Zoom-Nikkor 80~200mm f/4.5 Ai lens

Sharp as a tack.

With original box, no less.

Nikon made a lot of these one-touch lenses. They use one ring for focus and trombone-style zoom. Some 180,000 in all, if serial numbers are any guide, starting in 1969 through December, 1981. The smart money – and not much money at that – opts for the last series in which the earlier 15 elements in 10 groups construction was reduced to 12/9, starting in 1977, with an attendant weight reduction of 2.8 ounces to 26.5 ounces. Many claim the optics improved also, but I have no way of confirming that. Mine is a very late 1981 model from the last production run, all of which was in an Ai mount, meaning the lens will fit all modern Nikon DSLRs. It cost me $130, pretty much at the top end of the range for this lens. Excellent examples can be found for less and most have loose zoom rings. Read on for the fix.

The lens has the usual zoom creep, and a couple of strips of black vinyl insulating tape fixed that in a jiffy, also firming up the focus resistance. Neither its length nor the front or rear glasses move longitudinally when the delightfully light collar is operated to either focus or zoom, but the lens does rotate when focused, so it’s less than ideal for fans of polarizing filters.

Strips of tape in place, arrowed, end zoom creep.

CPU installation:

As I install CPUs in all my MF lenses to enhance function, I set about the 80-200mm. The rear baffle is 1.632″ in diameter, so it exceeds the 1.429″ maximum which allows the CPU to be simply glued on. It’s retained by two countersunk and one longer, proud Philips screws. Be sure to mark the location of the long one, then remove all three. The baffle can then be removed, having first marked the location of the ends of the CPU.

An arc is cut out to accommodate the CPU, to the depth of the plane surface in which the rectangular opening appears. Any excess abrasions can be touched up with matte paint. Here you see the CPU installed in the usual way. This is a very easy machining job and if you are nervous about machining your lenses, it’s an excellent lens to start with. In fact, as the baffle metal which must be removed is so thin, the whole job could be done with a hand file, no Dremel cut-off tool needed. The three other lenses I have had to machine in my collection and the related degrees of difficulty are:

  • 28mm f/3.5 pre-Ai. Difficult, as the baffle is sloped and there’s not much for the CPU to adhere to.
  • 50mm f/1.4 pre-Ai. Risky, as the flange and baffle must be removed and absolutely no adhesive must come in contact with the focusing optics.
  • 105mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor. Easy, but the baffle is so thick that a Dremel tool really makes sense, unless you want to spend ages hand filing.
  • 300mm f/4.5 Ai-S ED IF. Easy, but the baffle is so thick that a Dremel tool really makes sense, unless you want to spend ages hand filing.

A comprehensive list of lenses stating whether machining is required appears here. This will aid the purchase decision for those contemplating CPU installation but preferring not to do anything more than simply glueing the CPU in place.

The CPU glued into the baffle.

Here’s the installed CPU – there is no issue with a broad, sound base for the CPU to adhere to. After checking final alignment, I glued the CPU in place with the baffle removed from the lens, to preclude any possibility of getting glue on the lens. As usual I used two-part epoxy, letting the glue cure 24 hours before using the lens. I touched up the abrasion marks on the baffle with some matte black paint from the local hobby shop.

The CPU in place on the lens. Is that a perfect job or what?

Performance:

This is a professional specification lens in every regard. What minor vignetting there is disappears by f/6.3 and even though the lens stops down to a small f/32, there is negligible diffraction when fully stopped down. The seven-sided diaphragm makes for pleasing, soft rendition of out-of-focus areas and the lens balances well on the heavy D700 body. There are absolutely no qualms about using it fully open at any focal length. While multicoated, the exposed front element suggests both a 52mm protective filter and the HN-7 lens hood make sense. The rear element is fairly exposed, so I use a rear cap when the lens is in my bag. There is no tripod collar and none is needed with this relative lightweight.

To cure the minor vignetting, download my lens correction profile here. When programming your CPU, program the lens as an 80mm focal length and images taken with the CPU installed will automatically invoke my profile, which was saved as ’80mm’. The profile was made at 140mm, the middle of the zoom range. In practice, no distortion corrections need be applied as the lens renders excellent linear results.

How does this zoom at 200mm and f/4.5 compare with the 200mm f/4 Nikkor-Q first made in …. 1961? At full aperture these two lenses deliver identical results. At all other apertures there’s nothing to choose, which is a roundabout way of saying that, given the complexity of making a good zoom, this one is just fabulous. After all, the Nikkor-Q is 200mm, and only 200mm. The zoom gives you a choice of 80-200mm at a similar maximum aperture for a 6 ounce (160 gram) increase in weight and identical bulk.

If you can handle manual focus, have no issues with trombone zooms and like the focal length range, this lens is an outstanding bargain. The faster MF 80-200 f/2.8 Ai-S ED is a real monster by comparison, weighing in at 67 ounces (1.9 kilos). Good luck carrying that around. Trust me, I owned one and was happy to see it move on. The smaller and much lighter zoom profiled here poses no such issues, at the expense of a 1.5 stop loss in maximum aperture.

I’ll publish some pictures snapped with this optic on the D700 soon. On APS-C bodies (D300, D7000, etc.) the effective focal length becomes 120-300mm and no lens correction profile need be used, though it will do no harm if it is.

One thought on “Zoom-Nikkor 80~200mm f/4.5 Ai lens

  1. I bought one back in 1980, with my first camera an FG. Hated the FG, but I loved the lens.

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