I read somewhere that the much unloved and often ignored Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 E-series AiS was actually an underground unsung favorite amongst fashion photographers. The article suggested that the lens was just "unsharp" enough to smooth models skin and yet sharp enough to capture important details. It was supposed to be one of those Goldie Locks lenses; it was reputed to be just right.
There had been a couple of these at the Photo Foire in Bievre over the years. Remembering what I read I'd pick one up, look at it, move the zoom ring around, think, ponder, cogitate, and then sit the lens back on the table. Asking prices seemed to be around 50Euro regardless of condition. Most seemed more worn from bumping around a shop or a photographer's closet than from actual use. That seemed the true measure of being unloved.
Finding one on eBay is easy. The auction site is lousy with 75-150mm manual focus lenses of varying manufacture, too. Everyone seems to have made their version, including Canon, Nikon, Kiron, Vivitar, Tamron, Tokina, etc. Prices are nearly always low and it's not uncommon that a lens goes un-bid and gets relisted.
Just how unloved are these old 2x zooms? I just found a Solitel for 6Euro Buy It Now. Makinon, Osawa and Hanimex are all under 12Euro Buy It Now. I won't suggest that the optical designs and manufacturing are up to Nikon standards. They are not. If you look at cross-sectional drawings of the various 75-150mm lenses you'll see differences in design that may be visible in the way each lens renders an image. Unloved equals cheap, or so it seems. Bottles of no-name wine cost more than these lenses.
The subject of this story showed up on eBay point fr with very few lowball bids. It was listed as being in excellent condition. So, as is my usual habit when I'm interested in something, I bid late and bid low, fully expecting that someone would come along and snipe the auction out from under me.
Surprise! yet another lens won for the Toy Box. This one set me back 35Euro.
When the lens arrived it was indeed in mint like new condition. What a happy surprise. When I compared it against Nikon Nikkor lenses of similar focal length I was very happily surprised. Here is what I found.
Wide open the 75-150mm Nikon is less sharp than the 135mm Nikkor f/3.5 Sharpness King and less sharp than the 85mm f/1.8 K. From f/5.6 on down through f/11, though, this cheap 75-150mm matches anything in the Toy Box.
[example1, example2, example3, example4]
So what was the comment about fashion photographers preferring the cheap E-series 75-150mm Nikon? Where did it's underground cult status come from? Did they really shot the lens wide open all the time? I think I've stumbled on something rather interesting.
If you look at the aperture shape you'll notice a rather angular, ugly set of aperture blades. But, there's Magic in this thar lens! From wide open the out of focus rendition matches the performance of the 105mm and 85mm Nikkors. In some ways as you stop it down the zoom exceeds the performance of the two fixed focal length optics.
That aperture is an ugly nasty shaped hole. How is it possible, then, that the out of focus rendition might be better stopped down than the fixed focal length Nikkors? What did Nikon do? Surely they didn't deliberately design it this way. It _has_ to be a fluke.
But there it is. The out of focus highlights are amazingly absolutely flat disks. No Funky Bubble Bokeh here. Nope. Not one iota of that weird stuff. Magic, I tell you. Serious juju. Very serious juju. All this for a rather modest price.