Repair: AF Zoom-Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G

Hello, everybody! My kid usually gets toys together with her “kiddie meal”, it’s a good tactic on the part of the restaurant because it keeps children occupied while eating or at least they could look-forward to something if they finished their food. These toys used to be made with better quality as opposed to how they are these days but they’re still quite nice considering how little they cost. It’s difficult enough to make a good product and sell them at a decent price but it’s even tougher to produce something that’s good at a much lower price. Today, I’ll show you something good that’s cheap, too. It will satisfy even the demanding photographer when you factor-in its price. A great value in today’s economy.

Introduction:

The AF Zoom-Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G was sold from 2001 to 2005. It’s considered to be the first real kit-lens in the true sense of the word. There were many cheapo lenses that were made before this but the kit-lens idea hadn’t been clearly defined yet, this lens defined the standard which every manufacturer follow to this day. It gave us a concrete idea of how these lenses should be – specs, price and expectations. It should have a decent-enough performance, acceptable build quality, practical specs for general photography and most important of all, a low price. These were not meant to be used by professionals but they were so good that many people use them for a living even today specially in less-developed economies.

This is the first G kit-lens as far as I know. Its compact dimensions and light-weight makes it ideal for travel or hiking but not so much for the latter since its mostly made of plastic, even the lens mount is plastic, too. It will survive heavy use but it may not endure the professional use in the field. A hard knock may split the lens into pieces as you’ll soon see why.

It has a simple but effective 6-elements-in-6-groups design, the bare-minimum for something like this. It was made possible by incorporating an aspherical element. It used to be costly to produce them but developments in manufacturing enable it to be produced at a much-lower price, leading to lens makers adopting them for a lot of purposes including making lenses cheaper. A more comprehensive story can be read in this article, that was written by no other than the father of kit-lenses himself.

Creating a cheap lens doesn’t only concern with the optics, a lot of it has to do with manufacturing so a simple barrel was designed for it, incorporating many cutting-edge solutions to simplify assemblies and materials. It’s the reason why these lenses are so light and unfortunately, not so durable. These aren’t meant to be repaired in the case of a major malfunction because it may cost more to do so rather than just buying another sample to replace the broken lens. This is not to say that they’re disposable, they’re just not practical to repair unless you do this for a hobby or the problem is simple.

The front element is huge so it requires a 58mm filter-ring which is quite large for a Nikkor kit-lens. The front barrel rotates as you focus which is typical of many kit-lenses.

Not even $3.00, what could you buy with it? My tobacco costs more than this. These lenses are neglected today, I think gear from this era offer the best value because they’re not collectible at all and they’re not new either. I chose the silver version because it became more desirable for use with a silver Nikon Df. The black one can be found easily which is even cheaper, so cheap that the Nikon HB-20 hood for these costs even more, the silver one could cost you around $35.00 a pop.

The silver version looks nice with a silver Nikon Df. Silver DSLRs always look cheap to me specially with their silver kit-lenses installed but this setup doesn’t look bad since the body’s design mimics a manual camera. The lack of an aperture ring makes this useless for older Nikons since you couldn’t meter with it properly. There’s no way for you to control the iris’s size and it will only actuate to its minimum aperture unless you’re using a camera that has full PSAM modes.

Well, this isn’t the best partner for a Nikon F6, a cheap Nikon F80 will be a better match for it. Despite that, the lens handles very well with any modern Nikon, film or digital.

Learning how your lens performs is key to maximizing its use. You will learn how to utilize its strengths and avoid its weaknesses. This knowledge helps in determining which lens to bring on a job. I shot these pictures from f/3.3f/5.6 and f/8 at the wide-end, f/4.5, f/5.6 and f/8 at 50mm and f/5.6f/8 and f/11 at 80mm, these are the most common apertures that people would want to use it and we will see the most changes happen with these values. The photos were shot with my Nikon Df.

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Vignetting appears to be quite heavy and is most-obvious at 50mm and 80mm when shooting wide-open. The falloff is rather shallow at 28mm but it reaches to the center, somewhat masking it. Stop it down by a stop and you’ll see some improvement at 50mm and 80mm but nothing seems to have changed at 28mm. You will see a bit of improvement after stopping the iris down by 2-stops but it’s still there. I doubt that it will go away after this but it looks quite nice at 28mm.

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Distortion is quite high at the wide-end but that’s to be expected. It’s a lot better at 50mm and you’ll see some pincushion-type distortion at the long-end. Nothing unusual here, it’s all-normal as far as cheap kit-lenses go. I am impressed by how shallow it is at the long-end. I wouldn’t use it for taking photos of architecture when the zoom is set to its widest, shoot with it at 50mm or 60mm to minimize the effect.

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It’s quite resistant to flare and ghosts when the sun is within the frame but once it’s just outside of it you’ll get rings, blobs, veiling-type flare and all sorts of aberrations that will subdue the contrast of your photos. Maybe using a hood will help but I doubt it. Just be careful with framing any bright light sources specially at the edge of your frame to avoid this. You could use this creatively if you wish.

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The character of the bokeh is acceptable but it can look ugly in some cases. I shot these to show how bad it can be when you have difficult subjects in the background. Foliage, twigs and pine-needles are some of the more difficult things to render in my experience. A lens with poor bokeh quality will render them badly. I’d say that it looks rather “cheap” but you don’t expect something like this to give you premium-looking bokeh quality.

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Chromatic aberration seems to be well-corrected in most cases but it will show-up in difficult scenarios. You’ll see it more wide-open but it improves upon stopping the iris down by a stop but you’ll still see some of it. Stop it down by 2-stops and it’s mostly gone except in difficult situations. Spherical aberration won’t be a problem, you won’t see much of it at all.

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Backlit scenes will exhibit plenty of chromatic aberration if you didn’t expose it properly. Unfortunately, this is difficult to avoid if you have a sunny sky as your background. Using a fill-flash helps solves this as you expose for the sky and let the flash do the work in exposing your subject properly for you.

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It’s not sharp wide-open specially at 50mm and 80mm, the wide-end looks a bit better. The resolution looks to be barely-adequate wide-open but it’s not bad at all. The corners don’t look good specially at the extremities. I don’t think amateurs will care about this anyway. Stop it down by a stop and the center looks a lot better, the corners improve quite a bit but still quite ugly if you ask me. The center starts to look a lot better when the iris is stopped-down by about 2-stops, the resolution looks better which enables sharper photos. Of course, it looks better at the wider-side than at 80mm. The corners look a lot better as well but still not quite far compared to the image quality you’ll see at the center. Contrast and saturation appears to be quite good through the range. I noticed that my sample performs somewhat better at closer distances up until around 8m. It’s quite poor at further distances specially when you approach infinity. Sample variation may be the culprit here.

I can say with confidence that this is a decent lens for what it’s worth, it’s not exceptional but this is what you get for the price you pay for it. To be honest, I think that it performs better than what their prices suggest.

Its minimal distortion at longer focal lengths is quite nice. You can see that some of the lines here curve a bit, it’s barely-observable.

It’s great for general photography when you’re just walking around town, a hobby-lens.

It can get really wide which is something very useful, not a lot of budget-lenses back then could do this, it was certainly a big deal back then since you could now cover a lot from wide-to-telephoto with a cheap lens.

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This is nice for travel photography or just documenting your day around town. It’s like driving your Beetle at the beach. It’s not the best car out there but it’s a fun car to drive and to be seen in. Just don’t expect much and you’ll be delighted by how much value you could get from it.

Let’s now check some film photos. Film has a unique look that is hard to simulate with a digital camera thanks to grain. It reacts differently to light, this means that it could mask a lens’ flaws or amplify them. Since it was designed to be used with film, it’s best that we judge this using its intended medium. Most of these were taken at f/5.6 or f/8 unless there’s not enough light. I used Kodak Color Plus 200 with my Nikon F6 to shoot these.

It won’t focus-down really close but you’re able to get close enough to take detail shots of smaller things.

It didn’t have difficulty focusing despite having distractions in the foreground such as smoke. The Nikon F6 is amazing when it comes to autofocus so that probably helped somewhat.

It’s able to take nice, sharp photos when stop-down to f/8 with minimal aberrations despite having shiny and high-contrast elements in the frame.

When shooting with dynamic effects such as smoke it’s sometimes nice to shoot with a slightly-slower speed so you could capture its movement, implying motion using blur.

Flare can subdue the contrast of huge parts of the frame if you’re not careful with it specially if you’re taking a photo with the sun just outside of it. In this case a hood may be useful for preventing this from happening but not so much, at least it’s better than nothing.

You can use flare creatively as an element in your scene if you want to.

I don’t mind having flare in my photos but ghosts are something that I seldom tolerate. It’s quite resistant to it when shooting with film so we only see a small blob here.

There’s some longitudinal aberration seen in the trees but other than that it’s not a bad photo at all specially considering that this was shot with a budget-meal lens.

Foliage and twigs are some of the most difficult subjects to render but it handled it well, at least when taking a photo using the wider-end of the range.

The reason why I tolerate flare and spherical aberration is because they can help make the photo look a little bit more interesting. I intentionally shot this to demonstrate it, look at how the water sparkle.

(Click to enlarge)

This is a nice lens, I enjoyed shooting with it a lot. It’s versatile, practical and adequate for taking travel photos and other types of more-general subjects. It can be difficult when shooting under lowlight situations but that’s not impossible. The photos of the red banner and the alleyway were shot at about 1/30s and 1/60s respectively which are speeds that I am not comfortable with when shooting with film but with the proper technique and a camera like the Nikon F6 which is heavy I could shoot using slower-speeds with more confidence.

I highly recommend this lens to anybody who just wants to use a cheap lens and have fun with it. You do not use this for a paid job and expect magnificent results from it. It’s capable of capturing nice photos when you know how to use it properly but doing it consistently will be difficult with it. If you just want a lens to bring to a trip or a dangerous part of town this may be the best solution out there, 28mm is wide-enough for plenty of things but just be aware of how much distortion it has at the wide-end. When looking for one of these be sure to check its iris, it should be dry and snappy when actuated. Any issues with it will require a teardown so this is not the best place to have any problems. The middle and rear elements should be very clean, they aren’t as easy to access compared to other lenses and you will have to crack-open something just to get to the rear ones and clean them properly. Check how it focuses and operate the zoom, they should be smooth. A little play and wobble is acceptable if it’s in the front barrel but it should never feel loose at all. These don’t go for more than $40.00 these days, I even got mine for $3.00 from a junk shop. Just be patient and you can find a nice one for a great 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 should lessen the chance of ruining your lens if you are a novice. Before opening up anyting, 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. It has a lot of useful information, it will be beneficial for you to read this.

Disassembly (Lens Barrel):

This is a bit more complicated than I expected. While the front part is simple the rear is more complicated to service properly. If there’s anything wrong with anything there or the iris it may require a complete teardown just to access the parts there properly. This is not something that a beginner should work with, maybe it’s fine for fun project but they shouldn’t expect it to be a successful one. You’ll require some specialized tools to open and reach some of the parts there. Since many things here were merely held by glue you should be careful not to damage anything while you pry them open. Since this is a plastic lens never use acetone, MEK, naphtha or any strong solvents, alcohol is all you’ll need to work on the barrel. Since plastic flexes a bit there will be times when you will have to flex some of the parts in order to remove them. Do this with care so you won’t damage anything.

Unscrew the front optics assembly with a rubber tool. Placing a drop of alcohol to its threads will help make it easier to extract since it will dissolve the seal. There are shims underneath it, never misplace or damage them.

You can remove the thin film if you wish, it’s merely stuck to the iris mechanism’s front cover with glue. This is easy to crumple so be careful while you peel it off.

Extract 3 screws at the throat of the bayonet mount in order to remove the rear baffle. There are 2 other ones that are smaller that secure the contact-block and you should extract those, too.

Extract the screws of the bayonet mount so you can remove it. Many people get stuck here because they don’t have the right tools and strip the screws. To prevent this from happening to you, read my article about how to remove bayonet screws. Follow my guide and that should help educate you on how its done and which drivers you should use.

Carefully remove the bayonet mount and remove the shims and base. The shims adjust the rear-focus so don’t misplace or damage them. When reinstalling the bayonet be careful with it, be sure that it’s seated-flat before you tighten its screws or you could crack it, the stress-point is around the hole of the screw-drive’s spigot.

Inspect and clean this part, be sure that the stop-down lever is snappy and the spigot turns effortlessly. Do not apply too much oil to the spigot, a minute amount will go a very long way.

Remove the rubber part of the zoom ring and be careful not to tear it.

Carefully extract this to remove the inner cam.

Here’s another one.

This should not have happened, the front barrel along with the inner cam got separated accidentally. This will take a lot of time to reinstall properly so be careful not to dislodge it. If you did, be aware that there’s a spacer underneath it.

Carefully extract the screw of the zoom ring’s brush, note that I accidentally bent one of the feelers, that needs to be bent-back into shape.

Carefully remove the zoom ring.

Extract the screws of the long keys.

Extract this to remove the brush.

Remove the inner barrel from the chassis.

Carefully slide the floating mechanism off and don’t forget to note its alignment so you’ll know how to put this back later. There’s another piece of thin film here surrounding the sliding hood, you can remove it if you want to but there’s nothing to be gained from doing it.

Wipe any grime away with a lens tissue moistened with alcohol but leave any parts that were greased alone. If you have the special grease used to lubricate autofocus lenses then go ahead and refresh them but there is no need to do this at all unless the greased part has fungus or is gritty with dirt. Do not dismantle any further than what I did since there’s no point in doing so.

Disassembly (Optics):

Since the iris mechanism is incorporated into the objective I will include its maintenance here. Be careful with anything here so you won’t damage the delicate parts like the iris and optics. Never use force to open anything or you may crack some of the parts here.

The sliding hood is delicate because its arm is thin and made of plastic.

Carefully slide it off, it’s not secured by anything.

Carefully decouple this spring so you won’t lose it.

The rear can be opened by removing the outer cover, it’s sealed using cement so carefully pry it off. The rear element is sealed, I had to remove the lip with a knife to open it, this is destructive but there’s no other way to get it off so I could access the other elements.

Carefully remove the optical groups by pushing them from the other side. Note that the 6th element was glued to the 5th element. Never forget to note which side should be facing where so you’ll know how to properly put them back again later.

The iris mechanism is merely held by its front cover which is simply cemented to the iris mechanism. Using a sharp knife, pry the cemented parts off to remove the cover, the cemented parts are under the 3 holes. Leave the 3rd element alone as it’s sealed to the cover, you can clean it very well without removing it anyway.

Remove the diaphragm plate to dismantle the iris mechanism. Be careful not to damage the blades, only use a pair of sharp tweezers to handle them by their pins so you won’t bend any of them.

Carefully clean everything, wipe the blades with naphtha and lens tissue and carefully put them back. You can soak the housing in alcohol to remove residue and any cement from it. Be sure that it’s clean before the blades are reinstalled.

It’s difficult to rebuild the iris not because it’s complicated but because it’s over-simplified, I couldn’t assemble it comfortably.

Place small amounts of contact cement around these parts.

Carefully reinstall the cover and wipe any excess glue off with a Q-tip moistened with alcohol. Press the cover to make sure that the fit is tight. Never apply excessive amounts of glue here so you won’t seal the diaphragm plate, you’ll have to repeat everything again if that happened.

Clean the glass carefully. If your lens has fungus, read my article on how to clean lens fungus. Do not use the solution at full-strength, thin it with distilled water. Don’t soak the elements in the solution for too long or it will dissolve the coatings. The cemented group is fragile so handle it with a lot of care.

Conclusion:

This took me longer than expected since there’s a couple of things that went wrong during disassembly such as the thrust-cam dislodging from the chassis. It took me some time to get it back since it’s tight inside. When repairing autofocus lenses you should never dismantle the lens down to its bare components, you only repair what’s wrong and leave the rest alone. This is because they’re more complicated to reassemble and there are electronics as well which are sensitive. If your lens needs repair just look for a replacement because these are not made to be repaired as evident by the sealed rear optics assembly, you merely treat them like disposable lighters which is a shame because it would have been a lot better if it was made with a slightly-higher quality in terms of construction. It couldn’t be helped because the competition was tough, every yen saved in making one of these was crucial.

If you accidentally got the inner thrust-cam off you could put it back by removing the main drive shaft of the screw-drive to clear some space and then reinstall it once you get it in. The longest clearing here corresponds to it so make sure that it sits within this channel.

Reinstall the zoom ring and turn it to see if the thrust-cam is moving properly, it should be at its lowest when you zoom to about 50mm or around the middle of the range.

Install it on a camera and set the aperture to its maximum, turn the zoom ring and see it it changes properly. It should say f/3.3 at the wide-end and f/5.6 at the long-end. If that isn’t the case adjust the position of the brush and check again, repeat until you get it right.

Reinstall everything back and check the focus, at infinity and at closer distances.

Despite being a cheap lens I enjoyed shooting with it. This took more effort than anticipated but I was really happy with it. I’m glad I took the time to service this lens.

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 $1.10 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.

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Maintaining this requires resources and a lot of time. If you think that it 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 paypal.com at richardHaw888@gmail.com. Money isn’t 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.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Grey
    Jan 09, 2021 @ 14:20:13

    I own one of these and enjoy it very much. I use it primarily for family snapshots and walking-around photography — in other words, never anything too serious. It is a fine lens for these purposes. It’s sharp enough, it renders color well, it handles easily. It’s not built as well as my Ai and AI-s Nikkors but for what I’m using it for, so what?

    At Christmas this year, I put Ilford Delta 400 into my N90s, set ISO to 1600, mounted this lens, and shot my family’s celebration. It all turned out great.

    Reply

  2. Moon
    Jan 23, 2021 @ 10:25:11

    Hi from Canada,

    Love your review and disassembly of this lens! I really enjoy it on my D800. I don’t often use my f/2.8 zoom lens as they are heavy (I don’t have strong arms, I like using my Olympus), so this lens gets heavy use from me for casual shooting. I have to agree with Grey’s and your comments, it is a fine lens for the purpose it was intended for.

    What always surprises me is the overall image this lens can create. I purchased mine used for $50CAD and I was not expecting much, but I was more than content. It produces nice colours, extremely light weight, and the autofocus is good enough for getting sharp pictures of fast movement.

    This lens definitely has some NIKKOR charm!

    Reply

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