Repair: AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6D

Hello, everybody! Are you old enough to remember the so-called “bubble-economy” of Japan? It was a time of wanton spending, a time when bar hostesses from Tokyo had the money to fly to Sapporo just to eat ramen there and fly-back to work in the same day. It was a false-economy and it won’t last long when the bubble burst. That was a time when people realized the value of money. The attitude became more grim as people turned-back to their old, frugal ways to make the most of what was left. Products began to be made with budget as the biggest concern and companies began to look elsewhere to spread their profits. Today, I’ll show you a lens that was a product of that era and how it has evolved into an even-cheaper version of itself elsewhere as Japan had to find ways to manufacture her products cheaper. The bar hostesses will have to survive on instant ramen from then-on, no more Sapporo ramen for you, miss.

Introduction:

The AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6D was sold from 1994 to an unspecified date but some sources claim that this was sold from 1993 to 1995. It was soon replaced by the cheaper and more flimsy AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6D (N) in 1995 but both were sold at the same time and were bundled with different cameras. The earlier ones were made in Japan and the later ones were made in the same Thai factory that made the latter one. Despite sharing the same name, both lenses share different optical formulas, even within this very version there are 2 different subvariants, the earlier ones have a different optical formula while the later ones have identical optics to the plastic AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6D (N) but the exterior design of the barrel looks the same. To make things clear, this one is the earlier version with its older, simpler optical formula. Things aren’t what they seem in Thailand, this is a bit difficult to identify if you’re a novice and the best way is to look underneath to see if it is indeed what you think it is.

It’s a compact lens and it’s not heavy, too. This makes it a great lens to bring on a trip but its slow-speed means that it’s limited only for shooting under ideal lighting conditions. The build quality won’t match the earlier all-metal Nikkors but it will survive a use in the field so long as you take care of it. Compared to the AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6D (N) that replaced it, this one has more metal parts, the most important being the bayonet. It won’t break into pieces when you accidentally drop it or bang it against a hard surface. The focusing ring turns as it operates so you should keep your fingers away from it when you’re shooting with it.

This one has a simpler 6-elements-in-6-groups design, the later one has a more complicated 8-elements-in-7-groups one. Despite it only having 6-elements, one of them is aspherical. That single element may be more expensive to produce so the later one adopted a more complicated design without using any aspherical elements. It was a very competitive time and every yen saved was crucial in any company’s survival, it was the end of the “bubble-economy” just to put things into perspective.

You may be wondering why would I feature such an unassuming lens. Well, the fact is the design of this lens is similar to the older Zoom-Nikkor 25-50mm f/4 Ai-S which is a so-called “2-group zoom”. Many consider this to be the epitome of simplicity for zooms and that simplicity means that the design is optimized, not an easy thing to design considering that zooms are more complicated to design. If there is something special about this Nikkor then this is it.

Since we now know that there are indeed 2 different versions of this lens it’s best that we treat them as 2 different products. This is the reason why I decided to make a separate article for it in order to understand both versions better. Like what I mentioned before, it’s difficult to identify which version has the older, simpler optical formula just by looking at the exterior. Even the repair manual was written to support both variants in a single book. Some say that the older one were all labeled “Made in Japan” but mine has a “Made in Thailand” stamped to it but it has the older optical formula. Serial numbers should be the best way to identify which one has what optical formula but I am not aware if that has been documented. To my knowledge, the most reliable way is to look at the rear, if the rear element is recessed deeper then it’s an indication that it’s the newer version, at least that’s how I remember it to be. I get conflicting information on how to reliably identify these but this is the best way to my knowledge as of now.

Handling is quite good, much better than the AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-80mm f/4-5.6D (N) because it has a proper focusing ring instead of the cheap, plastic one that the later lens has. As a consequence, it feels a bit more substantial which may be something that you are looking for. It has a lock for the aperture ring which is standard for all autofocus Nikkors. Using it with a smaller camera is the best way to shoot with it, a Nikon Df balances really well with it.

If there’s one thing that I found odd about my sample is it tends to give me inconsistent metering when the scene is backlit or when I’m shooting in lowlight situations. I would get underexposed photos when shooting a building on a sunny day. My photos will be underexposed or overexposed by around a stop when shooting at night. This doesn’t happen when I was shooting film with it but it happens when I use a digital camera, I don’t know what’s the root of this so I couldn’t make any conclusions.

Learning how your lens performs is key to maximizing it. You will learn how to utilize its strengths and avoid its weaknesses. This knowledge helps in determining which lens to bring on an assignment. I shot these from f/4, f/5.6 and f/8 at 35mm, f/4.5, f/5.6 and f/8 at 50mm and f/5.6, f/8 and f/11 at 80mm because these are the most common apertures that people would want to use this and we’ll see the most changes happen with these values. These photos were shot with my Nikon Df, some of the photos were cropped close to 1:1 magnification so we can see the details better.

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Vignetting appears to be quite heavy wide-open at 35mm, it doesn’t seem to improve much by stopping the iris down. It’s still quite dark even at f/8. It looks a lot better at 50mm where you’ll get some darkening of the corners wide-open but it cleans-up rather well by the point it reaches f/5.6. I think it looks best at 80mm where the effect is least-severe, you won’t see much of it by f/5.6 and it’s even by f/8. This is unusual in my opinion, it may be the biggest contributing factor to the inconsistent exposure that I’m getting.

The effects of distortion is worst at 35mm where you’ll get a strong barrel-type profile. Your lines will remain straighter at 50mm, I think this is the best focal-length to use when you’re shooting architecture or similar themes. You will see a slight pincushion-type effect at 80mm, nothing drastic but it’s enough to distort your straight lines.

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It’s susceptible to flaring, it can fill most of the frame at worst so be mindful of this. You’ll get a couple of blobs caused by internal-reflections which is expected from a cheap lens from this class and era.

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The character of the bokeh is rather poor as expected, this gets aggravated when shooting difficult subjects like twigs and foliage. I have seen worse but this is probably on the low-side of the scale.

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Chromatic aberration is rather high wide-open specially in extreme cases. Stop it down by a stop and most of it is gone, you’ll see traces of it when you stop it down by 2-stops and only in severe cases. Spherical aberration appears to clean-up quite well one you stop the iris down by a stop. I’d say that it fared quite well in this section, better than I expected from it.

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Sharpness appears rather good wide-open at the center but resolution is kind of lacking. Stop it down by a stop and the center will look much better thanks to its improved resolution. Stop the iris down by 2-stops and the center looks very good, you could render nice details with adequate resolution. It seems that this lens performs best at closer distances, mine performed quite well from the closest focusing-distance even at wider apertures. The performance drops as you focus further and it’s most obvious from 5m and anything beyond that, it looks worse at infinity. I didn’t do shoot any photos of the corners but they seem to be behind by at least 2 or so stops. This lens was designed as a general-purpose lens for beginners so I’m not surprised by what I saw here. Many people who this lens was supposedly designed to be for mainly concern themselves with performance at the center and at distances that a lot of general photography takes place, mainly people-photos. With that said, I think this is a nice general-purpose lens, it’s a great lens to bring to a vacation but don’t expect anything more from it specially when shooting things that are far.

This lens focuses rather close and the performance is nice at closer distances. You’re able to get this close to your subjects.

When you want to keep your lines straight shoot it at around 55mm or so. While the lines won’t be perfectly-straight at least you’re not going to see severely-bowed lines.

Shooting in lowlight conditions isn’t the best way to enjoy this lens due to its slow speed. You’ll struggle to shoot with it, pumping the ISO up helps but that is not optimal.

Vignetting could affect your photos specially when shooting at lowlight where every stop matters.

I took this with a smaller aperture but I had to push my ISO up. It’s not impossible to shoot with it in lowlight scenarios because a modern digital camera usually has great high-ISO performance.

The effects of distortion will curve your straight line specially if they’re parallel to the edges of your frame. It’s ugliest at the wider-end so avoid shooting this at 35mm when you need to keep your lines straight.

Here’s another example, note how terrible it looks. Angling your lines so they’re diagonal to the edges of the frame helps a lot but keen-eyed viewers will still be able to see the effects of distortion.

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Here are more photos that I took with it, mostly as a walkaround lens. It’s not a bad lens at all, I was able to get sharp photos from it specially at closer distances where it performs best. So long as you know how to use this lens and set your expectations low it’s able to give you usable photos. An amateur may not care much for its performance and it delivers in this regard.

Let’s now check some film pictures. 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. I shot these with a Nikon F6 loaded with Kodak Gold 200.

This is how bad it flares, I think this is the worst that I could get it to do this. The blobs look horrible, making the photo look cheap in every way. Using a hood won’t help because the Sun is within the frame.

Stopping the iris down helps in controlling flare but the blobs will look more-defined which is a trade-off that you should account for. This and the previous photo were shot intentionally to trigger these, just be careful when shooting backlit scenes so you could avoid these issues.

Its ability to focus really close is useful for taking detail-shots and it performs quite well at closer-distances which helps a lot, too.

This was shot with at a slower-speed, shooting in the shade may be a problem for this lens since it’s not fast at all. You can notice a lot of spherical aberration here, I personally don’t mind it but chromatic aberration is something that I’d rather not have.

Shooting this with film helps in smoothing-out some of the artifacts in the blurry areas to some degree. It won’t magically turn the character of the bokeh from mediocre to good but it helps in making sure that it won’t look worse.

It’s capable of taking nice, sharp photos with decent bokeh quality as long as you’re aware of its limitations.

The effects of distortion is most-apparent when you have straight lines in your scene that’s parallel to the edges of the frame. Angle your shot so the lines are more diagonal to help prevent the lines from bowing.

Despite shooting at 35mm I was able to hide the effects of distortion in this shot by angling my shot, it also helps that the scene is rustic. You could still see it when you look at the edges, the drainpipe and the pillar looks curved.

You can help prevent the effects of distortion from being obvious simply by angling your shot and shooting at around 50mm or a bit longer than that.

(Click to enlarge)

Shooting this with film helped give me some insight as to how this lens actually performs according to its intended medium. It’s a nice lens for general photography and it certainly will satisfy the needs of beginners and amateurs since this was designed mainly for them. Given its proper context I think this lens is good, it could give you nice photos so long as you have good light.

It’s not a bad lens, I actually enjoyed shooting with it. However, there are many options today for not a lot of money so skip this if you could find something better for roughly the same price. If you need to travel to a dangerous place, losing this lens may not be as painful as losing a more expensive one. Beginners will also find this useful, specially when shooting with film on a sunny day. I won’t recommend this for shooting with a DX camera since the focal-range will be awkward to use thanks to the crop-factor. These don’t cost much these days, I got mine for $9.00 from a junk-shop. You could get one of these for no-more than $15.00 easily, it’s a common lens and there will never be a shortage of these anytime soon. When looking for one of these be sure that the iris is dry, it should be snappy when you actuate it. The glass has to be clean and clear, too. Operate the rings and make sure that it works fine. I often find these in poor condition since the people who bought these usually aren’t the ones who are careful with their gear but you could also find one in great condition because the people who bought them together with a camera as a kit usually buy better ones after only taking a few rolls with it. Kit-lenses are treated as entry-level products that introduce a new generation of photographers to a system and this lens certainly fulfilled its mission in this role.

Before We Begin:

If this is your first attempt at repairing a lens then I suggest that you see my previous posts regarding screws & drivers, grease 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 anything, 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:

This is probably a good lens for a beginner to service so long as the right tools are available. It’s so cheap that nobody cares it the lens gets broken. There’s not a lot of things that can go wrong with it, most of the problems that I see are usually dirty optics or the oily iris problem. The autofocus system usually holds-up pretty well through the years. Be very careful when servicing this, most of the parts are made of plastic so they’re delicate. Avoid using acetone since that will craze the surface of the plastic parts or even fuse them together, acting like plastic cement. Don’t forget to also take plenty of notes so you’ll know how to put things back. And before I forget, some of the elements here were sealed with their housings, never attempt to separate them because you will never be able to get them back again.

Unscrew the front optical block with a lens spanner while being careful not to scratch the front element. The rear is vulnerable, it’s not a good idea to scratch it so store this assembly in a safe place.

Unscrew the floating mechanism’s optics with a rubber tool. Never use a lens spanner on it since it’s not the right tool for the job.

Set it aside and be sure that it won’t get scratched.

The iris mechanism is now exposed but we’ll need to remove some things first before we could safely work on it.

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 post 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.

Extract these screws to remove the rear baffle. The (3) larger ones secure the baffle and the (2) smaller ones secure the electronic-block. Do not unscrew the one at the 6:00 position as that’s needed for preventing you from turning-past the bayonet’s range.

Carefully remove the bayonet mount and be sure that the long shaft of the stop-down lever won’t get caught while you do it.

Remove the aperture ring next.

The rear baffle also secures the rear optical block, unscrewing it will allow you to remove the optics.

You could easily unscrew it with your fingers.

Carefully extract the optics one-by-one with a lens sucker. Be careful when you do this so you will know the orientation of these elements. I used a permanent marker to draw a small dot so I’ll know which side should be facing the front, putting these back the wrong way will crack the elements.

Before you begin working on the iris mechanism you will need to uncouple this spring first.

Remove the brass clip with a pair of sharp tweezers while being careful not to harm the iris.

There’s a very thin film of oil that’s starting to coat the iris mechanism so it’s best that I service it before it gets worse. Remove the rotator-plate carefully and you can dismantle the iris mechanism.

Here’s the whole assembly dismantled to its basic components.

Carefully wipe the blades with naphtha and lens tissue, reassemble the iris mechanism carefully. Never handle the blades by their flat part, only handle them by their pegs with a pair of plastic tweezers.

Clean everything that’s accessible to you while you’re at it. If it has fungus, read my article on how to clean lens fungus. Dilute the solution with distilled water, using it at full-strength will etch the coating and the glass will get damaged. If it has an oily iris, wipe the blades with naphtha and lens tissue. Do not damage the blades and only handle them by their pins.

Conclusion:

This was easy, repairing autofocus lenses means that you only repair what’s needed and leave the rest alone. I think it took me only 30 minutes to finish this exercise, it would have taken me more time if I had to service the barrel because autofocus lenses are not the simplest lenses to service due to the various gimmicks used in their construction.

Be sure that this part is assembled properly or the aperture ring won’t be able to regulate the iris mechanism properly.

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 $0.70 a day, it’s totally reliant on views. You can also opt to support this site, it helps me offset the cost of maintenance and hosting. You’re 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 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.

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