100 mm only once

Nikon made a 100mm what? when?

Yes Nikon released a line of lenses aimed at the budget minded photography crowd in the first part of 1980 “E Series lenses” .  The Nikon 100mm f/2.8 E series is what we are going to look at in this short post.  I love short telephoto lenses and this lens falls into that focal length (short telephoto) that is perfect for portrait photography.  It is a simple 4 element design that used high end plastics for the body of the lens, lastly it has taken on somewhat of a  cult-lens status for the 4 third crowd that use adapted lenses.  Well . . .  I stumbled upon one a while ago at a great price (don’t pay more then $75.00 for this lens even in mint condition, and yes I paid much less), and after all it is the “only” 100 mm lens Nikon has ever made (to date) in this format (35mm).  Most people are more familiar with Nikon’s 85mm or 105mm lenses (not to mention the extremely sharp 105 macro lenses as well) in this focal length (Short Telephoto) which are favorites with portrait photographers.  There is a ton of information on the web about this lens although most Nikon shooters haven’t heard of this lens, as seen in the photo below mounted on my FM2.

Nikon Series E 100mm f/2.8 lens

, Nikon Series E 100mm f/2.8 lens


Focal length/Aperture: 100mm f/2.8
Lens construction: 4 elements in 4 groups
Picture angle: 24° 20′; Diaphragm: Automatic
Aperture scale: f/2.8 – f/22 on both standard and aperture-direct-readout scales
Distance scale
: Graduated in meters and feet from l m (3.5ft.) to infinity (oo)
Coatings: single coated

Full Name: Nikon 100mm 1:2.8 Series-E (note, lacks the Nikkor designation), Dimensions: 2.25 inches/57.5mm long, 2.5 inches/62.5mm in diameter, with a weight of 7.6 ounces/215 grams. In other words a really small and compact lens that weights nothing, you will no more notice this lens on your camera then you would a 20mm or 35mm lens . . . Yet you will be at 100mm focal length which on a full frame camera is really sweet for portraits.

OK here is the lowdown, at f/2.8 it is not the fastest lens on the block (with the higher ISO capable cameras this isn’t a problem) so shooting wide open to get that beautiful creamy bokah is harder to achieve,  but there are ways and I will explain later, it can work but it will make you work to achieve it.  Otherwise it is a sweet lens to shoot (mind you this is a total MANUAL lens, NO autofocus), you will learn how to focus because shooting wide open is pretty demanding. NOTE; This lens is only single coated but it does handle ghosting and flair fairly well when shooting into a light source,  use a lens hood when you can so you don’t loose to much contrast.  Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and real world use of this lens.  In the photo below you see what you can expect in the Bokah department, you’ll notice the out of focus areas in the photo below, the aperture shape is very apparent in those out of focus circles you see in the highlights, and no not the roundness you see in newer lenses with more aperture leaves, but I like it.

photo shot at f/4

photo shot at f/4 “Bokeh”

In the above photo the subject was about 4 foot from the camera and the background was about 20 feet away, I used f/4 to keep a bit of depth and an ISO of 500 so the shutter speed was at 1/200th of a sec, this keeps camera shake to a minimum when hand holding my camera.  That is one of the tricks you can use on many slower f/stop lenses or those lenses that the minimum aperture changes as the lens is zoomed . . just remember this formula (Keep aperture at a wide f/stop like f/4 or f/5.6), stay close to your subject, keep your background distant from your subject), another trick I like to use with slow lenses (those with apertures greater then f/2.8) is to use a lens extension tube, like the Kenko set (11mm size works best), yes these are used most often for macro, but here is what it does for you when you use it for a portrait, it improves your close focusing distance, it kills your infinity focus, but it crushes that out of focus area behind your subject . . . how you ask? by reducing your Depth of Field (DOF).  I would recommend trying this with wide angle lenses as well when you want a shallow DOF, it’s a cheap way to control Bokeh with most lenses.

I love using this lens, when shot at f/4 to f/5.6 you get it’s max sharpness.  You need to watch your focus as remember it is a fully manual lens, I have not tried it on any high pixel cameras, but it should perform very good . . but, if your a pixel peeper you’ll hate it . . . LOL, glad I’m not a pixel peeper, I love the effects I can achieve with this lens.  No you wont pay a bundle for this lens, it will not add any glam to your camera bag, but if you create photos you’ll love it, it’s the proper length for intimate portraits and best of all . . . it wont break the bank.

Oh yea, it’s also unique, ugly and no one will want it because it’s MANUAL everything . . . this post is just a teaser, I do love odd lenses and this is one of Nikon’s oddballs, don’t forget I grew up shooting all manual so to me it’s a normal lens even on a digital camera.  Step out of your box, challenge yourself and your photography.

Here are some other links about this lens and other information

Ken Rockwell’s review of the 100mm Series E lens

Nikon Lens resource at MIR.com, 100mm Series E Lens

Bokeh has been defined as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”


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