The 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor was a lens of its time. By the mid 1980s, more and more amateurs were buying SLRs and the major camera manufacturers were building more entry-level cameras to oblige them. The industry noticed how amateurs liked zoom lenses for the casual photography they were likely to do.
Major manufacturers designed inexpensive short zooms — 28-80mm and 35-70mm were popular — to put in the kit with their lower-line SLR bodies. This lens came in 1984, Nikon’s first inexpensive short zoom. The lens was popular enough that Nikon made it for 21 years.
This lens is small and light. Nikon made it with a lot of plastic to keep its weight and cost down — the mount is plastic, as is most of the body. Nikon purists recoiled in horror, and then retreated to their built-like-a-tank Nikkor primes. But amateurs were pleased enough with the lens, especially since it was an Ai-s lens, which enabled Program mode on their cameras. It also has a macro mode, making this lens kind of a Swiss Army knife.
Optically, the lens has eight elements in seven groups. It noticeably vignettes wide open, but that reduces the narrower your aperture and the deeper your zoom. This lens also delivers barrel distortion, which is barely perceptible at 70mm but obvious and strong at 35mm. Thankfully, with modern digital workflows that’s quickly remedied in Photoshop. Here’s an image straight off the scanner that shows the distortion. I didn’t keep notes on this roll, but I probably shot this at or close to 35mm.
But like I said, a couple of clicks in Photoshop and the distortion disappears.
This lens has plenty of detractors, most notably Ken Rockwell, who puts it on his list of the 10 worst Nikon lenses. He points readers toward a couple other 35-70mm Nikkors with better performance. But in the eight or nine years I’ve owned this lens I’ve used it a lot, and I’ve always been very happy with its sharpness, color rendition, and contrast. Correcting barrel distortion in post-processing is the only downer I experience with this lens.
Everything else is upside. The lens is tight. Controls are smooth. They don’t have the luxurious heft of my Nikon primes, but I don’t care about that when I’m in the world making images. It handles easily and focuses fast. What more could I want?
A short zoom like this is perfect for subjects that are moderately far away to moderately close. For the kind of photography I do, largely images of the built environment, that keeps me from needing to step into the road as much to frame my subject. I made this image on a road trip along US 40 as I surveyed the stunning homes on that road in Casey, Illinois. I was able to make this image from the sidewalk across the street by zooming in just a little. With a 50mm prime, I would have had to walk out into the street.
The 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor isn’t exactly a bokeh monster, but you do get a blurred background when the light, aperture, and shutter speed are right.
Sharpness is good to very good, but never outstanding. Even on this expired slide film, the lens delivers gobs of detail.
Because of this lens’s small size, light weight, and versatility, I travel with it a lot. This is My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky.
I’m a big fan of moving in close with my camera, and it’s wonderful that this general-purpose lens’s macro mode lets me do that.
Here’s one more image in macro mode, just because I like macro so much. I’ve never had any issues with flaring or ghosting when I’ve used this lens, by the way.
I shoot a lot of color film with this lens, but it does great work in black and white, too.
Because of its smallish maximum aperture, you need faster films in low light. I shot Kodak T-Max P3200 here — I shot most of this roll inside, but made a few photos outside because that was the film I had in the camera.
Now I’m just showing you some images that I liked seeing again as I put this post together. I’ve made hundreds of images with this lens and have plenty of keepers from it.
The measure of a lens is whether it delivers the results you want. I can think of all kinds of photographers who would never use a lens like this 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor. But I walk around and photograph the things I find interesting, and a light and small short zoom like this is often just the right tool. It is sharp and contrasty enough, it mounts to every manual-focus Nikon SLR body I own, and it keeps me from needing to step out into traffic to photograph the built environment around me. To get these things, I’m willing to post-process images I made at the wide end of this lens to correct barrel distortion, when it’s noticeable.
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