Introduction

Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS is a classical fully manual wide angle lens that Nikon first introduced as a replacement to the previous generation of non-AI 28mm lenses in the 1980s (the exact time line is a bit of a mystery to me and considering the plethora of all the non-Ai, Ai, AiS, E and H variants, I'm not even gonna try to guess here). The lens was officially discontinued in 2004-2005, although you can still 'special'-order it from Nikon (as of February 2008, Nikon estimates a 2 months delivery time frame). The lens fits all Nikon F mount cameras, including modern digital SLRs. When new, the lens was priced at ~US$360, and good quality used copies of the lens fetch ~US$250+ on used markets like eBay (as of February 2008).

The optical construction of the lens consists of 8 elements in 8 groups in floating element design for Close Range Correction.  Build quality of the lens is superb (typical of all AiS lenses of that time) - the barrel is all metal with rubberized focus and aperture rings. Like all manual lenses, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS has a DOF scale engraved into the shiny metal strip right above the aperture ring (the strip is not decorative - with the focus ring located right above, it allows you to grip the lens tightly while focusing or switch aperture). There's no wobbling or shaking of any sort, the focus ring moves smoothly and the aperture rings snaps into position with a satisfying 'click'.

The lens feels pretty sturdy, without actually being bulky or heavy - it weight a mere 250g (8.8oz) and measures 64 x 46mm (2.5x1.8in). The inner lens cam extends a little bit during focusing towards the closeup, adding a few millimeters to the total length. The minimum focusing distance is f/22 (the aperture ring moves in one full f-stop increments), the minimum focusing distance is 20cm (0.7ft) and the lens accepts 52mm screw-in type filters.

Image

 

Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS is a full frame lens, so when used on APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop factor, the field of view of the lens is equivalent to that of a ~45mm lens on a full frame body - not quite a wide angle any more. As mentioned above, the lens is compatible with all Nikon F mount cameras, including Fujifilm's FinePix Pro series. When using the lens on Canon APS-C and FF cameras, I relied on a generic non-AF chipped adapter from Fotodiox.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 8 groups
Angular Field 74 degrees
Minimum Focus 20cm/0.7ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 52mm
Lens Hood NH-2 (included)
Weight 250g/8.8oz
Dimensions 63.5x45.7mm/2.5x1.8"
Lens Case N/A

 

Field Tests

Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS showed excellent results in the field. Image quality remained top notch in the center, with borders showing some softness at wider apertures, but generally catching up with stopped down apertures. The lens excelled at both infinity as well as close focus distances, which by itself is very admirable in any lens. The so called CRC (Close Range Correction or floating lens design in normal English) helps improve image quality at close distances, although the lens seemed to produce best results in the f/5.6 through f/11 aperture range (keep in mind that while the lens has a pretty short minimum focusing distance, it is nevertheless is not designed for macro photography).

 

ISO 400, 1/60, f/2.8, 28mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/60, f/2.8, 28mm (Canon 5D)

 

When shot with wide open aperture, the lens produced OOF highlights that were round and uniform, with mostly neutrally lit edges (I say mostly because here and there you'd see harshly defined edges as well). Contrast transitions in near and far OOF areas were a little bit on the sharper end, but not as bad as with some other wide angles. There was no sign of double edging around foreground and background objects.

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (28mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (28mm)

 

The lens showed moderate level of vignetting on a full frame body at f/2.8. This is quite typical for most wide angle lenses and as such is not really surprising. Vignetting is reduced with stopped down aperture and in case of Nikon's Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS it is pretty much gove by f/5.6. If you are using an APS-C sized sensor, then vignetting will be even less of a problem for you due to the reduced frame coverage of the cropped sensor. At f/2.8 the lens shows very minimal vignetting, which is basically gone once you stop down the lens to f/4.

Color reproduction was quite good overall, but the lens excelled with stopped down apertures (f/5.6-f/11) - contrast levels were higher here then with wider apertures, resulting in images with deeper, more saturated colors and richer textures. Unfortunately, the lens fell prone to color fringing, primarily in the corners (take a look at the cropped image below and notice pinkish strips around the back of the chair on right side). The lens also showed minimal levels of flare with wide open aperture, though this was not common and needed pretty harsh lightning conditions.

 

ISO 100, 1/3200, f/2.8, 28mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/3200, f/2.8, 28mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras as well as cameras from different manufacturers are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for all types of cameras.

 

Nikon APS-C: Coming soon...


Nikon FF: Coming soon...

 

Canon APS-C: Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS produced surprisingly good results on a Canon APS-C body. Performance in the center was outstanding straight from f/2.8, and from f/4 through f/11 was simply exceptional, rivaling performance of the best fixed focal lenses on the market. Performance around borders was quite solid as well, especially in the f/5.6-f/8 range, where the overall quality peaked. At f/2.8 border quality is not necessarily exceptional, but is quite usable. At its peak, the lens is capable of producing outstanding 19in and very decent 24in prints, which automatically puts it into the top quartile of wide angle primes available on the market. Conclusion? Not bad, not bad at all for such an 'old' lens. I can understand now why many photographers rave about this lens - performance on a cropped body certainly supports the wide-spread opinion that this is a top-notch wide angle. But can it survive the test on a full-frame body?

 

MTF50 (Line Width / Inch on the Print) @ 28mm
MTF50 (Line Width / Inch on the Print) @ 28mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm

 

Chromatic aberration on an APS-C body was somewhat of a mixed bag. CA in the center was quite low, averaging ~0.4px across all tested apertures. Unfortunately, CA creeped up around borders and it approached 1.5px at f/2.8, gradually dropping with stopped down aperture. However, CA around borders never really dips below 1px, even at f/11, which is slightly disappointing.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 28mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 28mm

 

Here are 100% crops of images taken with a Canon APS-C camera (Digital Rebel XTi) comparing image borders at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: The lens gave up a bit of ground on a full frame Canon 5D, and that is most notable around borders with wide open aperture settings. But, first thing first - center quality remained exceptional throughout the aperture range. Resolving power here is simply top-notch. Border quality is a bot lagging though. At f/2.8, border quality is sort of average - not really bad, but not really good either. The good news is that quality improves drastically once stopped down to f/4 and beyond. Overall performance peaks around f/8, but pretty much from f/5.6 through f/11 overall results are well balanced across the frame. Conclusion? While performance around borders with wide open aperture is not necessarily impressive, but the overall performance is. Performance-wise, the lens shows quite good balance and consistency on both APS-C as well as FF bodies.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm

 

Chromatic aberration on a full frame body was slightly better, with CA in the center hovering around ~0.3px across the aperture settings and CA around borders averaging ~1px, also across the tested aperture range.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 28mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 28mm

Here are 100% crops of images taken with Canon 5D and comparing image borders at f/2.8 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

As hinted earlier, Nikon used to offer a wide variety of 28mm lenses. If we add the modern 28mm variants designed for dSLRs, we will end up with about a dozen of 28mm versions. In no particular orders these are: Nikkor 28mm f/2 Ai, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 (non Close Focus version with 0.3m minimum focusing distance, available as non-Ai and Ai variants), Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 E AiS, Nikkor H 28mm f/3.5  (available as non-Ai, Ai and Ais variants). PC-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 AiS, AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4, AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D. Out of these versions however, it is worth taking a look at only two or three variants. The slightly faster Nikkor 28mm f/2 variant, that like its slower version incorporates Close Range Correction and the fastest 28mm lens ever made - AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4. Outside of the Nikon lens camp, consider recently introduced Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF, which also offers outstanding image and build quality (but at a sky-high price). If you're looking for alternative glass in general, also think about Contax/Yashica mount versions of Carl Zeiss Distagon - Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 and 'Hollywood' Distagon 28mm f/2. No list should be complete without Leica glass and here it is worth checking out the latest revision of Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8.

 

Recommendation

For a lens first designed in 1970s, Nikon's Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS is one very impressive piece of optics. Despite its age, the lens can rival some of the more expensive modern primes. Combination of excellent overall image quality, superb build quality, good color reproduction and affordable price, should put this lens at the top of shopping list for many photographers. This naturally assumes that you are comfortable handling a fully manual lens. Some of the drawbacks to be aware of are minor vignetting at wider aperture settings and color fringing around borders. Nevertheless, the lens is a solid choice when it comes down to 28mm wide angles.