Manual Focus Nikkor 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E
updated 8/27/05 with Kiron comment


Nikkor 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E

angle of view: 17-3140' with 35mm, 1032''-2110' with D1 (115mm-231mm)
close focus: 39" (1m)
filter thread: 52mm

weight: ounces (520g)

Lens no longer produced


photo: The last photo taken with my first 75-150mm f/3.5 Series E, just prior to it being dropped over a waterfall in Chile's lake district. The small size provides plenty of opportunity to experiment, as in this handheld shot (!), where I was precariously balanced on a rock at the edge of 100 foot drop. Nikon FM2n, Fuji Provia.

 

Introduction

Produced for only a short time (1980 to 1983), this consumer-oriented lens originally intended for use with the Nikon EM is valued by quite a few pros for its sharpness. Versions in excellent shape can usually be found for around US$150.

The Basics

The first things you notice about this Nikkor are the solid build and the (typically) loose-as-a-goose one-touch zoom/focus ring. Don't let either of those things keep you from a thorough examination, though. What you'll find is a fixed maximum aperture of f/3.5, which is relatively fast for a telephoto zoom, especially one that was targeted for consumers. Minimum aperture is f/32, as on most Nikkor telephoto zooms. Minimum focus distance is a very useful three feet (1m), and you'll find depth of field markings (!) for three focal lengths at f/16 and f/32. An infrared focusing mark is provided. The front element rotates during focus, but not during zooming.

This lens features 12 elements in 9 groups. Both the front and rear elements are relatively exposed, so keep your fingers clear when taking this lens on and off the camera. Surprisingly, the wide f/3.5 aperture does not result in a big front element; it takes Nikon's small filter standard, 52mm.

This is a metal bodied lens, unlike the fixed focal lengths in the Series E lineup. The lens extends slightly during focusing, and is a bit longish for the focal lengths it covers. Nevertheless, it is comfortable to handhold. The lens does not have a tripod socket.

Handling

The 75-150mm's big drawback is the single touch focus/zoom ring. On most examples I've seen, zoom creep doesn't begin to describe the looseness of the ring. Suffice it to say that you'll need to keep a hand on the ring to keep the lens from changing focal length if the camera is at all tilted out of horizontal. Fortunately, the focus doesn't tend to creep with the zoom. Some users have told me that it's possible to find a non-loose example, or to have an existing lens reworked to minimize the problem, but since I usually use this lens handheld, I haven't bothered. Focus from near to far takes a half rotation of the ring, which is a bit more than I'd like, but passable.

The aperture ring has solid click stops and a decent feel. Since this is a manual focus lens, it predates the aperture lock you find on most recent Nikkors. Also, the aperture coupling lug is not supplied, as was the case with all Series E lenses (not an issue for AI and later Nikon bodies). The lens is surprisingly heavy for its small size, but seriously so.

Bottom line: if you can accept the loose one-touch focus/zoom ring, you'll like the results you obtain with this lens. But a lot of folk can't get past that loose feel, so be sure to try out the lens before commiting to it.

Performance

This is one of Nikon's best telephoto zoom designs. I suspect that it never made the leap to autofocus because the 2x focal range doesn't seem competitive against the 3x that the traditional 70-210mm zooms supply. Too bad, this would have made a wonderful autofocus lens (Nikon could have even left off the focus and aperture rings, as far as I'm concerned).

Wide open, the lens is reasonably sharp, certainly far better than you'd have any right to expect with an inexpensive lens. The corners may be a bit soft at 150mm, but at 75mm, I'm reasonably satisfied with the edge to edge sharpness at f/3.5, and there's very little light falloff. Stop down to f/5.6, and the lens is as good as Nikon has made in the 75-150mm range, with only a minor drop-off in sharpness at the very corners. By f/8 and f/11, this lens is pro calibre.

The large maximum aperture and focal range make this an excellent portrait lens. F/3.5 is just fast enough to throw backgrounds out of focus when shooting portraits. Moreover, while it only has a seven-blade diaphragm, this lens has some of Nikon's best telephoto bokeh. I suspect this is because of the position of the diaphragm, which is not as close to the rear element as it is on some lens designs.

Flare can be a problem without a hood, especially with the AI version of the lens (there was also an AIS version that cut down on internal reflections). Some shooters I've talked to have avoided Series E lenses because they believe they aren't multicoated. While the coatings used on the Series E lenses are a bit different than the main models (and produce a very slight change in color rendition), I haven't found them to be wanting.

Contrast with a hood is quite good, especially in the mid apertures.

Drawbacks

G. Crum writes: Nice review on a fine lens. I have a few comments of my own on this lens. It works very well with the Nikon 3T close up lens for macro work on nature subjects where a flat field is not essential. I sold my macro lens because of the quality of the 75-150 and 3T (1:2.5 approx.). I found it to work very well with multipliers. Keppler did some tests with the 75-150 years ago at Modern Photography with a Nikon 2x and got pretty mediocre results. I use a Kenko 1.5x AF unit with very good results. The focus aids on my FE-2 still work if your eye is well centered. Good enough for 8" x 10" prints. I also use a Tamron 2x AF with good results. The loose focusing collar can be helped a lot by putting black Dymo label maker tape on the lens barrel. One strip on the underside (180 degrees away from the white index line. Work the end of the tape under the collar and trim to length. Slightly notchy, but no creep. I also put one on the front tube but since that rotates, there is no right position. No creep and a damped feel to the focus. I have done this to a number of different lenses, and so far, no negative side effects.

Thom's Response: Yes, the 75-150 works great with the 3T (or an extension tube) for field macro work. I'm not so sure about using it with a 2x, though. Both 2x's I've tried, including the Tamron 7-element produced noticeably softer results than I'd normally tolerate. Both 1.4x's I've tried worked adequately, though.

The Kiron Kid (!) writes: You are correct, this is an excellent lens. Were you aware that it was made by Kiron (Kino Precision Industries) for Nikon? There is a Kiron model, which is a 70-150 f/4, and a Vivitar model, which is a 70-150 f/3.8  All three, are nearly identical, and made by Kiron.  However, the Kiron and Vivitar model's do not exhibit the loose zoom-creep as in the Nikon models. We in the Kiron Klub, have tested them thoroughly, and they are pretty much identical in performance. I just thought I'd pass this information along.

Thom's Response: Interesting. I knew that a lot of the so-called consumer Nikkors have been outsourced over the years, but because the E series lenses pretty much all became the initial AF Nikkors, I didn't realize the 75-150mm was one of those.

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