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nik105a

My Nikkor 105 f2.5 with EOS adapter

Ask any serious photographer from the 70s and 80s about the 105 2.5 and they will likely presume you  are referring to the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 portrait lens. I have been shooting seriously since the late 1970s. My first SLR images were produced on a borrowed Mamiya Sekor 500 DTL. I was hooked and decided to buy my own SLR which turned out to be the Canon AE-1. I have remained loyal to Canon ever since. My ‘money’ 35mm and now digital cameras is and has always been Canon. In the 70s and 80s however Nikon was the pre-eminent “Pro” camera in the 35mm arena. No matter how well Canon delivered on lenses, and in many areas they were superior, they could never seem to kick Nikon off the perch as the top “pros” choice. Well until the auto-focus era at least.

As a dyed in the wool Canon fan, I have owned more than 70 different Canon lenses including some of the rare and exotic stuff. One lens however that Nikon made that I always appreciated and respected was the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5. I had a Canon 85mm f1.2 L which was amazing and a Canon 100mm f2.0 which was a solid lens but not the optical equal of the 105-2-5 Nikkor. There was no reasonable way in those days to mount a Nikon lens on a Canon body and I certainly was not going to buy a Nikon body just for one lens. So I never owned one. Until now at least. The modern digital camera era and the modern Canon EOS system both allow for a variety of adapters so we enthusiasts have an opportunity to shoot older classic glass on a modern digital camera.

Nikon had several lenses they produced including this one, that were such strong performers that they began to “steal” pros from the ranks of the legendary Leica M series rangefinders. Nikon deserves credit for having a lead role in moving  Japan out of the ‘cheap imitator’ status, and into being known as a quality innovator and producer of top grade equipment.

kylesneaker

The history of the 105-2-5 dates all the way back to 1949 when Nikon was making lenses to fit Leica screw mount bodies. That old lens in its day was the fastest 100mm class lens in the world. The original lens used a Zeiss Sonnar design that Nikon held onto until the mid 1960s. Then they began working on a Xenotar design that would emerge in 1971 as the Nikkor Auto 105mm f2.5 lens I am writing about today.

This lens was available in the 1970s for a price that was a little steep for a non-enthusiast but down right cheap for a professional grade optic. It was an absolute staple for any pro shooting Nikon. Nikon did make a very expensive f1.8 version of the lens that was every bit as good, but it was very heavy and bulky. The 2-5 was just so damn handy. It was small and compact and utilized Nikon’s standard 52mm filter size.

hat-2There are several incarnations of the lens beginning in 1971 with the Auto Nikkor then the AI Nikkor and finally the AI-S Nikkor. The primary difference is the subtle changes in the lens mount to accommodate the evolving technology in the camera bodies. The final AI-S version did offer a built-in lens shade. The earliest versions had older style lens coating but by the mid 70s these were all using Nikon’s best multi-coating.

This lens is first of all about as sharp as any lens you will ever use. Anything sharper would likely need to be confirmed on test equipment. The lens also has beautiful color rendition and snappy contrast. The lens is tack sharp at all f stops and clear across to the corners. Nikon continued to manufacture this lens all the way to 2005 in manual focus. This is a testament to the greatness of this lens.

I can honestly say the lens is awesome but one thing I also must add is that sharpness is not the only thing to chase these old classic lenses down for. You see, modern lens manufacturing and design has yielded a lot of zoom type lenses that can seriously challenge and perhaps even best the resolution of older lenses like this one. These old lenses have character and charming quirks in their operation. They often have a unique bokeh that can not easily be reproduced. They force us to manually focus and maybe even set up our shots. This is why photography is such fun. I must say, I get allot more ‘circular file’ shots using these old lenses than I do with a modern EOS USM autofocus lenses 😉 But the ability to use ultra shallow depth of field with a wide 2.5 aperture in a compact lens is very appealing.

Shooting these classics is just fun and the images produced will look fantastic so long as you can achieve proper focus with manual operation. I remember I used to be amazing at getting precision focus quickly back in the day when auto focus was fantasy. Now I must admit, I too am a victim of AF-itis. I suck at manual focus now 🙂 These old lenses are going to have to serve as a “tune-up” for my manual focus skills. You should should try it too. Camera shows like PhotoFair will have these lenses for good prices. The 105-2-5 should be available on EBAY if you can’t wait for a show, with prices between $75-$200 depending on age and condition. Go ahead, go bid on one right now 🙂 Or check out one of my two favorite Camera stores, Knight Camera right here in Vancouver, USA or Seawood Photo. These two shops have great deals on a variety of vintage gear!

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