Now ... using my old 1978 vintage 70-200mm push-pull zoom (no automation at all - its an entirely manual AI 35mm "FX" lens), the results from it appear to be equal to, or ever so slightly "better" in places (subjective term, I know), than my 2010 purchased DX 55-200mm VR lens.
Both lenses deliver the same color balance (as far as I can see), so that issue I saw yesterday must be related to the FX wide angle lens.
Of course, the AI lens may be a poor copy and the DX lens the best example of the design they ever made, so they equal out, or vice versa - I have no idea what, but whatever it is, they are darn close IQ speaking to each other! Considering how much more advanced we are 35 years on, both with manufacturing, materials and design technologies etc, it says a great deal about those older designs...
Differences in set ups were to do with speed/exposure to get the same brightness/contrast.
Under todays conditions (overcast), my D7000 metering would have set things like this in landscape mode;
DX 18-55 (55mm) - 1/50th, f5.6 @ISO400.
DX 55-200 (55mm) - 1/60th, f4.0 @ISO250.
I played around with the focal lengths and they all varied the exposure settings much as expected (thank goodness something in all this was predictable).
The AI lens had to be set manually and I used the LCD on the camera to eyeball it. I took a series of 25 shots adjusting the various settings (some bracket) and using the LCD and histogram, ended up with it set to (focus at 70mm) - 1/50th, f4.5 @ISO200. I didn't see any vignetting!
Importing all the shots into my PC confirmed these settings as more or less right for me to make the best comparisons, for my brain/eye combination anyway.
Being super critical, the AI lens lost too much in the darkest shadow detail for my personal liking and using NX2, I could up the exposure by 1.4 before the rest of the shot started to became compromised. I suspect in use, I could easily open it by half (or more) of a stop over whatever meter readings delivered depending on the exact conditions and get the results I want. Maybe a coating is starting to cloud over? After all, it is 35 years old....