Repair: Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai-S

Hello, everybody! It’s going to be Christmas in a few days and I still haven’t received any fruitcakes! I used to get these back home and while many people don’t want one because they’re boring, I enjoy my fruitcakes for what they are. They are gifts that were given by friends and they last very long, too. A good fruitcake tastes just as good as any expensive and fancy cake from the fancy bakers and this just goes to show that they are not bad at all and can prove to be very enjoyable specially if they’re still moist. Still talking about fruitcakes and how many people find it boring, I will show you a Nikkor that many find boring but it has a certain appeal to it for people who love it and just like real fruitcakes, this lens is tough and will last a long time when serviced well. Read my article to see what this is.


The Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai-S is an update of the Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai and it retains the old lens’ optical design of 5-in-5 (5 elements/5 groups). The barrel has been updated to give it a new look as well as making it Ai-S compatible. It has a decent run from 1981-1989 so it’s considered a moderate success. It’s price made it popular for students and people who’s budget dictates what they buy. It’s great for most things and being Ai-S, it can work in all automatic modes with newer Nikons that provide the standard PSAM exposure modes. It also has a more modern construction so less materials were used to make it and it uses a more clever construction so some parts were optimized. This makes it less rugged when you compare it to the older lenses in its family but it’s still a solid lens compared to what we’re used to seeing these days.

IMG_8920The lens is the last iteration of the 35/2.8 lens family that began in 1959 when the Nikon F was introduced. It carried-on the spirit of this lens family to the ’80s and made it relevant in a time when people were used to faster 35mm lenses. Its light and compact design is a good selling-point for photographers who don’t want to bring anything heavy and f/2.8 is still decently-fast and should be adequate for most jobs. What ultimately killed this lens is probably the introduction of the AF-Nikkor 35mm f/2 which is just as small but is much faster at f/2 and it can also autofocus. Some will prefer manual focus lenses (like me) but the rage in those days was autofocus, very much the same way as VR today.

IMG_1017This lens unfortunately inherited the very short focus throw of its predecessor. I like the earlier Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai version because it has a longer focus throw and has literally near-perfect distortion control. Some people will prefer this one, though.

IMG_2412Mounting the lens on a small camera like the Nikon FM2n makes for a nice setup. Both of them are small and they work together wonderfully.

There’s nothing much to say about this lens since it’s not interesting from a historical and technical standpoint so let’s see some sample pictures that I took with this. The following sets of pictures were taken from f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 so we’ll see how this lens performs on apertures that matter the most for general photography. This will help us in determining how to use this lens better since we will see the strengths and weaknesses of this lens. I will make general comments on each set containing my observations.

_HAW5967.jpgThis lens has quite a bit of barrel distortion so I won’t recommend it for architecture and things that require any straight lines to remain straight such as pictures of fine art. If this is important to you then the early version of the Nikkor 35mm f/2.5 Ai or the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 should satisfy you because that lens has nearly no distortion.

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Vignetting can be kind of heavy for a lens of this class but it’s easy to avoid. Stopping it to f/4 will remove most of it and it should be gone by f/5.6. The lens won’t flare much but the sun or any bright sources of light will cause ghosts to appear. It’s soft wide-open and you can easily avoid it through positioning your setup so the ghosts are out of your frame. It’s only going to solidify once you stop your lens down and will only make it worse. This can be bad news for landscape photographers like me who love to put the sun at the center.

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The lens performs best when the subject is situated some 10m or so away from you. It’s great from this distance on so I will assume that this lens was calculated for this. At f/2.8 the center is sharp and the corners don’t look too bad at all but it can be better. Contrast is nice and the colors look great. Stop down to f/4 and you get a large boost in resolution, you can see almost every detail reproduced in great detail, contrast also improves quite a bit and the corners look much better now that vignetting isn’t as obvious. The lens is now approaching its peak performance once you stop it down to f/5.6, the deeper DOF is also a factor in giving you a very sharp picture. This is the ideal aperture if you want the best in terms of detail from this lens. I’m sure f/8 will give you better DOF and that’s just about it.

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These pictures were taken with the subject about 1m away from my setup. The pictures look decently sharp and you’ll see the background blur a bit since we’re focusing closer. This lens wasn’t designed to shoot “bokeh” pictures so we are not going to test it for that but it’s good that the quality if the bokeh from this lens is smooth and more than decent for a lens in this category. It’s sharp at f/2.8 but it’s not as sharp as the previous samples we have when the subjects were further into the frame. The bokeh looks smooth and it’s surprising to see this lens render the blurry background in a clean manner. Stopping the lens down to f/4 will give you sharpness that rivals macro lenses, the background is still a bit blurry but it’s not as blurred as it is when shot wide-open. At f/5.6, the background is starting to lose its blurriness due to the wider DOF but your subjects will be sharp. This is great when you’re shooting food photography because the lens delivers sharp photos and the bokeh looks pleasing so it will make your subjects stand-out.

(Click to enlarge)

What many people don’t capitalize is the fact that this lens can focus down to 0.3m or 3ft! While this won’t give you high magnification ratios it’s enough to get really close so your subjects can fill more of the frame. This is useful for food and product photography when you want to have your subjects dominate the composition but still have the background in the frame to give some context. Sharpness and contrast is adequate wide-open and get really from f/4 on.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more pictures that were shot in digital. See how useful the lens is? Many people like 35mm for street photography but I usually use it for taking photos of random things on my way to work. These were taken from f/4 to f/5.6 and you can see just how sharp my pictures are. Just like in my samples, the contrast looks great and saturation is nice while not making the pictures look cartoonish like some lenses tend to do these days. The very simple 5-elements contruction is probably the reason why because over-corrected optics makes pictures look less-natural. This is one reason why I prefer older lenses these days.

After seeing the results with digital, let’s now see how this lens performs with film. I used Fujifilm Industrial 100 for these pictures because it was bright that day and this lens isn’t a telephoto lens so I can use slower shutter speeds when using this lens. Please look at all the pictures in the following sets so you’ll know how this lens renders pictures using film so you will get a better idea of how this lens performs in either media. Film has a unique look and this lens was originally designed to be used with film so seeing the results with film will also give you an idea of what the lens designers were thinking when they made this lens. I am not a purist but I appreciate using something in its original context.

FH000015I love how this lens renders with film, the simple 5-elements construction is key to this. It renders your scene with a nice and natural look. It may not be the sharpest lens specially if you compare it with newer lenses but it definitely has an intagible quality to it.

FH000024Despite being a “wide” 35mm lens this lens is capable of producing nice bokeh when you know how to position your subjects in relation to the background. Again, the overall feel is natural and pleasing.

(Click to enlarge)

This is the worst I can get it to flare and ghost when using it with film. The new coatings used on this lens is key to how resistant it is to the effects of bright lights shining directly into the front of the lens. I am sure that it can be improved using the latest technology or lens design but this lens was made in 1981 so it’s pretty good when you consider it.

(Click to enlarge)

Again, some really nice and natural-looking pictures coming from this lens. You don’t see any harsh rendering like you would with recently-made optics. This is why I love my old Nikkors, the “vintage-look” is something that you will either love or hate but I bet that we can all agree that this lens is still relevant today specially for videographers.

(Click to enlarge)

The lens renders fine for objects that are further than 20m to infinity as expected from a lens in this class. It’s neither spectacular nor poor in my opinion.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more pictures that were shot with film, most of these were shot stopped-down. I think I shot these at f/4 or f/5.6 since it was a kind of sunny that afternoon. I’m not sure if I took the pictures with the artists doing their thing at f/8 but it’s very likely that I did, the white paper would be over-exposed if I didn’t. There is no doubt that the lens is handy if you have enough light in the scene or if you’re using a fast-enough film.

That’s it for our mini-review so I hope that you got a good idea of how this lens performs with both film and digital. It’s hard to beat this lens since it’s the only Ai-S lens in its class and price range. Sure, the Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai may be cheaper and the build is also a lot tougher but it won’t give you P or S on certain cameras. If that matters to you then this is the lens that you want. The Ai-S lenses also look more “modern” in terms of looks but it’s not too-different from their Ai counterparts. All Ai-S lenses also have a linear diaphragm, this means that the travel of the stop-down lever (and aperture ring) is linear in relation to the size of the iris. It’s a difficult concept to explain without examples but just think of it as a convenient feature for automation. Some videographers will prefer this because it is easier to control the aperture since it’s more predictable (since the travel is linear). It’s one of those things that doesn’t matter until it does and these usually only matter for the people who use their gear for special purposes like videography. The older Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai is otherwise pretty-much the same lens in most regards and you should also look into it when looking for a 35/2.8 Nikkor that will meter and mount safely on newer Nikon cameras. You really cannot go wrong with either of the 2 lenses. If you’re considering the Nikon 35mm f/2.5 Series-E, just save your money and buy the lens in this article instead. It is built better and the coatings are better. Many people waste their money buying plastic Series-E lenses thinking that they’re saving money because of the hype at the net but they can buy better lenses by just adding $20 more and get real Nikkors and in some cases, get one for less money because these plastic lenses have appreciated so much due to hype so their prices are inflated. I hope that my advice helps you find the right 35mm lens, many people don’t know or shoot with every version of the 35/2.8 lens family so I am sharing to you what I know about this lens family so you’ll get the best match for your budget and requirements.

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 construction of this lens is typical of most smaller Ai-S lenses so the objective can’t be extracted as a whole unit so you must remove plenty of thing just to get to it. This means that we cannot remove the objective early in the overhaul and store it somewhere safe so you must be more careful with what you’re doing. Alternatively, you can remove most of the glass while you’re in the process of dismantling the lens but that requires some more planning and you may damage the glass since you’re forced to work awkwardly. Having said that, this lens isn’t difficult to repair at all but it’s more complicated compared to the usual Ai-Nikkor or most things earlier than that. The beginner will probably want to look for another lens to practice on as their first lens but they can probably manage it as long as they have the correct tools such as JIS drivers and the proper lubricants at the least. It can be a simple and relaxing project for experienced repairers.

IMG_1036Remove the rubber grip by running a small toothpick underneath its circumference. The glue should lift without any problem but be careful not to tear the rubber. You should see a seam underneath the rubber grip, saturate it with alcohol to soften the glue applied to it at the factory.

IMG_1037Remove the front ring by unscrewing it. A pair of rubber gloves will help add friction to your grip. It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to remove it once the cement has softened.

IMG_1038You can now access this small set screw, this prevents the front barrel from unscrewing itself accidentally. Remove this set screw so you can remove the front barrel.

IMG_1039Removing the front barrel is easy once the screw is gone. You can opt to remove it later if you wish so at least there’s something protecting the front element.

IMG_1040The bayonet mount can easily be removed once these screws are removed. These screws can be hard to remove when you don’t have the right tools. These are JIS screws and you should only use a JIS driver for these. Many people get stuck because they stripped these by using the wrong tools. If you’re new to lens repair, please read my article on removing bayonet screws so you won’t repeat the same mistakes that many people do.

IMG_1041Removing the bayonet mount is easy since there’s nothing that’s going to get snagged. It’s easy to drop this thing if you’re holding the lens by its aperture ring so only grab it by its focusing ring after you remove the bayonet mount.

IMG_1042This regulates the size of the iris and it couples the iris mechanism to the aperture ring. It is easy to remove but be careful when putting it back as you want to put it back facing in the correct direction so take pictures of it before you remove this part.

IMG_1043The aperture ring can easily be removed just like this. Clean it properly and remove any residual grease so it won’t contaminated the fresh grease you’re going to apply at the tiny slots for the detent spring. Only apply a small amount of grease, a thin film is enough.

IMG_1045You’re now able to access these helicoid keys but you will have to do some more things in order to separate the helicoids properly so set this aside and we’ll get back to it later.

IMG_1046From this point on, you will want to work on this lens while the focusing ring is turned to infinity. You will want to take all of your references and notes like this so you will have a convenient point of reference later during re-assembly.

IMG_1047The focusing ring is secured by a brass collar, this brass collar is held-down by screws so the focusing ring is secured by friction. Remove these 3 screws so you can loosen this and remove the focusing ring. This is also where you can adjust your focus later after the lens is overhauled.

IMG_1048The focusing ring can now be easily removed once the brass collar is gone. Make sure the brass collar is safe because if it’s warped the focusing ring will not settle properly. Try to do your best to maintain the position of the helicoids so it won’t move from their position at infinity and make very small marks to help you identify their alignment.

IMG_1049The shiny grip can be removed by unscrewing these. Make sure that you use the correct-sized driver so you won’t scar the surrounding metal.

IMG_1050You should clean what’s underneath the grip because germs and grime usually settles in this part of the lens. You can find all sorts of disgusting stuff under these things.

IMG_1051You can now separate the helicoids without any obstruction so you can see how all of the helcoids align when the lens is set to infinity. The helicoid keys are held by these screws, they’re sealed by red lacquer so Nikon will know if somebody messed with this. It’s also a way to prevent them from moving accidentally due to wear. These helicoid keys keep the helicoids synced while you turn the central one, this allows the helicoids to contract and expand depending on the direction you turn them. Make sure to take note which one was removed from which side so you will know how to put them back together again later so your lens will focus smoothly. These are usually broken-in due to regular use so you will want to maintain this state as much as you can.

IMG_1052Once the helicoid keys are gone, you can now separate your helicoids. Remove the inner helicoid first so you can store the optics in a safe place as early as possible. The casing of the objective has the threads of the helicoid milled to its outer surface so it also functions as the inner helicoid. This was done to save space, cost and weight. The bad side of this is the optics and iris mechanism are at a higher risk of grease migration because they’re all closer to the helicoids and it won’t take much for some oil to reach it.

Never ever forget to mark where the helicoids separate, many people forget to do this so they’re stuck because they don’t know how they should mate. These should mesh where they separated so make sure that you don’t forget to mark where they separated. Please read my article on how to work with helicoids so you won’t get stuck.

IMG_1053The old grease has solidified into a disgusting residue so the housing of the objective had to be cleaned very well and polished. This can only be done by removing what’s inside of this so you can reach everything with your brush and pickle this thing in an alcohol bath to kill the germs and help remove any thin residue.

IMG_1057Do the same for the central helicoid and don’t forget to mark whey it separated.

Clean everything very well and make sure that you removed any residue and old grease from the helicoids. You can use a toothpick to pick the dried bits of gunk because a brush won’t be much help. Scrubbing the threads with a stiff plastic kitchen wool helps a lot for removing smaller bits of hardened deposits. I usually pickle the helicoids in an alcohol or solvent bath to soften and lift and remaining residue from the threads. If you’re not at all comfortable with the idea of using solvents then you can also substitute it using a strong type of dishwashing liquid and use the stiffest nylon brush you have to scrub everything.

Disassembly (Objective):

The objective’s housing for this lens also serves as the inner helicoid. The proximity of its threads to the iris mechanism makes lenses with this kind of design vulnearable to being oily (in the iris) so you must use the correct type of grease and only apply a thin coat. The grease doesn’t have to be thick to make your helicoids feel smooth.

My lens didn’t have any fungus damage as far as I recall but if your lens has it then read my article on fungus cleaning. My article will show you how to open this lens down to its smallest components so you should be able to use this as a guide to clean everything. The most important thing to remember is to never open something that’s not broken or dirty, not only will you waste your time but you will also subject your lens to repair trauma for nothing. In my case, the lens was in bad shape and the helicoids are seized so I had to do it in order to be sure that its clean.

IMG_1054There are 2 holes at the face of the front elements assembly. Use a lens spanner and have its tips sink into these holes to help you remove it.

IMG_1055The front elements assembly can be removed by unscrewing it off from the casing of the objective. If it’s sealed, simply apply a amount of alcohol to soften the lacquer. Wait for it to work on the lacquer or whatever they applied then give it another try.

IMG_1068The front element is secured by this collar. It can be tight so do that alcohol trick again to help you remove it if its stuck.

IMG_1069The front element can be extracted using a lens sucker. Be careful not to scratch or chip the rear lip of the front element because it’s delicate.

IMG_1067The 2nd element is easily removed after its collar is removed. Don’t forget to note which side should be facing the front so you won’t put this thing back facing the wrong way.

IMG_1056The rear element is secured by this collar which also acts as a light baffle.

IMG_1061This collar can sometimes be tough to remove so do that alcohol trick on this just in case.

IMG_1062The rear element’s curvature isn’t obvious so make sure that you mark the side that faces the front with a marker. I draw a small mark at the edge of the wall so I’ll know how this should be positioned later during reassembly.

IMG_1063There’s a spacer between the rear element and the 4th element. You can extract it using a small pick or just use your nails to pick it off. Just like with lens element, don’t forget how this should be oriented and make a mark on its outer wall as soon as you remove it.

IMG_1064The 4th element can now be extracted with a lens sucker. It’s easy to see which side faces the front for this element because the curvature difference is obvious.

IMG_1065The 3rd element is situated deep-within the casing so a lens sucker will be handy. Do not forget to note which side should be facing the front as usual.

IMG_1058The iris mechanism is secured by these screws. They’re sealed with lacquer and that is a sign that this part can be adjusted. To make sure that you put it back the right way, use a sharp tool to make a small scratch so all you do is align the scratches later. The one that I made is larger than what I wanted so don’t follow my example! There’s a spring here and don’t forget to un-hook it before you remove the iris mechanism because you don’t want things to fly across the room accidentally.

IMG_1059The blades are still stuck to the iris mechanism’s plate on mine so I was lucky that I don’t have to pick the blades individually.

IMG_1060This rotator plate can now be safely removed.

Clean everything very well and make sure you didn’t leave any residue. You don’t have to apply any lubrication on the iris mechanism as it was designed to operate dry. Be careful when handling the iris blades in order to prevent warping them. I wiped the blades with lens tissue saturated with naphtha, some people prefer alcohol but just use which ever is comfortable to you but just make sure that you wipe it dry or else you will leave drying marks on its surface. Only handle them at the base and never at the tips.


The whole operation took me about 3 hours since the lens was so filthy. Most of that time was spent cleaning everything thoroughly. Some people may use less time depending on how dirty their lens is. I usually spend this much time for a complete overhaul and some lenses may even take more time because I usually buy lenses that are sold as junk.

Putting everything back together is easy and is just a matter of back-tracking but there’s a couple of things that you should be careful with and I’ll guide you through those in the succeeding steps so please pay attention.

IMG_1066Here are some of the parts from inside the objective after cleaning them. They’re ready to be reinstalled once the rest of the lens has been cleaned thoroughly.

IMG_1076Put the iris back together just like how you see in this picture. This may be frustrating or challenging step for beginners but you should figure this out really quick after a few tries and a hurt ego. Make sure that everything is in the correct position and test the iris first if it can open or close easily before you proceed to the next step.

IMG_1077As you may have figured, the iris mechanism can be tricky to install so here’s a trick that I use for cases like this. Place the iris mechanism on top of a stand, a bottle-top is a great place so long as its flat and clean.

IMG_1078Center the iris mechanism so it’s secure and then carefully lower the objective’s housing over the iris mechanism. This is tricky and requires a steady set of hands but it’s the best way that I know of.

IMG_1079Hold the whole assembly steady and then carefully invert everything so you can remove the stage (bottle) while leaving the iris mechanism at the bottom of the housing. Secure it using its screws and make sure that you aligned the marks that you made earlier because you need to align the iris back to its original position or else the iris will not give accurate values when you stop or open the iris.

The next last thing you need to do is adjust the lens so it can focus to infinity properly. It’s easy to calibrate this lens, simply loosen the 3 screws holding the brass ring inside of the focusing ring so you can turn the focusing ring without turning the helicoids and tighten then again once you got your focus right. I am not going to show you how to do it in this article because I wrote a separate article for that. Read my article on how to adjust your lens’ focus to find out how I do it without using special tools.

After doing everything that I outlined, it’s time to take the lens outside and test it. That is all for this lens and I hope that it’s useful. This is a simple lens that has common features that it shares with many Ai-S lenses so it may be boring because it looks like the usual Ai-S lens repair article in my blog but I have to write this since people may want to work on their lenses and want to look for a guide to help them do it properly. Thanks for all of the support that you have been showing to my blog by patronizing the blog and reading my articles. It’s been a few years since I have started this and I hope that there are a lot less broken Nikkors around because more people know how fix their lenses. Repairing is the better way as it’s more eco-friendly and saves us more money since we use it to buy used equipment, let’s spread the word further so that more people can get into this movement. See you guys again next week, Ric.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bernhard
    Jan 12, 2019 @ 13:46:41

    Excellent repair instruction for this lens!


  2. Trackback: Repair: New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 (Early Ai) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  3. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai-S | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  4. Bert T.
    Feb 13, 2020 @ 23:02:50

    Thanks for this article/instructional. I have this same lens. While I’m not looking to go all out on CLA’ing it, I noticed that the focus ring turns way too easy, like if i invert the camera several times it turns easy, and that it has a tiny bit of wobble on the inner barrel. What steps would i need in order to tidy it up? Thanks.


  5. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Ai | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  6. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto (Late Version) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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