Tank-like , sharp, reliable.
Those are the qualities associated with pro grade lenses in the past. Truly, if you hold and compare older lenses with their modern counterparts, you may just wonder what went wrong along the way regarding materials and build quality.
Today’s review subject, the Nikkor AF 35-70mm f/2.8 (here after referred to as the 35-70), is one such lens. I procured the lens in Akihabara (Akiba) one fine day from the older part of Electric Town. The place is just beside the Electric Town exit of Akiba and is an excellent place to check for older lenses and camera gears, not to mention other strange items such as model weapons.
The 35-70mm was on sale at a mere 25,000 yen (~USD$250). The low price for a professional grade lens caught my attention, and I took a gander at the small slip of paper that explained the price and the condition of the lens.
It turned that that the lens had only minor cosmetic blemishes that in no way affected the operation of the lens. I quickly bought it and couldn’t wait to test it.
Mounting a 30 year old lens on a modern camera body with a 24MP sensor (Nikon D750) was going to be an interesting test of the lens optics design.
Here are my views on the various key aspects of the lens:
In general, at f/2.8, there is a slight “cloudiness” to the overall image that I believe cannot be attributed to being out of focus. It could simply be a lens weakness. By f/4, the entire frame has become razor sharp and one can simply use the lens with impunity.
Nevertheless, what I do is to add +10 to contrast and clarity by default on Lightroom to counteract this “cloudiness”. Your mileage and taste may vary, however.
Here are some sample shots (zoomed in at 100%) at 35mm, at f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6
Some sample shots at 50mm, at f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6
Some sample shots at 70mm, at f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6
Shot wide open at f/2.8, the older 35-70 is a mess in the corners. You can see there is noticeable smearing and blurring at in the extreme corners. Potential use cases where this is not ideal is for low light landscape shots or astrophotography where you would expect to shoot wide open and hope to get detail across the photo. Sharpness clears up by f/4 and is not an issue by f/5.6.
I did not include the crops for the centre as there was little to differentiate the two in the central portion of the photos. This is an emphatic “win” for the older lens as it is only a third of the price of the newer lens.
Weight and Build Quality
In terms of handling, I feel that this older model triumphs over the newer ones simply by virtue of weight and size. It is much lighter (675g vs 900g) and more compact (94mm x 71mm vs 83 x 133 mm) than the AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8. As such, I have a much easier time carrying the 35-70mm around, either on assignments or even when I am shooting casually.
As you can see, the old lens is only about half the size of the newer lens. According to other reviews, the newest VR version of the AF-S lens is even bigger.
As for build quality, you can rest assured the lens can handle some minor bangs and knocks during normal use. Naturally, nobody should be dropping lenses (there is glass inside after all) for no reason. I have had no reason to baby this lens during my assignments and it has proven to be a workhorse during the past 6 months of professional shooting.
Handling and Ergonomics
During my assignments, the push pull design was unfamiliar to me at first as I have been using modern lenses for most of my work. After a while, I realised that the muscle memory became developed and the push pull to zoom mechanism became second nature. Your mileage may vary on this, depending on your style of photography, fast paced event shooters may want to get used to this style before going for a shoot.
Also, there is a locking button for you to “activate” macro mode. At the focal length of 35mm, you can push the button and twist the lens to shift it into macro mode. This is not a true macro (1:1), but in a pinch, if you need to shoot some details in your shots (for eg. wedding rings, wedding trinkets….) this function of the lens is certainly helpful. Using it stopped down to f/4 or f/5.6 helps with the sharpness in the shots.
Autofocus speed and accuracy
This is one area where technological advances mean that lens operations has improved significantly. The screw driven AF speed is much slower than the AFS system. Don’t expect to be shooting sports in AF-C mode on the camera anytime soon. In single shot mode with slow or stationary subjects, I have had no issues. Being an old lens, you may wish to do some AF adjustments on the lens (using the AF adjustment function in higher grade DSLRs) before using it professionally.
Also, the accuracy sometimes leaves much to be desired. In low contrast situations, the AF goes out of the window. Even in good light, there are times when I use one of the side AF points to focus on the eye of the subject and there is either front or back focus.
Take care in your focusing technique when using this lens, especially wide open.
If you can get a copy of this lens for USD$250 (in 2020) or less on the second hand market, by all means go for it.
This is an older model of a professional lens that still remains very relevant in this age (albeit with DSLRs), with its excellent optics, compact size and surprisingly useful macro mode.
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This website was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something which helped me.
Hi colorado mvr, I’m so glad you found it useful!
Thank you Chris-san, very good testing of this old lens. I bought one today.
Hi Franck, thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you got a copy of the lens, hope it serves you well! I enjoyed it back when I was still using the D700.