AF Nikkor 180 mm f/2.8 IF ED: an old classic


Lens construction: 8 elements in 6 groups
Focus distance: 1.5 m to infinity
Angle of View: 13 40'
Max. reproduction ratio: 1:6.8
Aperture scale: f/2.8 to f/22
Attachment size: 72 mm
Diaphgram blades: 9
Lens hood: built-in
Dimensions: 78.5 mm (dia.) x 153 mm (length)
Weight: 750 g


When the Nikon Nikkor 180/2.8 was introduced in 1970, it immediately became one of the legendary lenses in the Nikon history. Despite of its high speed, that 5-lens design Nikkor lens exhibited a very good image quality and, along with the 105/2.5, it was amongst the most popular Nikkor telephoto lenses.

In 1981 the successor appeared. The number of glass elements remained unchanged, but one ED-glass element was utilized to reduce chromatic aberrations, thus increasing the contrast at the maximum aperture.

In 1986 the 180 mm appeared in AF-version. The optical scheme changed and the lens was given internal focusing, and a minimum focus distance of 1.5 m (the MF versions focused at 1.8 m). The first release of the AF 180 was characterized by a narrow focusing ring and a smooth plasticky barrel. Two years later the external finish of the lens was modified using rippled enamel; moreover, the lens was mechanically modified and fitted with a broader focusing ring. This new ring is very nice to use for manual focus operation. The sliding AF or MF switch is on the focussing collar. It's rather annoying, because  one has to select AF mode on "both" the lens and the camera.

A third release of the AF 180 exhists. It is the D-version (AF 180/2.8D IF ED). Its external finish and optical scheme are the same as the second non-D ("New" or "N") version.

The optical quality of the AF 180 is outstanding. It delivers incredibly sharp and contrasty images by f/5.6 onwards. At f/2.8 sharpness is very good at close and middle distances; therefore, the lens performance at f/2.8 is well suited for portraiture. Wide open, performance at infinity is good but less convincing. I would recommend using it at f/5.6-f/8 for best results in landscape photography. A moderate corner light fall-off (CLFO) is visible w/open (on uniform backgrounds) and on 24x36 mm (FX) cameras. On FX, CLFO disappears at f/5.6; on DX, it is never detectable. Distorsion too is very well corrected on both FX and DX.

In conclusion, this nice lens allows carrying very high optical quality in a small package; it outperforms the AF ED 80-200/2.8 performance at the long end insofar as distortion, vignetting and sharpness at wide apertures are concerned.


Nikon F801, AF ED 180/2.8 IF, Fujichrome Velvia 50.

Baobab at sunset (Tarangire National Park, Tanzania)


Rock Hyrax; Copyright 1993 Riccardo Polini

Rock hyrax (Heterohyrax brucei), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania


African Elephant (Loxodonta africana), Ngorongoro National Park, Tanzania


D300 + AF ED 180/2.8D, f/5 (ISO 500)

 Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Public Garden, Boston (MA), USA


AF ED 180 mm f/2.8 + Canon 500 D: a macro telephoto lens?


When a prime lens is coupled to a close-up lens, the magnification, M, one obtains when the prime lens is focused @ infinity is:


M = f/FL 


where f and FL are the focal lengths of the prime lens and of the close-up filter, respectively. 

Therefore, a 180 + 500D combo provides a 180/500 = 0.36 X magnification (1:2.8 reproduction ratio).

The following images show a millimeter rule photographed by a AF Nikon 180/2.8 + 500D on a Nikon DX DSLR (sensor size: 23.7x15.5 mm). The longer (horizontal) side of the camera sensor is 23.7 mm. Therefore, the magnification can be easily evaluated by dividing the length of the rule by 23.7. For example, Fig. 1a shows a 65 mm long frame. Consequently, magnification is 23.7/65 = 0.36 X, in agreement with the value calculated by using the above formula.

When the prime lens is focused at distances closer than infinity, the calculation of the attainable magnification is a little bit more tedious. However, it is easy to determine the magnification by using an "experimental" approach, i.e. by shooting the same millimeter rule and looking at the resulting image. Fig. 1b shows the picture obtained by turning the focus ring of my AF ED 180 mm f/2.8 at the minimum focusing distance. The resulting image is 43 mm wide. Therefore, the magnification was 23.7/43 = 0.55 X.



 a) Nikon DX camera, AF ED 180/2.8 @ infinity + 500 D; M = 0.36 X = 1:2.7

b) Nikon DX camera, AF ED 180/2.8 @ min. focus distance + 500 D: M = 0.55 X = 1:1.8


FIG. 1 Magnifications, M, attainable with the AF ED Nikkor 180 mm f/2.8 + Canon 500 D close-up lens


The following table summarizes the magnification values we get with a Canon 500 D close-up attachment lens coupled to the AF ED 180/2.8:



focused @


 reproduction ratio  

180 mm f/2.8 

infiinity 0.36 X 1:2.7
minimum focusing distance 0.55 X 1:1.8


The image quality of the combination is quite good.

The pictures below show how the AF ED 180 + Canon 500D combo works on both DX (Nikon D300) and FX (Nikon D700) DSLR. Both pictures were taken at around 1.2 magnification; therefore the framed areas are approximately 46x31 cm (DX) and 72x48 cm (FX). To download the hi-res files, click on the thumbnails.


 a) Nikon FX camera, AF ED 180/2.8 + 500 D,

at approximately 1:2, f/13.



b) Nikon DX camera, AF ED 180/2.8 + 500 D,

at approximately 1:2, f/11.


FIG. 2 Left-click on pictures to download the full-res JPEGs.


Text & images Copyright 1993-2012 Riccardo Polini