Nikon has made many, many different versions of 180mm f/2.8 lenses since 1970.
I'm listing the ancient 18cm (180mm) f/2.5 lens for Nikon's rangefinder cameras and Nikon's 180mm f/5.6 lens for large format cameras in the table for the sake of completeness, but I'm not covering those here.
Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AI (1977-1981). enlarge.
This first modern 180mm lens was manual focus and came in several different cosmetic versions.
The earliest was non-AI (manual indexing). This photo is of a later AI version, made from 1977-1981.
There were further cosmetic variations in the period 1977-1981, and as always, Roland Vink's authoriatative info documents this the best.
As far as photography is concerened, all these variants use the same optics, and multicoating was added in 1975 with the Nikkor-P•C version. So long as your meter couples, they are all excellent.
1981-2006: 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s. (full review).
Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s (1981-2006). enlarge.
One of Nikon's all-time great lenses is the manual focus 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s.
It added ED glass to the previous version.
This manual focus ED version is so good that it was made for twenty years, alongside the AF versions.
1986-1987: 180mm f/2.8 AF. (full review).
Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED-IF AI-s AF (1986). enlarge.
Nikon's first autofocus 180mm f/2.8 was this plastic barreled version. This first 1986 version has a narrow plastic focus ring, which everyone hated. In 1987 Nikon quickly replaced it with a rubber ring (not shown), and otherwise it has the same plastic barrel.
The mount, built-in retractable hood and filter rings are all metal, only the outer sheathing is plastic to keep from freezing to your skin in cold weather.
This first AF version has long been forgotten, however it has exactly the same superb optics of today's AF-D version, and the same AF performance, too. Therefore this plastic-barreled version is the bargain of this lot. Its internals are all metal, and its optics use ED glass and use superlative internal focusing for exquisite sharpness at every distance.
This AF version is also perfectly compatible with manual focus cameras.
1988-1993: 180mm f/2.8 AF-n ("newer"). (full review).
Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AF-n (1988-1993). enlarge.
Nikon shod the AF lens in metal sheathing, and created this much tougher looking version to impress the innocent.
There is also a much larger manual focus ring, and an A/M switch in the ring to select manual or auto focus. The catch is that you must move the switch on the lens, and you must also move the switch on the camera, every time you want to go between auto and manual focus. This baloney is why most pros switched to Canon around 1990.
1993-present: 180mm AF-D. (full review).
Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AF-D. enlarge.
The AF-n and AF-D versions look identical, with the exception of the "D" at the end of the model name in gold on the identity plate:
180mm AF-n and 180mm AF-D. enlarge.
The current AF-D version encodes and transmits distance information to the camera for added exposure accuracy, especially with flash.
They're all great.
For a table of what features work and focus with what cameras, see Nikon Lens Compatibility.
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