29 August 2014

My first AI lens

As many photography lovers, I would never give up film photography if it wasn't for the slow decline of the support system behind us.
Nearly ten years ago, when I shifted from a seafaring career to a more terrestrial one, I still could find a laboratory in Funchal able to process positive films. A couple of years later, with just a handful of last clients, they were forced to close the service and, consequently I, too, reluctantly, migrated to digital, with my first acquisition in the field: a Nikon D40X and its standard Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S zoom.
And I emphasize "reluctantly" because, back then, I knew I was opening a Pandora's Box full of superfluous things, many of them not truly indispensable for our photographic endeavours. Menus, auto-ISO's, VR's, autofocus I, II and III and so on, were designed to make our life easier in the field. To make picture taking simpler and intuitive.
On the contrary, and most of the times, these modernisms, as Ken Rockwell wisely pointed out, gives us more chances to loose a photo opportunity than to achieve one.
On those frustrating moments, I wish for simpler techniques and equipment. Anything that returns to us the simplicity of the photographic act.
Nikkor AI lenses mean just that: simplicity and effectiveness. Just an optical tube with both manual focus and diaphragm rings. It just doesn't get any simpler.
Understandably, and since all these lenses were designed in the film age, you have to be smart while buying a modern digital body fully compatible with their manual iris selector.
But even if you own the simplest of the Nikon digital bodies, these lenses remain perfectly usable. You just have to guess the exposure or do it by trial and error.
After all, it's the digital age. What do you have to loose? Card space?
And have I told you that they are really cheap, bought second-hand, on E-Bay, these days?
The notable Japan-made Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI, bought second-hand on E-Bay, from the competent Japanese seller AIHALAND-JP. 110 Euros of solid metal and glass, as Ken Rockwell wisely points out, "...built like a tank for a lifetime of great pictures.".
The quality on the details is simply amazing. Reminiscent of an era when handcrafting perfectionism was a standard industrial procedure. Note the detailed depth-of-field scale, painted with the same colours of the numbers on the diaphragm scale. Small red dot for Infra-Red focus correction also present.
The aft part of the lens, showing its bayonet mount and the diaphragm activating lever. 257 grams (naked) of solid construction with, in my modest opinion, just one drawback: a minimum focus distance of 0.45 mts. But, anyway, this was normal for a 50mm lens of that era. If you want to focus closer, you might prefer one of the fabulous - according to many reviews - Micro-Nikkors 55mm f/2.8. You'll loose speed, however.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI focused at minimum distance at f/2.0. No so bad bokeh, don't you agree? Shot with a Nikon D610.
In hyperfocal focus, from foreground to background, in the distant horizon. Shot at f/8 with a Nikon D610. Sharpness all over, so it seems. Notice the tree branches?

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