Reviewing the 6 Best Nikon Manual Focus Lenses – Important Details

Nikon is one of the largest and most respected brands in the manufacture of lenses and cameras. And if you’re an ardent fan of their products, you most likely have come across the Nikon manual focus lenses.

Introduced on the market in 1977, this breed of lenses is renowned for providing the freedom to make precise aperture adjustments.

In fact, the acronym AI, in full stands for Automatic Maximum Aperture Indexing. Simply put, these are the kind of lenses to settle for especially if you want to manually adjust your camera’s exposure.

Best Nikon Manual Focus Lenses

Nikon Manual Focus Lenses – Comparison

Before we cover more details about the different Nikkor AI lenses available, here’s a table that can help you get started.

RankingProduct NameLens TypeMaximum Focal Length
1Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S FX NIKKOR
2Nikon Nikkor 105mmTelephoto105
3Nikon 55mmMacro55 Millimeters
4Nikon 50mm f/1.8 series E AIS LensStandard50 Millimeters
5Nikon Nikkor 50mmStandard50 Millimeters
6Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AI Manual-Focus LensStandard50 Millimeters

1. Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S FX NIKKOR

To start with, you will be impressed by the incredible build of this lens, which is a combination of metal and glass and it weighs roughly 360g. The reasonable weight and compact size give it astonishing balance.

The sturdy and high-quality build makes them feel really good in the hands, and you will enjoy handling them over time. This construction also makes them durable and long-lasting.

Although barrel distortion is stated at -1.55%, it can easily be corrected manually. The Chromatic Aberration (CA) levels are acceptable and are measured at roughly one pixel for the larger apertures and 1.5 pixels at smaller apertures.


  • Very versatile
  • Incredible balance
  • Durable


  • Not suitable for capturing moving objects

2. Nikon Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 Ai-S lens

This classic manual focus lens has a combination of impressive features which will sweep you off your feet. First, you will find that the maximum aperture of f/2.5 is quite handy when it comes to precise focusing and shooting in proper lighting, primarily when used with new age high-speed film.

Then, it has a built-in lens hood and is extremely lightweight, making it convenient to move around with and capture landscapes as well as for photojournalism.

It is compact and utilizes standard 52mm filters which are compatible with most of the Nikon camera models.

Lastly, the 23-degree picture coverage makes it suitable for head-shoulder type of photographs.


  • Has a built-in lens hood
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Relatively fast aperture


  • Manual focusing can be confusing

Also Read: 7 Best Nikon AIS Lenses Reviewed – Find out Which One of Them Wins

3. Nikon 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Lens

This model was released back in 1980 and is one of the sharpest micro-lenses you will ever come across. It is constructed out of 6 elements in 5 groups and utilizes the close-range correction system to produce accurate manual focusing results.

The lens has a fantastic resistance to Chromatic Aberration while it is reasonably optimized to show minimal distortion.

Lastly, the lens has a solid build which feels good in the hands. The focus ring is mildly damped to ensure smooth running, and you will be impressed at how it can turn a whole 340 degrees across its range to allow for precise fine-tuning.


  • Clear and sharp images
  • Solid build
  • Very affordable


  • No lens hood

4. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 series E AIS Lens

The 50mm f/1.8 is a simple lens constructed out of top-notch plastic with a metallic mount. It has a solid-clicking aperture ring and smooth focusing all through the range. It is also extremely lightweight, making it convenient for carrying around.

It has excellent background blur at most apertures while the out-of-focus highlights are impressive as well.

You should also be pleased to know that distortion is virtually non-existent with this lens.


  • Impressive close-focus performance
  • Great and solid build
  • No distortion at all


  • Awful flare control

5. Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S

This model was first released in 1962 and was designed to be a general-purpose lens on the original manual focus rangefinder cameras, including the Nikon S2 and S3. Its maximum aperture of f/1.4 makes it well-suited for low-light conditions.

It is constructed from 7 optical elements in 5 groups, and you will be impressed by its corner vignetting and fantastic bokeh.

It has minimal barrel distortion at -1.10 which you can always correct manually. The same applies to Chromatic Aberrations levels which are extremely low at 1 pixel.


  • Has a solid build
  • Impressive flare resistance
  • Smooth manual focusing


  • Tends to experience noticeable field-curvature

Check out our another related article: Which Is The Best Lens for Nikon D5100? A Review of 6 Top Lenses

6. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AI Manual-Focus Lens

This lens was released in 1980 and has been popular over time due to it being slim and still be able to be an outstanding performer. It is compact and affordable and is at a level that can only be said to be equal to or better than its predecessors.

It has a 0.1% distortion for objects at infinity and 1% for objects at minimum focus distance. Further, the lateral Chromatic Aberration is barely noticeable.

Lastly, it has a solid build, and a feels good in the hands and can also withstand constant bumps and falls.


  • Very affordable
  • Impressive sharpness
  • Solid build


  • Not suitable for long exposure photography 

Nikon Manual Focus Lenses – Buying Guide

So, what are the key factors to always keep in mind when purchasing your favorite pair of Nikkor AI lenses? Well, here’s a quick checklist for that.


If you can find something made from a combination of metal and glass, that’d be awesome if durability is an important factor for you.


Much as you want something that’s durable, you don’t want it to pack too many pounds, otherwise, it’d be bothersome to carry around.


Don’t squirm on this. The best AI lens is one that provides with the best control over the manual focus for incredible quality.

Which One Is The Best?

The Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S FX NIKKOR is what in our opinion seems to represent the best there is in the Nikkor lens world. It’s got an awesome aperture along with an impeccable manual focus system. It’s also quite compact and generally easy to use no matter the situation.

Final Thoughts

Please note that there’s nothing like a one-size-fits-all kind of lens. In our view, the best way to find quality is by understanding your needs. For instance, you might be in need of some zooming power and in that case, a prime lens would not be a good choice!

So, we’d encourage you to focus on your individual needs first before you make a choice. And luckily, for you, the best Nikon Manual Focus lenses buying guide above has all the juicy details you need to make an informed verdict.

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