200 Millimeters of Nikkor

Nikon FM2 with Nikkor-Q C 200mm 1:4 and Nikon N8008 with Nikkor 200mm AI 1:4

Nikkor-Q C vs. Nikkor AI

Not which is better, but which is better for me.

A few months back, I picked up an AI’d 200mm Nikkor-Q C 1:4 from my local camera shop. The lens is sharp and has great contrast. There doesn’t appear to be any distortion or pincushion. It’s a nice lens. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a Nikkor 200mm 1:4 AI. I like that lens a little bit better.

The differences between these two lenses doesn’t seem to be dramatic. They handle differently. These two lenses are from different eras. The older Nikkor-Q C can still compete optically with the newer version AI lens (and subsequent AIs version). The real problem I have with the Nikkor-Q C is the length and the weight distribution. The Q C is front heavy and it pulls the camera downward. I also don’t have very large hands, so the width of the Q C is not as comfortable for me. This is not because of the focus ring’s size, but it’s placement is pushed a little too far forward for me. The focus ring also pushes as much 28mm / 1.25in forward as you focus closer.

Nikkor-Q C 200mm 1:4
Nikkor 200mm 1:4 AI
Nikkor-Q C 200mm 1:4Nikkor 200mm AI 1:4
Weight628g / 1.38lb533g / 1.17lb
Length at Inf.
(from flange)
157mm / 6.1in115mm / 4.5in
Length at Min. Focus
(from flange)
185mm / 7.28in145mm / 5.7in
(at focus ring)
230mm / 9in218mm / 8.58in
Lens Construction4 elements 4 Groups5 elements in 5 groups
Aperture scalef/4 ~ f/32f/4 ~ f/32
Min. Focus Dist.2m / 6.56ft2m / 6.56ft

Neither lens has a tripod collar, which could make long exposure tripod work troublesome with even the slightest breeze. Of course the length and the front heavy nature of the Nikkor-Q C would make it the less favorable choice under breezy conditions.

Even though, the AI version is has one more element, the lenses are pretty close in my experience with them. There are a few different versions of the Nikkor-Q. My version has the C designation, this means that the lens is coated. This helps with contrast and flare and general image quality.

I enjoy shooting with a 200mm prime lens. I prefer primes to zoom lenses. Because I frequently shoot vintage cameras with vintage lenses, vintage zoom lenses are not up to the quality of primes. These days, modern pro and semi-pro zooms are excellent. They can match the image quality of their prime lens counterparts. Modern zooms could be considerably more expensive than primes.

I do prefer the look and feel of the scalloped focus ring of the Nikkor-Q C, but I still reach for the AI version first. Both of these lenses are great for film shooters. I could recommend either lens, but there are so many versions out there. These two particular lenses look dramatically different, they very close in practical use.

If you do get your hands on a Nikkor-Q NON-AI lens, and you’re not shooting a NON-AI camera, like the Nikkormat FT, then be sure the lens has been AI converted or be prepared to have that conversion done by someone that knows what they are doing.

What’s so great about a 200mm 1:4 lens?

They are relatively small and light. A lot of people like 200mm for shooting head-shots, hence the popularity of modern 70-200 f2.8 lenses. I’ve done head-shots at 200mm, but I still prefer 85—135mm though. This focal length is not just for getting images of things in the distance, it can help grab details in the scene, and makes throwing the background way out of focus, separating those details from its surroundings.

I know an f-stop of 4 isn’t particularly great low light, but it’s only one stop slower than 2.8. Nikkor didn’t make a 2.8 version in AI and AIs like Canon, and Pentax had a 2.5 version, Nikkor did make a f2.8 in the AF and AF-D lineup. There is a 200mm 1:2 AI and AIs version, which is a very large lens. You can’t talk about those without referencing 180mm 1:28 AI and AIs lenses.

Is the 500mm 1:4 AI and Q C good enough?

For casual use? You bet, if you occasionally need to use the tele-converter then a faster lens may be necessary. These lens are sharp and have great contrast. I think the color from these lenses are lovely. I also like the way the out of focus areas look (bokeh).

I would also love to get my hands on a Nikkor 200mm 1:4 Micro IF AIS lens though. This lens would solve two problems I have with both of these lenses. The Micro IF has a tripod collar and close-focus distance of 2.34 feet (0.71m). It is a larger and heavier lens than the AI version that I have.


I went on a photowalk with just these two Nikkor lenses mounted to a Nikon N8008 and a Sony A7II. These are some pictures from that day.

Sony A7 II

Nikon N8008 – Kentmere 400

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