The Df And Pre-AI Lenses

Had a busy weekend and beginning of the week. Friday night I hosted a workshop that was a bit atypical for my norm. The title – Exploring The Fine Art Figure With Light. The approach was far different than my usual use the environment and include the context thing that I've gravitated to lately. Instead I took the participants through building up an image from black frame bit by bit. First using a black background and then completely turning that upside down and doing something similar with a white background.

Without going through my entire thought process just take it for granted that there was a method to this madness. The consistent thing was definitely my inability to actually concentrate on making pictures myself while also leading a workshop event. As usual I made an exposure test and a confirmation of each setup and step along the way but not much else. I shot less than a 35mm roll of film in three hours. On a lark I decided to use my Nikon Df with early 70's vintage 28mm f/3.5 lens I acquired for the low low price of free. A strange selection for a single lens used the entire time.

The image at the top are a few confirmation shots along the black backdrop series of building up some nuanced lighting. All shot with that vintage – mostly worthless – lens.

You might not have picked up that the Df is the first Nikon digital camera that has a flip-up AI lever. Fact is it's the first AF body to have that in a very long time. Even the FM2/FE2 cameras lacked that feature to mount old pre-AI glass. I'll eventually shoot a lot of my other pre-ai glass that's even older than that lens with real subjects instead of the few StupidCrap™ test shots I've quickly evaluated. The results were surprisingly good. Actually quite stunning at the f/8 aperture I was using all night. Then again what lens isn't great at f/8? Truth be told the lowly 28/3.5 turns in respectable results at f/4 as well. As good or better than the latest greatest? No, not really, hard to tell the difference for the most part. Objectively not really a better, maybe even not as good as the really crappy 18-55 DX kit lens (which is actually quite good). So why bother?

Well, there's a lot of reasons. Mainly because it's fun, it feels really good compared to any AF lens and when there's absolutely no need for AF it doesn't really have a downside. It's tiny, light, looks great, feels way better to focus than any of the current AF lenses out there. Why not… I enjoyed using it immensely. Let's take a few pixel peeping crazy magnified look-see's shall we…

Here's another where the lens is at it's worst. Ever notice that dip in an MTF chart somewhere before the edges of the frame? Happens with most retrofocus designs to one degree or another.

Yeah, I left the VSCO grain settings at the default… Shot at 100 ISO… Is it me or did LR fake grain get better over the last few years? Still not up to Silver EFEX good but not so bad now.

Okay, so what about say something closer to wide open? Sure how will f/4 due. That's one third stop down from wide open. Some pixels to peep from an on the fly BTS shot I made on Sunday…

Again I left the fake grain turned on. The Df is pristine where I shot this at 1600 ISO. A lot like 400 ISO on my D600 which is no slouch in that department. Plenty sharp enough for me.

Bottom line; I really enjoy using this cheapy lens. Not my favorite field of view but dirt cheap or free, sharp enough, built in an era where the low cost lens and the high cost lens were produced to the same standards. If feels good, it looks good, it's tiny and has a very long history. This lens was designed way way back at the dawn of wide angle lenses. It was probably one of the first if not the first retro-focus designs that actually worked well and figured out how to eliminate a lot of the badness that came along with retro-focus designs. A stroke of brilliance. You could actually credit this lens with ushering in the way just about every super-high performance prime and zoom optically works today. Even the newest Leica designs took the retro-focus route to achieve the super high levels of performance shown. This was a landmark lens design. A testament to how good it was is probably the fact that almost nothing was changed optically for the 30 years it was in production. Amazing.

More old glass stuff to come.


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