Repair: Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai-S

Hello, everybody! I wrote this article a few years ago and I just updated it now because I wasn’t adding any mini-reviews and introductions back then so to make this in-line with our current standards, I am going to add those now. I will also do the same thing for my other articles when I have the time and I am in the mood. Enjoy my friends!

Introduction:

The Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai-S is an update of the amazing Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai. They both use the same optical formula but the barrel is a complete re-design. Not only did it gave the lens a linear aperture it also allowed it to be used in ful P,S,A,M modes on bodies that will allow it like the Nikon FA. It’s also a bit lighter due to optimazations in production and so it’s going to be less-stressful to carry all-day, your neck will thank you for that. This lens’ reputation is stellar but it’s polarizing Nikon fans like the Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai that came before because it has a mazimum aperture of f/2 instead of f/1.8 like what that the older (but still amazing) New-Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 has. It doesn’t really matter, I suspect that the better coating technology means that this lens will transmit more light than the older one wide-open. They are different tools for 2 different purposes as far as rendering goes.

img_2435The fast maximum aperture of f/2 is helpful for manual focusing even if you do not have a split screen installed on your camera so manual focusing is so easy. It’s bright and clear when you view through it via the pentaprism. The coatings are better than the older lens and that will affect its performance to some extent. The hue of the glass is different and that’s how you can tell if the coatings are identical or not.

img_2434It’s a compact lens compared to the New-Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 which I always consdider as a larger lens amongst Nikon’s compact prime lenses. It balances very well with all cameras and the handling is superb as long as you maintain the lens very well. You may also want to use its dedicated hood (Nikon HS-10) to help shield the front element from stray light. I always forget about the hood when I go out with this lens but thankfully the coatings are resistant to most un-wanted light so it’s not a big deal.

IMG_1717These are readily available and not uncommon in the used market because it was still in production until the mid 1990s and you can even buy these from a shop brand new until the 2000s. These lenses were popular so many people bought them, even people who do not really need them or know how to use one. These can come in a variety of conditions, from junk to new-old-stocks. I love this lens so much that I have 2 of them at one point!

IMG_1249 2.jpgIt’s a great companion for the Nikon F100, you get spot and center-weighted metering on this camera and despite not being able to see the aperture numbers on the screen, you’ll be able to make this lens communicate with the camera via the aperture-coupling tab. Its meter is amazing and that is crucial for taking pictures with film.

Let’s now study how this lens performs. I took these photos with a Nikon Df so you’ll see how it performs when shot using a digital camera. It’s the most economical way for us to examine how this lens performs since digital photos are basically “free-of-charge”. Film’s not cheap and it has an added expense to develop and scan so I only use it for showing a lens’ rendering. Please enjoy my pictures, I spent a lot of effort for these.

Knowing how a lens performs is important, part of using a lens effectively is to know its strengths and weaknesses so you can maximize your gear. You will learn how to avoid its flaws and exploit its strengths. The only way for you to do it is to shoot with the lens for a period of time and examine its results. You don’t need to pixel-peep as that won’t help, it’s only going to give you a skewed perspective of the lens’ performance. Only pictures that’s taken in real-world settings will show you the truth. I will save you the trouble of doing it so all you need to do is see my photos and read my commentaries. I used to keep these all to myself but I am sharing my knowledge and experience to help you save time.

The following sets of photos were taken from f/2, f/2.8 and f/4. These apertures are show the most changes in the characteristics of the photos. Anything beyond that tends to look uniform and not interesting apart from f/5.6 which I think still retains the uniqueness of this lens’ character somewhat until it begins to look “generic” after f/8. If you want to see more then please read my Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai article because that lens is related to this. I am sure that you can pick something there that can be related to this lens.

(Clic to enlarge)

Vignetting can be heavy with this particular lens compared to the Nikkor 85mm f/2 AiIt’s unusual because both lenses share the same optical design. I am not sure what causes it but you lose about 1-stop of light across your frame. This can fool the meter and give you over-exposed shots when the lens is stopped-down. The good news is that the falloff isn’t curved and is quite linear. It improves considerably by f/2.8 and is almost gone by f/4. It’s important that you consider this when shooting with this lens. This may just be a sample variation issue so check your lens and see how it performs.

(Click to enlarge)

As expected, the bokeh is smooth and the orbs look clean. Everything looks smooth wide-open, the orbs get a bit angular from f/2.8 but that’s natural since this lens doesn’t have a circular iris like most (older) preset-type lenses do. It won’t affect the image much but the shape of the iris does have a subtle effect on the quality of the bokeh if you know how or where to look for it. Lenses with angular or straight-edged iris blades with less-than 7 or so blades have a higher tendency of producing “clumpy-looking” bokeh characteristics. It can be easily seen when the subject and what’s directly behind it isn’t too far from and it has details with high frequency such as a shrub. Do not quote me on this since this is just from my personal observation.

(Click to enlarge)

The heavy vignetting can affect the exposure considerably, the Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai does not have this issue or at least is much tamer in this regard. The good news is that it’s real sharp wide-open. You can find slight traces of chromatic aberration but it’s not a big deal. Resolution is great wide-open and the contrast looks good. Everything improves by f/2.8, I can’t notice the vignetting at all and the details are sharp. The bokeh remains nice despite being stopped-down and will continue to look smooth until f/4 in which it starts to look a bit more “defined” due to the deeper depth-of-field. Just like the Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai, This lens performs great at closer distances but what about further distances where the older lens starts to show its weakness? Let’s find out in the next photo.

_HAW6408This was taken wide-open at a subject that’s about 11m or so away from me. Quite unlike the Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai, this lens is still OK at this distance where the older lens starts to look soft. Chromatic aberration is present in small amounts around the rim of the lamps. It may be a bit soft due to motion blur since this train is obviously travelling fast.

haw_2543Now, time for some real-world examples! As you can see, this lens is stunning and it can render a scene beautifully. It has a painterly-look to its rendering and the looks is unique. The field curvature is flatter than the New-Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 that uses the original layout from the first lens in this family and it looks cleaner in every way.

haw_2535When given the chance, this lens can exhibit some bokeh-outlines. The good thing is that it’s not terrible at all compared to what’s common in lenses that were made 2-3 decades before this one. Again, notice how sharp it is where in-focus but it gets smoother as your focused area transitions to being blurred.

haw_2526The character of this lens very refined and is perfect for general photography. This lens is also perfect for environmental portraits because 85mm is still going to allow you to show what’s around your subjects in the frame. I will say that this is the perfect application for this lens when it comes to portraits. If you want a tighter framing then you’ll want to use a lens that’s longer like the Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED Ai-S.

haw_2549This lens has great subject isolation qualities even if your subjects are a bit further into the frame. The nice 3D-effect is great and is something that many lenses today lack. Just imagine printing this and admiring the said 3D-look afterwards.

All of the pictures above were shot wide-open. This is an amazing lens, I remember that my old AF-Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D lens came with boat-loads of chromatic aberration when shot wide-open so I sold it! This lens is tamer in that regard and I would even dare say it is even sharper, I may have gotten a lemon but I guess that you get the idea with what I am trying to say. The AF-Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D lens has a reputation for not being the best lens in its class, even the oldest Nikkor-H 85mm f/1.8 Auto is sharper than that but I guess that it has to be good somewhere.

Let’s now see how this lens performs using film. You can only grasp how a lens performs if you you have tested it with both film and digital. These are 2 different mediums and it is pointless to say which one is better because they render differently. You’re only seeing one side of the lens if you shot with it using a digital camera so here’s the other side of it. I took all of the photos using Fujifilm Industrial 100 and I used a Nikon F100 with it. It was a sunny day so the fast 1/8000s shutter speed will be beneficial for shooting wide-open.

FH000026The lens is sharp even wide-open, this is not a remarkable show but it’s good for showing how sharp it is wide-open. Notice how beautiful the details of her hair is. You will notice a little bit of spherical aberration on the flowers of her hair. It’s not a big deal, I will even say that it’s a good “feature” for a portrait lens. If this bothers you then just stop the lens down to f/2.8 and it should go away.

(Click to enlarge)

The 85mm focal length is perfect for portraits. It makes you subjects look great because it is between the 50mm and 135mm focal length so the compression makes the faces of the person in the portrait look less chubby. Longer focal lengths will make the face smaller, it is better to use longer lenses for really tight shots of the face or for full-body shots. Doing the latter will make your model look skinnier or taller depending on how you frame your shot. A shorter lens will have less compression and the effects of foreshortening will be a huge factor in making them look bigger. I’d also like you to click on the pictures so you’ll see how nice the pictures are and examine the bokeh quality of this lens. It’s smooth but it can also have the tendency to create “busy-looking” blur if you have objects that have a high detail frequency in the background such as clusters of small flowers. It’s not bad but some people may be put-off by this. If you want to avoid this then position your subjects a bit closer to you and shoot wide-open.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are pictures where the subjects are closer to the camera. See how the background just melts into a wash of color? Learning to position your subjects is just as important as learning how to frame them. It’s part of story-telling and you can also use it to hide what you don’t want about a lens’ performance.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are photos where the subjects are a bit further into the scene. Pardon my focus, it’s hard to track subjects with a manual lens and for a lens this fast it can be tricky. See how beautiful this lens renders its subjects? You will also notice how nice the “3D effect” is, it’s one of the reasons why I continue to use older lenses. Older lenses are usually simpler so it uses less glass. The fewer elements a lens has the better the said “3D effect” is, at least that’s what many of use tend to believe or observe.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more pictures taken with this lens. Most of them were taken wide-open so you can appreciate its character better. It’s a stunning lens when shot with film and you will want to shoot this with film more because the combination results in beautiful pictures. I love this lens a lot, just look at the saturation and how natural the photos look. They don’t look “processed” at all to me. The results that you get with film is unique and you’ll never get the exact results even if you used all the filters and simulations available. Grain is the key to this look but there’s more things working behind-the-scenes that makes the photos taken using film unique. This is why I use digital and film, they can’t replace each other.

Should you buy this lens? Why, of course! This is one of Nikon’s best lenses from the ’80s, it’s still relevant today as long as you’re OK with focusing manually. These have began to get expensive online since people are discovering just how good this lens is. If you do not want to spend much then the older Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai may appeal to you more. You get the same optics in a different barrel with a longer focus-throw so if you want a lens that allows you to focus more precisely then that’s the lens for you. The difference should be minimal optically so you can treat them as the same lens in most regards. If you want to use this lens with all of the available program modes when mounted on a camera that’s designed to support it like the Nikon FA then you have no other choice but to buy this. It’s a small convenience that I myself don’t even use since I mostly shoot in the A mode. This article has plenty of pictures and I hope that they’re enough to convince you to buy one. I highly recommend this lens and the pictures should easily tell you why.

Before We Begin:

If this is the first attempt at opening a lens then I suggest that you read my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Please also read what I wrote about the tools that you will need in order to fix your Nikkors.

I highly suggest that you read these primers before you begin (for beginners):

Reading these primers should lessen the chance of ruining your lens if you are a novice. Before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in Youtube or the internet. Information is scarce, vague and scattered (that is why I started this) but you can still find some information if you search carefully.

I highly recommend that you also read my working with helicoids post because this is very important and getting it wrong can ruin your day. If I can force you to read this, I would. It is that important!

For more advanced topics, you can read my fungus removal post as a start. This post has a lot of useful information here and there and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

Disassembly (Lens Barrel):

The Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai-S is an excellent lens. It’s sharp, fast and relatively compact for a wide aperture lens. In order to achieve all this the designers needed to incorporate some clever and elegant techniques in its construction to achieve the mentioned qualities but still keeping the price cheap enough for mass production and marketing. It’s not difficult to repair one if you have the right tools and some experience but beginners should find a lens that’s easier to work with before they touch this. Having said that, this lens is simple to disassemble and like all lenses that we have worked on this blog we will want to get its optics out of the way first to prevent damaging it and that’s what we’re going to do now.

IMG_1721We begin by removing these screws from the bayonet. These are JIS screws so you need a real JIS driver for this. Many beginners get stuck because they used the wrong drivers or technique and so they stripped the heads of the screws. To prevent that from happening to you, read my article on how to work with bayonet screws so you won’t get stuck.

IMG_1722Carefully remove the bayonet plate assembly from the rest of the lens and take care not to disturb the rings or misplace the little spring in the bayonet plate assembly. The prong at the bayonet actuates the iris so be careful not to damage it.

IMG_1723The aperture ring comes off pretty easily as well. Be careful not to warp it accidentally or else it will not turn smoothly.

IMG_1725Notice that there are 2 helicoid keys in this lens. Mark one of them so that you will know which one goes to which slot later on when you re-assemble your lens. If you put them in the wrong slot then your focusing may not be as smooth as before because these keys get broken-in together with their slot.

IMG_1726Remove the keys by removing the screws that secure them. Clean them and keep them in a safe place.

IMG_1727Be sure not to remove or damage this part. This spring is in-charge of the aperture clicks. Videographers get rid of them to de-click their lenses. Remove the screws that secure the chrome ring. This ring serves as a grip and as the lens’ helicoid stop so you can’t remove the outer helicoid unless you remove this.

IMG_1728Unscrew the outer helicoid by turning it until it gets lose. Be really careful to mark where they separate for future reference. If you forgot to mark it you’ll waste time guessing the right way to put it back. Read my article on how to work with helicoids so you won’t make the same mistakes that many people make.

IMG_1729Keep the outer helicoid in a safe place and make sure not to damage the threads.

IMG_1730You can now remove the chrome ring. Notice the notch in the ring, like what I mentioned before, it also serves as this lens’s helicoid stop.

IMG_1719Turn the front lens barrel until you see this tiny set screw.

IMG_1720Loosen the screw but be careful not to remove it. Leaving the screw in its hole will you from losing it as well as avoiding any damage to its delicate threads. Loosen the screw just enough to remove the front lens barrel without the screw scratching the grooves of the front lens barrel.

IMG_1732With the front lens barrel gone you can rotate the inner helicoid until it separates from the central helicoid (focusing ring). Again, be careful not to forget where they separate by making a mark.

IMG_1733The inner helicoid separated at this point. My point-of-reference is the shaft for the iris, it should be in-line with the infinity mark. Your lens might be different but it should be the same as mine to some degree.

IMG_1734Remove the rubber grip by running a toothpick underneath its whole circumference. Do not use any sharp tools or you may rip the rubber grip. They can easily get damaged and a small crack can turn into a big one really quick.

IMG_1735The front ring is being held by a weak adhesive. Look for this hole and place a small drop of acetone into it to soften the adhesive.

IMG_1736 Repeat the previous step until you can unscrew the front ring with your hands. Careful not to warp these or else your focusing will stiffen from the friction generated when this part and the front lens barrel are rubbing against each other.

IMG_1737Now you have access these screws. These screws are in charge of securing the focusing ring to the central helicoid. This is an important part so be sure not to damage the thin brass ring’s alignment by scribing marks on it before you remove any screws. This also serves as your lens’ focus adjustment when you need to get the focus right.

IMG_1738Before you separate the helicoid from the focusing ring, mark it first against a reference point. In my case, it’s the infinity symbol.

IMG_1739You don’t need to remove the thin brass ring after the central helicoid has been removed.

IMG_1740Back to the inner helicoid, unscrew the front elements assembly to free it from the inner helicoid. You may have to repeat the acetone procedure mentioned in the previous steps to soften up the adhesive that seals them together. The inner helicoid also serves as the housing for the objective in this lens. This is a clever solution to make the lens compact as well as a way for cost-cutting.

That’s it for the lens barrel. The steps that I shown isn’t the best sequence to disassemble this lens but it’s still OK. The correct sequence is the following:

  1. Turn the lens so it’s at infinity and work on the lens while it’s in this configuration.
  2. Unscrew the front barrel and remove front elements assembly.
  3. Remove the rubber grip and remove the front part of the focusing ring.
  4. Remove the screws securing the brass ring and remove the main focusing ring.
  5. Remove the bayonet and remove the aperture ring and the chrome grip.
  6. Remove the helicoid keys and separate the helicoids carefully.

I didn’t follow the correct steps that I mentioned above because it didn’t occur to me back then to do so. I wasn’t as careful before a couple of years ago but thankfully I took plenty of pictures so I can back-track easily.

Having dismantled the lens barrel to its bare parts, clean everything so that they’re clean and free from germs. Clean the helicoids very well and make sure that you don’t leave an oily layer of residue. You don’t want to contaminate the fresh grease with old stuff. I used a light grease for this lens as a stiff one won’t be any good as it’s better-suited for shorter lenses with shorter turning range for the focusing ring.

Disassembly (Objective):

You can skip this part if all you need is to re-lubricate your lens. This part deals with the disassembly of the objective. You only need to do this if you need to clean the glass due to fungus or dirt. The key is not to repair anything that’s not broken. It’s not difficult to fix it but you will have to be careful not to scratch the glass.

The aperture cleanup procedure is also very time-consuming and delicate so do this only if you really have to. There is an excellent video on Youtube by the master “mikeno 62”. I recommend that you watch his video for how to reassemble the aperture assembly.

IMG_1741Removing the front lens assembly gives you access to the rotation plates of the aperture assembly. Before removing them, mark them so that you will know where they should be aligned when you reassemble them. The marks don’t have to be big or deep, just a small and shallow mark will do so long as you can see them. Carefully remove the spring with a pair of tweezers and also be very careful not to damage the tiny spring. Remove the 2 screws to remove the top rotation plate. You can now access the aperture blades.

IMG_1744Carefully remove each aperture blade and place them on a clean, soft surface to prevent damage to any of them. Warping or scratching one of them will make your iris useless!

IMG_1742The picture above shows the rear rotation plate after the aperture blades are gone. Don’t damage it and handle it with utmost care.

IMG_1743Remember to secure both ends of the little spring with nail polish later on when you reassemble your aperture assembly. This will prevent the spring from undoing itself.

IMG_1745Removing the chromed part will give you access to the 2nd and 3rd lens element. Do not drop the glass! This step is very delicate and you should work carefully.

IMG_1754The 2nd lens element might not come off easily because this part is air tight so be careful not to damage any of the elements.

IMG_1746The ring that secures the front element required a lot of time and alcohol to get free. If it won’t budge then just leave it alone.

IMG_1755Mine was held really tight and using a workman’s compass was not enough to free it so a lens spanner had to be used for extra leverage. Be careful again not to scratch your glass. The front element of this lens is badly scratched anyway but I don’t want to add any new scratches to it.

IMG_1757With that pesky ring gone you can safely remove the element just by using a lens sucker.

IMG_1747Similar to the front element, the rear elements are held by a single ring. You can remove the whole rear elements assembly by unscrewing its barrel.

IMG_1756Be careful not to scratch it! It may be a very tight fit so be patien  and do not poke it from the other side to force it off.

That’s all for the objective, it didn’t take long for me to overhaul it. It’s a simple operation for an experienced repairer but it will be a challenge for novices. The iris mechanism is going to take you the most time to work with because it’s hard to put-back together. The trick is to assemble the iris mechanism on its own and then lower the objective’s housing over it after you’re done. The video by Kenneth that I linked above should show you how it’s done. Please subscribe to his amazing channel.

Conclusion:

This was a fun lens to work with. It didn’t take me a long time to repair it, it’s simple and I am used to working with Nikkors. I also took plenty of pictures and that helped me a lot when it comes to re-assembly. Before you congratulate yourself you will need to adjust a few things to get this lens to focus to infinity properly. Read my article on adjusting your lens’ focus to find out how it’s done.

IMG_1758I had lots of fun working with this lens and I hope that you did,too. This isn’t the simplest lens for a first project. Having the right tools and skills matter so if your lens needs to be serviced then send it to a competent repairer. There are many scammers out there so be careful when choosing who to repair your lens. Ask your friends for feedback first, they probably know someone or the internet can help you locate an honest one.

Did you like this article? There are many information on there on how to work with this lens but I hope my take on it entertains you. Share this article so that it can help people get more information about this lens be it for repair or reviews. This article was made a couple of years ago and the standard shows but I tried my best to update it as this is real popular according to my stats. See you again next time and please don’t forget to support and share this blog, your small help will ensure that this blog is maintained. Thanks, Ric.

PS: Special Thanks to Nick Hill of Orange Elephant Photography for helping out with the grammar mistakes!

Help Support this Blog:

Maintaining this blog requires money to operate. If you think that this site has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the upkeep of this site, you can simple make a small donation to my paypal.com account (richardHaw888@gmail.com). Money is not my prime motivation for this blog and I believe that I have enough to run this but you can help me make this site (and the companion facebook page) grow.

Helping support this site will ensure that this will be kept going as long as I have the time and energy for this. I would appreciate it if you just leave out your name or details like your country and other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous it is at all possible. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

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20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. orangeelephantphoto
    Jan 09, 2016 @ 16:54:02

    Great article & very inspiring!

    Reply

  2. Ron V.
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 09:03:54

    This is really great stuff……………many thanks for all the valuable info 🙂

    Reply

  3. Rolf Katamann
    Jan 23, 2016 @ 13:54:24

    Great help!
    One question regarding this lens – when wide open aperture blades are not perfect round and I’ve seen this issue on three copies of this lens. I measured / compared the settings with another lens @f2 and it seems to be correct.
    Any experiences about that?

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Jan 23, 2016 @ 14:00:07

      Yes! this is very easy to fix but it takes time. You can only fix this by cleaning the aperture blades and re-assembling them back together. this will force the aperture blades to resettle. the cause might be some dirt or rust on the pins or somebody was careless in the factory when they assembled it. y 55mm f/1.2 was like this from f/2 and I had to do this to fix it.

      Reply

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  11. Tom Davill
    Feb 13, 2018 @ 12:35:32

    Hi Richard,

    I’m currently rebuilding this lens and am having a difficult time achieving infinity focus.
    I have only had to remove the rear element group and remove a small patch of fungus but for some reason upon reassembly it has lost the ability to infinity focus (will focus up to around 75m).

    Any suggestions?

    Reply

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