I've been thinking about still lenses a bunch since our latest SALT test, specifically about how unsuitable AF lenses are to narrative filmmaking (without a possible electronic follow focus) but even still there are real reasons to have manual aperture control and manual focus. Also at this point in the production ecosystem it's not unusal to be shooting an Epic, a HDSLR, and an M4/3 camera all on the same day. That sort of mount diversity requires something very versitile, and despite it's age the Nikon F mount is pretty much the only lens mount that can be adapted easily and quickly to anything else (except PL, which nothing except medium format lenses can be adapted to without re-mounting).
Then there are the other factors both pro and con...
AI/AIS Nikkors are very light (compared to Lecia/Zeiss) ususally come in both fast (f1.4-2) and standard (f2-2.8) apertures, are very well built and designed for professional use and most importantly they are inexpensive and plentiful on the used market, and easy to repair or replace if needed.
They focus the right way :) but since nobody else in the film world does it means that ACs have to think a little more or get a reversing gear. They do not have a Leica or Zeiss logo, this is a real concern when working with myopic producers who do not really understand that a Zeiss ZF is not the same as a Master Prime. Distance marks not as good as Leica R but the same as Zeiss ZF or CY.
Some lenses may be quite old and abused and these will not give as good results as well cared for samples.
But how are they optically?
As with all still lenses, it depends. Some are really quite sharp and beautiful, some were designed for a specific puprose and may not be up to today's expectations. Or you may like the softer look of the older vintage glass, it depends on your project and concept. Overall though most of the lenses designated AI or AIS are pretty great optically, they have a little less contrast than thier modern "G" progeny but they will mostly outresolve the Epic sensor in the center where it counts.
Some of the lenses I've tried and reccomend are...
20mm 2.8 or 3.5 (3.5 is tiny and just as sharp)
24mm 2.8 (f2 is soft wide open)
50mm 1.2, 1.4 or 2 (1.2 is the best still 50 I've ever used)
85mm 1.4, 2
105mm 2.5, 1.8 or 2.8 macro
135mm 2 (stellar!)
180mm 2.8 ED (stellar!)
200mm 2 (I have this in PL mount it's so good)
When available I highly recccomend trying to get a really good condition AI lens over an AIS despite the newer vintage because the AI series has a longer focus rotation (180+) and more marks. They are optically identical otherwise.
This brings me to the ultimate point of this post, price/performance/versitility, this more than any other factor is why I put together a set of f2-2.8 AI Nikkors (20mm-180mm) I'll eventually have them cine-modded by Duclos. For only a few thousand dollars, the price of one RPP or two AF 2.8 Zooms you can build a 6-8 lens Nikkor prime set that can be mounted and used on literally Any camera system in current use (maybe not alexa, haven't checked).