Optical Inclination

... Journal Entry

Having recently sat down and reset my photographic goals and direction, the medium I wished to use to achieve them and essentially the camera I would use to do so, it was now opportune to think about optics.

Taken on Kodak Portra 800 my all time favourite emulsion
Taken on Kodak Portra 800 my all time favourite emulsion

To recap, I had reset my direction for next year thus:

  1. I wanted to return to some unfinished business in terms focusing down on capturing the genius loci of a few of my favourite places and indeed many new unexplored ones too
  2. The medium on which I wanted to do this was 35mm film
  3. The choice of equipment I wanted to use was a 35mm AF SLR and this ended up being a Nikon F80.

Thus the question became, what about optics? Well the first choice was made for me as the camera I bought came with a Nikon AF 50mm f1.4 D bundled with it. So this 50mm was by default the first lens to join my outfit as my fast prime "normal" lens.


I then decided to supplement this lens with a small set from the same old AF-D generation of optics as they are both excellent quality for film work and can be found at bargain prices in the used market as, unlike the newer AF-S lenses, they have no motors in them and can only be driven by the body integral AF motor of such cameras as my F80 so are not in that great of a demand.


Now anyone who has read much of this journal will be aware of my predilection for fast prime lenses over zooms so you would think I was pretty happy to have gained the speedy 50mm as part of the deal with F80 body? Well sort of as we shall see. So there are two obvious choices to make up a three lens basic set given that your normal lens is a 50mm.

Firstly, given conventional wisdom, I would need a wide angle that is half the focal length of the normal lens i.e. a 25mm but most makers produce a 24mm in this area and Nikon are no exception so an AF 24mm f2.8 D then? Secondly, a short tele or portrait lens of about twice the focal length of the normal lens would be needed i.e.100mm say? Thus the nearest thing would be the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AF Micro?


Well, no! Let's start with the 50mm as a normal focal length. I much prefer to use a 40mm as a standard lens for 35mm photography (but will live with the 50mm as it is both fast at f1.4 and came for 'free' so to speak. But on the basis of a my preference for a 40mm normal lens my wide angle choice would be a 20mm and my portrait lens an 80mm and this lead me nicely to the two lenses I actually acquired the Nikon AF 20mm f2.8 D and the Nikon AF 85mm f1.8 D. The latter also gives me the added advantage of the speedier f1.8 wider aperture too.

Now as an aside it's interesting how we are creatures of habit and always end up replicating a similar solution in differing technologies over and over again, witness for example in my G2 electronic focus rangefinder camera my favourite lenses are my 21mm, 45mm and 90mm optics!

This then brought me to a very difficult conundrum, the requirement for a medium tele lens, something around the 180/200mm range. There is in the old AF-D range a 180mm f2.8 IF-ED but it is big, heavy, cumbersome and has a reputation for focusing inaccuracy problems, there is also a AF Micro 200mm f4.0 D IF-ED which is even bigger, heavier, more cumbersome and quite expensive. This pushed me towards looking for a zoom solution but if they were cheap they were soft at least one end like the commonly available AF 70-300mm f4-5.6 D ED or if they were high quality sharp they were big and heavy and of course expensive like the AF 80-200mm f/2.8 D ED. Humph!

It was then I tripped over an oldie but goodie quite by accident in my extensive searches as you don't find it mentioned in most of the major references out there and this was the Nikon AF 70-210mm f4-5.6 D. A very compact and relatively lightweight zoom that has the reputation for being sharp throughout its zoom range and for having super fast and accurate AF too. The added benefit of it, if you can find one, is they are dirt cheap. Two down sides, the slow maximum apertures (but hence the compactness) and the old fashioned push-pull "trombone" style zoom mechanism, but for £95 for a high optical performer? Job done.

Taken on the new Harman Phoenix 200 CN film - all kinds of weirdness - but interesting
Taken on the new Harman Phoenix 200 CN film - all kinds of weirdness - but interesting

So here I am, I have set my new direction and now obtained the appropriate equipment with which to undertake it, as follows:

  • Nikon F80 Body
  • Nikon AF 20mm f2.8 D
  • Nikon AF 50mm f1.4 D
  • Nikon AF 85mm f1.8 D
  • Nikon AF 70-210mm f4-5.6 D

Note: at some time, when funds allow, I will replace the AF 70-210mm with a used Nikon 70-200mm f4 G AF-S ED VR in order to gain the benefit of the 5 stops of VR (anti-wobble) plus the constant f4 aperture this lens provides.


All that remains is to review the medium I have chosen to deliver it i.e. the 35mm colour negative film stock I intend to use in my work over the next year or so to realise my vision, but that's a subject for another time.

Post Script:

I could't resist; the Nikon AF 35mm f2 D is a super quality old optic that is especially hard to find in the used market these days so when I tripped over one I grabbed and added it to the set. This well may become my 'normal' every day carry about lens rather than the 50mm f1.4 which I find a little on the long side for my tastes. The full list of my 35mm equipment can be found here.