Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS

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A few years ago, my wife arranged for a group of my friends to surprise me for my birthday.  My friend Steve surprised me even more with the very generous gift of a Nikon FM2 and an assortment of AIS lenses.  Among them was this absolute gem, the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS.

It is small, it is light, it is one of my all-time favorite street photography lenses, and it is still being manufactured by Nikon (since 1984!).  In fact, not only is this lens still sold new, but it is more expensive over the counter than Nikon’s AF-D version.

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Sure there is a bit of nostalgia in using a manual focus lens in the digital era, especially at a common focal length where most manufacturers have plenty of more modern options.  In terms of image quality, it is hard to quantify the difference between this lens and the AF-D version, since they have basically identical designs.  That said, barrel distortion is a hair better on the AIS, and contrast is most definitely increased on the older lens.  In terms of sharpness and flare control, both are about equal, but there is more purple fringing on the AIS.  Even so, the differences are so minimal that it is mostly subjective.  I’m sure that the new Nikon 1.8 and Sigma 1.4 are better performers, but I doubt that they are dramatically so.  Still, you can get the new Nikon for about the same price as this AIS, so you’ve really got to want the size/weight savings to buy this one over it (or you’ve gotta have a friend like Steve).

It is also important to note that this lens will not meter on the D3xxx or D5xxx lines of cameras (or the D40 and D60 if you’ve got older cams).

The 20mm f/2.8 AIS sells a hood separately, which looks almost exactly like the step-up ring installed on my lens above.  Neither really prevent much glare, but for about the same cost, I do welcome the ability to attach my 77mm ND and Circular Polarizer filters (20mm is about as wide as go with polarizers on my crop-sensor).

Top view at closest focus:

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Top view at Infinity:

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Full Name: Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS
Max/Min. Aperture: 2.8/22
Diaphragm Blades: 7
Lens Configuration: 12 Elements in 9 Groups
Filter Size: 62mm
Magnification Ratio: 1:8
Focuses Beyond: 10″

Side view 1:

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Side view 2 (with 62mm to 77mm step-up ring):

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Walking around with this lens is a total joy.  It is small enough to fit in a coat pocket, but I can attach this lens to one body and a 50mm f/1.8 to another and both will fit in a small to mid-sized messenger like F-Stop’s Bandon.  This configuration is extremely portable, and really puts the emphasis back on just having fun taking pictures (I decide if I want a wide shot or a closer shot and grab the combo with that option -then it is just all about composition).  For street photography and urban landscapes, I find this set-up ideal, being light weight and non-intimidating.

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Some images taken with this lens:

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4 Responses

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  1. […] Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS […]

  2. […] was my first opportunity to use some of those lenses, and so I brought with me my Nikon D300 and my Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS and 50mm f/1.4 AIS lenses.  I had so much fun with the primes, that I decided to switch over from […]

  3. […] this Photo Flood, I used my Nikon D300 with the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS and Nikon D200 with Nikon 50mm f/1.8E.  This set-up, an alternative to my 24mm f/2.8D and 50mm […]

  4. […] Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AiS […]


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