Nikkor Telephoto Lens 300mm f/4.5 AI, AI-S, 1977-1990
(Also refer to earlier page for a picture of the non-AI version)
When Nikon introduced Automatic Indexing (AI) in 1977, it updated most of the lenses in its lineup. Most of the updates involved cosmetic changes (most notably changing most surfaces to black satin finish and incorporating an rubber-inset on the focussing ring), which Nikon had been working on for a couple years, but some lenses were more extensively redesigned, losing weight and adding features.
Optically, it has a 6 elements in 5 groups design.
The 300f/4.5 slimmed down a bit and gained a a rotating tripod collar in place of the dual bushings. Other than that, the optical design remained unchanged from the six element/five group construction, and it offered much the same performance. Of course, multicoating was added to the lens, which may be the most significant upgrade from the non-AI version. On the other hand, with only six elements, the original design was not too prone to flaring.
After the introduction of the AI meter-coupling system in 1977, Nikon extensively redesigned the physical appearance of the 300f/4.5. Note the addition of a tripod collar, as well as the rubber focussing ring.
This lens is a relatively good buy, although for not much more cash, you can get the IF-ED version of the lens. On the other hand, you can spend less and get an AI'd version of the original lens. The rotating tripod collar adds a lot of value to the lens, apparently. Incidentally, Nikon USA still stocks the collar for the AI-S lens for approximately $50 US.
The technology soon began to trickle down to the rest of the Nikon line, and in 1979, they introduced the 300f/4.5 IF-ED.
Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 AI, AI-S IF-ED, 1979-1989
With the introduction of Internal Focusing technology in 1977 with the 400f/3.5 IF-ED (still reputedly Nikon's best 400), Nikon made telephoto lenses simultaneously less bulky and easier to handle.
Light blue indicating location of the ED lens element and the optical construction has changed to 7 elements in 6 groups. By removing the focussing helicoid, which was a large, heavy brass-and-aluminum affair, Nikon made a lens that not only weighed less than before, it was also able to focus closer. IF changes the focal length as you focus closer, but does not change the exposure, which makes it quite handy for macro work (c.f. the 200mm f/4 IF Micro)
AI version of the 300mm f4.5 IF-ED (Same optical construction 7/6 composition)
Although the closest focussing distance of the original 200f/4 IF Micro isn't that much further than the old 105f/4 Micro, which indicates that the focal lengths are fairly close, it is one stop faster at 1:2 reproduction ratio. If you ever get a chance, do yourself a favor and try out an IF lens; you will not regret the experience (unless it causes you to purchase said lens, something that happened to me!). The handling of the lens will spoil you for other lenses.
Perhaps Nikon's best value for the money, used, the 300f/4.5 offers all of the features you want -- IF, ED, tripod collar -- in a compact, lightweight package. Best of all, you can pick up user-condition examples for under $500 US, less than 1/3 of the original price. This lens was relatively popular among professional photographers because of its compact size, light weight, and excellent performance. It does not, reputedly, work well with converters, but quite acceptable on tubes for excellent macro performance. IF makes this lens a joy to handle, as it is about 3/4 the weight of the regular 300f/4.5 and about the same weight as the manual-focus 180f/2.8. Nikon USA also still stocks the tripod collar for the AI-S lens, at around $50 US. You will want to be somewhat careful about keeping a rear cap on the lens, as the diaphragm is physically exposed.
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Recommended links to understand more technical details related to the Nikkor F-mount and production Serial Number:
http://rick_oleson.tripod.com/index-153.html by: my friend, Rick Oleson
http://www.zi.ku.dk/personal/lhhansen/photo/fmount.htm by: Hansen, Lars Holst
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