[Lens Review] Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 AI Micro

March 9, 2020

On this edition of lens review, I’m going to talk about an affordable macro lens for Nikon: Nikkor 55m f/3.5 AI Micro. My copy of the lens came out between 1975-1979 — as shown by the existence of “rabbit ears“, a fork-like appendage for aperture in older camera body usage.

So how does it perform?

Build and Handling

Hawaiian Santa Claus, shot indoor with extension tubes.

I’m always a big fan of aperture ring in a lens. It’s a shame that modern Nikon lenses, just like all other modern lenses by any maker, throw away the manual focus ring in lieu of controlling the aperture electronically in the camera body. This Nikon lens, however, hails from the manual era so the aperture ring is exactly where it is supposed to be. For some reason, unfortunately, when I mount this Nikon AI lens on my Nikon D600, the camera detects it as an 85mm lens and the aperture reading is messed up. Still, not a deal-breaking issue here though.

Stiched a few frames to get this wide watercress macro.

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Stiched a few frames to get this wide watercress macro.

Being a macro lens, the focus ring is undoubtedly long, almost 360 degrees to be exact. It moves super smooth in my copy. This gives a superb control when you’re shooting very close to the object, though for precise adjustment when shooting macro I find it easier to move the camera back and forth instead of playing with the focus.

The last thing I want to bring up here is the build quality. Just like all lenses from the yesteryear, it is made entirely in metal. The focus ring is the only thing made of rubber-like plastic. Another characteristic is that the front glass element is located so far inside it’s basically hidden within the ‘hood’.

More to read

Macro shot outdoors, handheld I.
Macro shot outdoors, handheld II.

Image Quality

As a 55mm focal length lens, it does not give you a lot of room between you and your object. For serious macro use, the 105mm or the 200mm would be perfect instead of 55mm because when you try to shoot insects, for instance, you don’t have to be very close to get the desired magnification and risk scaring the little critters. It does not help either that this lens can only achieve 1:2 magnification of its own. I had to attach macro extension tubes to enhance the magnification.

The closest I could get to this unsuspecting fly.
Ok, I’m loving the bokeh in the background here.

On the other hand, the relatively short focal length means that the Nikkor 55mm could also be used for everyday shoots not only for macro! Just the other day I tried to do street photography with it and it was bliss. Sharp as a tack when focused to infinity, the result is really good on a digital body. I’m quite amazed at the finished images. Even when exposed straight towards the sun, the contrast is not lost.

Overall Impression

Close-up shot of a highlighter. Pretty fun experiment.

I’ve tested this lens both in native Nikon F mount or adapted to Sony E mount mirrorless, and both configurations yield satisfying results — especially if you use extension tubes. Though in all honesty, I would not have bought this Nikkor micro 55mm were it not for its low price. It cost me only around 5000 yen so I did not think twice to obtain it when I saw one displayed at my local camera store Phototec Koseki. As an entry point to the macro world, it’s such a cheap first investment. But for those in the advanced level, this lens leaves a lot to be desired.

Final score: 7/10

A convenience store shot in the late afternoon.

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About the Author

Jerfareza Daviano

Jerfareza is a weekend freelance photographer based in Sendai, specializing in portrait photography, family & couple photography and travel photography among others. Should you wish to hire him you can do so by checking out his photo plan page.

He won grand prize in architecture category of Sendai Starlight Festival 2018 Photo Contest.

Visit his photo portfolio for articles about travel in Japan especially Tohoku area and photography related stuffs.