Throughout its history, Nikon has (effectively) never changed its lens mount; a Nikon F2 produced in the ’70s has the same mounting ring as the new D5 digital SLR. That makes the Nikon F-mount, first introduced in 1959, the only SLR mounting system that is over 50 years old.
While some restrictions do exist — due to the changing of autofocus mechanisms, aperture adjustments transitioning from manual to automatic and shutter mechanism compatibility — most vintage Nikkor lenses work perfectly well with new Nikon DSLR bodies. Over the years, a number of Nikon’s best lenses have been discontinued, yet they can still be bought in vintage camera shops or garage sales around the globe. Or you can find them on eBay, like the lenses below.
Before you get yourself a new Nikkor lens, we recommend checking out this comprehensive guide to double-check that your camera body and new lens are compatible.
28mm f/1.4D AF
Even wide open, at f/1.4, Nikon’s 28mm (produced from 1994 to 2006) is extremely sharp — even in the corners. There are newer versions of the lens produced today, but none compare to this vintage, ultra-smooth autofocus version. True, prices on the 28mm are steep, but that comes with the territory of supreme quality.
50mm f/1.8D AF
Nothing really compares to the optical quality of a prime lens, and the 50mm f/1.8 D is one of the best primes Nikon ever made. And they still make it today. Versions are available all the way back to 1978, with the autofocus D lenses being the most desirable. And loads can be purchased at an affordable price.
85mm f/1.4 AI-S
Though Nikon still produces an autofocus version of this lens, the manual-focus version (which was axed in 2006) has far superior optical quality. When used as a portrait lens, the 85mm f/1.4 AI-S produces beautiful bokeh and is a favorite lens of many loyal Nikon shooters.
Nikkor 13mm f/5.6
The Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 was one of Nikon’s best and rarest lenses ever made. It’s extremely wide at 13mm, but produces no distortion — which is a thing of beauty. When shooting a horizon, the horizon line stays perfectly straight (provided your composition was level at the time of shooting). Minuscule numbers of these lenses were made, and they had to be special ordered from the Nikon factory where they were custom made. Prices can reach as high as $25,000 for these lenses, which is why they’re so rare. But the Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 is fine demonstration of Nikon flexing its muscles, even if it’s more for show than profit. Learn More
135mm f/2 DC
The 135mm f/2 DC comes with what Nikon called “defocus control.” Defocus control isn’t soft focus; rather, it is a mechanism to adjust the bokeh in your images. The lens also opens all the way to f/2, making for a very shallow depth of field.
80-200mm f/4.5n AI
The 80-200 f/4.5 is an extremely affordable tele zoom lens; it can range from $30 to $100 dollars. And its sharpness is consistent throughout the entire aperture range (f/4.5 to f/32). For those looking to dabble in sports photography, but don’t want to shell out for a newer autofocus lens — like the Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D ED lens ($1,222) — the 80-200mm is a good choice.
300mm f/2.8 ED
This was Nikon’s first internal-focusing 300mm f/2.8. And, when it comes to optics, it’s still the gold standard in Nikon’s 300mm line. It was also the first super-fast telephoto lens that was actually practical to use in the field, shooting indoor and outdoor sports equally well.