Nikkor Ai-S 180-600mm/8 ED

In the spirit of my website and blog, I’d like to alternate between stories taken with Nikkor lenses and Nikon cameras and sometimes showing and displaying those great pieces of engineering as main attraction.

Today I’d like to write about the famous Ai-S 180-600mm/8 ED, the smaller brother of the even bigger Ai-S 360-1200mm/11 ED lens. It is one of those old gems, which perform with contemporary bodies remarkably well. Some would be tempted to say – excellent.

History

You can find excellent  and comprehensive information about the different models in this focal range  on Leo Foo’s MIR website. Nikon introduced this type of zoom lens for the first time as K-model in 1976 and the Ai-S model followed in 1983. According to Roland Vink’s  list, Roland is maintaining the authorative NIKKOR list on the web, production ceased around 1998. Given the overall bad reputation zoom lenses in the early days, it looks like that Nikon could not convince too many customers to get into zoom lenses in that early period. Only a couple of hundred pieces were sold.

Construction

By all means, it is not a huge, but still a hefty lens. With a weight of about 3.6 kg and a lenght of 40cm (16”) it is a nice piece of glass in front of your camera. The single ring design for focal lenght and focus makes it impossible to handhold the beast and focus properly. Maybe some pro’s could handle it, but I am not able to. Which means a tripod or monpod is mandatory.

For those who complained about lens mounts on recently introduced lenses will cheer Nikon’s incredible sturdy design of this mount. in the eightees. There is nothing, really nothing which can flex and bend under load.  Sturday as it should be. Unfortunately, we don’t get this kind of mounts any more (see the current long lenses). Filter diameter is standard 82mm. Nikon had 3 filter diameters above the ubiquitous 77mm – 82mm, 95mm and 122mm.

Performance

Looking back, people should have overcome their initial resistance that zooms would never match primes in optical quality. Even by today standards, Nikon created an optical marvel with this lens. Considering a design with 18 lenses in 11 groups, it is really astonishing how well artefacts are controlled. Even wide open (ok, it is only f8 ), the color saturation, sharpness and bokeh are outstanding. I’ve only used it with the D3. The D3 is in one way forgiving to old lenses, but on the other hand produces great photos with these oldies. Sensor size and pixel density is just right for this effort. Focusing with these old lenses is not so difficult as many people believe it is. Modern bodies support this effort with an excellent AF support indicator and especially with f8 lenses, depth of field is deep enough that this effort becomes easily manageable. It is harder with long & fast lenses like the AiS 300mm/2. Here is an image to demonstrate the optical qualities of this old lens design. For those interested, here is a larger version of this image (2000×1300)

 

~Andy

 

Mechanical construction is 1a, especially the lens mount. Nikon mechanical and optical designers seemed to have enjoyed significant technical freedom to create these kind of lenses during the 80’s.
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Due to the slow max aperture of f8, the lens is comparatively slim and of – somehow – elegant design. Given the focal lenght covered, the weight isn’t bad either.
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Minimum focus distance is 2.5m (8ft). The main tube is build with the classic hammer design.
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The lens is not a G design, hence you can set the aperture manually. Aperture can be set between f8 and f32. Nikon’s lens engineers didn’t seem to be too concerned about the diffraction limitations of the later D3x and D7000.
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The hood can be screwed on and provides a thread for the filter as well when the hood is used (it usually is)
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