• Ed Dozier

Shooting a Pre-AI Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 with the Nikon Z9

With all the discussion about dumping your F-mount lenses for Z lenses, here’s something completely different. How about using Nikon’s oldest lenses? It may not have been their intention, but Nikon has made using manual–focus lenses better than it has ever been.


I fell in love with shooting Nikon gear after my first outing with the Nikkor-P C 105mm f/2.5 portrait lens years ago. This is the lens that really established Nikon’s reputation. It was invented before auto-indexing, auto-focus, auto-exposure, virtual horizons, histograms, and vibration reduction. With no electronics to fail, it works just as well as the day it was made (around 1973).


The next-generation version of this lens (Ai-S version) was used by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry to take the “Afgan Girl” photo, using the Nikon FM2 in 1984. Her name is Sharbat Gula. But I digress.


Through the years I have held onto this lens, even though the newer generations of digital cameras made the lens unusable and obsolete. Nikon, perhaps unintentionally, did something special for this old lens. They made the Z9 and the FTZII adapter.


I now have a system that offers aperture priority, auto exposure, focus-peaking, and even vibration reduction for my old 105mm. I can hardly believe it. These same capabilities, of course, also apply to the newest Zeiss Otus manual-focus lenses.


Most photographers probably think that this lens/camera combination is totally insane and, by extension, so am I. There’s just something about this lens that I will always treasure. The feel of the focus action is just perfect, and the optics can still deliver. If people can still buy LP’s and enjoy listening to them, then I should be able to shoot with old classic glass and enjoy that, too.


If you’re interested, here’s a link to my original article on the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor-P C.




Z9 and FTZII with 105mm f/2.5 pre-AI lens and hood






Tell the Z9 about your pre-AI lens


The first step in using this lens is to give the Z9 camera a clue about what is attached. This is done through the Setup Menu Non-CPU lens data option. You’ll need to do this for any lens that doesn’t have a CPU in it, and not just pre-Ai lenses.


It shouldn’t need mentioning, but please remember to attach the FTZ adapter to the camera before trying to attach your F-mount lens. You could jam it into the sensor or the camera’s sensor guard if you forget to do this.



Configure the lens in the Setup Menu



After setting up this lens, select it by the Lens number in the Setup menu. Keep the camera in the Aperture Priority mode. The EXIF data will record the ISO and shutter speed, but it won’t know what aperture you used, so it will always display f/2.5 for this lens. Don’t worry; the exposure will be correct.


For quickly selecting this lens in the future, I’d recommend that you assign a button via the Custom Settings , Controls menu “f2”, such as the “Audio” (microphone) button to Choose Non-CPU lens number. If you do that, then you can hold down the assigned button and spin the rear dial to quickly set the lens number. If you forget to set the lens number, then the EXIF data will be incorrect; the exposure will still be okay.




Set up Vibration Reduction (IBIS)



Activate Vibration Reduction


You’ll probably want VR to be active, which is set up in the Photo Shooting menu. Some people call this feature IBIS, or in-body image stabilization.





Select the VR style you prefer


Set up the style of vibration reduction that you prefer. The viewfinder seems smoother to me when using “Sport” VR. The horizontal stabilization will automatically turn off while panning horizontally.


It’s okay to leave VR on when using a tripod or monopod.


Normal mode is more effective than Sport mode, so this is preferred when the subject is static. I assigned VR to one of the options in the “i” menu, so that I can toggle Sport/Normal easily. You can customize the “i” menu via the Controls “f1” menu in the Custom Settings menu.


F-mount lenses that have a VR switch will automatically disable in-camera VR.


Fortunately, the Z9 IBIS automatically locks in place when the camera is turned off. Many cameras don’t lock their sensor when powered down, which can lead to damage when cleaning the sensor.




Make sure extra features are displayed


To enable viewing things like the histogram in the display (the viewfinder or the rear screen) you need to configure the “view mode”.




Navigate to the Shooting/display menu




Select the “Show effects of settings” in View mode d9




Set up Virtual Horizon



Go to Custom Settings d17 to select the virtual horizon style


If you want to add the virtual horizon, then pick the desired style to use in the Custom Settings d17 as shown above.



Set up Focus Peaking


Next, you’ll want to configure focus peaking. I think that the low-sensitivity focus peaking is totally useless. Pick the maximum sensitivity (3), in order to get precision manual focus. I find focus peaking is crucial for proper use of any manual-focus lens (or for the manual-focus mode on auto-focus lenses).




Go to the Custom Settings a13 “Focus peaking” menu





Activate focus peaking




Focus Peaking sensitivity selection a13





Focus Peaking highlight color selection a13


Some subjects end up being the same color as the focus-peaking color. To avoid this frustration, you can just pick another peaking color to use in this menu.




Focus-peaking


The shot above shows focus-peaking on the rear display, without showing any extra data. You would of course typically use this same feature while looking through the viewfinder instead.




Customize your viewfinder and rear display



Rear display options configuration d18



To set up the rear camera display, go to the d18 Custom monitor shooting display. You can set this up like your viewfinder display, but you can also configure it differently, if you prefer. You can set up 5 different rear displays, which are selected during shooting via the DISP button. To avoid confusion, I’d suggest you set up the first 4 displays to match the options that you configure for the viewfinder display.




Select the monitor display to customize “d18”


Pick the display number to customize, and hit the right-arrow to pick which options you want in it. You don’t have to use all 5 displays, if you don’t want to. Simply un-check the display number(s) you want to skip. Press the DISP button while using the rear display to cycle through each enabled display option.




Select the viewfinder display to customize “d19”


Go to the custom menu option d19 to set up what the viewfinder display options will look like. Again, you can cycle thorough the different displays (up to 4) using the DISP button.





Selected options for the #3 viewfinder display “d19”


The shot above shows that the virtual horizon and histogram are among the options that will show up for Display #3 on the viewfinder display d19. You can make the viewfinder as crowded or as sparse as you wish. The setup procedure is just the same as the rear screen monitor setup (d18), except the viewfinder only has 4 displays instead of 5.


These display options aren’t needed specifically for using a manual focus lens, of course. Note that for old non-CPU lenses, the displayed f-stop will only ever display “F—”. In aperture-priority mode, however, the shutter speed will adjust automatically as you twist the aperture ring, in order to maintain correct exposure.




Switch between custom displays in viewfinder or rear screen




The “DISP” button is next to the “AF-ON” button


Press the DISP button repeatedly until you see the configured display you’re interested in using.





Focus-peaking in action


The busy-looking rear display is shown above. The red speckles on the statue face show the zone of sharp focus, courtesy of focus-peaking. Notice that the f-stop shows up as “F—“ above, since the lens can’t tell the camera what the aperture setting is. The viewfinder display will show the same focus-peak speckles as the rear display.


The wiggling hand icon above (next to the “105mm”) shows that in-camera vibration reduction is active, too.


The “A” in the top-left corner indicates the camera is in aperture-priority mode, and the “MF” indicates the lens is manual-focus.


Unfortunately, you can’t scooch the histogram display more toward the edge of the screen. It’s placed in a better location in the viewfinder display than the rear screen.


You can configure the viewfinder to have the same level of detail as the rear display, if you wish. I’d recommend that at least one of the display choices be set to have a minimum of detail selections, since too many selections can make the display too busy and distracting. Each mode will still show the focus-peaking.


Summary


With so many options that you can set, it seems like a nightmare to configure an old manual-focus, non-CPU lens. The thing is, you only need to do this once. The only setup that needs to be repeated is the Setup Menu Non-CPU lens data configuration for other manual lenses you use.


Thanks for breathing new life into my 105, Nikon! Now, please make an adapter for the screw-drive lenses.


By the way, a guy named John White does conversions of old lenses to at least make them fit on newer cameras. He has a cool compatibility chart of what fits on what. Here’s a link to his chart:


You should probably read this chart before you start trying to mount lens A on camera body B. The non-Ai lenses need no modifications to work on the FTZ adapters.


By the way, there are also third-party adapters to enable shooting nearly any non-Nikon lens on the Nikon Z-mount cameras. But that's a topic for another day.


Happy shooting.





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