TBT – Nikon 180mm f/2.8 Ai Telephoto Lens

Post by Paul Brodek our Used Equipment buyer

When we talk about vintage film cameras, cool as they are, they still can only be used with film. You can have your developed film scanned, to get a digital image, but you’re decidedly using old technology. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

But when we talk about vintage optics, now we’ve got vintage technology that, given the right lens mounts and adapters, can be paired with a digital imaging device and find more use in this century. So today we’re looking at a crackerjack lens that was great in its day, and still pulls it weight today:  the Nikon 180/2.8 telephoto lens.

The 180/2.8 was the belle of the ball when it was introduced at the 1970 World Exhibition in Osaka. There might be a nice Japanese equivalent to “belle of the ball,” I’ll have to come back to that later. 

It was kinda big, kinda heavy, pretty darn expensive, and sold like hotcakes when it finally hit the market. The reason for the brisk sales is the long draw and compressed rendition of the long focal length, combined with the light-gathering capability and narrow depth-of-field of the fast 2.8 maximum aperture. This made it an unsurpassed lens for reportage, sports, fashion, surveillance and any kind of lowlight work. It was built like a brick outhouse, had a great wide focusing ring and built-in, collapsible lens hood. 
Our featured 180/2.8 is the last of 3 different versions, having gained better lens coatings in v2, and now interfacing with the new (in 1977) Nikon bodies with automatic aperture indexing. Which means quicker on/off, without having to line up the aperture pin with the meter claw on the aperture ring, and then rake the aperture ring from minimum to maximum aperture to index the lens to the meter. 

On film It gave sharp, contrasty images, even wide open at f/2.8. Fast forwarding from 1977 to today, we can now mate it to any number of digital bodies, giving us the possibility of extracting even more detail, and extending its lowlight capabilities with the stupid-high ISO numbers we can get with digital.

Nikon has used the same F bayonet lens mount since the Nikon F of 1959. So we could have chucked this lens on a D850 body, or any one of Nikon’s current DSLR bodies, and so can you. But we paired it with a new mirrorless Z6 body instead, with an adapter, because mirrorless is where it’s at these days, and because using focus peaking with an electronic viewfinder makes for very accurate, pinpoint focusing of manual focus lenses.

I’ve done some minor post-processing on the outdoor shot, but didn’t touch sharpness. Check out the detail on the flags, and the subject separation from the background. The lamppost was down the street on the corner, but the 180 pulled it right in. The depth of field is very narrow, even at this distance, so you’ll see the zone of sharpness is shallow.

This 180/2.8 has been serviced, focusing is smooth as silk, and the glass is clean. You may see some marks on the outside of the hood, since the lens definitely spent time outside the gadget bag. Available for an attractive $249.99.        

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