each down at least once to get some more contrast.
This article is the best. You have a new fan! I can’t wait for the next update, saved!
Nice review man! I like your style of review. 🙂
I was bought this lens, and sold my 75-150 F3.5 series E, sold my AF Tamron 70-300..
I also was try many zoom for nikon lens :
the series 1 Vivitar 70-210 f2.8-4, sigma 70-300, nikon af-d 70-300 f4-5.6, af-s 80-200 f2.8 VR,
And This 70-210 F4 is More SHARP, more CONTRAST, more GREAT build, more SMOOTH bokeh, than the cheap and slower Nikon af 70-300 f4-5.6, Tamron 70-300, sigma 70-300…
And this lens is “as SHARP as” and much LIGHTWEIGHT than the Hulkier AF-S 70-200 F2.8, with just 1 f-stop different.
And GREATER than the faster Vivitar series 1
The more I like than my 75-150 f3.5 is :
-Macro function at 70mm.
-more vivid color reproduction that my 75-150.
– Anything is GREAT & MIRACLE! For just $120-$170 price
Many thanks Patrick, glad you liked them. And all good points you mention in the 70-210’s favor. It really is a fantastic lens by any standard. 🙂
I used to have the 35, 50 and 100 series E lenses for film use. I bought an Nikon FM new in 1980 and it came with the 50. I was so impressed that I bought the other two and even later when I could afford an F3 and AIS lenses, I never replaced the 35, 50 and 100. There was no need to, they were (and are) every bit as good as the more expensive and faster Nikkors.
I agree with you mostly there. The Series-E lenses are quite high-performing lenses–at least on APS-C. Don’t have a full-frame digital body to try them on, nor do I know how to objectively judge detail on 35mm film (if I processed it! haha). That said, optical formulas between the lenses are at least similar, if not the same. Only real differences are build quality and flare control, with the AI-s Nikkors generally excelling more in both over the Series-E’s. There are a few times I go out and miss that 100mm f/2.8…don’t bring back the tears, Andrew. XD
Thanks for this great write up, exactly what I was looking for. Looks like a great little set of lenses w/ some really great bargains in there too.
Glad the page helped! It was a lot of fun taking a look at the whole set.
Thank for the all series lenses. It´s hard to find such complete review.
Glad you liked the comparison, Luis!
Excellent review. Thank you very much for posting it. The photos all look great.
Thanks Tom! I’m glad the comparisons helped!
Great review! I must ask… to mount one of these lenses to a E-mount Sony camera, what adapter should I borrow?
Hey there Andrew, glad the post helped! The adapter type you are looking for is Nikon F to Sony E. Many companies manufacture an adapter type of their own, but if you’re using just AI-s/manual focus lenses, look for a “dummy” adapter that doesn’t have any electronic contacts with the camera.
I used to use the Fotodiox PRO adapter, for a solid 4 years in fact. Just picked up a Fotodiox DLX adapter and it’s even compatible with the “G” type lenses of today (if I ever need to mount them). The better parts of this adapter though, the tripod mount is a lot more secure, and the adapter itself has much less play/wiggle between the lens/adapter and adapter/camera.
Merci pour cet analyse. Mise à part le 75-150 et le 35mm, je les possède tous et j’ai beaucoup de plaisir à faire des photos avec le 50mm ainsi que le 100.
J’utilisais un Nikon FA en argentique et maintenant un NEX6 avec un adaptateur.
Heureux que vous avez apprécié l’examen!
This is a really fab review and is a great help to me. I inherited a Nikon EM at Christmas and was hoping to hunt down some more lenses that would be compatible and know the Nikon E series lenses should be compatible.
I am looking forward to learning more about my new camera and trying out different techniques and lenses!
Hey there Didi! Glad you found the comparison helpful, and that you can get some nice E-series glass for your Nikon EM!
This is great – thanks Matthew.
I use the 50mm, 100mm, 70-150mm and 70-210mm on MFT cameras. All the first 3 together in a bag for less weight than any comparable zoom with reasonable quality – and for the price – cheaper x 5-20 than buying a current panasonic/olympus M4/3 equivalent with apertures of similar size (1.8 to 4.0).
I agree the 70-210 is great – but it gets left behind because of its weight. Afterall – the aim of MFT photography is to go light and compact !
Flare control means lens hoods at all times – and on a M4/3 body remember this means hoods twice as long as you expect for the 35mm “full frame” equivalent. So a 28mm lens needs a standard hood suitable for a 50-55mm full frame lens. A 50mm lens needs a telephoto hood suitable for a 100mm full frame lens. To manage this I have bought a set of rubber lens hoods – the ones that can fold out in 3 steps and cost only GBP £1/1.20 Euro from online shops. Each lens has one on at all times – enabliing the usual lens cap to be used and giving a ring of soft protection in the camera bag as a bonus!
That just leaves what to do for a 400mm equivalent for M4/3 – because we agree to 70-210 is too heavy. So my suggestion is to switch loyalties and look for either the Olympus 200mm F5 or the Pentax SMC 200mm f4. Both are light and compact and have good optics. Both are well built so have stood up to 30 years of use before you buy them on ebay. Furthermore these lenses (Nikon Es, Olympus 200mm F5, Pentax 200mm f4) were all “amateur lenses” so mostly had sparing use – so are both relatively inexpensive and are often spotless desite their age on ebay. Not so the “professional quality” Nikkor 105mms, Pentax 200mm f2.8s, Olympus 200mm F4s etc on ebay that seem all to have been used by war correspondents!
For those who worry that f5 is too small for a 200mm (400mm equivalent) remember why expensive fast lenses were sold in the 1970s-90s. Firstly – film was noisy (grainy) and lacked resolution after 400 ASA for colour negative and 100ASA for slides. Nowadays we all use 200-800ASA without a worry. Secondly, pentaprisms and mirrors sucked up light – and manual focus needed light for you to see the microprism. F5 lenses were DARK in the viewfinder. Now MFTs have electronic viewfinders – even F8 mirror lenses look as bright as F1.4 50mm’s when you compose and focus. Lastly – thoses expensive legacy f2.8 telephotos and zooms usually perform badly wide open. For the best image quality you will still be stopping down to F4.5 – F8. So in reality with a crop-format camera buying “amateur” “slow” lenses gets you kit that is less worn, smaller, lighter and cheaper — what’s not to like?
What’s not to like?…..well – its just the matter of camera shake with telephotos in low light when even 800ASA won’t help. My solution with any portrait is to pop up the flash and use this to fill in. This gives central sharpness and contrast – and if the lens shake blurs the backgroud – well that’s creative photography for you !
So – when “experts” tell you to buy fast, expensive, heavy lenses – just think again
best wishes to you all – Paul C in the UK
Good analysis for m4/3 users out there, glad I could help Paul!
What a wonderful review and I concur with you. The weakest of the bunch seems to be the 36-72 F3.5 but it’s not horrible. It’s not much on close focusing, but it is fun to shoot with.
My favs are the 50, 75-150 and the 28.
Next year, I’m hoping to shoot more with all of them.
Thanks for sharing! And yes, in the right hands, any of the lenses can make some good shots, I was fine with the 36-72 on occasion. I still have and shoot with the 50, and it has yet to let me down!
I just recently started investing into classic prime lenses and i stumbled over your reviews. Your enthusiasm is certainly contagious! It makes me want to try these E-Series lenses myself.
I have a question however. I already have a good 50mm prime but it seems that for my shooting style i’m often “too short”.
I was thinking either about the E-Series 100mm or the 75-150. However i’m afraid that the 100mm might be to big of a step above 50mm. On the other hand I could imagine never going above 100mm with the 75-150 which would basically negate the heavy weight of it.
In you subjective opinion, do you think a 100mm prime is in the end less flexible but more usable than a 75-150?
Thanks in advance
Hey there matrigs! Glad you are getting into the classic lenses. The 100mm will provide a field of view about doubly-close than your 50mm. On APS-c, it’s pretty telephoto, but still reasonably wide on full-frame. I would recommend the 100mm Series-E if only for the reason that it’s compact and fast, with good optical quality. I had no real issues with the 75-150, but it obviously doesn’t have the same feel as a prime lens. You could always get both and try them out, because who knows, you may enjoy both for different uses!
What to do for a “fast standard” lens with full manual control on a micro 4/3?
As Matthew said – the old 28mm F2.8 “amateur” lenses are a problem on crop-factor cameras: the F2.8 depth of field becomes more like that of a F5.6 on a micro 4/3. Speed is slow at F2.8 – 3.5. Furthermore the typical 14-42mm “kit lenses” from Panasonic and Olympus are all great for image quality, so you have little to gain using one.
So where to look for a “Fast standard?” manual focus lens?
Well I stumbled onto the Meike brand 25mm F1.8 that comes with a native M4/3 mount. It had a recent price drop below £40 / $50 on auction sites at the start of 2019 – so I bought one on spec’. It turns out to be great; fully meatal construction, with 9 aperture blades its Bokeh is good (and you will be using it wide open I am sure); sharpness eis excellent centrally at F1.8 and good across the frame by F4-F5.6. Colour and contrast is good, and with a 50mm length lens hood – flare control is also fine. My only disklie – they have no click-stop for aperture.
So – while its “off subject” for the Nikon-E topic – these Chinese “generic” lenses do fill in the missing gap at budget prices. I do have the excellent Lumix 25mm AF – but sometimes full manual control delivers better creative images.
Best wishes to you all – Paul C
I agree, Paul. These Chinese-brand lenses have come a long way in recent years. My Laowa 15mm and 105mm are great examples of what they are capable of nowadays for a decent price.
I own 50mm and 35mm. Personally, I can say that the review is matching my experience with them.
“Size Vs. General Performance” is the winning point for me. 35mm got this really close focus distance is also nice for me. I’d like all my wide angle to be super close focus distance! I consider it is a pool choice not to have a close focus distance when having a wide angle lens.
I sold a 35mm Samyang F1.4 in compare with the 35mm E.
Reasons are: size & weight. performance from F4 at equivalent F-stop are quite oki for me between those two.
Do not get me wrong. the Samyang was a better lens optically, but it des not suit me due to the weight and size.
The 50mm, oh man, this one is a must have.
I have 50mm 1.8 G as well. Beside the closest focus distance, I can not fault a thing compared with the modern G. And the size, it is so small that I actually have it all the time in my pocket or bag if I carry some other lens out shooting. very easy to be kept by my side. Which also means a lot of photo taken using it. Very practical.
This 50mm reminds me a lot of my dad’s Voigtlander 40mm as well. Size, focus feelings and so on.
Couldn’t agree more! My 50mm has stayed in my bag with me all these years. So much lens is so little a form factor.