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Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s
© 2007 KenRockwell.com

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Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s. enlarge. You my be able to find them used at Adorama., and you cettainly can fin them at this link to them at eBay. It helps me keep reviewing these when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.

December 2007    More Nikon Reviews

Introduction     top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations


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I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


See my Nikon Professional Normal Zoom Comparison for exhaustive side-by-side image examples.

The 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s was Nikon's second professional midrange zoom. It was introduced in 1981 to replace the previous 35-70mm f/3.5 AI. This newer AI-s version is very similar to the previous AI version, but has an entirely different optical and mechanical system. Much of these two reviews will seem similar.

Both of the 35-70mm f/3.5 lenses are very sharp at every setting and have a constant f/3.5 aperture. Both f/3.5 zooms have less distortion than any of Nikon's f/2.8 zooms, and that means much better than the 24-70mm AF-S and 28-70mm AF-S, each of which costs over ten times as much.

These excellent, professional f/3.5 constant-aperture zooms have nothing to do with the numerous f/3.3-4.5 and f/3.5-4.8 zooms, which are among Nikon's crappiest lenses. The only thing they share is the focal range.

This 35-70mm f/3.5 works great on the Nikon D3 and Nikon D300, on which I tested it for this review.

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s.

The 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s is as precise as the AI version, however I prefer the undamped manual focus feel of the older AI. I have to use a strong finger to focus this AI-s version, while I can just flick the focus of the AI version. The AI-s version focuses more closely.

Compatibility: On the D2, D3, D200, D300 and F6, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to input the zoom setting and f/3.5, which will give you full matrix metering and EXIF data, and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.

It couples to all the better AF and digital cameras.

It won't couple well to the cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below). It works perfectly every professional film camera (F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6), with Matrix metering on the FA, F4 and F6.

As a manual focus lens, the 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s is ideal for use on any manual focus camera.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AI, AI-s" column for this lens.

Production History: The 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s was introduced in 1981 and built until it was replaced by the 35-70mm f/2.8 AF (pre-D) in 1987. Mine is from about the beginnign of 1987. Nikon made about 160,000 of these AI-s versions.

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s.

Specifications    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations

Name: Nikon calls this the Nikon Zoom-NIKKOR 35~70mm f/3.5 AI-s.

Optics: 10 elements in 9 groups. Traditional spherical design, multicoated. Traditional front-group focusing.

Diaphragm: Seven traditional straight blades. Stops down to f/22.

Close Focus: 2.3 feet (0.7m). This is 1 foot (0.3m) closer than the older 35-70mm AI, even before the macro mode. At 70mm a macro mode permits focus as close as 1.15 feet (14" or 0.35m). The older AI version lacks a macro mode.

Infra-Red Focus Indices: Yes, at 35 and 70mm. (The older AI version adds one at 50mm, too.)

Depth-of-Field Scale: None.

Filter Size: 62mm. (The older AI version uses 72mm filters.)

Focal Length: 35-70mm. Used on a DX camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 50-105mm lens would give on an FX or 35mm film camera. See also Crop Factor.

Maximum Aperture: f/3.5 at all focal lengths.

Size: 3.800" extension from flange by 2.606" diameter (96.53 x 66.19mm), measured while focused at infinity.

The front section rotates and extends as focused more closely, extending an additional 0.200" (5.07mm) when focused at 2.3' (0.7m), or a maximum of 0.476" (12.09mm) additional extension when focused at 1.15' (0.35mm).

Zooming is internal to the barrel. The filter ring doesn't move while zooming.

The AI version is 0.156" (3.98mm) shorter and 0.354" (8.78mm) fatter, when both are focused at infinity (3.644" extension from flange by 2.951" diameter (92.55 x 74.97mm) for the AI version).

Weight: 18.060 oz. (511.9g), as measured by me. (The AI version is 0.94 oz or 26.7g heavier, at 19.000 oz or 538.6g)

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s.

Performance    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations


See my Nikon Professional Normal Zoom Comparison for exhaustive side-by-side image examples.

This lens just works and never gets in the way. It doesn't have the veiling flare of the AI version.

As a two-ring zoom it's best for use on a tripod. Hand-held, I constantly need to grab zoom, then focus, then zoom, then focus, etc. I can't do both at once as I can with a one-touch zoom.

Distortion     top

Distortion is lower than any Nikon f/2.8 zoom, ha ha.

This AI-s version has as much distortion as the AI version. The only slight difference between them is that the older AI version flattens out at 50mm and has a hair of pincushion at 70mm, while the AI-s has a hair of barrel distortion at 50mm and flattens out at 70mm.

Even at 35mm, the barrel distortion of either of these lenses is very minor, and invisible at 50mm and 70mm. It becomes only ever so slightly more barrel at the closest focus distance at 35mm.

Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires me to climb a bluff on a very clear day and shoot the ocean's horizon.

For scanned film, use the FX full-frame figures.

FX at infinity
FX at 2.3' (0.7m)
DX at infinity

© 2007 KenRockwell.com

*A pixel or two of waviness remains, if you're dropping rulers on lines in Photoshop at 200%. Otherwise, it's all invisible.

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s.

Sharpness    top

Sharpness is excellent. Compare this professional 35-70mm f/3.5 zoom to any of the crappy 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 lenses and you'll see what I mean. I'm splitting hairs to see any lack of sharpness here. If you do split hairs, this newer AI-s lens is sharper than the older 35-70mm f/3.5 AI at large apertures.

When I'm discussing sharpness below, I'm discussing looking with a microscope at images at 100%, which is the same as printing them ar 43" (1.1m) wide and getting out a loupe. Do you print this big? I sure don't! I've never gotten anything but sharp images using this lens properly. These ratings below measure the lens' resistance to being used improperly, which is shooting flat test targets wide-open.

When working under the microscope for these tests, you will see some axial color if not perfectly focused. That means if you see color fringes in the center of the image, you didn't focus properly.

Stay tuned in a few days when I'll post all the example shots of this and every other pro normal zoom ever made by Nikon so you can see for yourself.

Center Sharpness on a D300:

The biggest detriment to sharpness is getting perfect manual focus on a D300, which does not have a precise null indicator as the D3 does. The tiny lack of sharpness seen at f/3.5 is more likely due to lack of focus, rather than a limitation of the Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s.

35mm: f/3.5 is a little softer due to spherical aberration. It' sharpens right up by f/5.6.

50mm: It's a little hazy (spherical aberration) at f/3.5, and super sharp by f/4.

70mm: A tiny bit less soft at f/3.5, sharper at f/4, and super sharp by f/5.6.

Corner Sharpness on a D300:

35mm: f/3.5 is softer. It' sharpens right up by f/5.6 and is perfect at f/8.

50mm: It's a little hazy (spherical aberration) at f/3.5, and super sharp by f/4.

70mm: f/3.5 is softer due to spherical aberration. It' sharpens right up by f/5.6.

Center Sharpness on a D3:

The 35-70mm is perfectly sharp, even at f/3.5, in the center of the D3. The D3 has a far more precise three-segment null manual focus indicator, and less linear resolution than the D300.

Corner Sharpness on a D3:

35mm: It's sharp all over. If you want the absolute best sharpness in the last millimeter of the far corner, it's optimum by f/8.

50mm: It's sharp all over. If you want the absolute best sharpness in the last millimeter, its optimum by f/5.6.

70mm: It's sharp all over. Its has a tiny bit of lowered local contrast in the far corners wide open; stop down to f/8 for perfection.

Macro     top

Unlike the AI version, this AI-s version both focuses closer at every focal length, and has has an additional macro mode at 70mm.

Macro looks great, with no color fringes.

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s Macro

Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s Macro Controls.

To unlock the macro mode, zoom to 70mm and slide the red Hasselblad button (red "V" button above zoom ring) down towards the zoom ring.

Now the 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s is locked at 70mm, but can focus from infinity down to 14" (0.35m). To zoom wider again, focus at farther than 2.3' (0.7m) and move the red "V" button towards the focus ring.

If I was a hacker, I might have a machine shop chop it up so I could get to the entire range at any focal length. I won't do that because I prefer the macro range be at 70mm anyway, but it is tempting for people who don't mind destroying things of lasting beauty.

Nikon 35-70mm AI-s Macro

At 1.15' (0.35m), full-frame FX capture on Nikon D3, F/22 and strobes, 70mm setting.

Nikon 35-70mm AI-s Macro

Crop from above capture at 100% (43" or 1.1m wide print), no additional sharpening.

Lateral Color Fringes     top

None, as tested on either a Nikon D3 or D300.

There are some very minor axial color fringes, meaning you'll only see them if you shoot at f/3.5, don't have perfect focus, and get out a microscope.

Flare and Ghosts     top

Flare is much better than the older 35-70mm AI version. Overall veiling flare is nonexistent, and if the sun is in the image or hitting the lens, there are at worst a small green dot here or there.

If it's a problem, I use my hand to block the sun, or some smarter people would use a lens hood.

Zooming     top

Zooming is reasonably easy. One strong finger flick can do it. It is very well spread out, as you'd expect for a 2:1 zoom. It zooms at an optimum 4 cm/octave.

Roll your mouse over to see it zoom from 35 to 70mm.

The Nikon 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s zooms by moving groups of elements inside the barrel. Nothing moves externally except the zoom ring. Roll your mouse over to see what happens. The front group moves in and out of the barrel without altering the position of the filter ring.

This makes it very sturdy because a knock to the front of the lens is not a direct knock to the optics, as it is on the f/2.8 zooms. Keep a filter on the front, and if you bang it, you're not likely to upset the delicate zoom cams.

It holds focus while zoomed. Focus at 70mm and the focus holds as you zoom wider.

For some reason not understood in the English-speaking world, the zoom ring rotates in the opposite direction from the previous 35-70mm AI version.

Recommendations    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations

See one and want one? Get it. These rarely sell for more than $150 used. I paid only $38 for this one, but I'm a super cheap-skate. The 35-70mm f/3.5 AI-s sold for $369 new in 1986, which is equivalent to $710 in 2007. This is a no-compromise professional lens and it will not disappoint.

I prefer the 35-70mm f/2.8 AF-D for its autofocus and exposure convenience, but if all you want are great optics on a budget depleted after buying a D3, this shall always be an excellent lens.

35-70mm is a normal range for film and FX Digital. It's silly for DX digital because there are far more modern DX lenses that do a much more convenient job. I'd use the kit 18-55mm AF-S lens on a DX camera long before I'd haul out this oldie.

Even though I find the older AI version easier to flick-focus, the optics and focus distances are better on this newest AI-s version.



If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

Thanks for reading!



Caveat: The all the ads below come from third parties. I don't see them before they appear on your screen. See more at my Buying Advice page. Personally I get my goodies at Ritz (the store, not the hotel gift shop), Amazon and Adorama.

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