Repair: Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai

Hello, everybody! It is crazy hot in Tokyo due to a heat wave and there are already many people who died from the heat (mainly the elderly). The heat made me want to eat colder food like sushi and hiyashi chuka aka “cold noodles”. While sushi is considered to be the food for the masses here in Japan due to the prevalence of cheap shops that offer them to people who have less buying power the sushi they make tends to be on the terrible side. I used to loath the state of these cheap sushi until I discovered that some shops do prepare great sushi for just a little more compared to their cheap rivals. The difference in price is too minimal to consider and this is where the notion of “false economy” comes into play, you think you are getting great value but you are actually paying more money for a poor product in the end. Today, I will show you another example of this so please read what I am about to show you in this article in order to stretch your money the smart way.

Introduction:

We’re going to talk about the Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai today! Many people just skip this lens when they’re looking for a 35mm lens because it seems boring but I will tell you that this lens has a great price-performance value and I will show you why in this article. You can have one of these for not much more than what you will pay for what many consider to be the best cheap manual Nikon 35mm, the Nikon 35mm f/2.5 Series E. This was made for a very utilitarian task so its specs are very practical for its time. It had to satisfy a specific price-point yet still perform decently to live-up to the Nikkor name.

IMG_0587.JPGThe Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai lens is one of my favourite lenses for street photography as it is light, sharp and small. It also handles really well from small DSLR’s to my big Nikon D4. As you can see from the photo above, it looks perfect with my Nikon F3HP. It feels dense despite being small and it was built to professional standards so you can be sure that it’s going to survive a rough journey.

This gem of a lens is being sold really cheap these days because the faster f/2 or f/1.4 are more desirable for many people. You can use that to your advantage because a nice mint one can be had for around $100 here in Japan. People are so fixated with fast lenses that they overlook this lens and what it has to offer. People “in the know” will choose this lens for certain jobs because of it’s strengths.

IMG_2682This lens is an update of Nikon’s popular 35/2.8 series of lenses that Nikon made since the beginning of the F-mount. The New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 preceeds it and various versions of the Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto lenses came before it. This is a very popular lens family for Nikon and it has a long production life because they were practical and economical at the same time. You can easily find these in the used market because many people used these lenses back then, from students to professionals.

IMG_0655.JPGHere’s the lens together with its predecessor. The older one has a longer focus throw, the 5m mark is important to me for street photography. I usually shoot this lens set to 1-1.5m anyway but the 5m mark comes in handy sometimes. There are times when I wish that I have a longer focus throw but that’s not stopping me from taking pictures with this lens. The optical formula is not identical between these 2 versions because the older one has a lower distortion profile – nearly none! If you think that this lens has low distortion then it is surprising to know that there’s another one that does it better. If you’re going to ask, it is obvious that the older New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 is the better lens because it has a longer focus throw and it has less lens distortion but that’s just me. You will see why people will prefer this lens over the older one later in my remarks. It seems like Nikon wanted a lens that will cater to certain market segment so they made this one.

(Click to enlarge)

This lens has above-average flare resistance. The samples above were shot from f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6. The sun-satrs also look and the contrast looks decent thanks to the coatings.

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This is the worst that you can expect when it comes to producing flare and ghosts for this lens. While things so look a bit washed-out and the contrast was somehow affected, it’s a decent performer because the results still look great and more than usable. You will get a green blob if there’s a strong light source and that’s just about it. I shot these at f/8 so the green blob looks obvious but if I were to use this lens at f/2.8 then the green blob is going to look more diffused and subtle. Depending on the angle that the light source or sources hit your sensor/film you will get more than one blob as you can see in the 2nd picture. It is also worth noting that sensors have a much-more reflective surface than film so this is going to be less problematic when shooting film if I’m correct.

HAW_2936This was shot wide-open and under-exposed to show the vignetting better. You can see a bit of vignetting at the far corners of the frame as expected. This is nothing to be worried about and you won’t really see it in real-world use.

HAW_2937The lens can focus up to 0.3m or about a foot. This was shot at around 0.6m or so and the toy animals are behind a 5mm sheet of glass. I think I shot this at f/8 at the most and you can see that it’s sharp despite the glass muting the contrast a bit. This is a neat trick when you want to take detail photos of something as it can also serve as pseudo-macro lens.

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The pictures above were shot from f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 respectively. Wide-open, you can see that it has decent sharpness and the contrast looks good as well. Stop the lens down to f/4 and the sharpness and contrast improves. The frame also gets brighter as vignetting goes away and you can see the far-corners of the frame look brighter. Stopping down to f/5.6 will make everything even better as expected and this is where the sharpness peaks. It is not going to improve by much when you stop this down to f/8 but you will see some more improvement in resolution. This may be due to the deeper focus plane and it give you the illusion of added sharpness or resolving power.

(Click to enlarge)

35mm is a handy focal length to use for environmental portraits just like the samples I have above. I ate sushi no less than 3 times this afternoon so I took pictures of the chefs who prepared my meal. The one to the left served me Edo-mae sushi style and the one to the right served me a Kansai-style sushi called Hakozushi.

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I mentioned that this lens is nice for shooting architecture so here are some samples. It’s a nice lens for shooting geometric shapes because it has a lower-than-average distortion profile. It’s there but you certainly won’t notice it much. Look at the last picture with the highschool girls in the frame and check the signage at the top of the frame. It bows a bit but it’s not too strong as to distract your attention from the subject.

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35mm is great for reportage and it’s a classic focal length for this type of work. It’s a nice combination to use with an 85mm lens for field work. It was considered to be wide but it is now being referred to as a “wider normal lens” in recent years. Anything that is wider than 35mm was considered to be really wide so 20mm was considered to be a lens in the ultra-wide category. Ultra-wide lenses today tend to be wider than 20mm like 16mm.

(Click to enlarge)

It’s a nice lens for street photography on a bright and sunny day. You’ll want to use a fast lens for low-light shooting or choose a higher ASA film instead. While f/2.8 is reasonably fast for general use including low-light photography, you will want to use a faster lens for that. This is not what this lens was made for and knowing when to use a lens or not is the key to enjoy using your tools.

(Click to enlarge)

For those who are wondering how this lens performs with film then please check these samples. They were shot with 400 film in case you guys are wondering. I consider film to be a less demanding medium compared to digital so needless to say the lens creates great photos whatever medium you choose to use it with.

That’s all for the introduction of this lens. So, is this lens for you? It all depends on what’s your shooting style and subjects tend to be. The short focus throw can be useful for quick focusing but can lack precision as you can focus-past your subjects. If you’re shooting the bar scene then this lens will be barely-adequate for that and a faster lens will be optimal. If you just want a nice lens that performs really well in most situations then this is what’s going to make you happy. They aren’t expensive these days and people spend more cash on a Nikon 35mm f/2.5 Series E because of the many positive reviews online. Well, this is a better lens for not much more money! For a small premium, you get a superior lens so I suggest that you look for one of these instead. Nothing is better then the all-metal barrel and the better coatings used on this lens compared to the cheap plastic and coatings on a Series E lens. This is one of the “secret lenses” that many photographers still use to create great images for little money. Let’s now begin with the repair article.

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. Also read regarding 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 beginner. Also before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in Youtube and 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.

About Me:

I am a photographer based in Tokyo who scours the junk section of the camera shops here on a regular basis. I started this hobby of fixing old lenses and cameras because I kept on getting scammed before when I purchase online. This turned out to be a blessing because I now buy junk lenses for a fraction of the price and then fix them to add to my growing now collection. This allowed me to buy gear that were otherwise off-limits to me if I were to get them in better condition.

I was a scale modeller before who built models for other collectors for a very longtime, got an education as a dental prosthodontist (but didn’t pursue dentistry) and growing up in a watch repair shop gave me the useful skills that would help me in this craft. Fixing my car also contributed some know-how.

Having mentioned the above, I will tell you now that I am not a professional repairman! So please take what I do with a grain of salt and I will never be held responsible for anything wrong that will happen to you and your project. I hope that the pros would guide and teach us but nobody is writing anything.

As my collection of repair notes grew, I get requests from people with similar interests and from professionals who just needed some notes just in case. Now, I am sharing my library with you for your entertainment and reference. I hope that you find my work useful.

Disassembly (Barrel):

Disassembling this thing is pretty easy for an experienced lens “tinkerbug”. I can even say that this lens is also suitable for a beginner’s attempt provided that he has read a couple of guides and literature on how to service manual focus lenses. The construction of this lens is typical of Nikkors of the same era and there are no surprises here. This lens is best opened beginning from the front and work your way until you have dismantled it down to the last part if you have to.

Since my optics are clean, I’ll not tackle how to work with this lens’s objective. This is for the people who want to overhaul the main barrel in order to re-lubricate their lens and also clean it thoroughly while they are at it but since I value my dear readers so much I decided to open up my 35mm lens’s objective just to show you how to dismantle it.

As mentioned previously, this is a pretty straight forward lens to work with and the goal of this section is to separate the objective from the barrel as well as to dismantle the barrel to it’s main components for a thorough cleaning.

IMG_2496Start by removing the 3 screws from the rear bayonet mount. You can remove the objective (optical assembly) without removing this part but it would be nice to see where the parts connect to help you later in reassembly.

IMG_2497.JPGAnd off the bayonet goes! Luckily for us, this lens is pretty simple and orthodox and Nikon did not use any weird spring and lever or cam assembly with this part.

IMG_2494.JPGTo remove the objective, simply remove this tiny set screw with a precision screw driver. Be careful not to lose this tiny screw or damage the head in any way. A bad screw head will require special tools to be used just to remove the stuck set screw.

While it is always advised to work with any lens while it is focused to infinity as a point of reference, you may occasionally need to focus it closer to its shortest focusing distance to reveal screws in the front barrel and this lens is no exception.

IMG_2495.JPGSimply unscrew the front barrel. If it didn’t come-off easily then you may want to place a drop of solvent into the set screw hole to dissolve whatever glue or thread lock Nikon has used on this part. I like using acetone or MEK (methyl ethyl ketone).

This depression in the thread is where your set screw is sunk into. Be careful later during reassembly as you want the set screw to sit exactly where this depression is or else you will risk ruining your set screw.

IMG_2498.JPGAt this point, you can safely remove the objective from the main lens barrel. Be careful not to drop the objective on the floor! The objective is not held secure by any screw and there is a risk that it will free-fall to the floor if you are not careful.

If all you want to do is to clean the fungus in your lens or remove any junk inside it then I suggest that you do not go any further as disassembling the rest of the lens barrel is of no benefit to you. Go straight ahead to the next section.

IMG_2499.JPGThe aperture ring comes off easily since it is being secured by the rear bayonet mount. I will suggest that you remove this as soon as you remove the bayonet and not wait till this step like what I did here.

IMG_2500.JPGCarefully remove the rubber grip by running a thin toothpick underneath it and gently go through its whole circumference. Doing this will separate this part from the focusing ring as it is likely being held by rubber cement.

Gently remove this part as you don’t want to tear or puncture this part because this part is irreplaceable. There are replacement rubber grips out there but they will not look like the original and you will have to trim it down to fit.

IMG_2501.JPGWith the rubber grip out of the way, you can now access this hole. I call these “reservoirs” as they are used for dropping in glue on the assembly process. Place a drop of acetone into this hole to loosen it up. It may take a couple of application and even several hours of waiting before this thing finally soften up so be patient.

IMG_2502.JPGWhile waiting for the acetone to do it’s work, I used the time to unscrew the chrome grip. Simply remove these 3 screws that secure the chrome grip. The picture above just show 1 out of the 3 screws.

IMG_2503.JPGThe chrome grip should come off easily, if it did not then just do the acetone routine on this thing as well. This part is sometimes secured by epoxy and it can be hard to remove.

IMG_2504.JPGThe acetone has done it’s work and now the front ring can be safely unscrewed. You can use a pair of grippy rubber gloves to help you with this. Never force your way with these as you can risk ruining the threads on these parts

IMG_2506.JPGWith the front ring out of the way, you can now unscrew these 3 screws but before doing so please mark their position in relation to the other parts of the focusing ring because it is a precision adjustment point. You will need to recalibrate this part later but having the marks there will help remove a lot of guess work. This part is what you need to adjust to fix any problems pertaining to infinity focus later on during reassembly.

Again, always remember to work with any lens while it is focused all the way to infinity as a point of reference and make small marks or take pictures while it is at this state. Just take plenty of pictures or notes to guide you as there is no going back after this!

IMG_2507.JPGThe focusing ring can now be separated from the rest of the barrel. The 3 screws from the previous step holds down a thin brass ring that in turn secures the focusing ring into place by compression and pressure alone. I know that it sounds inadequate but it works.

IMG_2505.JPGNext, remove these 3 screw to remove the ring with all colourful the lines engraved in it. Please ignore the fact that the focusing ring is in the picture. I just left it there as a guide.

IMG_2508.JPGAnd off the ring goes. As with the chrome grip, this part may be held by adhesives as well so do the acetone routine on this part if it doesn’t come off easily.

IMG_2509.JPGYou can now access the helicoid key once the ring is gone. Be sure to document and mark the parts while the lens is set to infinity. On my lens, this is the configuration this should be in when I reassemble the lens in order for it to focus properly all the way to infinity.

Remove the 2 screws inside the circular holes to free the helicoid key. The helicoid key is in charge of keeping the helicoids synced as you rotate them in order to achieve proper focusing as your lens expands and retracts.

IMG_2510.JPGThe helicoid key is now free. Notice that it is mounted in reverse as you can see from the previous picture. Also notice that I have marked the helicoids in their infinity position. I had to rotate the inner helicoids a bit to free the helicoid key so the mark did not line up in the picture above.

Before going to the next step, please read my post regarding how to work with helicoids as this step is the most critical when it comes to disassembling the main barrel. If you got it wrong then you can be sure that you are going to have a stressful time guessing where they should mate and align.

IMG_2511.JPGIt’s time to undo the helicoids. This is where my main helicoid separated and I marked the position in relation to the outer helicoid’s infinity line.

IMG_2512.JPGAs with the main helicoid, I marked the position where the inner helicoid separated with a simple mark in the shape of an arrow. These marks serve as guides so I will know how or where I should align them later during reassembly.

IMG_2513Oh, I forgot about the aperture fork! Remove the small pillar screw and you can carefully remove this. The pillar screw is not in the picture but it’s screwed to the hole in the fork’s ring (check the picture). The pillar screw slips into a notch in the aperture ring and it is the only thing that connects the aperture ring to the aperture fork.

That’s all for the lens barrel. It should be easy enough for beginners who have the proper tools and know-how when it comes to DIY. Just always be careful with your tools so you won’t scar the lens and leave any ugly marks. Clean everything very well and brush them thoroughly to remove any trace of the old gunk in there. Dry them carefully before they can be greased. Make sure that there are no residues left just to make sure you cleaned it properly or else the old lubricants will contaminate the fresh grease.

I used a heavier type of grease as this has a short focus throw. The focus throw is short so a heavier grease will make my turns more precise. This is a matter of taste so it’s all up to you if you want feather-light focusing or a heavy but precise focusing. Also don’t forget to lubricate the aperture ring’s ridges at the inner surface for that smooth aperture clicking action. You’ll also want to lightly lubricate the aperture ring’s inner edges (that comes in contact with the barrel) so that it turns smoothly but this is optional.

Disassembly (Objective):

As previously mentioned, the optics look OK so I have no need to open this thing up so do not expect a complete teardown. I will just dismantle it to the point where it is easy to for you to understand how things were put together. Don’t fix what is not broken.

Be careful with putting the optics back together because if an element is faced the wrong way then you will have to re-open this thing up to fix that. To avoid that, I use a pencil to mark the edge of my elements with a small line pointing to the front of the lens. This way I can be sure that my elements are facing the correct way when I reassemble the lens.

IMG_0590Remove the front optical assembly from the objective by means of a lens opener. Be really careful not to damage the front element!

IMG_0592Now, use a lens spanner to remove the retention ring that secures the front element to the rest of the assembly by positioning the lens opener’s spikes on these 2 depressions. Also note that this is glued on my example so do the acetone routine for this part before you go ahead or else you will risk damaging your lens.

I’m not going to open this part up but it should be pretty straight forward and if you have been following my blog then you will already know what to anticipate. Use a lens sucker to remove any elements from here on.

IMG_0591The rear part of the front optical assembly can be twisted off easily. You can then access the other elements on this part after this point.

IMG_0588The rear elements assembly can easily be removed by unscrewing it.

IMG_0589To access the other parts of the rear optics assembly, simply use a lens opener or a lens opening compass to remove the retention ring.

That’s how you clean the objective. There’s nothing much to it and you can access most of the surfaces of the elements using my guide. Remember, if you can’t open it then don’t do it. You’re just risking it and it’s better to have a dirty lens than a cracked one that cannot be used in any way. The rear element is very important in this lens so even a scratch will be enough to degrade this lens’ performance.

Conclusion:

Working with this lens was a fun exercise. It can be a little bit frustrating when it’s time to put the objective back into the barrel because there is very little room inside the lens but it can be done in under 5 minutes after several tries. Before you put it back, be sure to reassemble the barrel completely including the bayonet mount but leave out the front ring of the focusing ring so that you can adjust the infinity focusing of the lens.

Carefully slide the objective into the barrel and make sure that the aperture fork and stop down lever mated properly with the tabs in the objective. Focus it to infinity and attach it to a camera. Read my guide on how to calibrate your lens’ focus to know the right way to do this without using expensive equipment like a collimator.

Also, do not forget to lightly grease the aperture fork and stop down lever with the same grease that you used for the helicoids. All you want is a very thin film of grease or the iris assembly will end up being oily and that is going to be a bigger problem for you since iris assemblies are always annoying to overhaul.

37524203_10155540588051911_4294454738897862656_nHere’s what a hakozushi looks like. This was my 3rd serving of sushi this afternoon and I have a bad stomach as I am writing this article because I had too much sushi today. This is such a nice lens to carry all-day.

Thank you very much for your time and I hope that you have enjoyed this blog post. If you found this interesting, please share this with your friends at social media. I take this blog seriously and I hope to see this blog become the best there is when it comes to Nikon stuff. As a matter of fact, I updated this old article that I wrote a few years ago with new content and sample images to make it better and in-line with my current standard which now lean towards a review and repair format. I used to exclusively feature the repair of Nikkors but I also added some camera repairs along the mix. Since I get so many people asking me about how a lens performs I also added a mini-review of the lenses just so that my articles become more holistic. Thanks again and don’t forget to support this blog, it is all because of you that this blog is still alive. Until next time, Ric.

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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9 Comments (+add yours?)

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  5. Leon R
    May 20, 2018 @ 18:26:38

    Hello Richard Haw,

    this is a stunnig website you‘ve built here.
    I‘ve got a problem with my Nikon Nikkor 35mm f2.8 Ai-S. When I turn the focus ring to the hard stop at infinity, the actual focus doesn‘t turn all the way up to infinity. So in practice, objecta more than about 100m (or less?) away won‘t appear in focus. I‘d have to turn the focus ring even further, but the hard stop is already reached. I haven‘t found anything on the internet on how to fix this. As everything else works smoothly and I haven‘t ever opened a lens, I‘d consider it too risky to just disassemble it and try to find a fix.

    Is there any way you could help me on this? Is there an easy fix, a part I could adjust?

    Help much appreciated

    Best Regards

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Jun 21, 2018 @ 16:17:47

      Hello.
      The problem is with the focusing scale. it’s a very easy fix and I wrote a whole article on how to calibrate it. Search for it using infinity calibration as keyword. Ric.

      Reply

  6. Trackback: Repair: Nikon 35mm f/2.5 Series E | Richard Haw's Nikon Maintenance Site
  7. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor 35mm f/2 Ai | Richard Haw's Nikon Maintenance Site
  8. jon campo
    Aug 09, 2018 @ 01:38:54

    Boy, your website sure is interesting!
    Regards,
    Jon Campo

    Reply

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