Legacy Nikon Lenses

The ability to use legacy Nikon Lenses is one of the reasons I have remained loyal to Nikon. From 1959 until the release of the Z series cameras the lens mount (F mount three-lug bayonet mount with a 44 mm throat and a flange to focal plane distance of 46.5 mm) has not changed. That means a good number of legacy Nikon lenses will still work with modern camera bodies. In particular “Pro Series” lenses manufactured in the 1980’s through the early part of the millennium work very well on modern bodies. 2 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. The image quality produced with both lenses 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.


The cost difference is very significant.


Legacy Lenses: Nikon 35-70/F2.8 D

Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8

Nikon 80-200/F2.8 D ED

Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 D ED

Example Image shot using the Nikon 35-70/F2.8 D

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. In most environments I have taken the older lenses the absence of VR was not noticed (on my newer lenses that have it I leave it turned off). The 35-70mm the lower 11mm (between 24 and 35mm) is sometimes noticeable, but in those instances I’ve defaulted to my legs 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.

lens fungus

Separation (balsam separation)-The elements in lens are typically two separate pieces of glass which are cemented together. After a long while (usually 20-50 years) the cement breaks down and fails causing the lens elements to separate.

Balsam Separation

Scratches – Older lenses that have not been well cared for can have scratches typically on the front element. These will have an effect on image quality and should be avoided.

Legacy Lenses: Scratches

When looking for lenses online the seller (if they are being open and honest) will shine light through the lens and take photographs to show the condition of the lens. Most will also include the serial number which 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 it is a good idea to ask the seller directly if they checked the lens elements for fungus and separation. Another 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.