Nikon AI-S lenses are Japanese still photography lenses from the 1970s and 1980s. They are a good choice for either Cine-Mod or a fully rehoused lens set since there are many focal lengths to choose from and many of them are between f1.2 and f2.
The f1.2 and f1.4 lenses in particular deliver two distinct looks. Wide open they have a soft dreamy quality, and unique, almost impressionistic bokeh. But stopped down, a little, they are sharp, and the bokeh becomes more smooth and creamy.
It’s pretty cool to go from a $20,000 Zeiss Master Prime to a $500 Nikon AI-S. And it’s cool to see how pleasing of an image both lenses give you. Yes, it’s a lens meant for still photos and no it doesn’t have the focus throw or the mechanics of a proper cinema lens, but it does produce beautiful images. Because of the number of lenses produced and the price point, these old Nikon manual focus lenses don’t perform quite as well wide-open as their expensive cine counterparts, but they can keep up. Stopped down to f2.8 and they are as good as any lenses in the test optically. They have great color, cover full frame, they are sharp, lightweight, and have a really nice bokeh.
If you need a good set of fast lenses, but are on a really low budget these are perfect. If you are a DP who wants to get the most bang for your buck, there are still hundreds of these lenses out there on the used market, and it won’t take long to put a set together, send them to Duclos Lenses to get them Cine-Modified, and you are ready to make movies. These were my very first set of “cinema lenses” and I still love to use them. They have a lot of character when shot wide open, and honestly few lenses can give you those “imperfections.” That’s one of the thing I like most about them. They give you all this blooming and softness wide open, then get very controlled, contrasty and sharp stopped down to f2.8. It’s like having two completely different looks in one lens, which can be very useful.
Probably the most underrated lenses of the group. They’re dirt cheap and really easy to Cine-Mod® for motion picture work. The image quality can vary dramatically from lens to lens, especially considering their age ranges several decades, similar to the Leica R primes. In fact, they’re a great alternative to the Leica R primes with different flaws in different fields. The Nikon AI-S primes are a good compromise if you’re not ready for the full vintage cinema look. They clean up nicely when you stop down, but will still exhibit a bit of character wide open.