Repair: AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D

Hello, everybody! Do you know the song “My Boy” by Elvis Presley? This is a masterpiece, it’s about a father trying to keep his family together despite his hardships with his partner. He wants to explain everything to his child who is sleeping. It’s a depressing song but at the end, the father found the will to endure everything all because he wanted to stay to see his son grow. We do not hear masterpieces like this nowadays but I’ll show you an amazing lens that held-on just like the father in the song. It stayed in-production because it wanted to see its Nikkor children grow.


The AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D was sold from 1987 to 2005. It came at a time when the whole industry was making a huge leap towards autofocus and companies like Minolta were pressuring the big boys to make a system that would satisfy the demanding professional market. Nikon came up with the Nikon F4 at around 1988, always late to the game but ever-cautious. The new professional, upgraded F-mount needed to have an ecosystem of lenses ready to support Nikon’s new flagship and this is where this lens comes in.

Most zoom lenses come in either the now-standard 2-ring configuration or the older-style “push-pull” type where the focusing and zoom controls were combined into a single barrel but this one is different. You extend the barrel to zoom and turn the focusing ring to focus manually. You see this mostly in cheaper Zoom-Nikkors from the 1980s to the mid-1990s but not usually on a professional lens. I don’t know why the decision to use this type was chosen but it may have to do with making it compact. It resulted in a rotating front barrel which is quite annoying but nothing unusual for older-type Nikkors.

Being a professional lens means that it needs to have a brighter maximum aperture compared to ones sold for the lower-end of the market. It needs to be constant, too. This wasn’t easy to achieve back then an the engineer that headed this project had to apply some clever solutions to get this done, that story can be found in Nikon’s official literature. The resulting optical design consisted of a 15-elements-in-12-groups formula which was housed inside a stubby barrel which was challenging for the optical engineer and it was an interesting achievement how he managed to fit his design inside the barrel while still maintaining good optical performance. Whatever that is it made this a nice lens to use since you’re able to operate the zoom and focus with a single hand.

It has a larger filter-ring size of 62mm as opposed to the usual 52mm ones. I think Nikon was heading that way for professional lenses in its day because other professional lenses have use the same size, too. Unlike most pumpers-zooms, this doesn’t seem to creep badly at all. It feels damped but not stiff at all. Holding one in your hands can inspire confidence.

There are 3 versions of this lens but I will only discuss the 2 major ones. The first one is the AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8 which I owned about 10 years ago. The 2nd major revision is the AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D which is the subject of our article, the biggest difference is the implementation of the distance chip to help it meter better with Nikon’s then-new metering system which is excellent for flash-photography. It also has a different mechanism for locking the aperture ring but later non-D version have them, too. There’s a couple of internal differences which I won’t document here. The design of the optics remained the same throughout its long production as far as I see.

It’s a compact but dense lens. It balances perfectly on larger Nikons such as a Nikon F5 but it feels awkward on smaller cameras. Like most lenses that’s made in the 1980s it had to have a “macro-mode” gimmick or it won’t sell. It could focus really close with it, less than 0.3m. This feature is only available at 35mm so you’ll have to set this to the wide-end and turn a button to get it to extend a bit further.

It balances quite well on a Nikon D3, its powerful motor enables it to track a moving subject effortlessly but it couldn’t perform as well as modern lenses with SWM motor installed. It’s possible but it’s just not optimal. Shown here is the Nikon HB-1, you should buy one of these in order shield the front lens from stray light coming at an angle and to protect it from fingerprints. This is also Nikon’s first bayonet-type hood since the rangefinder-days if I am not mistaken.

This is how it looks when zoomed to its wide-end. Visible here is the lock for the aperture ring. It’s a simple slide-type mechanism, earlier models have a tiny nipple for you to depress and turn. This one is tougher, the older one is vulnerable to damage.

The 2x zoom-factor is pathetic by today’s standards but it was adequate. It’s worth noting that most lenses in those days have similar range, too. This is a problem at times when you need to get wider but you’re forced to frame the shot in an awkward way just to get something to show your editor.

Knowing how your lens performs will enable you to maximize its use. This knowledge will help you decide which lens is the right tool for a job. You’ll know its strengths and weaknesses which is the key to taking great photos. I shot these from f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 since we’ll see the most changes happen in these apertures. I’d also imagine that these are the most-common apertures anybody would want to use this with. I shot these with my Nikon D3.

Note that some of the photos here were merely cropped-versions of what is in the previous row. These tightly-cropped photos should show help you see the details better so please click and examine them, too.

(Click to enlarge)

Distortion is horrible at either-end and the profiles look a bit complex but it isn’t something that I would consider to be difficult to correct in post. You’ll notice some vignetting wide-open. Stopping the iris down to f/4 alleviates it, you won’t see if much and it’s from by f/5.6 on.

(Click to enlarge)

It flares terribly when you have bright sources of light within or just outside of your frame and stopping the iris down won’t help much in worst cases. It also has a tendency to develop ugly blobs, too. The blobs are distracting and it’s some of the worst I have ever seen from a professional-grade lens.

Flare and ghost resistance is poor. This isn’t just a sample variation issue, it is the same with every sample that I’ve used throughout the years. Flaring is this lens’ biggest problem as far as I know but it’s also one of its “features”. I will show you why later in this article.

White-out, this is the only thing I could use to describe this photo. I am well-acquainted with this lens and I have shot with it for years. I have used a few samples and all of them did the same thing regardless of condition. My first one was in great condition but it also did the same thing but not as bad.

You’ll notice lots of small blobs at the center of the frame. These blobs come from the internal reflection caused by the bright lights in the building. This is distracting, I’d rather not have them there at all as they don’t help make it look more interesting.

Distortion is also prominent in this photo. You’ll want to use another lens to take photos of architecture or art. One way to get-around this is to zoom the barrel to somewhere around 45mm or so where distortion isn’t as obvious.

(Click to enlarge)

The quality of the bokeh is quite smooth, it’s above-average if you ask me. It has a tendency to render rough-looking artifacts but only at the minimum. I like how smooth it renders the out-of-focus details. This is an exquisite lens for blurring details in the background.

The discs look clean with little or no hints of outlining. This is approaching primes lens performance which is quite impressive.

(Click to enlarge)

Chromatic aberration is present wide-open, stopping it down to f/4 will help a bit but you’ll still see it in overblown areas of your scene. It goes-away by f/5.6, you’ll only see traces of it from here. Spherical aberration is quite high but it’s not something that I would consider as distracting.

Spherical aberration can be seen in the shiny parts. Chromatic aberration is well-corrected so you won’t notice much of it but it’s still there. From what I could see it’s more of a longitudinal-type that is more prominent.

(Click to enlarge)

Sharpness at the center is excellent wide-open but the far-corners look bad. The resolution looks good, too. It allows it to resolve smaller details. Stop it down to f/4 and you’ll see some improvement in resolution at the center. Its corners now look better but still mediocre. The center improves even more as you stop the iris down to f/5.6, the corners begin to look better but they’ll never be as good as the center until you stop it down to f/8. It performs just as good when focused at distant objects which is something that I like about it so I use it for taking landscapes, too.

I notice that this lens tends to give overexposed readings of about +0.4 stops so dial-down your exposure-compensation to help you alleviate this and it’s going to give you more contrast.

This was shot wide-open using the “macro-mode” gimmick. It’s super-sharp for a general-purpose lens. There’s a delicate glow that enwraps the picture making it look delicate.

That pleasing glow is also useful for other types of photography. It gave this scene a delicate look which is surreal. The effect is subtle but it’s enough for you to notice it. This soft-focus effect gives this photo a velvety-feel.

The glow gives the lamps a nice effect, the rest of the scene has nice contrast which makes this photo look interesting. Another interesting thing about it is it exhibits great focus-transition qualities It’s sharp where it’s focused but things gently turn blurry, leaving you a nice, balanced scene. This helps give it a natural look and it also enhances the perception of depth, too.

Focusing-speed is reliant on which camera you use it with. It wasn’t an easy task to use this lens for focusing on my daughter despite using a Nikon D3. I found this surprising since it always performed well years ago when I was using it with my Nikon D700 on assignments.

One thing that you’ll notice with this photo is the terrible-looking bokeh. It’s the worst that I could get this to perform. You won’t get anything like this in most cases.

There’s slight elongation of point-lights as you get closer to the edges. Coma isn’t bad at all but you’ll notice it in your photos.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more photos for you to look at. It’s a nice lens when you know its strengths and weaknesses. Just embrace its flaws and it will give you great photos for not a lot of money. I like this lens a lot despite its quirks.

I shot these photos with a Nikon D700 a decade ago. These are a few of my outtakes but they’re good for showing various characteristics of this lens. I didn’t apply any post-processing apart from cropping and exposure edits. I think most of them were shot at smaller apertures but some may be shot at wider-apertures which you could tell quite easily.

Flaring can subdue its contrast, giving you a veiled-flare effect which some people like. I personally don’t like this but it has its use. This is probably my biggest complaint about this lens. I have shot 2 different samples, both were similar in terms of flaring so I assume that this is normal.

Traces of spherical aberration could be observed in this photo. It’s great for rendering skin since it gives it a subtle glow. This is a desirable quality for a portrait lens as far as I’m concerned.

You normally wouldn’t use the wide-end for something like this. I’m merely showing you this because this was shot at a smaller aperture and it gave me really sharp results that’s enough to trigger some moiré on the fabric. I don’t know if you could see it from the tiny photo.

This is a very sharp lens when stopped-down by a bit, it’s great for use in an environment where you could control your lighting such as a studio.

This lens is at-home at the studio since it’s very sharp at smaller apertures. I love how versatile it is, it’s able to give you a sharp but dreamy look when it is used wide-open but turns into a super-sharp portrait lens when stopped-down beyond f/5.6. You could use it in the field or the studio, a real lens for professional photographers.

How about some photos that were taken in the field? Some of my published photos were shot with this lens and many were shared or taken without my permission. In case you see this set elsewhere at least you now know who is the photographer behind these. I shot these with my Nikon D700 some years ago. I didn’t apply any post-processing to these to show you its raw-results. I only cropped and made exposure adjustments to these. Most, if not all were shot at smaller apertures between f/8 to f/11 since these were meant for use as editorial photos and I had enough light to work with.

It was a foggy morning, that gave everything a nice, high-key look. This look is perfect for shooting portraits. Unfortunately, it also meant that contrast is going to be subdued by a bit. When looking at these photos using a monitor with good resolution you’ll see that it could resolve details very well but it’s going to look soft due to the dumbed-down contrast.

Compression certainly killed the subtle details that it captured in this photo. You could see the details of his skin with a large monitor when viewing NEF files taken with this lens.

It renders skin beautifully with nice tonality. Details that needs to be sharp look sharp and things that should look subtle have nice tonality. This is how amazing this lens is when it came to balancing these 2 traits.

The character of the bokeh is quite nice, it’s still able to give you nice subject separation with smaller apertures. The result doesn’t look “forced”, it’s good for rendering natural-looking environmental portraits.

This is a perfect journalist’s lens, its versatile specs and light, compact build are appealing for those who need to travel practically. You could make your whole career with this lens alone.

This is a great lens for documenting events. It would’ve been perfect when it comes to optical performance if it has better flare resistance. But that is a tradeoff I am willing to take, I may not get these results if anything changed.

Its easy-operation means that you could change your focal length quickly if the situation calls for it. It’s quick to change setting with it and you could do it with just a single hand.

Tracking moving subjects can be tricky at times but it’s capable of doing it. I get misses regularly even with a Nikon D3 when focusing my running kid. It is reliable when there’s a pattern to your subject’s movements since it could predict where it is going to be within the frame specially if it’s moving from one end of the frame to another. An erratic moving subject such as a child is going to be tougher to track even for the mighty Nikon D3.

Static subjects won’t be a problem at all. You could focus-recompose and it’s going to track your subject’s face even on a camera with slow autofocus. It’s all dependent on which Nikon you’re using, something that has a powerful motor and intelligent AF module will make this lens focus more reliably.

Contrast and saturation starts to look a lot better as soon as the fog cleared-out. Notice how it’s able to separate the tribesmen from the background, its ability to render 3D-like photos is amazing.

This lens is all about shooting environmental photos (and more). If you’re a traveling journalist this is the perfect lens to bring on an assignment if you only need to carry one setup. I would like you to examine the quality of the bokeh in this photo, notice how it’s able to render the foliage well, it will not give you rough-looking artifacts. This is really an exquisite lens.

Notice how well this lens balanced the sharp, focused elements in the scene against a blurred background. I had this printed huge for a gallery a couple of years ago and it looks amazing. The only problem was the Nikon D700 is not capable of producing enough resolution for larger prints. This would’ve been amazing if it was shot with my Nikon D800 but that camera wasn’t yet available at the time I took these photos.

With a couple of square-filters and a lot of cooking in post you could take an interesting landscape photo with it, too. It’s not wide-enough for this but it’s going to do its job when it has to. One annoying thing about this is you can’t easily use a polarizer with it because of its rotating front barrel. You’ll have to turn the polarizer each time the front rotates which is a time-waster.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more photos for your evaluation. Click on them and judge this lens yourself. I judge a lens from the photos it takes in real-world use over ones that were taken in a controlled environment. What makes-or-breaks a lens for me is how useful it is in real-life. It may not be the best optically but the handling is quite nice so it allowed me to take nice photos that I would not have taken otherwise.

Let’s now see how it performs with film. Film has a unique look that is hard to simulate with a digital camera. That’s because grain works differently, it’s also able to hide a lens’ flaws or even amplify it when you’re not careful. It’s also important for us to see how it performs with its intended medium, this will give us a fair assessment of this lens. I shot this with my Nikon F4 since I wanted to experience how it is to use it with the camera that it’s supposed to be marketed with back in its day. These were shot with Kodak Gold 200.

Saturation and contrast is quite nice when it’s stopped-down and the light is coming from behind you.

This is a lovely portrait lens when shot with film. Skin will look nice so your subjects will look better thanks to its ability to render with nice tonality. It’s not going to give you a hard-looking photo even if you tried.

I don’t really like this film since its grain looks ugly, it could trigger ugly and rough-looking bokeh artifacts with many lenses. Thankfully, this lens didn’t succumb to it and it handled it quite well despite not performing at its best.

Of course, this is just as amazing with film when it comes to environmental portraits. There’s no denying how good this lens is at this application.

This echoes my results with a digital camera. Flare resistance isn’t the best, I don’t mind it here since it actually made this photo look better but it is not a look that I’m always going to tolerate. Note that it has nice, 3D-like look to it, it feels as if this was shot with tilt-shift lens without making it look horrible.

Pay attention to the character of the bokeh here. Despite being a bit clumpy it tried its best to render it quite well. A lens with lesser-abilities won’t able to get something as acceptable as this.

The Nikon F4 isn’t the best camera for sports photography at all even in the years when it was sold as Nikon’s flagship. Its single autofocus point isn’t an adequate solution for fast-moving action as tracking can be quite tricky. It’s important to use it to acquire initial-focus and then depressing the AF-Lock button as soon as you get a positive result then reframe your composition. I am used to this routine so it wasn’t difficult for me but it will confuse many photographers who haven’t done this before in the film days.

Stopping the iris down helps a lot in mitigating small focusing-errors. It’s a great trick that I use for cameras with inadequate focusing abilities. This is a difficult shot to capture with a Nikon F4, I could’ve missed it if the focus is off even by a bit, thank goodness most of the action is at the center.

Shooting with the sun even outside your frame will cause this kind of look. I think it works for this photo since it gives an impression of a sunny day but this is not something that I enjoy having in my photos on a regular basis.

He wasn’t running at a fast or erratic pace but it was challenging to track, I bet this would’ve been a lot easier with a Nikon F5. Even a Nikon F90 can do it better in this scenario despite also having a single autofocus-point.

(Click to enlarge)

Here’s my other results from the rest of the roll. Despite how bad it flares it gave me some nice photos. I think the flare looked worse with a DSLR, this isn’t so bad here in this set if you ask me. I love its results, film or digital. It’s certainly an amazing lens if you could find a good copy.

This is still a great lens today if you could live with its quirks. They are great for those who needed a midrange autofocus-zoom that’s affordable. You will have to be sure that your camera will be able to autofocus with it or else it’s not the lens for you. There are many alternatives for this, one of them is the Tokina 28-70 AT-X PRO, it can give you a wider view and it performs just as well, if not better at certain apertures and focal lengths. It renders nicely as well but it does it differently. I do not think it has the same subtle tonality as you would get from this one. There are other 3rd party options but I cannot recommend anything that I have no knowledge about. When shopping for it be sure to check if the glass is in great condition. A common problem with it is hazy central elements. This problem could be caused by oil condensation or balsam separation, it’s not unusual to find them with both. This is really common that a vast majority of what’s for sale have this. The problem is not impossible to correct but it isn’t unusual to find the optics beyond-repair. It usually sells from $30.00 for one in junk-condition. Something that is decent will cost from about $90.00 with or without the haze. An excellent sample is going to set you back more. I got mine for very little money since it’s a junk, just be patient and you could get one for a reasonable price. Happy hunting.

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.


I won’t write a complete teardown since this is something that you avoid at all cost when servicing autofocus lenses. I’ll only write about servicing what is needed to get you to clean the glass since most of the problems associated with this lens has to do with the state of the optics. This isn’t something for a beginner to work on. If your lens needs to be repaired, send it to a repairer. Make sure that he’s reliable and he’s familiar with Nikkors.

Unscrew the front optics assembly with a lens spanner. This is part is sealed so you’ll have to scour the seams with a needle and apply acetone or alcohol onto the thread to dissolve the seal. The seal isn’t easy to dissolve and you’ll have to apply multiple applications of solvents to break the seal. Whatever you do, never flood this part with solvent. Just apply a drop repeatedly until it’s soft enough to allow you to unscrew it.

After several applications of solvents I was able to unscrew this part. This is difficult to unscrew and you’ll have to use a pair of rubber gloves to make it easier for you.

This group looks clean so far. You could unscrew it if it needs cleaning, if it’s infected with fungus you could unscrew it with a rubber tool.

You could also extract the screws to remove the ring if you have to.

Remove the baffle before you remove the bayonet to prevent damaging the ribbon. The screws are found at the throat of the mount, be sure to note the position of the screws so you won’t forget their positions, one of the screws should be placed at the 6:00 position, it’s the one that sticks-out. It prevents you from turning the lens too-far and jam the mount.

Remove the contact block by extracting these.

Extract these to remove the bayonet mount. Note that one of the screws was anodized, you’ll have to put that back in the same position.

Many people strip these screws because they are using the incorrect type of drivers and get stuck. Read my article on how to remove bayonet screws. It’s important that you follow my guide to prevent this from happening to you.

Note that one of the screws is shorter than the rest.

Carefully remove the bayonet mount.

This assembly can now be easily removed. It houses the aperture ring, stop-down lever mechanism and the regulator.

Note that there’s several shims underneath it. Remove them and don’t loose or warp any of these.

The rear optical block can be unscrewed with your fingers. If it’s stuck, use a bit of alcohol to soften the seal.

Be sure not to misplace its shim. You shouldn’t dismantle this any further, it is a delicate part and you should never forget to note the position and depth of the groups here. Only dismantle this if you have to.

You now have access to the problematic lens group. This part is problematic since it tends to develop balsam separation and condensation.

Extract it with a lens sucker after you have unscrewed it. You can also clean the inner surface of the group adjacent to the iris, that one is usually fogged from condensation. You can also access the other side from the open iris.

Clean it carefully to remove any condensation. Balsam separation won’t be easy to fix, even cleaning it is difficult since you’ll have to take this apart. It was sealed at the factory and it’s not recommended to dismantle this. You’ll risk damaging it so you’ll have to weigh-out your options.

Here’s a video from our buddy, Kenneth. Please subscribe to his channel, he has lots of interesting videos and don’t skip the ads while watching.

This lens wasn’t so lucky since it has balsam separation. It won’t affect how it takes photos, at least nothing that will be noticeable. If your lens only has the haze problem then it’s going to be a lot simpler, all you need to do is get a lens tissue and naphtha and wipe it clean. If your lens has fungus, go and read my article about cleaning lens fungus. Never use the solution without thinning it with distilled water to prevent it from etching anything.


This didn’t take me long to service since all I did was to clean the glass. It’s a bit disappointing because I couldn’t save the problematic group. I was in the mood to gamble for another one but I don’t think it’s practical for me to get another one.

There are several resources outlining the steps to service this lens but I was hoping that people would like to know my take so I wrote this after several years of contemplating about it so I hope that you’ve enjoyed my effort.

Thanks for following my work, if you liked this article please share this with your friends so it will get more views. This site earns around $0.30 a day, it’s totally reliant on views. You can also support this site, it helps me offset the cost of maintenance and hosting. You are also helping me purchase, process and scan film. This site promotes the use of film so we’re all in this together. See you again in the next article, 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 site’s upkeep, you can make a small donation to my ( 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.

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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’s name or other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Repair: AI AF-S Zoom Nikkor ED 28-70mm F2.8D (IF) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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