The Econo Boxes of the 1980s:
Some Nikon E-Series lenses are an affordable bet today!
Nikon made a great effort in 1979 to market this line of lenses under the Nikon-E name and not the traditional Nikkor name. These were released for consumer use with the Nikon EM body and remained available for the consumer grade FG and FG20 bodies. It was an effort to bring the Nikon name and quality to mass consumers. The fact was that Nikon did not know how to compromise and some of these lenses were quite good. So good that most dealers recommended the faster and cheaper Nikon E 70-210 f4 over the slower and more expensive Nikkor 80-200 f4.5. Professionals noticed and it was not unusual for a pro to own an E-Series lens, especially since some lenses were lightweight and compact. All were made in Japan and worked with AI / AIs bodies, none of the E-Series lenses have the early finder coupling fork. There are two versions of the E-Series lenses, the early all black version and a later version with silver ring, resembling Nikkors. The later versions are more appealing and have some better built characteristics and are therefore better buy options.
The Nikon E-Series winners are:
1st Place: Nikon Series E 75-150mm f3.5: This compact lens deceives if you only look at the zoom range. It is a basic 2x zoom, compact, sharp with great contrast, and color rendition. I know portrait and set photographers who love this lens, especially in the 75 to 135mm range. Also the maximum aperture of f3.5 is constant and fast enough for lots of applications. This is a great lens for candid portraiture. Its small and compact size (52mm filter size) makes it discreet. It is a traditional push-pull zoom, typical of the era… some folks no longer care for it but it is only a matter of habit and practice.
2nd Place: Nikon Series E 100mm f2.8: A favorite add on for photo-journalists and travelers. This compact and lightweight lens is nice for portraits with great sharpness, contrast, and color rendition. Although made at the time as an economy lens, construction is surprisingly tough, in all my years I have never seen one fail. That said it does not do well in the rain! The early all-black version (without silver ring) has square (blocky) grip checkering for the focus ring, a feature that is generally not appealing to Nikkor users. The later version was updated and more attractive. It looks more like a Nikkor with silver ring and the standard Nikkor style checkering on the rubber of the focus ring.
3th Place: Nikon Series E 70-200mm f4: What was true in the 1980s is still true today. This lens gives an amazing value for photographers on a tiny budget. Why buy an aftermarket product while you can get genuine quality for about $50. Okay, so it does not have the bells and whistles of AF and VR, but if you are just looking for this type zoom and have little to spend, look no further. The optical quality of this lens was and is a true Nikon with fixed maximum aperture of f4. It is far from ideal for any type of fast action but it gives you the focal length that you may be missing for pocket change.
Other Nikon Series-E Lenses:
Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8: Personally I never found pancake lenses appealing, but here again, you can get a sharp lens with good color rendition and contrast for less than $50. The later version (with silver ring) is slightly easier to focus, although all in all I do not like the small focusing rings but that is only my personal preference.
Nikon Series E 135mm f2.8: This is a re-purposed Nikkor with a simpler lens formulation. It was never really popular as most buyers opted for the zooms. Nikon did well not to invest much in its development. Not easy to find and usually more expensive than a Nikkor, so little incentives for acquisition.
Nikon Series E 36-72mm f3.5: Average in performance, this lens has been surpassed by much better modern options.
Nikon Series E 28mm f2.8: This lens should be avoided, it was the only true compromise that failed. Optically this lens is not worth using.