Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AI-s

This is one of Nikon's GREAT lenses. (see post below) It's one you have to have if you're going to shoot video on a DSLR or on one of the new video camcorders by Sony, Panasonic or Canon, that accept interchangeable lenses.

NEX-7 85mm f/1.4 Nikon
On an NEX-7 with a Nikon to NEX adapter

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 on NEX-7
Silky smooth bokeh - soft creamy background
This Nikkor lens is fast and sharp. As mentioned in another post, it's a large monster piece of glass.

The Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AI-s was designed as a professional lens for use on Nikon FX 35mm cameras.

I've used this lens on Nikon DX DSLRs and on mirror-less cameras like the NEX-5 and NEX-7. For cameras with a 1.5x multiplier, the field of view of this 85mm lens is equivalent to 127.5mm.

It's seems big when mounted on an NEX, but it doesn't feel too awkward.

This big bright glass will make backgrounds creamy soft. Wide open this lens gives you a truly narrow depth of field that seems paper thin.

Focusing at f/1.4 can be tricky. When shooting stills with the extremely narrow DOF that can be achieved wide open, it can be difficult to focus without the stability of a tripod.

Imagine hand holding the camera while at the shortest focusing distance and moving forward and backward to focus on a flower's anther.

Still, this is one of my favorite portrait lenses. Sharp and fast, what else would you want?

Filmmaking: Have-to-have Lenses for Nikon Types

If you are shooting a narrative film where you have time for composing and setting up lighting, then you have time to change your lens and time to manually focus it. Zooms and auto-focus lenses are for wimps.

In filmmaking, prime lenses are KING - unless you're one of those French New Wave filmmakers influenced by Italian Neorealism.  Just kidding, they didn't use zooms much.

Prime lenses are faster, lighter, smaller and perform better optically. Oh yeah, sometimes they're cheaper too. I like FAST lenses that can render very narrow DOF. This is a common trait of the following lens recommendations.

Before I go on I have to acknowledge one of my favorite resources when it comes to all things Nikon. Ken Rockwell at - You need to know anything about Nikon cameras and/or lenses this is the website to visit. Don't forget to donate a little in return for Ken's work...

The following lenses are available used from many sources, and are not too expensive.

Your going to need a wide angle for establishing shots. Typically with 35mm full frame you want to stick to 28mm or wider. If you don't mind spending $1000, for a used one, I would recommend the Nikon 15mm f/3.5 wide angle lens. I love this lens. The only reason it is not a part of this list is because of its high cost. I'll blog about the 15mm soon.

On 4/3 or APS-C sensors 28mm field of view is approximately equivalent to 40mm which is close to the human eye's FoV. 40mm is not very wide, but if you have space to move far enough away from your actors you can have nice coverage. For this range here's my favorite:

Nikon's Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AI-s - (see post below) What makes this lens extra special is the incredibly short focus distance and the lack of any noticeable barrel distortion. This allows you to get some extreme close-ups as well as your medium-wide shot from the same prime lens. An extremely sharp prime lens that's reasonably priced. Nikon makes a wider lens with no barrel distortion, the 15mm f/3.5 AI-s, but it will cost you over a $1000 used. BTW, Make sure that you get an AI-s version of the 28mm f/2.8 the older AI version is a completely different lens. Do not get that one!

Most filmmakers will agree that if you had to choose one lens to take along on a film shoot it would undoubtedly be a 50mm. This focal-length will work great for medium to tight shots. I like the fastest one made by Nikon:

Nikon's Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-s - Another favorite of mine. This is a big chunk of fast glass. At a maximum aperture of f/1.2 this baby lets in a lot of light. This bastard will see things in the dark. On my APS-C sensor it is equivalent to a 75mm lens, still good for medium to tight shots. The beauty of this lens is the extremely narrow depth of field that can be achieved. Gorgeous bokeh. Focus on the eyes and the ears are a soft blur - careful, the nose will be just as soft.

See more on this lens in its own post:

Are you starting to notice I'm partial to Nikon - they are readily available and in my opinion they have made some of the best manual focus lenses in history. I'm sure you can find Canon or other lenses of equal quality. Maybe we can explore that in a future post.

For ECU or telephoto, and to squeeze perspective a lens over 100mm is typical. Lets explore two of my favorites:

Nikon's Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AI-s - Did I mention that the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 was big? This monster is bigger. The APS-C multiplier of 1.5x makes this equivalent to a 127mm lens well into the telephoto range. This Nikkor also creates very narrow depth of field thanks to its f/1.4 maximum aperture. Heavy, big, sharp lens with very good performance.

See More:

Nikon's Nikkor 105mm f/1.8 AI-s - Not to be confused with the 105mm f2.8 that I wrote about in another post. Either 105mm will make you a beautiful photo - the f/1.8 will need less light and will give you a sharper image. It will also cost you more money. These are great for portrait shots, and therefore, great for single or tight shots. Don't leave home without one.

In my opinion you won't need longer focal-length, except for rare occasions when you need to shoot long distance telephoto scenes. As far as wide-angle shots are concerned the $1000 15mm f/3.5 Nikkor AI-s lens, with no barrel distortion, is king. On the other hand you might have a need for a wide shot where barrel distortion is desired - a fish-eye lens would be appropriate.

Typically narrative films require lenses to be transparent or invisible, meaning that they do not add editorial content by way of distortion or perspective manipulation - unless that's what you want to do.

I remember someone once told me when I was a photography student " want a standard photo, use a standard lens." I suppose he meant if I wanted a compelling shot I should use anything but a "standard" 50mm lens... 

Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50mm f/2.8

My Retina III S with sharp Xenar 50mm f/2.8
Another great compact German 50mm lens. They were used on Kodak Retina cameras.

Retinas were made in Germany by Nagel Camerawerk. Dr. August Nagel founder of Contessa and co-founder of Zeiss Ikon decided to go on his own and started Nagel Camerawerk in 1928. Acquired by Kodak in the early 1930s they made Retinas until 1969.

I love this little lens, it's very sharp and makes great pictures on my NEX-7.

Just like the Steinheil München I posted about earlier I was blown away by the sharpness and lack of chromatic aberration.

Nikon Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5

Nikon's wonderful 105mm portrait lens
This lens has been very popular among Nikon enthusiasts since it was developed in the early 1950s for the Rangefinder S series cameras.

Great for portraits this 105mm on an APS-C is equivalent to a 157.5mm.  This lens works well with all the new interchangeable lens cameras out there. It is a Non-AI lens, which will not affect how it works on my camera.

More on AI and Non-AI lenses:

On my Sony NEX-7 it doesn't feel too large or obtrusive. I was able to focus quick and was very happy with my results.

You can get one of these on eBay for under $200. Get one if you want to take portraits or are shooting CU and "over the shoulder" shots on your interchangeable lens HD camcorder.

Nikko-P 105mm f/2.5 mounted on Sony NEX-7 mirror-less digital camera

Buying Lenses and Stuff

I've collected vintage film cameras and lenses through the years and I've sold many of them after using them for a little. I no longer have many of the older film cameras that I've collected. I recently sold my prized Nikon Rangefinder from the fifties; these are very collectable and have increased in value.

Nikon S2 with legendary 35mm f/1.4 sold on eBay for $1500 to a collector in Japan
Buying the latest gadget or photo equipment can get very expensive - If you are like me, and 99% of most people I know, it's hard to justify large purchases. Hey, I'm no rich dude.

What if there was a way to sell the gadgets you no longer use? What if you could sell last year's amazing gadget so you could buy this years incredibly more amazing gadget? Thanks to eBay and craigslist you can buy and sell all your stuff on a regular basis. Not just collectable cameras and lenses, you can sell or get just about anything on eBay.

If you are looking for photo equipment you can find the newest or the rarest of vintage photo equipment on eBay. From a cheap new point and shoot to a rare vintage Leica lens listed at over $60,000.00:

Buy your NEW gadgets wherever you can get them for the lowest price. Amazon has consistently been one of my go-to retailers for new stuff. Always search the internet for the best price - this is an art form in itself.

Always take extreme care of your stuff - you need to be anal retentive about it - so that your buyers can always count on getting near-mint items.

Never keep something beyond the point of obsolescence. I try to sell my computers within a one to two year window. If you wait too long nobody will want it.

Always make sure that whatever you get will hold its value, or even better, will increase in value. This is key, don't buy crap. Get the best. In the long run you'll get more for it when it's time to sell. I can't stress it enough - take care of you stuff - it won't be worth anything if it isn't in near-mint condition when you try to sell it.

One more selling tip - Price your items at a reasonable prices. Find the price everyone is selling at and price your item lower if possible.

Last spring I went through the house and collected everything I thought would sell and listed it on eBay - I made close to $3000.  We spent that money on a needed family vacation.

My wife no longer lets me buy anything unless I sell something to cover the cost first. I could tell you stories.

OK, a short one: I was looking for a commercial espresso grinder for my caffeine addiction, I own a commercial espresso machine. (that's another story) It happens that the model grinder I was looking into cost over $700 new. Way beyond what I would consider reasonably sane. The cheapest I could find on eBay was around $350 - used, paint coming off, didn't look very nice.

I figured, as I always do, that it wouldn't be too complicated to fix, if it were not working optimally, so I pull the trigger and buy it. After all, I'll just turn around and sell it if I decide I don't need it anymore.

I get the grinder, the box it came in had no padding, these large burr grinders weigh a ton. What the hell were they thinking, no padding? I call the seller, they tell me to accept the package and that they will make it right if it is damaged.

Long story short; the damage to the grinder would cost $350 to repair. They refund my $350 and tell me to keep the grinder. I repair the grinder with 2 hours of my labor - no parts needed.

These guys may not know how to pack heavy items for shipping, but they happen to be a reputable seller, not every eBay seller will make things right.

I would say that with the amount of knowledge gained in repairing and restoring the grinder it was free. In my mind it cost me nothing, and after striping and polishing it, the grinder is probably worth close to $650 now.

So, don't be afraid to buy your highly yearned, expensive, thoroughly marketed, consumer desired wonder widget. You can always sell it on eBay and recoup most, if not all, of your hard earned money.

See what's up for sale on my eBay:

Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AI-s Wonder Lens

Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens on Sony NEX-7 - Nikon to NEX adapter 
One of my favorite Nikon lenses. According to experts the Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s is the sharpest manual-focus lens Nikon has ever made. It's the closest focusing Nikon lens as well - 7 inches or 20 cm. With no noticeable barrel distortion - it is considered by experts as close to perfect as possible.

I've had one of these wonderful Nikkors for 5 years and love it. First used it on my Nikon FE film camera, after that my digital Nikon 200D, then I shot with it on my Olympus Pen - Now I have it mounted to my Sony NEX-7.

Almost forgot - I had this baby mounted on my Sony NEX-VG10 and shot some great HD video.

No other lens comes close to the sharpness this baby provides. On my NEX it is equivalent to a 42mm lens.

BTW - I don't own any of the aforementioned cameras anymore, except the NEX-7. I always sell the old to get the newer.  I have a habit of selling my gadgets before they become obsolete and staying on the cutting edge. It's the only way to do it if you aren't filthy rich - the point is old lenses work on new cameras - enjoy your old lens.

I've pretty much said all I can say about this marvel, except that it has really beautiful bokeh. (IMHO)

UPDATE - FEB. 2015:

I still own this lens and now use it on a Sony a7s - recording to an Atomos Shogun 4K recorder. For more on this see my new blog:

Understanding DOF or Depth of Field and Bokeh

If you are interested in the science of optics or physics I'm sure you can find numerous websites explaining Depth Of Field or DOF in technical terms. I'm going to try to keep it simple and practical.

From a practical sense it's quite easy. The larger the aperture the narrower the area of focus. That's it, that was easy.

Of course it can get more complicated the deeper you want to go into the rabbit hole. For instance, the larger the aperture the smaller the f-stop. What?  f/1.2 is much larger than f/22

OK, lets step back for a second and first talk about what DOF looks like and why anyone would really care. If you don't know what DOF is I'm 100% sure you've seen it numerous times.

Example of narrow depth of field. Subject is focused, but everything else is blurred.

When you see a photo or film where everything is in sharp focus from near to far, it is oftentimes referred to as, deep focus. The person standing in the foreground and the buildings and faraway mountains in the background are all in clear sharp focus - from here to infinity.

Shallow focus is the opposite of deep focus, and is also referred to as narrow depth of field. I'm sure you've seen shallow focus - when an element in the picture is sharp and focused, but everything in front or behind it is a soft blur. It's very similar to the way we see the world.

Find the sharp focus area. Notice everything in front or behind it is blurred. 
This all leads us to the not so ubiquitous Japanese term: Bokeh. It's what photographers call the "out of focus" area. This blurry area has a prominence bordering on the spiritual. Suffice to say that every photographer has his own opinion on what is considered good bokeh, and all photographers want good bokeh.

Yes, good blur vs bad blur. Bokeh shmokeh, I say it's all subjective. And every lens has it's own bokeh look. Google "bokeh" if you really need to go any deeper.

Let's get back to the easy part - how to achieve, shallow focus or deep focus.

Remember what I said? The larger the aperture (larger hole) the narrower the area of focus. Aperture, also called iris, is the hole or opening through which light travels through the lens and onto the camera sensor.

Iris' can be opened or closed incrementally. The increments are measured in f-stops. The confusing part is that the larger the f-stop number the smaller the hole is. Typically, f/22 is the largest f-stop number you'll find on photo lenses, and it happens to be the smallest hole.

Are you confused yet? Because I'm getting confused just writing about it. OK, here comes the simple explanation:

Aperture or iris.
If you want to achieve shallow depth of field you need to open the iris or aperture to its widest opening - smallest f-stop number.

If you want everything to be in focus from here to infinity you have to close your aperture or iris to it's smallest hole - largest f-stop number.

Shit, why didn't I just come out and say that? I kinda did, fourth sentence - up above.

As I mentioned before, why lenses act like they do is a subject beyond the scope of this post. I am not going to get into focal length, hyperfocal distance or DOF formulas. You want enlightenment? Become a Buddhist - or just Google "DOF."

Now let's get into the problems associated with trying to achieve one or the other.  The most common snag I can think of is when you're shooting an extremely bright scene, maybe an outdoor scene in bright daylight, and you want to create narrow DOF. The way to get narrow DOF is to open the iris to its widest aperture. Problem is that this might allow too much light to enter the lens and render the photo overexposed.

What can we do? The obvious solution is to increase the shutter speed to compensate for the extra light coming in to the sensor.  I've seen scorching bright days where the fastest shutter speed won't be fast enough to get a properly exposed photo. Furthermore, what if you are shooting video on this same extremely bright day and therefore, have limited control of shutter speed?

You want narrow DOF on a brightly lit subject - say it with me - "Neutral Density Filter," commonly referred to as ND filter. Using a neutral density filter is akin to putting on sunglasses. As the name implies neutral density filters are supposed to darken the scene without affecting or changing the color. Neutral. 

ND filters gives you the means to darken the scene allowing you to open the iris as much as you need thereby, creating narrow DOF without overexposing the picture. That's optical gold man!

Lets examine the opposite situation. If you need to achieve deep focus on a dimly lit day, slow down the shutter or go get more light on the subject, because your going to have to close the iris as much as you can to get everything in focus.

Let's review:

Shallow depth of field: open the iris or aperture to its widest opening - smallest f-stop number. Too bright? Use an ND filter.

In focus from here to eternity: close your aperture to it's smallest hole - largest f-stop number. Too dark outside? Get some big lights. I know, it's supposed to be infinity not eternity, LOL.

One more thing. The size of the sensor affects DOF. I know you can't change the size of your camera sensor so I didn't get into it here. Suffice to say, larger sensors can give you narrower DOF.

I hope I've explained it well enough; you can always Google it...  

Steinheil München ILOCA 50mm f/1.9

Steinheil München ILOCA 50mm f/1.9
This lens was made during the 1950s in Germany for ILOCA who later became Agfa. Their claim to fame was the first electric motor-wind camera. It was sold in the US as the Graflex - Graphic 35 Electric. This Steinheil lens will work on micro 4/3 cameras as well as Sony's NEX range of still cameras and HD camcorders, like the NEX-VG10 and similar.

This is a fast 50mm lens that shoots very sharp digital photos. I installed the lens on my NEX-7 with a DKL to NEX lens adapter and stepped into my backyard.

First electric motor-drive camera
The pics you see below were shot with the aperture wide open to f/1.9. Raw from the camera into iPhoto then exported as JPG without enhancement or modification. I don't see much chromatic aberration, do you? I was blown away by the sharpness and absence of chromatic aberration.

I also like the bokeh that this lens produces. Closest focusing distance is a little less than 3 feet. On APS-C sensor cameras using a multiplier of 1.5x this Steinheil - München is equivalent to a 75mm lens.This fast f/1.9 lens should work well as a video or photographic lens, as long as you don't mind focusing manually - BTW, you won't see any auto focus lenses on this blog...

Someone is selling one like it for over $500 (370577606970)

Click on the photos to see them larger.

Even better, click on the link below to see the last photo in it's original size and zoom into the top portion of the hanging cushion - now that looks sharp to me:

OK, one better. The third photo has something I didn't even know was there when I looked through the viewfinder - zoom into the upper-right area and you'll notice a bunch of spider webs that are in focus - amazing!

Use Your Old Lenses on New Cameras & Camcorders

I've been collecting old film cameras and lenses for years, back before most photographers switched to digital imaging. When KODAK discontinued the manufacture of Kodachrome, and most of all, Professional Technical Pan B&W film I finally had to join the digital conformists, and reluctantly purchased a Nikon D200 outfit.

Nice thing was that I had a bunch of old classic Nikon F mount and AI-s manual lenses. This fact was part of my decision to go with Nikon. I might have bought a Canon outfit if I had invested in any of their lenses. To me the difference between Canon and Nikon is subjective. They both make great optics and cameras.

I had the Nikon D200 for a little more than a year and sold it. Not because I didn't love it, but because I found it so cumbersome to carry a full size DSLR around all the time. Enter Olympus micro 4/3. The Olympus PEN E-P3 12.3 MP with interchangeable lenses to be exact.

Sony NEX-VG10
Wow - I purchased a Nikon to 4/3 adapter and I was able to use my beautifully sharp and extremely fast 85mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens. Yes I know this is a mighty large piece of glass to hang off a small 4/3 camera! Hey, it took some great photos.

What's more, when I purchased a Sony NEX-VG10 interchangeable lens HD camcorder I was able to use all my old Nikon lenses with a Nikon to NEX lens adapter.

You can now get lens adapters to use most old lenses on all the new interchangeable lens cameras - micro 4/3, Pentax Q, Sony NEX, Nikon 1, Olympus E-P3, Panasonic GX1, Fujifilm X-Pro 1, Samsung NX200 -  and don't forget the Sony NEX-VG10, VG20 and NEX FS100 or the Panasonic AG-AF100 and the Canon EOS C300 video camcorders - the list goes on!

OK, so your catching my drift here.

BTW, I don't prescribe to the recent trend to use DSLR for video. If you've been shooting video professionally for a living for more then 20 years, like I've been, you use a DSLR for photos and a high end video camcorder for video.

You want narrow DOF? (what I consider the most important element in achieving "The Film Look") Use a fast lens on an interchangeable lens camcorder.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC and all other video camcorder manufacturers now offer interchangeable lenses on their cameras - thanks to RED and their popularity.

I just can't shoot video on a DSLR, OK yes I can - I just don't want to. Hey, I want at least two XLR audio inputs on my video camcorder, and I want the video form factor and all the other video stuff I'm used to, like bars,  zebra, ND filters, peaking...

OK so lets get back to old lenses. I will write about some of the old lenses I own, show some sample photos, talk about DOF and other subjects related to lenses and hopefully others will be able to benefit from the information.