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Nikon Lens Treasure for the Taking
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Jul 7, 2016 19:39:41   #
forjava
 
Yesterday, a fellow hog remarked, "If you know what to look for, maybe you'll find a treasure!" Maybe find a treasure? How about finding a treasure for sure? Treasures have to be excellent and mispriced. In the last month, I've helped myself to as much lens mini-treasure as I can carry and now it is time to broadcast opportunity.

On eBay, the excellent (See below.) early "Auto" lenses are low-priced and plentiful. They are hard to sell largely because they cannot be used on, say full-frame Nikon cameras.

In the last month, I have bought a dozen Auto lenses, from 28mm to 300mm. I even have a few duplicates because I am finding them in ever-more gorgeous condition. Most, but not, for example, the 300mm H, are marked with the underappreciated "C" coating. This useful coating happens to indicate a non-initial version of an Auto lens, whatever its focal length. All these Autos are good to go on my D810.

Oh! Wait!! Use Autos on my D810? Who knew??

The Heart of the Story
So, here's the story. The long-since sold-out factory AI kit for these manual-focus lenses was installed in the 1970s on some fraction of the used Auto (non-AI = pre-AI = NAI) lenses. This kit made the Auto lenses roughly as usable as the later AI lenses, on AI cameras. These manual-focus lenses are available on eBay and not rare, yet. These "factory AI'd" lenses will work on today's Nikon DSLRs, if you know how to focus manually.

The factory AI'd lenses are worth more than unaltered Autos but seem to be priced the same as their counterparts that have remained unaltered to this day. The factory AI'd lenses are the treasure readily to be found. Sellers fail to point out this wonderful update 95% of the time, as if unaware of the factory AIs' greater utility. Amazingly, even sellers from Japan generally seem to be as brain-dead as the North American sellers when it comes to factory AI'd lenses, simply describing factory AI'd Auto lenses as non-AI.

How to Find
How to find these desirable items? Search on: Nikkor Auto -"auto focus"
This will find nearly all the Autos, that is the pre-AIs / non-AIs. Auto is the original term; the other two terms arose later, simultaneously.
An alternative search might append, "C" and, for example, "28mm".
Likewise, you could search: Nikkor Auto -"auto focus" 28mm H.C
A useful synonym on eBay for dot-C notation is dot-free notation, for example, some write H.C while others write HC.
The search above found seven 28mm H.C lenses while I was writing this, one of which had been factory AI'd, as I discovered only from the photos.

How to Recognize
You may ask how to recognize these more treasured Auto lenses -- with infallibility, at the expert level? After all, the searches above indifferently return any Auto lens for sale on eBay, including those not factory AI'd. There is a lot to this question and its answer but here are two simple ways.
1) Look for a row of white aperture numbers below the prong that sticks out near the rear of the lens.
2) Look for "nostrils" on the prong.
Invariably, if (1) is true, so will be (2) and vice-versa. So if either is true for a lens marked, Auto, both will be true and the lens can only be an instance that has been factory AI'd. Notice that later AI and AI-S Nikkors (Series E lenses are not Nikkors and are AI, not Auto.) pass this test but cannot be marked as Auto. This visual test is quite adequate to avoid buying an unaltered Auto lens. Likewise, this visual test is good enough to avoid less-desirable home-brewed Auto lenses -- see below. Seller descriptions on eBay often suffer from the seller's lack of familiarity with lenses.

Now, only for completeness fiends, here are some minor points: While this discussion has featured eBay, the discovery procedure above works for any lens for sale anywhere, as in garage sales, photo retailers, and pawn shops. You can be your own expert. Wherever you may look, some of the lenses for sale returned from your own on-line searches may be factory AI'd, as you'd wish to get maximum utility. Being your own expert is essential, as misinformation about photography is not especially rare, let alone confusion about lens mounts.

Notice that a seller may use the term, non-AI or pre-AI or NAI and similar descriptors without mentioning the definitive Auto marking. It follows that searches using many such synonyms will uncover more candidate lenses than a search using just "Auto". Similarly, there are lenses inadequately described that are factory AI'd with no cue (Auto, non-AI, etc.) in the description. Some of these are so naively photographed that there is no cue in the photo either. In this unusual case, there is nothing that even the expert lens architect can exploit.

Home-brew AI'd Auto Lenses
For lenses described on eBay as just "AI'd." In the latter case -- if the term has been used suitably -- the lens may have been manually reworked to conform to the AI physical spec but with zero contribution from Nikon. These lenses have been AI'd without using the factory kit. This rework to achieve rough AI compatibility requires milling (grinding) the lens's base.

As I have had extensive exposure to older items built with hand work, I am of the school that milling the base of Auto lenses disfigures them and is better avoided. After all, the non-AIs serve well on, say, the D3100, and increasingly, so I hear, on mirrorless cameras. In fact, a year ago I had boxed up a 50mm 1.4 Auto-S to be milled by an expert. I held off and months later I finally understood why: my respect for the integrity and authenticity of the lens. This lens is now in its rightful place, unaltered, on my D3100. For my D810, I now have a later, superior 50mm f/1.4 Auto-S.C, bought from someone that had asked Nikon to factory-AI it back in the 1970s.

Excellence Mis-priced
How excellent are these Autos, you ask? Here is an indicator: In 2016, a Nikon lens designer revealed that the respected 55mm Auto, the f/3.5 of 1966, as I recall, had been designed to approach near-theoretical resolution. The designer's point was that Nikkor lenses, even those from archaic times, generally are adequate, by virtue of Nikon culture, to service the most advanced DSLR sensors.

I have not attempted a full-bore discussion of the comparative weaknesses of the Autos like flare suppression, unavailable to Autos to the extent now feasible with computer-aided lens design. Similarly for coatings. On the other hand, I have I not touched on the unique strengths of Autos wrt today's lenses like kinds of glass and low element count.

The key to this whole treasure topic is mis-pricing. The causes are:
(a) Hubris, with its attendant deprecation of earlier lens designers' wit
(b) Limited awareness -- while the AI kits used long ago in factory refits are generally sold out, factory AI'd lenses are plentiful on eBay
(c) Mis-scoped understanding of Auto lenses as suitable for only a few interesting cameras
(d) Abhorrence of milling and disfiguring in Auto lenses reworked manually, after the factory AI option became scarce

To be clear, I am not equating Autos and newer lenses I own like the 105mm G and the 85mm PCE. I am saying that Autos still have their place. For example, for product photography in the studio, I am curious to compare the adequacy of Nikkors of the same focal length and of the same aperture profile, using lens instances introduced over the years.

This discussion will not be news to some hogs but I hope I have added enough background to enable any learning-oriented or creatively oriented or financially constrained hog to confidently pick up some of this long-spilt treasurrrre.

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Jul 8, 2016 06:27:48   #
OnDSnap
 
Interesting, Ya wanna buy all my AI's :)

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Jul 8, 2016 07:32:11   #
Erv
 
LOL Doug!! You want to trade? I haven't counted mine in awhile, but I think it is close to 21.:):) I still play with a few of them now and then.


OnDSnap wrote:
Interesting, Ya wanna buy all my AI's :)

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Jul 8, 2016 08:31:28   #
OnDSnap
 
Erv wrote:
LOL Doug!! You want to trade? I haven't counted mine in awhile, but I think it is close to 21.:):) I still play with a few of them now and then.


Hey Erv,Ha!... ya know I hate to see them sitting in the closet along side the F2A's... I don't have 21 but a collection. Occasionally I'll use the 105mm, 28mm or 55 micro.

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Jul 8, 2016 09:20:07   #
wmurnahan
 
This is why I love my Sony a7II, I can put so many good old cheap lens on my camera with just an inexpensive adapter. I had several Canon FD lens (200 2.8, 100 4 macro, 24 2.8, 50 1.4). I've been looking on ebay and think I'm going to add a fish-eye. For the macro and wide angle shots I don't need auto focus.

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Jul 8, 2016 11:08:06   #
OnDSnap
 
wmurnahan wrote:
This is why I love my Sony a7II, I can put so many good old cheap lens on my camera with just an inexpensive adapter. I had several Canon FD lens (200 2.8, 100 4 macro, 24 2.8, 50 1.4). I've been looking on ebay and think I'm going to add a fish-eye. For the macro and wide angle shots I don't need auto focus.


I can use ALL my old AI lens on ALL my Nikon bodies without an adapter, just don't have AF. Manual focused for years...no biggie.

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Jul 8, 2016 16:32:26   #
wmurnahan
 
OnDSnap wrote:
I can use ALL my old AI lens on ALL my Nikon bodies without an adapter, just don't have AF. Manual focused for years...no biggie.


My regrets from the 1970's. I looked at both Nikon and Canon and went with Canon because I liked the EF over the Nikon auto because of several features. I bought all Canon glass and had a nice lens kit with all prime lenses. Then when auto focus came out, Canon went and changed mounts and I was wishing I had chose Nikon those many years ago. So I had been hesitant to buy a new camera because of the need to buy all new lens kit. My one digital was a Panasonic DMC-FZ10 because I always wanted a Leica lens, and I love that camera except when I wanted a print to hang on the wall and found out an 8x10 was a disappointment. When I discovered the Sony, I found my new camera. Can use my old lenses and provide stabilization. I don't miss the through the lens viewing, I love being able to magnify, with one button push, during focus with my manual lenses, something an SLR wouldn't do. I do miss the split screen focus aid of the old SLR, when I'm using my old manual lenses. The one plus for not going Nikon is that with the Sony there is even more good old glass I can work besides Canon including Leica, Zeiss, and Nikon.

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Jul 9, 2016 15:30:56   #
wj cody
 
OnDSnap wrote:
Interesting, Ya wanna buy all my AI's :)


what do you have and how much?

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Jul 9, 2016 18:34:53   #
quixdraw (a regular here)
 
John White -- AI Conversions, does an inexpensive, excellent conversion to nearly any F mount. I have had quite a few done and use them on both my DF abd D 750. I do love the old glass!

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Jul 9, 2016 21:59:53   #
Erik_H
 
One thing that I really like about my Df is that it will accept the older pre-AI lenses without conversions. I have the same several pre-AI lenses that I use, including the same (probably) 300mm H that the OP mentions and it's surprising how sharp it is. Thanks to forjava for the educational post.

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Jul 9, 2016 22:12:31   #
rook2c4 (a regular here)
 
Three or four lenses is all one really needs. Six years ago I purchased about a dozen various old Nikkor lenses for my DSLR (back then, you could get them for about a third of the price they are going for now!), but I find myself using only three of them on a regular basis, the rest are just collecting dust. As I have no interest in becoming a "lens collector", I will probably sell all the ones I don't use. So, before you amass any more, think about if you really can make use of so many lenses, regardless how wonderful they are. Unless of course if you want to become a lens collector... then maybe start looking for a display case.

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Jul 10, 2016 07:34:46   #
jerryc41 (a regular here)
 
rook2c4 wrote:
As I have no interest in becoming a "lens collector"...


Exactly! There's a big difference between buying lenses at a good price and filling cabinets with lenses you'll never use. I've gotten very good at selling things on ebay that I don't need. Sure, I get less than I paid for them, but I get nothing but clutter when they're sitting in a closet.

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Jul 10, 2016 08:38:03   #
Rich1939 (a regular here)
 
quixdraw wrote:
John White -- AI Conversions, does an inexpensive, excellent conversion to nearly any F mount. I have had quite a few done and use them on both my DF abd D 750. I do love the old glass!


Ditto! I also have had work done by John White and recommend him.

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