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Nikkor AI-S 105 f2.5

I recently picked up the Nikon AI-S 105mm f2.5 lens. I attached it to my FM2n and over the last couple of weeks I have been out and about around Sofia shooting with it. I got the developed film – Kodak Ektar – back yesterday and scanned the negatives last night. So here are some thoughts on the lens and some sample shots.

First, the lens itself. Having already bought a 24, 35 and 50 for my Nikon I was looking for something a little longer for occasional use. The obvious option was one of the various AI or AI-S 85mm lens but for some reason these do tend to be expensive even by Nikon standards. I was aware of the 105/2.5 having read many good things about it but considered that focal length to be a little more that I wanted.

However, when one showed up for just under $200 in very good condition I decided to try it. The AI-S version of this lens was introduced in 1981 and continued in production until 2005. From the serial number mine appears to be a very early copy. As far as I can ascertain the optical design of this lens goes back much further having been introduced in 1971. That in turn was an optically redesigned version of the original 105/2.5 introduced in 1954. Over time the 1971 version added Nikon’s integrated coating and was adapted mechanically for Nikon’s new automatic indexing system.

The 1971 lens was designed by Yoshiyuki Shimizu who was responsible for many of Nikon’s most famous lenses. The lens has five elements in four groups and is sometimes described as a Gauss type design, though Nikon’s website describes it as a Xenotar type lens this being a hybrid between the Gauss type and the Topogon type which was first released by Schneider in 1951. Confused? Me too. I’ll leave those of you interested in these matters to do your own research. You might start with the Nikon history page for the 105/1.8 lens and take it from there.

As with most lenses of this vintage the 105/2.5 is a solid piece of kit made, mostly, of metal and glass and weighing in at 435g or just under 1lb. The focus ring turns smoothly and evenly and rotates through roughly 150°. Closest focus is 1m or just over 3ft. The aperture ring is similarly smooth and even with well defined clicks at each full stop. This lens has a maximum aperture of f2.5 which is marked on the lens body and even though there is no mark for f2.8 there is a click stop for it. Minimum aperture is f22. Everything is engraved as you would expect and the aperture markings have Nikon’s traditional depth of field colour coding. Up front the lens takes 52mm filters, like every other AI and AI-S lens I own. In short, if you have ever owned or used an AI or AI-S lens you will know exactly what to expect.

It’s actually quite a compact lens — 2.5″ wide and just over 3″ long — and feels very well balanced on my FM2. It is shortest at infinity and adds around half an inch as you focus in closer. The AI-S version added a retractable built in lens hood which blends in very well with the overall design. It slides out smoothly and snaps into place with a distinctive click. I rarely use a lens hood but it is nice to have it available without having to carry it as an extra.

I could try and describe the results this lens produces but I believe that this is largely a subjective matter so instead I will add some images and let you decide for yourself. The images were shot on three separate days around Sofia using the lens on my FM2n. All were shot on Kodak Ektar.

First, a view over the rooftop and domes of the Sofia History Museum, formerly the public bathhouse, and a couple of shots taken in the colonnades that surround the building housing the Council of Ministers and the Constitutional Court.

Next a couple of pictures taken at the ‘Zhenski Pazar’, the Women’s Market in downtown Sofia. This is the place to buy cheap, fresh produce. Unlike the supermarkets everything here is sold in season so while you may not be able to get everything you want all year round when you can get it it is fresh.

Some sculpture next. The first picture is of a bust of Ronald Reagan that stands in Yuzhen Park. This picture was shot with the lens wide open at f2.5 and gives some idea of the rendering of the out of focus areas. The two following images are of a statue of Patriarch Euthymius of Tarnovo, a 14th century Bulgarian saint. The first was taken at f8 and the second at f2.5 so you can compare the way in which the lens presents the background.

Now a couple of shots from one of my favourite places in Sofia. These are the public water fountains that deliver hot spring waters to the citizens of Sofia.

Three more shots to go. These are some of my favourite shots from this roll. The first is one of those shots that appeal for no obvious reason. It could be the combination of strong vertical and horizontal lines. Or perhaps the echo of the sign for the pedestrian crossing in an actual pedestrian crossing the street. Or perhaps the street on the right of the image receding into the distance which adds a depth to the image. Or perhaps the light and shadow in this picture. Or perhaps some combination of all of these elements.

Next is a shot taken outside the Saint Nedelya Church in central Sofia. I waited a little while by the church where the two gentlemen were standing framed by the sun through the archway looking for someone else to enter the frame. Eventually the woman, who had just left the church, did so and I got this shot. I liked the grouping of the people in the image and the way in which they are framed by the sunlight through the arch.

Finally, this shot was taken near the water fountains where there is a tram stop. I pre-focused and waited for a passing tram. When one stopped in front of me I took a couple of shots of which this was the best.

So that is the Nikon Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S lens. If you are a Nikon shooter using manual focus lenses the 105/2.5 is worth your consideration even if it is not a focal length you typically use. The combination of compact size and optical quality is hard to beat.

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