Nikkor Classics – AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D

Nikon’s classically styled Df was designed for the ultimate photographic experience, a camera for those who are mastered their technique pre–digital with film and for those new age photographers that longed for old school design with modern technology. The Df stirred up the photographic community, you either hated it or loved it.

Retro Beauty – Nikon DF with AF-D NIKKOR 28mm f1.4:D

Right -Mounted on a silver edition of the Df, the AF Nikkor 28mm f1.4D matches the classic styling of the Df. It may not be the highest resolving lens now as it was made during the film era, but for a low megapixel camera like the Df its perfectly suited and to me a modern lens just doesn’t suit the Df’s styling.

Camera: Nikon D810 Lens: Nikon PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f2.8D. shot at f11, 1/250th sec, ISO 64

Though I love modern technology in the latest Nikon cameras, I still love old school design, my passion for the Leica M series is a testament to this. When Nikon introduced the Df I had to have one, with its independent dials for setting shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, exposure mode and release mode, it’s a true classic yet with modern technology. Made in Japan, each mechanical dial is crafted from solid metal, engraved and painted. The tactile and audio feedback of the dial clicks also offers both precision and speed for total camera control, something modern cameras lack.

One thing to have a classic style camera but teaming it up with modern looking lenses sort of defeats the purpose. Luckily Nikon still manufactures some classic AFD and Ai lenses. For me the Df is the ideal match for some of my favorite all time Nikkor lenses – the Defocus Control 105 and 135mm f2, but also for one of the most sort after and classic lenses in Nikon’s history, the AF Nikkor 28mm f1.4D.

In 1993 Nikon released a huge range of AF lenses. From the super wide AF Nikkor 18mm f2.8D to a 400mm f2.8, but one lens in the range stole the limelight from the rest and that was the AF Nikkor 28mm f1.4D. Replacing the aging MF Nikkor 28mm f2, this was one of the fastest wide-angle lenses ever released at its time. The 28mm can be a sort of unusual focal length for many, most people are used to going longer to a 35mm or wider to a 21/24mm. The 28mm length became popular with the rangefinder, as it was the widest lens possible to use with a rangefinder without the use of an exterior viewfinder. It was also became  popular with reportage photographers with the early pre-autofocus f2.8 AI lenses. The introduction in 1993 with a fast 1.4  auto focus lens opened up so many possibilities.

Saint Marys Cemetary, Yarra, NSW, Australia

Left – On the Df it makes a great all rounder, great for landscapes and tight alleyway urban photography. Stopped down it produces excellent detail. On the Df its quite stunning, the Df’s dynamic range and its ability to literally pull detail out of the darkest shadows is astounding. Shooting during midday is generally a no no with landscape but in some instances you have no choice if you want a shot. Even though the trees created dark shadows when I compensated for highlights I knew that I could pull detail out of darkness due to the clarity of the 28mm and Df’s superb sensor.

Saint Marys Cemetery, Yarra, NSW, Australia Nikon Df Lens: AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D, shot at f11  1/1600th sec ISO 800.

Technically this was an amazingly fast lens for its time, at f/1.4 maximum aperture, it was the fastest 28mm wide-angle available in the market in its class. The large aperture presented an amazing tool for low light photography. The AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D lived up to its promises and delivered amazing fast lens speed in low light conditions like never before made possible with any other Nikkor wide-angle lens. One of the greatest aspects of this era of lenses was, the build quality. Physically, the built quality of this AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D was the standard adopted for all the Nikon autofocus lenses at the time, built like a tank, its metal/brass body was coated with an industrial resin to prevent corrosion from water and moisture but also protecting it from impacts. All this strength came at a price and by today’s standards, it’s a hefty lens weighing in at 520grams, its current replacement, the AF-S Nikkor 28mm f1.8G weights only 330 grams. But one thing for sure I’ll bet that the old version will be still be around in years to come yet the current “plastic” lenses just won’t last. But it’s not just about that, in reality the new lens just looks odd on the Df. The Nikkor classics just look good hands down, and on thing to remember is the Df is 16MP, its no resolution king so older lenses, though they may not render as much detail as the current designs are perfect for the Df sensor.

Railway Kitty, Ikebukuro Station, Ikebukuro, Japan

Railway Kitty, Ikebukuro Station, Ikebukuro, Japan

Left – The AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D has excellent closeup ability. By combining its wide angle of view, low distortion with closeup focus, photographers can attain interesting imagery. Its narrow DOF wide open displays pleasing bokeh with circular highlights, enabling the subject to pop out of the background.

Railway Kitty, Ikebukuro Station, Ikebukuro, Japan Camera: Nikon Df Lens: AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D, shot at f1.4  1/1000th sec ISO 100.

Upon its release in 1993 it was optically superior to its predecessor, the Ais 28mm f2, gaining popularity quickly with photographers that were willing to pay the high price for its perfection. Its technical highlights include a magnification ratio of 1:8.3, 11 elements in 8 groups with the 9th an aspherical lens, Internal Focus (IF design) and Close Range Correction (CRC) system for close range shooting. The CRC compensates itself internally, it changes 2 places internally to ensure optical performance is maintained even at its closest focus distance of 35cm. Shooting at its closest distance at its maximum aperture of f/1.4 depth of field can be very shallow, at only 1 cm, by combining the shallow DOF with a 28mm view, it can provide an interesting visual possibilities.

Nikon’s first auto focus lenses used a screw drive focus, driven direct from the cameras body, ideal for stationary or slow moving subjects. As a result focus operation produces a moderate degree of noise. Though the AF 28mm f/1.4D has a screw drive focus its moderate weight of the optical system allows the AF speed to be quite snappy and responsive, locking quickly onto the subject..  Its no speed demon but generally wide angle lenses aren’t used for fast subjects. Lenses nowadays use electronic focusing, these are incredibly fast at attaining focus especially on fast moving subjects.

Lonely Corridor, Australian War Memorial Canberra Australia

Lonely Corridor, Australian War Memorial Canberra Australia

The lens has a very large front and rear lens element. It has a 72mm filter thread and the front filter ring does not rotate during focusing due to use of the Internal focus design. The lens incorporates a rounded 9-bladed diaphragm, which is a rare treat at its inception. The primary usage for a large aperture lens is to separate the main subject from the background. The quality of the bokeh is of major importance, but in a wide-angle lens unless the subject is close to the lens it’s relatively irrelevant.The use of multiple blades contributes to a natural bokeh and with the 28 it’s quite good considering the age of this lens. Though not perfect the background highlights show a cat’s eye shape, this is due to largest aperture mechanical vignetting, typical for fast lenses. There’s also a fair amount of outlining, which increases the impression of nervousness. Stopped down to f2.8 and the outlining is reduced, but the downside is the shape of the aperture blades becomes visible. Color fringing is well controlled but does rear its ugly head, again this is easily corrected in ACR. Though it is a fast lens, and bokeh may be important for some, a 28mm is rarely used wide open in most situations, the only real reason in film times was for low light but in today’s ISO capable digital cameras this is almost irrelevant.

Right – On of the finest points of the AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D is its low distortion for its time of production. The lens shows a low to moderate amount of barrel distortion which can be visible in  shots especially with straight lines near the image borders. However, the distortion is uniform and easy to correct in post processing. Shots like this where there are many straight and converging lines are quickly corrected in ACR.

 Lonely Corridor, Australian War Memorial Canberra Australia. Nikon Df Lens: AF Nikkor 28mm f/1.4D, shot at f8  1/1000th sec ISO 400.

Fast lenses suffer from high vignetting and the AF 28mm f/1.4D is no exempt from this fact. In fact, wide open the light fall-off towards the image corners is very pronounced, around EV2, stopping down to f2 reduces vignetting, but it is still pronounced, going to f/2.8 onwards and the vignetting is irrelevant.

Stopping down and this lens really shines delivering a very solid performance, wide open the sharpness is very good in the centre and quite good at the borders/corners. Stop the lens down to 2.8 and it delivers excellent sharpness in the centre and very good at the borders/corners.

For more than a decade the  AF 28mm f/1.4D was the only ultra-fast wide-angle in Nikon’s lens portfolio. Announced in 1993, the lens stayed in production for roughly 12 years, but the production volume remained rather low. In that time just about 7000 units were produced.

At its time, this lens had no competition. Photographers wanting an ultra-fast wide angle auto focus lens had no choice but the Nikkor AF 28mm f/1.4D. Today there are more capable lenses like the Nikkor AF-S 24mm f1.4 and the far more affordable AF-S 28mm f1.8. But this is one of Nikon’s classic lenses, sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. At its release it was already an expensive lens, around $2000AU but recently this lens in perfect condition is attaining upwards of $5000 AU, throw in the original hood and expect to pay more. To make matter worse for Nikon collectors and enthusiasts, since the introduction of the classically retro Df, this lens keeps skyrocketing in value. But I would happen to guess for passionate Df enthusiasts this classic lens matches perfectly with the retro styling and price may be no question.