Film Photography

35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

In action on my Nikon N2000. Fujifilm Provia 400X (expired)

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.

Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

But like I said, a couple of clicks in Photoshop and the distortion disappears.

Entrance to our cabin
Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

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.

Main Street, Casey, IL
Nikon F2AS, Fujicolor 200

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.

Coffee and Macbook
Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

Sharpness is good to very good, but never outstanding. Even on this expired slide film, the lens delivers gobs of detail.

The Depot
Nikon N2000, expired Fujifilm Provia 400X

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.

My Old Kentucky Home
Nikon FA, Arista.EDU 200

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.

Purple crock
Nikon F3, Kodak Gold 400 expired 1/08

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.

Nikon FA, expired Kroger 200 at EI 100

I shoot a lot of color film with this lens, but it does great work in black and white, too.

0 mph
Nikon Nikkormat EL, Foma Fomapan 100

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.

7th & Wabash, Terre Haute
Nikon FA, Kodak T-Max P3200, HC-110 Dilution B

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.

SoBro homes
Nikon F2AS, Kodak Tri-X expired 2006
Heating the coals
Nikon F3, Kodak Gold 400 expired 1/08
Holly on the holly trees
Nikon FA, Agfa Vista 200
Downtown Bardstown
Nikon FA, Agfa Vista 200
Corner Wine Bar
Nikon F2AS, Fujicolor 200

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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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N90s

Church door

Sometimes a person needs to just get out and shoot for the joy and fun of it. At such times, a great choice is an auto-everything SLR and a zoom lens. You’ll be ready for pretty much anything you encounter. Especially when the body you choose is as robust and capable as the Nikon N90s.

Nikon N90s

I’ve had great luck with this camera every time I’ve shot it, no matter the film or lens I chose. Here I used the well-regarded 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor on Arista Premium 400.


And here I used the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor that came in the kit with the Nikon N65 I used to own, on very expired and poorly stored Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

High West

Ken Rockwell calls this plastic-bodied zoom lens one of Nikon’s 10 best lenses ever. I marvel at that a little bit, as Nikon had to have made ten superior F-mount primes. But this lens turns out to be a good performer, sharp edge to edge anywhere in the zoom range.

Lebanon front door

It does have some barrel distortion at 28mm. The shot below shows it a little. That’s its major flaw. But I’m not much of a 28mm guy anyway. 35mm is as wide as I normally go, and the distortion is largely tamed when you zoom in that far.

Union Station

The lens also had some difficulty focusing close. I tried to capture some magnolia blossoms but the lens would only hunt. It also tended to wash out the image a little if the sun wasn’t directly behind me, as this shot of the Slippery Noodle bar shows. I’ve meant to go to the Slippery Noodle ever since I moved to central Indiana in 1994. They say they’re Indiana’s oldest bar, operating since 1850.

The Slippery Noodle

But this should be a referendum on the N90s and not on that lens. So let’s get to it: this camera is large and fairly heavy. Also, its controls don’t follow the modern “mode dial” SLR idiom. But I didn’t experience its weight as a problem. And those controls, specifically a bunch of buttons and one unlabeled dial, are not hard to discover and learn.

Lucas Oil behind the old houses

For example, I was pretty quickly able to figure out how to manually set ISO. The camera accurately read the DX coding on the Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 I had loaded, but I wanted to shoot it at EI 200. A few button presses and I was set. But on this cloudy-day photowalk Downtown along South Meridian Street I might have been better served leaving the film at 400. Meridian Street is the city’s main north-south drag, but some street reconfiguration in this area isolated a couple blocks and the lovely old homes on them.

South Meridian St.

The N90s gives you a lot of controls to keep track of. Apparently I set the camera to center-weighted metering the last time I used it, and forgot to reset it to matrix metering for this roll of film. I think that might have contributed to the problems in this shot of St. Elmo’s, a steakhouse operating since 1902. Pro tip: before shooting an N90s, press in the two green-dot buttons atop the camera for a few seconds to reset the camera’s settings.

St. Elmo's

But for this full-sun shot, everything worked perfectly. The Union 525 was originally a high school but is now a space where startup tech companies can begin to build their businesses. There’s quite a tech startup scene here in Indianapolis.

Union 525

The callery pear were in bloom this day. They smell like rotting shrimp.


I’ve shot this camera often. See everything I’ve photographed with this camera in my Nikon N90s gallery.

A couple years ago I chose this N90s as my Nikon auto-everything body over the entry-level N60 and N65 I used to own. Those more basic bodies certainly demand far less of me than the N90s and could certainly have taken every photo you see in this post. But among these cameras the N90s was the only one built to last.

As I’ve been thinning this herd I’ve already decided that my main SLRs will be metal, (mostly) mechanical, and manual focus. I’ll never leave my first love, Pentax. And I have some truly great Nikon gear that will always have a home here. I might keep a Minolta and a Canon body in case I come upon an interesting lens for those mounts.

But I like the N90s. It’s a smashing companion to my 50/1.8 AF Nikkor and my wife’s 35/2 AF Nikkor lenses. With this zoom lens attached it’s a fine, but heavy, photo-walk kit. If in a few years I find I just don’t use it much, I reserve the right to change my mind — but for now…

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews

Nikon Nikkormat EL

Why didn’t Nikon just call its non-pro line of cameras Nikons from the start? As they eventually learned, everyday people would pay for the cachet of the Nikon name. Yet Nikon insisted on calling its lesser SLRs Nikkormats (or Nikomats in Japan) in the 1960s and much of the 1970s.

Those Nikkormats became more and more sophisticated over time. By 1972 Nikon had developed its first camera with an electronic shutter and automatic exposure, and gave it a Nikkormat name. Here it is, the Nikkormat EL.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

Large and heavy, the Nikkormat EL offered a reasonable complement of features. Its shutter operates from 4 to 1/1000 sec. It offers depth-of-field preview, mirror lockup, and a self timer. A stubby 6-volt 4LR44 (aka 476A, A544, and PX28A) battery powers it all. It goes in a slot behind the lens mount, under the mirror. Use the mirror lockup lever (left of the lens mount) to move the mirror up. Then lift the battery cover and insert the battery. I thought I’d have trouble seating the battery in that tight space but I snapped it right in with my index finger.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

The Nikkormat EL’s viewfinder is fairly big and bright and features an easy-to-read match-needle system for the aperture-priority autoexposure. There’s no on-off switch; to activate the meter, pull the winding lever back. The EL’s focusing screen offers a central split-image rangefinder ringed with a microprism. It works beautifully. The white button left of the viewfinder checks the battery. Press it in with your thumbnail. If the battery is good, the amber light glows.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

With this Nikkormat Nikon moved closer to the classic 1970s SLR idiom by moving the shutter speed selector to a dial atop the camera, next to the wind lever. (Early Nikkormats placed the shutter speed selector on a ring around the lens mount.) And as you can see, the EL takes films from 25 to 1600 ISO.

I’ve reviewed one other Nikkormat, by the way, even though mine carries its Japanese name, the Nikomat FTn. You might also enjoy my reviews of straight-up Nikon SLRs: the F2, the F3, the FA, and the N2000. You can see a list of every film camera I’ve ever reviewed here.

Nikon finally got the clue when it updated this camera for 1977: it became the Nikon EL, the first Nikon SLR without removable prisms and focus screens. The Nikkormat line died quietly.

This EL was placed on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by John Smith, who generally buys his gear in top shape. The EL is said to be prone to electronic gremlins, but this one works fine.

I dropped some Fujicolor 200 in, mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, and got to shooting. I love to do close-up work and the Micro-Nikkor enables it so well. Yet it’s a fine lens for shooting things at greater distance. These are the reading glasses I keep on my desk at work.


And here’s a gripping photo for the annals of all-time greats: the cruise-control switch on my Toyota. I love it that the Micro-Nikkor lens lets me contemplate details like this.

Cruise Control

We had some striking light one evening, so I went out to photograph it.

Strange Evening Light

This light lasted just a few minutes, before the setting sun and the clouds rolling in obscured it. How often do we get light like this but forget it because it is so fleeting?

Strange Evening Light

I got a nice photograph of my two cars with the Nikkormat.

Looking Over my Car

The challenge with owning so many fine cameras is that it can be years before I shoot the same one again. That’s not great for old gear. When I picked it up again a few years later, its shutter was capping. Edit: I’ve learned that this is not shutter capping — but the battery door working its way loose. If you see this in your photos from a Nikkormat EL, try pushing the battery door securely closed!

Capped Soft Selfie

I shot two rolls before I learned this. I cropped the black area out and made the best of the scans. These color shots are on Agfa Vista 200 through my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens.


16:9 seemed to be the aspect ratio that worked best, so I cropped to that most often. The Nikkormat was otherwise as it always was: sturdy and sure. These black-and-white shots are on Fomapan 100, still through the 35-70.

1971 Chevrolet

Ignorance is bliss. Not yet knowing all of my shots were compromised, I had a nice time with the Nikkormat. It really is a good camera.

Washington at Meridian

For more photos, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

Metal, mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs are my favorite kind of camera, and aperture priority is my favorite way to autoexpose, so of course I enjoyed shooting with the Nikkormat EL. I didn’t enjoy shooting it any more than any of the other mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs I own, though. I suppose it says a lot about the general goodness of SLRs from the 1970s that a camera as capable and well made as this one doesn’t rise above the rest.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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