The ability to use legacy Nikon Lenses is one of the reasons I have remained loyal to Nikon. From 1959 until now Nikon's lens mount has not changed. Because of this it means a good number of legacy Nikon lenses will still work with modern camera bodies. The “Pro Series” lenses manufactured in the 1980’s through the early part of the millennium work very well on modern bodies. Two such examples are the Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8 D (serial numbers 601497-837839) manufactured between 1993 and 2005, and the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 D ED (serial numbers between 700093-929478) manufactured between 1997 and 2005. There are 7 variants of this lens, a push pull version was the earliest beginning manufacture in 1978. And image quality is close to that produced by the current AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.
Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8
Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 D ED
Example Image shot using the Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8 D
What You’re Not Getting With Legacy Nikon Lenses
The two older lens models do not have Vibration Reduction (VR) and focus a bit slower than the new versions. Because I typically don't use VR the absence of VR was not noticed . The 35-70mm the lower 11mm (between 24 and 35mm) is sometimes noticeable, but in those instances I’ve defaulted to physically moving to make up the difference in zoom. Also the 35-70mm is a push/pull lens which takes a little adjustment to get used to but it hasn’t been an issue. I see it as a bit of a novelty.
Things to Watch Out For
Lens Fungus – Is a microbial growth on the lens surface. In some cases the fungus can be cleaned and the lens restored. In others the fungus can etch the coatings and glass rendering the lens unusable.
Cloudy or Hazy Lens – More than probably it is fungus and the lens should be avoided if you are purchasing.
Separation (balsam separation)-The elements in lens are , in most cases, two separate pieces of glass which are cemented together. After a long while (usually 20-50 years) the cement breaks down and fails. This causes the lens elements to separate.
Scratches – Older lenses that have not been well cared for can have scratches usually on the front element. These will have an effect on image quality and should be avoided.
Purchasing An Older Lens
Sometimes, people selling lenses online will shine light through the lens and take photographs to show the condition of the lens. Some of them will also include the serial number. This is also very handy in determining exactly which variant of a particular lens you are looking at. If you are considering the purchase of an older lens ask the seller directly if they checked the lens elements for fungus and separation. A very informative and handy site has the serial number ranges and specifications for pretty much all Nikon lenses that were ever built. Here is the link to it. Another site (AllPhotoLenses) has a user supported database of a very large number of lenses by all manufacturers. The link to their site is located here.