Originally introduced in 1977, Nikon’s AI [Automatic Indexing] lenses went on to establish a reputation for build quality and optical excellence.
Whether you’re shooting 35mm film SLRs or adapting them to a digital camera, these lenses remain great options today.
Important: AI and AI-S lenses almost always have the exact same optical formula (exception: 28mm AI-S). In other words, you can save money by just buying the older AI lenses. However, some still prefer to purchase the AI-S lenses as they are newer and more likely to be in good condition (ultimately, each lens has its own history and you should expect in person if possible).
Here are the best value picks (in order of focal length):
- Nikon 28mm F2.8 AI / AI-S: great focusing mechanism, sharp edge to edge (even wide open).
- Nikon 28mm F3.5: wide angle on a budget.
- Nikon 35mm F2 AI / AI-S: small, fast, sharp: perfect for street and travel. High sample variation!
- Nikon 50mm F1.4 AI/ AI-S: one of the all time greats.
- Nikon 50mm F1.8: great “do it all” lens (street, portraits, travel, etc.)
- Nikon 50mm F1.8 (Series E): cheap and cheerful pancake lens (great for beginners shooting film)
- Nikon 55mm F1.2 AI-S: OK, it’s not cheap, but it just had to be included here for the unique rendering and beautiful bokeh.
- Nikon 55mm F2.8 Micro-Nikkor AI-S: one of the sharpest macro lenses ever made. A cult favourite.
- Nikon 55mm F3.5 Micro-Nikkor: cheaper than the F2.8 Micro, but still optically excellent. Amazing value.
- Nikon 85mm F1.4 AI-S: not cheap, but still loved by portrait pros for a reason. Creamy bokeh! Decent wide open, great by f/2.
- Nikon 100mm F2.8 (Series E): amazing value for portraiture and other short telephoto work.
- Nikon 105mm F2.5 AI / AI-S: great lens for portraiture (Steve McCurry’s famous Afghan Girl NG cover photo was taken with this lens).
- Nikon 135mm F2.8 AI / AI-S: very sharp, perfect headshot lens.
- Nikon 135mm F3.5 AI: great portrait lens on a budget.
- Nikon 180mm F2.8 AI-S: sharp telephoto, great performer.
- Nikon 75-150mm F3.5 (Series E): much better than its (low) price would suggest. A bargain pick. Negatives: exhibits zoom creep and lets in a lot of dust (push-pull mechanism).
Comprehensive Nikon lens websites: