Nikon 200mm f4 Ai Review / by Jake Horn

Need a telephoto lens in a compact package for travel and hiking? As long as you don't mind manual focus and don't require a fast aperture, the Nikkor 200mm f4 may be the unlikely answer.

I'd like to mention up front that this lens can be bought cheap. So cheap that you may be misled into thinking it's not worth picking up. But the beauty of this lens is that in the right situations, it can knock your socks off.

Size Comparison to Nikon 24mm 1.4G

Size Comparison to Nikon 24mm 1.4G

SPECS:

  • 5 Elements | 5 Groups
  • Filter Ø = 52mm
  • Min Focus = 2.13m
  • Weight = 530g
  • Length = 126mm
Shortest Configuration -Β 126mm

Shortest Configuration - 126mm

I bought this lens for around $100 dollars (mint condition). It happens to be one of the first manual focus Nikon's I got when I made the jump back to shooting film. I used it a few times with my Nikon D80 on a trip to Mackinaw City, but never really took the time to take the 200 through it's paces. To be honest, I was disappointed with my files. Flat, boring images were all I saw back at the hotel. I now know that I shouldn't have used this lens on a crop frame sensor. Also, I was immature with RAW files and did not quite know the potential you could harness from the files.

When taking my first trip to Seattle (this time with film only), I decided a medium telephoto was going to make the trip to capture some compressed cityscapes. The lens I planned to bring was my Nikkor 135mm 2.8 ais. In the hastiness of packing, I mistakenly grabbed the 200/4. To this day, I have no idea how I managed this. Maybe it was my subconscious's way of giving this bargain lens a second chance.

Focused At Nearest Point - 152mm

Focused At Nearest Point - 152mm

In my Seattle hotel, while prepping my gear, I made the startling discovery. Fearing 200mm would be too long and f/4 too slow for the rainy city's weather...panic set in. But I knew I must embrace the curve ball and make the most of a bad situation. 

Longest Configuration (Hood Extended) - 180mm

Longest Configuration (Hood Extended) - 180mm

Slowly, throughout the week, I fell in love with this lens. The focus is butter smooth and the sliding lens hood is convenient and tight. It is just a tad bigger than my 135mm, but had all the design cues that I love about this era of Nikon lens construction. In my opinion, fit and finish on auto indexing lenses is the peak of Nikon design.

Max Aperture of F/32

Max Aperture of F/32

This lens is not without some drawbacks however. As expected, shots at max aperture are soft. This will be very apparent on high megapixel digital cameras, and forget using this on an APS-C sensor. On film, though, resolution shortcomings are much less noticeable. If you can get the right amount of light, this lens shines in the F/5.6-11 range.  

One mechanical issue I've witnessed is the focus can breath under it's own weight. This means that you must take extra care when pointing up or down to make sure you don't get focus shift.

52mm Filter Thread Standard...Oh How We Miss You...

52mm Filter Thread Standard...Oh How We Miss You...

I must say that I was shocked when I got my negatives back from the developer. Expecting to see soft and flat images, I was greeted with sharp and surprisingly contrasty scans. I would say the value of this lens puts it in the must own category. Just watch out for sample variation. At $100 for a clean copy, how can you go wrong?

SAMPLE SHOTS:

Pike Place Market - Nikon F4 | Portra 400 | F8

Pike Place Market - Nikon F4 | Portra 400 | F8

Pike Place Market - Nikon F4 | Portra 400 | F4

Pike Place Market - Nikon F4 | Portra 400 | F4

Pike Place Market - Nikon F4 | Portra 400 | F5.6

Pike Place Market - Nikon F4 | Portra 400 | F5.6