Data sheet: Nikkor Ai 35 mm f/1.4

Pekka Buttler, 09/2022

Specifications

The table below summarizes the lens’ key specifications:

Brand:Nikon (Nikkor)Lens name35 mm 1:1.4
Focal length(s)135 mmAngle-of-view262°
Maximum Aperturef/1.4In Production1977–1981
Lens mountNikon FSubfamily (if applicable)Ai (Automatic indexing)
Length362,5 mmDiameter467,5 mm
Filter ring diameter52 mmWeight404 grams
Lens element count9Lens group count7
Aperture blades (S/R/C)57 SFocus throw180 °
Minimum focusing distance30 cmsMaximum magnification1:5,5
Has manual aperture ringYESHas Manual focus ringYES

Further notes:
• This lens has also been in a JAPB comparison (here).
• Users should be warned that the frontmost (central) part of the front element is barely behind the filter ring, and that some aftermarket lens caps actually touch the front of the first lens element. If ever there was a candidate for using a protective filter, this lens has to be at the top of the list.
• A later version of this lens was kept in production all the way to 2020, which has to be seen as a testament to the quality of the lens.
• The custom lens hood Nikon offered for this lens goes under the name HN-3 (the HN-3 is the lens hood used on every manual-era Nikkor 35 mm lens, with the exception of the series E 35 mm).

History (when relevant)

Nikon is undoubtedly one of the great names in 35 mm SLR photography. The Nikon F mount has been in continuous production since 1959. During that time, the mount has developed/changed in some detail, however without ever fully sacrificing compatibility.

In short (a longer version is here), the development of Nikon’s SLR lenses can be traced as follows:
• 1959–1977: Pre-Ai. Manual focus lenses that use ‘rabbit ears’ to communicate selected aperture with the camera body.
• 1977–1986: Ai and Ai-s. Manual focus lenses that may have ‘rabbit ears’ for backward compatibility, but are primarily designed to communicate selected aperture with the camera body through indentations in base of aperture control ring.
• 1986–today: AF and AF-D. Autofocus lenses that do not have a focusing motor within the lens, but rely on the focus motor within the camera. All AF and AF-D lenses are simultaneously Ai-s lenses (they are Ai-s lenses extended with AF) 6
• 1996–today AF-S and AF-P. Autofocus lenses that have an internal focusing motor and do not rely on the body having a focusing motor.

Nikon was the first manufacturer to manage to produce a 35 mm focal length SLR lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 (see details of development on Nikon’s site) in 1970, and this combination remained rare throughout the manual era (in fact, only Nikon, Zeiss, and Leica really7 offered 35/1.4 SLR lenses).

Disregarding for now Nikon’s later, AF-era offering (the AF-S 35 mm f/1.4 G), Nikon produced four different versions of the manual focus 35 mm f/1.4:
• Nikkor-N•C 35 mm f/1.4 (1970–1976), 9 elements in 7 groups, 9 or 7 aperture blades, uses thoriated lenses, metal focusing ring (C-type)
• Nikkor (new) 35 mm f/1.4 (1975–1977), 9 elements in 7 groups, 7 aperture blades, not radioactive, rubber focusing ring (K-type)
• Nikkor 35 mm f/1.4 (1977–1981), 9 elements in 7 groups, 7 aperture blades, not radioactive, rubber focusing ring (Ai)
• Nikkor 35 mm f/1.4 (1981–2020), 9 elements in 7 groups, 9 aperture blades, not radioactive, rubber focusing ring (Ai-s)

While there was a significant redesign to get rid of the needing to uses a thoriated element (going from the C-type to the K-type), the optical recipe of this 50-year family of lenses has remained surprisingly unchanged. Obviously coatings developed further, lens machining methods improved, but the original, 1970 design showed tremendous staying power.

Adapting

Besides adapting, this lens can be used natively on all current high-end Nikon dSLRs and several earlier medium-to-high-end older Nikon dSLRs8. Likewise, if it still has its rabbit ears, it can be natively used on all Nikon F-mount film cameras ever produced (without the rabbit ears, it is limited to post 1977 bodies).

Thanks to being a fully manual lens (manual aperture, manual focus), the lens can be adapted to all mirrorless cameras using a suitable dumb adapter (and such adapters are easy to find). Moreover, a large range of special adapters (helicoid adapters, tilt/shift adapters, speed boosters) for using Nikon F lenses on most mirrorless systems are available.

Using Nikon F lenses on non-Nikon SLRs and dSLRs is likewise a distinct possibility. Thanks to the relatively generous flange focal distance of the Nikon F mount (46,5 mm), adapter rings for all dSLR mounts are available as well as for a goodly portion of film-era SLR mounts. Such rings may not allow for auto aperture, but even then the lenses can be used in stop-down metering mode.

Footnotes

1 Focal length is (unless stated otherwise) given in absolute terms, and not in Full-frame equivalent. For an understanding of whether the lens is wide/tele, see ‘Angle-of-view’.

2 Picture angle is given in degrees and concerns the diagonal picture angle. Rule of thumb:
> 90 ° ==> Ultra-wide-angle
70–90 ° ==> Wide-angle
50–70 ° ==> Moderate wide-angle
40–50 ° ==> ‘Standard’ or ‘normal’ lens
20–40 ° ==> Short tele lens
10-20 ° ==> Tele lens
5-10 ° ==> Long tele lens
< 5 ° ==> Ultra-tele lens

3 Length is given from the mount flange to the front of lens at infinity.

4 Diameter excludes protrusions such as rabbit ears or stop-down levers.

5 S=straight; R=rounded; C=(almost)circular at all apertures.

6 There is a further sub-class of AF-D lenses called AF-I lenses that are otherwise AF-D lenses (meaning, fully Ai-s compatible), but have an internal focus motor. Only long tele lenses were made in AF-I variants.

7 Focusing on the pre-AF age, besides Nikon (for Nikon F), Zeiss (for Contax/Yashica), and Leica (for Leica R), there is only unicorns – lenses that, while certainly documented, are so rare that they might for all practical purposes not exist. Such are for instance the Soviet Mir-46 (1980).
After the introduction of AF photography, also Canon and Minolta offered their own products, and since the end of the naughties several more contenders have entered this space, most notably Sigma and Samyang/Rokinon (also rebranded as Walimex/Polar/Vivitar/)

8 As of this writing, the following Nikon dSLRs fully support Aperture priority and manual metered modes on Nikkor Ai lenses: D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, D200, D300, D300s, D500, D600, D610, D700, D750, D780, D800, D800E, D810, D850, D7000, D7100, D7200