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.
Zero Optik replaced the stock 9-blade irises with new 16-blade irises that keep bokeh perfectly circular at any stop. The new housings reverse Nikon's "backwards" focus direction, as well as extend focus rotation to 330 degrees. They have matching 95mm fronts, PL mounts, and matching focus and iris positions. The housings are engineered to the same standards as those coming from major lens manufacturers.
Significant SA, CA throughout.
Significant SA, CA throughout.
Significant SA, CA throughout. Cleans up by T4.
Significant SA, CA throughout. Cleans up by T4
What’s not to love about Nikon AI-S? They have that awesome warm flare you find in Japanese lenses from the 1960’s through 80’s. They have a lower MTF making the resolution loss into a feature. Most OPLF sensor cover glass will scrub off significant amount of MTF from lenses anyway so the lower resolution isn’t the worst thing and often indistinguishable from subtle diffusion.
The downsides of these lenses is that they are photo lenses so the focus breathing is noticeable. Also there are many black market copies of this series so the company providing the base lens selection and rehousing is key to the quality of images you ultimately get.
Zero Optik are experts in both lens evaluation and rehousing making it the best possible choice for rehousing of this otherwise pedestrian lens choice. The quality of this rehousing is world class and makes all the difference in optimization for professional production use.
Nikon AI-S lenses were the very first set of lenses I ever put together, and I still love 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.
The faster lenses in the set have really interesting bokeh which can give you some really interesting effects depending on your background and distance from camera to subject. Stopped down, bokeh cleans up and becomes quite smooth. I like to shoot these lenses stopped down about 1/2 a stop, which cleans up some of their imperfections, while delivering a very beautiful and flattering image. Part of the process of being rehoused by the experts at Zero Optik, is replacing the original 7 and 9 blade irises with new 16-blade irises, which keeps bokeh very smooth and rounded when stopped down.
Similar to the Canon FDs Nikon made, several versions of each focal length, and although Nikon might have made the same lens for decades, they may have changed the lens coatings 3 times over the course of that time. So you will find variance from lens to lens.
Make sure you test before you commit to buying lenses for your own set. And if you are renting them, make sure the rental house chose the right donor lenses. Please note: in our lens test, we had an early version of Zero Optik's replacement irises. This version had a reflective surface, which caused some distracting reflections during our lens flare tests. The current version of Zero Optik's replacement irises has a matte finish, which eliminates this issue.
Zero Optik really outdid themselves with these lenses. The Nikon's were in our first lens test back in 2016 but before the Zero Optik rehousing. What I loved and still love about this glass is it is not expensive.
They're older still glass from Nikon that is sharp yet provides a lot the character you'd want out of vintage glass. Now with the Zero Optik rehousing, the lenses are not only gorgeous on the inside but the housing itself is a show-stopper. The design is beautiful and upgrades the lenses to a more modern, consistent cinema build that every DP and AC would want.
Nikon AI-S lenses have long been a personal favorite of mine. In a short lived career as a still photographer, I relied heavily on Nikon AIS lenses, specifically for their look. Moving into cinema, Duclos Lenses pioneered the Cine-Mod process spurred by the massive resurgence of vintage photo lenses for motion picture work.
The optics are fantastic, but the original Nikon housings can leave a lot to be desired. The Zero Optik rehousing eliminates practically all of the issues with the original lenses. What Zero Optik has done is given the Nikon AIS lenses a whole new lease on life. A massive improvement to the mechanics with all the same vintage optics we’ve come to love.