Yours truly just completed a review of a Nikon 200mm f4 AI Micro manual focus Nikkor lens bought from KEH Used Camera Brokers. This lens was produced from 1978 through 1982, at point it was upgraded to AI-s. This version was produced as new until into 2005. At its used price point (roughly $300-$400), there is no other way to get such a long macro lens, but is it any good?
Well, let's find out!
On the list of good points, there's a lot to rave about. First up, as was the norm in its day, this Nikkor is made out of solid metal, which is definitely not the case with even today's pro-grade Nikkors, which are often partly if not mostly made of cheap plastics. Another good point: the tripod collar comes off without headache and, for filter users, it takes the small, cheap 52mm size that was the norm back in the pre-AF days.
Optically, the lens is good by modern standards, let alone for a 35+ year-old design. In terms of sharpness, it's good in the center right from the get-go at f4 wit the corners lagging slightly behind the center. Stopping down improves things a bit, with optimal sharpness across the frame peaking around f16. At smaller apertures, diffraction limitation has a slight softening effect, but you need to pixel peep at 100% to notice it. In terms to flare resistance, distortion, chromatic aberrations, it's all very well controlled. Vignetting? The shading is obvious at f4 but dramatically drops at f5.6 and disappears at f8. The best news: the slight softness and vignetting wide open are non-factors as macro shooting is done at small apertures, anyway.
As for the cons, there are two. The first one is plainly obvious: this lens is manual focus, which should be of no concern for a serious macro shooter but, if you're thinking of using this as a tele to shoot your kid's baseball game, your work will be cut out for you as you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way! The less obvious drawback: this lens only focuses down to 1:2 or half life size reproduction. The good news: with so many pixels on today's cameras, cropping is always an option to get closer as you'll still have plenty of pixels to get a good 8”x11” (I've got great prints this size with 3Mp).
In pictures: half vs. life size differences
This aside, there's really nothing not to like about this lens if you can get away with manual focus. To put it plainly, there's no other lens offering such a combination of high build quality, optical excellence, and insane value as this one. Sure, you can pay a lot more for a current macro lens for AF capability and out of the box 1:1 magnification but real macro photographers don't use AF anyway and an extra $30 can get you a teleconverter that takes this lens to 1:1. Recommendation: if you want a long macro and are on a budget, buy one of these if you're lucky enough to come across one.
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