Vintage lens: Nikkor H Auto 28mm f/3.5

Today I want to talk about one of my favourite lenses: the Nikkor H Auto 28mm f/3.5. This is not a “review”, I am neither a pro photographer nor an optics expert. I will only talk about how I feel about this lens and the pictures I get from it.

Nikkor H Auto 28mm f3.5

Presentation

This lens is quite old, mine dates back to 1971 according to this website. It is not a particularly “hot” item which is why it can be found dirt cheap on eBay. I got mine for 40€ + shipping, which is 3 times cheaper than the AI version, and 6 times cheaper than the AF-D version. It is actually the cheapest lens I have.

One caveat is the fact that this is a fully manual lens. There is no auto-focus, no metering, and the aperture has to be set manually (aperture ring). It’s simple: this lens does not talk to your camera at all. You have to guess all the exposure related settings (Sunny 16 anyone ?). The focus-confirmation mechanism still works though, as it is part of the camera and not the lens. It makes manual focus way easier.

The fact that this lens has no electronic parts also means that there will not be any metadata for it in your files. The shutter speed and the ISO will still be recorded, obviously, but the aperture will not.

On a full frame camera, this is a wide angle lens. On a DX (APS-C) camera, this lens is just slightly wider than the “normal” 35mm focal length. This makes it really handy for street photography or indoor photos, since it reduces the number of “my back is against the wall and I still can’t fit everything into my shot” situations.

Size comparison with the 35mm 1.8G lens (also a must-have btw)

It is only compatible with the D3000 and D5000 lines of digital cameras from Nikon. I use it on my D3300. DO NOT try to use it as is on the D7000 and up, there is a very high risk that you will break something, apparently. It appears that it can be converted to AI though, which would make it compatible with other cameras. Of course, it can be used on 35mm film cameras, but I do not have one at the moment.

The lens itself is really small, which makes it easy to carry. Also it doesn’t look completely stupid on a small DSLR such as the D3300, as opposed to some other lenses (yes, I’m looking at you, Sigma 17-50 2.8). The fact that you have to use a lens hood makes it a little bit bigger (well, you don’t have to, but I mean just use one, seriously). It remains relatively small even with the hood attached. By the way, the HN-2 metal hood is the one that should be used with this lens. They can be found for less than 10€ on Amazon and you should seriously consider picking one up if you get this lens. Indeed, the lens’ front element is not recessed at all and you will get sun flare and reduced contrast even if the sun is not in the picture.

The lens looks good on a D3300

The build quality of the lens is awesome. There is no plastic, it’s all metal, and Japan-made. It’s as sturdy as a lens can get, I will never worry about bumping it anywhere, especially with the lens hood on. This thing was made to last, I love it.

Sample shots

First, I am going to show you some pictures taken with this lens. We will talk about their quality later on. The full resolution pictures are available on Flickr here.

My dad’s chickens, D3300, ISO 800, probably f/5.6, 1/160s

Tram on Campus, D3300, ISO 800, probably f/3.5, 1/400s

Drac river in winter, D3300, ISO 200, probably f/8, 1/125s

Image quality

Now, let’s talk about the image quality. Honestly, I think the sharpness is perfectly acceptable. It is not my sharpest lens, but it does not need to be. There is very little chromatic aberration, which is good since even some of my most recent lenses have more CA than this one.

Corner of an image taken with this lens, zoomed 1:1 at 24Mpix

There is not much vignetting since this is originally a lens for full frame cameras and I’m using it on a crop sensor. There would probably be some vignetting if I tried to use it on a film camera for example. There is some purple lens flare when shooting directly into the sun. Keeping in mind that this is a 46 year old lens that I got for 40€, I really can’t complain about its performance.

Example of what happens when the sun is in the picture, zoomed 1:1 at 24Mpix

The lens has 5 aperture blades, which give you nice 10-branch stars at night

Conclusion

I love this lens. It’s my cheapest lens but it’s the one that I use the most. It’s small, fun to use and produces great images, all of that at the ridiculous price of 40€. You could argue that I could just use my Sigma 17-50 and set it to 28mm. And that’s true, I would get better image quality (probably, I’m not even sure that’s true), auto-focus, f/2.8, optical stabilisation. Yeah, well, it’s just not the same thing. The Sigma is big, heavy, and I would look really stupid carrying it in the street for no reason. I could carry my DSLR and this little Nikkor lens all day (which is what I usually do actually). Also, I’m not really afraid of breaking it, which is good: Take more risks, get better pictures!

Pros:

  • Solid construction
  • Useful focal length on DX
  • Compact, easy to carry
  • Good image quality
  • Presence of aperture ring (can be declicked for video)
  • Super cheap

Cons:

  • No autofocus
  • No metering
  • Only opens to f/3.5
  • Flaring when shooting towards the sun

Seriously, which one do you want to carry all day?

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