Repair: Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Ai-S

Hello, everybody! I went to the $1 shop to buy some supplies. It’s incredible what you could buy for just $1, it’s surely helpful for my savings. What can you buy for $1? Not much, a burger from McDonald’s, perhaps? Cigarettes? I don’t think so, too. Well, maybe a loaf of cheap bread? How about a lens? Yes, a lens. I was lucky enough to find one for $1! It was sold as junk and the state was utterly poor so it was sold for just that much. I didn’t even have a second thought and I just caught it as soon as it was placed in the basket by the shop owner. Today, I will share with you my lucky find and I will show you what makes it even more special.


The Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Ai-S was introduced in 1983. It’s one of the new designs from Nikon to accompany their then-new flagship camera, the Nikon F3. Designing this was difficult since it had to use 52mm filters, it was important since it was conceived to be a lens for daily use. It had to be compact, too. Through great hardships, the designers eventually produced a lens that would define a new class of Zoom-Nikkors.

This is a lovely, little lens. It’s not as compact as a prime lens but for a zoom it is quite small specially considering its focal-range. It’s the first Nikkor for this genre, a general-purpose zoom-lens with a focal-range that’s more-than double, most of these lenses have the now-familiar variable-aperture. It was important to have a fixed-aperture for zooms back then, it affects metering but that’s not such a big deal in the 1980s when TTL metering became more reliable. Of course, professional lenses will mostly have a fixed-aperture but most won’t mind this at all, the most important thing is that it zooms and it takes decent photos.

It has a complicated design of 16-elements-in-12-groups if I’m correct, which indicates that this wasn’t aimed for the amateur market. What many people do not realize is this lens was made in 2 versions, the original one and a late version with improved optics which carried-over to the autofocus version. I don’t know which version mine is but it appears to be the early one. It had a long production run of 11 years, quite long for a zoom of this class. This was a popular lens and one that’s not expensive at the used market (now), too.

Unbelievable! I got it for less than what I would pay for a loaf of bread! This is a cheap lens but it’s ridiculous to find something this cheap. It has always been inexpensive since it’s not popular, the state of the lens when I got it is also a big factor, it’s filthy and the rubber grip is bloated.

It’s a lovely little lens that fits every Nikon very well, from the old Nikon F3 to the Nikon Df. Its practical specs means that this is a versatile toll for a lot of scenarios, even for use with a digital camera. Handling is quite nice, it’s a conventional “pumper-zoom” form the 1980s and I prefer this more over a zoom that has the now-standard 2-ring setup. The former is handy because it enables you to operate both zooming and focusing with one hand. This is a big deal in photojournalism.

Let’s now see some sample photos. Knowing how your lens works is key to maximizing its use. You’ll know its strengths and weaknesses, this will help you determine if it’s the right lens for the job or not. These photos were shot with a Nikon Df. They were shot from f/3.5 (or f/4.5), f/5.6 and f/8 from left-to-right. These apertures show the most changes in terms of rendering/picture quality.

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Distortion is quite-high as is expected from a cheap, consumer-grade zoom. The good part is the profile isn’t complicated and should be easy to correct with a software. I won’t use this lens for taking photos of architecture if I’m able to use another lens. At the wider-end, you will see the usual barrel-type distortion and some pincushion-distortion at the longer-end. The midrange has quite a strong distortion profile which is unexpected since I was hoping that it would perform the best at these ranges, maybe it’s better at 80mm?

(Click to enlarge)

Vignetting is present wide-open but most of it is gone by f/5.6 and you won’t see any of it by f/8. This is obvious when shooting wide-open, the good news is it’s quite-even at the longer-end but the wide-end is another story.

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Its bokeh quality isn’t the best. In fact, it’s quite mediocre to poor depending on which distance we’re looking at. This is expected from this class of lens, I would be quite excited if this lens performed quite well here.

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Chromatic aberration isn’t so much of a problem, it’s well-controlled even wide-open. You’ll see it wide-open but it almost goes-away by f/5.6, you will have to stop it down to f/8 and beyond in order to for it to disappear.

(Click to enlarge)

Flaring and ghosting will be a problem with this lens. Many zooms have this problem due to the amount of elements in the design, causing reflections to form internally. The flaring may be caused by the poor coating condition of my sample but who knows? You’ll definitely want to avoid shooting like this unless you wanted this effect.

(Click to enlarge)

This is decently-sharp wide-open at both-ends. The corners aren’t as good, if that matters then all you need is to stop it down. Resolution isn’t bad at all, I think it could be better when you stop it down but the changes aren’t big. It has nice contrast to the photos, too. Stop it down to f/5.6 and things get a bit sharper. The corners start to look better and the resolution improves. You’ll want to use this lens from f/8 and beyond if you demand decent corners. Its corners don’t look bad at all even wide-open but it’s around 1.t stops behind the center. I noticed that my sample performs better at closer distances, it’s good at both ends. This isn’t the case when I focused further, it’s a bit better at the 105mm end, the 35mm end isn’t poor but the longer-end is just better at further distances.

It is a good lens for photojournalism, I could imagine that this was popular amongst newsmen in the 1980s. The practical specs make this handy for a wide-range of use. I used to take photos for a community paper and I could tell you that it’s better to get a picture with mediocre quality than a missed-opportunity with a superior lens because it’s either too-big or you were just wasting time changing lenses.

This is how close you could focus when using the macro-mode gimmick. It’s possible to get this close at 35mm and the magnification is quite high. You’ll be impressed by how sharp it is at this magnification even wide-open. This isn’t super-sharp but it’s quite good for a lens from this class.

You could only get this much magnification at 105mm which is quite sad. It is quite sharp, better than the 35mm end.

This is a sharp lens and contrast is quite adequate.

Well, this photo isn’t sharp at all but it’s good for observing field curvature. You’ll notice that the corners are a bit out-of-focus.

The character of the bokeh is quite rough in my opinion. It’s unrefined but it wasn’t designed for this purpose.

The biggest strength of this lens lies in its practicality. You can take plenty of great photos with it. Sure, it won’t surpass the more expensive options but it could take decent-enough photos.

Oops, he came out from nowhere and entered the frame. The fast push-pull action is quite helpful in situations like this since you’re able to operate the zoom and focusing rings with a single action.

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Here are some more photos that I took with this lens. It’s really addicting to use since it’s quite useful in many situations so long as it’s bright. It’s a nice lens for travel, you will only need this one and a fast prime for low-light. It could cover the majority of your photography needs on your trip.

Let’s now see some photos that were taken with film. Film photos have this unique look that’s difficult to simulate with a digital camera, that’s because of grain. Grain also helps mask some flaws in a lens, since this was made for use with film it’s best that we judge it with its intended medium. I shot these with a Nikon F3 loaded with Fujifilm Industrial 100.

The macro-mode gimmick is adequate for most cases. It’s not going to be as perfect as a real macro lens but it’s still better than nothing when you need it. This is a sharp lens if you stop this down, set the iris to f/8 and you’ll able to take decently-sharp photos of small things. Note the mediocre quality of the bokeh.

The quality of the bokeh isn’t really the best but that’s a given, this is not an expensive portrait lens but it makes-up for it by being versatile while giving you decent-quality photos.

It’s not a bad portrait lens at all if you know how to position your subjects. I had to find an angle so the background is far, making it blurrier. If I had the background in-focus by a bit then I would get ugly artifacts.

I won’t shoot architecture with this lens, the distortion is quite-high and you can see that effect on the sides of the building. It’s still possible if this is the only option you’ve got, it’s better than not taking the shot at all.

It’s fine for street photography since 35mm is quite useful for this and you will not need smooth bokeh character for it.

(Click to enlarge)

Here’s more photos, click on the thumbnails to see bigger versions. This is a good lens with film and I highly recommend it to anybody as long as there’s enough light for you to work with.

This is a nice lens for the price, you could even find these for less than $20. I will say that it offers great value even for that price. Of course, you’ll never beat my find, at $1 my lens is cheaper than a can of Coke! If you need a lens for traveling in un-safe neighborhoods, this is the best lens for the job. Pair it with an inexpensive camera like a Nikon EM and you get an inexpensive kit. It’s a great lens for travel, too. Its practical specs make it great for lots of applications, you’ll take all sorts of photos on vacation and this lens will be a great addition to your kit. There are many alternatives to this, even those that have autofocus. In my opinion, the biggest strength of this lens is how compact it is. If you want a AF lens then there are better alternatives to this, only people who love manual lenses will truly appreciate this little jewel.

Before We Begin:

If this is your first attempt at repairing a lens then I suggest that you check my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Also read what I wrote about the tools that you’ll need to fix your Nikkors.

I 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 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 and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

Disassembly (Main Barrel):

Being a typical zoom-lens from the 1980s this one is a bit complicated due to the numerous small parts and cams in the combined focusing/zoom ring. It has a macro-mode gimmick as well which adds another set of helicoids and that will need a little bit more attention since you don’t want to screw it up. To avoid any problems, take plenty of notes and photos before you remove anything. That will help you later when it’s time to reassemble things. There are lots of rollers in this lens, more than the average zoom-lens of its day. It can be tedious to note each one since they come in various sizes. This is not a lens that’s friendly to beginners, it requires special tools and experience to properly service this.

Carefully remove the rubber grip from the focusing ring. Mine was bloated, I would normally leave this step until later but it’s pointless on this lens.

Locate and extract this.

That screw secures the front elements assembly, you can unscrew it using a rubber cup. If it’s stuck, simply apply alcohol to the screw’s hole and let the solvent dissolve the lacquer.

There’s a shim underneath it. Store it in a safe place so you won’t lose it.

Analyze and take some notes as to how the focusing ring should be aligned. I always take photos while the lens is focused to infinity so I’ll have a point-of-reference later.

Locate and extract these.

Leave these for now. These will allow you to adjust the distance scale when you need to, loosen these and you can turn the scale.

You can now remove the focusing ring. Make sure that you mark where the thing separated so you’ll know how to mesh it back later. It has a helicoid at the top, many people get stuck here because they don’t know what to do, it’s important that you read my article on how to work with helicoids so you’re not going to end in a situation where you don’t know how this should mate.

This is how the helicoid looks like, clean this thoroughly.

Carefully extract this roller.

Here’s another one.

Carefully separate the main barrel from the bottom. It has a helicoid located at the bottom of the main barrel which is used for the macro-gimmick. It’s a set of helicoids so don’t forget to note where they parted.

Extract these so you can remove the lower barrel.

Carefully separate the barrel and clean everything here.

Clean the rails very well and make sure not to damage it.

This is the mechanism for the macro-gimmick that locks its range. There is a cantilever-spring here which locks the barrel so you won’t turn by accident.

Carefully make a mark so you’ll know how this should align, there’s another set of helicoids here and you should be careful not to disturb the alignment until it’s time for you to remove it.

Carefully unscrew this part and don’t forget to mark where they separated. It’s another set of helicoid which you should be careful with.

Extract these so you can remove the grip.

Don’t forget to note its direction so you’ll know how to put it back again.

Carefully remove the focusing ring from the inner barrel.

These set how far the ring turns. I made small marks so I will know how to position them later and which one should be placed where.

Extract these so you can remove the distance scale. These were sealed with lacquer and you should dissolve the seals first before you extract them.

Here’s another one. Don’t forget to note its alignment before you remove it.

Unscrew the distance scale carefully. It may be stuck, if that’s the case then pickle this in alcohol and that should dissolve the seal.

The front part of the focusing ring can be unscrewed. Removing this before you remove the rubber grip is the safest way to do it since you won’t stretch the rubber grip too much. I usually wait for this step before removing it but there are times when it’s more convenient to remove it earlier.

Extract this roller. When removing these make sure that you know which is situated where so you’ll know how to put them back.

Here’s another one.

This one is tiny so you’ll have to be careful.

Don’t remove this, it’s a damper.

Carefully extract this one.

Some of the rollers are quite long and you’ll have to be careful. They have a thin layer of thread-lock on the tips which makes them tough to extract. The seals can be softened with alcohol applied to the threads.

Here’s another one.

And another one.

This is the last one.

Removing all this rollers will allow you to remove the cam.

You should now be able to remove the inner group’s housing.

This one houses the iris, be careful when you remove it.

When removing these, don’t forget to note their alignments so you’ll know how to put them back later.

It’s now time to remove the rest of the rollers.

This is how the rear optical assembly should align with the barrel.

Carefully extract it.

Separate the barrels and it’s now time to clean them.

The actuating-lever can be removed with a screwdriver inserted through its special access hole.

Here are all of the rollers and other fittings. That’s a lot of parts for such an inexpensive lens.

Clean all of the parts very well and don’t leave any residues on the helicoids so you won’t contaminate the fresh grease with old stuff. Scrub everything, I use a soft toothbrush for the lettering so I won’t lift the paint. Carefully wipe the nylon bushings of the rollers using alcohol, avoid petrol-based solvents. Lubricate any metal-to-metal contact surfaces with a thin film of grease.

Disassembly (Optics):

Like all zoom-lenses this one doesn’t have a single casing for the objective. It has several parts of the optics separated into different parts. For those of us who are used to servicing zooms this is something that comes natural. Your notes and photos will serve as important guides during reassembly to make sure that you get things right so don’t forget to take plenty of notes.

Carefully extract this. You can further-dismantle this if you wish and clean the inner-surfaces of the elements when necessary. Leave it alone if yours is clean. There’s a shim underneath it and you don’t want to lose or damage it.

Carefully remove this collar with a pipe-key. The guides can make it difficult to access so be careful because you don’t want to slip and scratch the glass.

It was difficult to remove and I accidentally scratched the collar. This is not ideal but it couldn’t be helped.

Extract the element with a lens sucker. Make sure that you mark the leading edge of the element so you will know where it should be facing.

There’s a spacer here which you should remove and don’t forget to mark its leading edge, too.

Extract the element and make sure to note which side should be facing the front so you’ll know how to put this back again later.

The rear optical block can be removed like this. There’s a shim underneath it, don’t misplace this thing.

Remove the collar. You may have to apply a bit of alcohol to it to soften the seal on the threads.

Extract this group. Be careful with it since it’s a cemented group, do not use solvents or alcohol near it.

Remove this element with a lens sucker.

Unscrew this collar. It’s situated deep-within the barrel, it can be hard to get it out so be careful not to scratch anything.

Extract the rear group with a lens sucker.

Clean the optics properly. If your lens has fungus, follow my article on how to clean lens fungus. Be careful when using my tips, dissolve the solution so it won’t be at full-strength. It can damage the coatings, ruining the optics.

Disassembly (Iris Mechanism):

You normally shouldn’t bother with the iris mechanism but this lens was so dirty I had to take everything apart. It’s not difficult to dismantle but you’re going to have to take plenty of notes so you won’t get lost.

Study how the iris mechanism works, actuate it and inspect the parts.

This is an adjustable part so I made a few scratches as guides. You should be able to align these later during reassembly.

Carefully extract these. You will have to dissolve their seals first.

Decouple this spring.

Removing the cover will enable you to dismantle everything. Do not warp it or else the iris won’t actuate properly.

Carefully remove the blades and keep them safe.

The diaphragm plate can now be removed.

Carefully clean the blades individually. I wipe them with alcohol and tissue, making sure that I only handle them by the base.

reassemble everything once it’s clean.

This is how things should look like. Never lubricate this part, if you have to, use powdered molybdenum or even graphite powder and apply that on the edges of the diaphragm plate only.

This is the easiest way to put the iris back. Place the iris mechanism on top of a cylindrical object and lower the housing onto it.

That’s all for the iris mechanism. You normally shouldn’t have to do this but I just had to with my lens. If the iris is oily you will have to dismantle it like this to give it a proper cleaning.


Reassemble everything and don’t forget to make a final-cleaning of the parts in order to make sure that nothing gets left-behind. It’s sure is a complicated lens to repair but not much more complicated than other zooms of its time. I enjoyed working with it and I will show you some of the things that you’ll have to be aware of.

The bumper can be removed and cleaned by extracting this grub screw. It’s a bit dirty at times and old grease can accumulate inside.

The rear optical block was cleaned as best as possible.

The lens is now super-clean, you won’t recognize it from its former state.

This is how you could adjust the scale. There’s a port-hole to access this tiny screw.

It’s now almost ready. Make sure to adjust the focus, read my article on how to calibrate your lens’ focus. This can be a bit tricky since it’s a zoom, you’re going to have to adjust its focus at both ends of the focal-range.

Since the rubber grip is bloated I had to trim it a bit in order to make it fit.

I made an estimate and all I had to do is trim 1 block off from the tall-side.

The same was done for the long-side.

I applied strips of double-sided tape on the barrel.

The grip was reinstalled and pulled-tightly so I won’t leave any gaps.

This is the fruit of my labor. A useable lens from a junk that I got for $1! It’s a very sentimental item for me because it felt so good to be able to clean an inexpensive junk lens back to working condition.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you loved it, please share this with people on social media. You can also opt to support this site, it helps ensure that it will continue to entertain and educate people. You’re helping offset the cost of hosting and also help with purchasing, developing and scanning film. It’s all for a good cause. Thank you very much and see you again next time, Ric.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Grey
    Jul 19, 2020 @ 14:17:16

    I’m happy to see you put this lens through its paces. One came to me last year attached to a Nikon FA that I bought. I’ve shot just one roll of film with it and I was impressed with it for what I used it for — a general-purpose lens for walking around the city making photographs. Under those circumstances I don’t generally need to use the widest apertures — f/5.6 is as wide as I need to go.

    I had been using my 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor for this kind of work but was always disappointed by how much barrel distortion that lens had at the wide end. The 35-105 does not seem to be so afflicted, and it gives even deeper zoom. It’s a lot heavier than the 35-70, though!


  2. Jeremy Van Pelt
    Jul 19, 2020 @ 16:04:08

    One other trick to try for bloated grips is to place them in boiling water. Try a minute or two at a time and repeat until it fits. This will sometimes shrink them back to fit. I have had success with a few like this.


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