Review: Nikkor 28mm 1:2.8 Ai-S

Review may be the wrong word. This is not going to be any scientific lab test. You’ll find plenty of such elsewhere on the Internet. This is simply my thoughts on this lens.

Nikon 28mm 1:2.8 Ai-s

Nikon 28mm 1:2.8 Ai-s

See more images taken with this lens in the gallery at the bottom of the article.

Nikkor 28mm 1:2.8 Ai-S is a lens of older design. Though it was introduced in the early 1980’s it is still sold new today! I picked up mine from a second-hand dealer a little while back. I only did a couple of test shots before I bought it. Now I’ve been using it a little while and thought I’d let you know what I think about it.

Why manual?

I’m interested in old manual focus lenses for shooting video on my DSLR. Manual focus is much better for video and older lenses also have a manual aperture ring that lets you control the aperture during filming with ease. However I’ve come to realize they’re excellent for stills as well. Yes, they are older, but in my experience that may not be a bad thing. Especially older prime lenses tend to perform really well.


I really like the build quality of older lenses. This lens is no exception! It’s all metal and feels sturdy and well-built. It snaps on my camera nice and tight and it feels like real craftmanship. The focus is smooth and the aperture ring is tight as they should with no excessive play. The lens has a focus distance meter in both feet and meters on the focus ring and color coded a depth-of-fields scale as well. It’s light weight and small, but the focus and aperture rings are wide and easy to operate. This makes this lens very handy as a walk around lens.


What makes this lens stand out is the close focus distance of 0,2 meter. This is the closest focus on any Nikon wide-angle lens and it makes for some interesting perspectives when playing around with this lens. When I tested this lens with my D800 I got very pleasing results.

As every review of this lens will tell you it’s very sharp and performs well, especially at close distance, however focus is a little soft on infinity. I’ve experienced the same thing when I’ve used it, though I mostly use it on closer distances and it’s not much of a problem for me.

On the other hand all other aspects about this lens is right! It renders nice colors and contrast, vignetting is hardly there and there are almost no problems with color fringing. Not to mention it produces some really nice bookeh as well.

It performs surprisingly well wide open at 2.8 and it’s sharp on close distances, but stepped down to 5.6 it’s really good! All in all in my experience this lens performs very well!


This is a lens I’m very happy with! It’s a lens you can get second-hand rather cheap and if you look at cost vs. performance you’ll get lot of lens for your money! It performs well on my D800, so I wouldn’t hesitate putting this lens on a new camera.

Due to the performance on distant focus subjects it may not be the optimal lens for landscape photographers who require distant focus. Also, a deal breaker for a lot of people would probably be that this lens is manual focus only. On the other hand, this lens is perfect for street photography, journalism, nature and as a general walk around wide-angle.

Further reading

Nature photographer Bjørn Rørslett has a great survey of lenses on his website Check out what he thinks of this lens here. (Scroll down to find it)

Read what the users on thinks of this lens here.

Photography in Malaysia have some interesting history and resources on the lens here.

Darin McQuoid has an excellent review and comparison of the Nikon 28mm f/2.8 and 28mm f/2 lenses here

8 thoughts on “Review: Nikkor 28mm 1:2.8 Ai-S

  1. Pingback: Review: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* F2/35 ZF |

  2. I am not sure I understand what you mean by “infinity focus is soft.” I was thinking of getting this lens for my Sony A7II. With that camera can zoom into a subject with focus magnify and pull flawless focus at any distance. I would plan on using this lens for Landscape and Architecture at F8 most of the time. Why wouldn’t it be sharp at those further distances under these conditions?

    • Hi, Steven!
      I don’t mean it’s hard to focus at infinity (as you say magnifying a live view image will help with that), but even if you hit focus correctly at infinity it doesn’t have the same sharpness and punch as it does close up. On close subjects it’s really sharp though! The lack in sharpness at infinity is probably due to optical lens design and the fact that it can focus down to 0.2 meters. This makes this a great lens for images with focus on the forground or close up subjects. The 28mm f/2.8 is a great lens and one of my favorites for my kind of photography. I’m not saying you won’t like it as well, however before deciding you might also want to check out the 28mm f/2. I have not tried this one myself, but it is considered by many as a better lens at longer focus distances.

      • Thank you for your reply and for explaining.

        I did find a review with a lot of great tests directly compared to the F2 version that show that the F2.8 lens is super sharp even at infinity.

        Here was his final summation: “The 28mm f/2.8 AI-S is certainly better at the edges, up close and far away unlike popular belief.”

        Here is his detailed review:

        I went ahead and ordered the lens from a seller on Ebay and will test it out extensively. They do have a 30 day return policy so if there is an issue I can always return it.

  3. I found a photo on flicker taken with the 28mm f/2.8 AI-S at F8.
    I seems to me from this photo, that infinity is just as sharp as the midrange.
    Ko Samet, Thailand

    Some forums online are thinking that the softer infinity effect that some report are actually caused by the Nikon DSLR cameras not focusing correctly at infinity when using this lens.
    I will see how it does on my A7II where I can manually zoom in and pull perfect infinity focus.

    • Thanks for the update and link to the review! It’s a bit more in depth than mine, I’ll be sure to add it as recommended reading at the bottom of mine. That image looks plenty sharp, so you may be right that it’s just a focusing issue with DSLRs, rather than the lens it self. I’ve also seen reviews go both ways on the infinity focus issue, so it could also be just certain cameras. After all sometimes you need to calibrate the camera to compensate for back- and front-focusing on autofocus lenses and DSLRs uses the same focus system for focus confirmation on manual lenses, so it’s a plausible explanation!

      I’m sure you’ll be very happy with the f/2.8 you’ve ordered. It’s one of my all time favorites and infinity focus aside, it’s a great lens. Small and compact, great build quality and excellent image quality.

  4. I found another picture taken with the 28mm f/2.8 AI-S on the Sony A7S and as you can see this lens is razor sharp all the way out to infinity. So I have to believe that the softness at infinity is a flaw in Nikon DSLR focus for this lens. I will check back once I get the lens and do my own tests.
    Check it out:

  5. This Nikkor 28mm f2.8 is an amazing lens which is wonderfully sharp from closest to infinity even wide open at f2.8.I have some 15 different lenses some are of named and famed in Nikkors both AF & Manual, Canon EF 18-55, CZJ Pancolar, Super Takumar, Vivitars, Helios etc.In comparison to all, this remained on top both in close up and distant sharpness even at wide open.With its wide reach and close focus distance it is an indispensable lens.This i found as much good on a Canon too with an adapter and got same results as on a Nikon.A text board kept at a distance of 7 feet in the resultant image 2mm text is readable taken at f2.8.Individual results may vary on different counts but recent i tested extensively among my lenses in my own way to find which is the best and this one came on top.For majority of the lenses low sharpness at wide open is common but this is an exception for sure.

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