Special-Purpose Lenses For Nikon 'F' Mount
Evaluations By Bjørn Rørslett
For rating criteria, please see the Lens Survey Page
Note: PC lenses are listed under Wide-Angles, Noct-Nikkor under Normal Lenses
65 mm f/4.5
and elusive Macro-Nikkor range comprises 4 lenses made
for the Nikon Multiphot, an advanced photomacrographic
device targeted at the scientific lab segment. They are
largely unknown to the general public, and people get
confused by Nikon designating them as "Macro"
lenses (which they in fact are). After all, aren't the
familiar Micro-Nikkors also "macro" lenses?
Nikon's terminology is literally correct, as the
Macro-Nikkors only provide larger than life-size (1:1)
magnification in contrast to the Micro-Nikkors, which
ends their focusing range at 1:1 or 1:2 and can focus to
The Macro-Nikkor line is similar to other offerings such as Zeiss Luminars or Leitz Photars in their scope and intended use. Each lens is optimised for a restricted range of magnifications, and together they cover the entire range from 1:1 up to 40:1. The optics are computed to yield top results at the wide-open setting, and stopping the lenses down only serves to increase depth of field (and diffraction effects). All Macro-Nikkors are excellent performers and within their specified magnification range will cover up to 4x5" format with ease. They are only single-coated, but flare generally is no problem with the Multiphot (used independently of the Multiphot, however, flare might be a bigger issue with them).
The two shorter lenses, 19 and 35 mm, come in RMS microscope screw mount (affectionally designated "Royal Screw" by microscopists, pun possibly intended) and look similar to microscope lenses, whilst the 65 and 120 mm lenses are bigger and use 39 mm Leica thread. Adapters to convert RBMS and Leica thread to Nikon mount are provided with the Multiphot kit, and are obtainable otherwise as well. Thus, it is entirely feasible to put the Macro-Nikkors to work in a field setting, far away from the Multiphot itself. However, using the 19 mm f/2.8 Macro-Nikkor under field conditions verges on sheer insanity on the user's behalf, so this lens with its working optimum at 20X should be kept for indoor use only. By contrast, the 35 mm Macro-Nikkor can, albeit not easily, be applied to nature photography in the field. I've shot a number of flower and insect close-ups with the 35 mm and D1X, and the results were excellent even though I worked at the very edge of its designated magnification range. The 65 mm Macro-Nikkor would now be my preferred choice for such applications due to its longer working distance and lower optimum magnification (4X). The 120 mm lens needs a long bellows draw and offers few - if any - benefits over a Micro-Nikkor in combination with an extension tube or close-up lens to cover the 1:1 to 2:1 range.
Macro-Nikkors are known to have been distibuted independently of the Nikon Multiphot, but I'm not sure this occurred on a regular basis. Anyway, Macro-Nikkors are hard to locate today, and emptying your wallet by purchasing them together with a complete Multiphot setup may be the easiest option if you are looking for these tiny optical gems. The Multiphot itself existed in two versions, one for 35 mm F-mount cameras, and one for large-format photography. Both versions have their merits, personally I purchased the 35 mm version to allow using my D1X on it.
|20 mm f/3.5 Zuiko (Macro Lens)||3.5||This short macro lens is equipped with microscope threads and targeted for use on a bellows or photomacrographic camera. Depending on the magnification ratio, it can be used for image sizes up to 4x5". Optimum results are produced around 8-10:1. At these extreme magnifications focusing is extremely difficult and the viewfinder screen virtually black so using the Zuiko calls for additional strong object illumination. Optimum sharpness depends on the image magnification and is between f/4 and f/8.|
|20 mm f/3.5 Canon (Macro Lens)||2.5-3||A short-focal lens, coming with microscope threads, which was produced by Canon for their SLR bellows units. Optical quality is not up to the level set by the Zuiko 20 mm, however. I have used it for shooting on 6x9 cm format only, since test shots on 35 mm film were disappointing. Don't stop down beyond f/8 if good sharpness is desirable.|
|24 mm f/3.5 Nikkor PC-E ED N||
tilt/shift with ED glass and excellent image quality is
sure to raise a few eye brows. It is also the first
Nikkor with an electro-magnetically controlled aperture
(the "E" designation). The lens is physically
big for its focal length, but handles very well and has a
buttery-smooth manual focusing and an aperture collar
with 1/2 stop clicks. I'll come up with a full review
later, meanwhile the comments below may be helpful.
Firstly, the "E" feature entails the lens (or rather, the aperture) needs power to work. So this lens is strictly intended only for VR-capable cameras. In fact, on most cameras except for D3 and D300, the shift mechanism will be restricted in its upward travel by the overhang of the finder head.
Secondly, you should NOT employ full shift along the major axis of the frame, since this will give severe one-sided vignetting. About 8 mm shift is a sensible limit on the D3. If you shift along the minor axis, the full 11.5 mm shift can be employed if the camera finder doesn't restrict the movement. There is no problem with the tilt on any of the cameras I've tried so far.
Thirdly, the centre for shift (and tilt) is slightly offset from the optical axis, about 0.6mm. This complicates applying the movements, but might reduce the need for having shift and tilt in parallel.
Finally, although the 24 PC-E has a remarkable flat field and superb image quality even wide open, it does have barrel distortion that becomes very evident when the lens is focused towards its 21 cm near limit.
On th D3, I obtained very sharp and crisp images with vividly saturated colours like with so many other ED-glass designs. Set wide open there is a slight corner fall-off on the FX format, much less so with a DX camera. Sharpness is excellent all the way up to f/16 on the D3 and even f/22 appears to be very useful. Chromatic aberrations are kept well under control. Flare and ghosting are likewise kept low. There is some barrel distortion that increases if you move in very close to the subject, but for most applications this should be of minor concern.
|5||Originating from a series of industrial lenses optimised for extreme sharpness (up to 1.200 lines/mm resolution!), this Ultra-Micro lens certainly delivers the goods. It is designed with an image circle of just 8 mm and optimised for 1:10 magnification, so the best way to employ it for macrophotography is reversing it on a medium- to large-format camera. At 10:1 (10X magnification) it then will give frame-filling shots for the 6x9 cm format with incredible and stunning image detail. I mostly use it on my 1955-vintage Linhof Technika field camera for extreme macro work. Optimum apertures are f/2-f/5.6.|
|35 mm f/3.5 Noflexar (Novoflex)||
unorthodox lens by any standards, this mid-60's design
offers close-up focusing simply by pulling the lens to
extend it within the barrel. When you get to the end of
the travel of the focusing ring, yank the lens hard and
it extends on a click-stopped inner stage. Looks odd but
this trick works well. Working distance obviously is on
the (very) short side.
It is a manual lens and the aperture is set in front of the lens. Build quality is nice but nowhere near that of most Nikkors. The legend and numerals tend to wear off over time too.
The 35 Noflexar was offered in various mounts, most are found today in Exacta mount while F-mount versions are rare. The rear section protrudes into the camera throat and on some bodies can jam the reflex mirror (no issues on D200 and Fuji S3, though).
Its UV performance is excellent and the very reason I own this lens today. I even have had it CPU-modified.
mm f/2.8 Olympus
|Olympus manufactures a comprehensive range of true macro lenses, i.e. lenses that is designed for larger-than-lifesize work and thus there is no need for reversing them for macro photography. They have a built-in focusing stage making it a breeze to fine-tune focus when shooting non-stationary objects. I have made adapters to allow the 38 mm to be mounted either on my Nikon SLR's or on my large-format cameras. It produces great results even on my 4x5" camera, given that it isn't stopped down further than f/5.6-f/8. This lens is multi-coated, but strong flare still can be an issue with it.|
|45 mm f/2.8 PC-E Micro-Nikkor ED N||4.5 - 5
(FX: D3, D700)
newcomer to the line-up of tilt/shift offerings from
Nikon shares the same physical appearance as the 24 and
85 PC lenses, in fact apart from small details of knob
sizes and suchlike it's easily mistaken to be one of the
Delivered with tilt/shift axes perpendicular to each other, the 45 PC-E signals its quality by a golden ring in front and a sturdy construction elsewhere. The nano-coating technology improves image contrast substantially and the ED glass makes - as usual - colours vividly rich and vibrant. The propensity to flare and ghosting is reduced but not entirely eliminated in this design. Sharpness is as expected high straight from the wide-open setting and beyond f/11-f/16, where diffraction starts to soften the imaged details. Chromatic aberration is almost negligible and only with the lens shifted to its extreme could I detect some insignificant vestiges of CA along high-contrast transitions. If you need the very best image quality, setting the lens anywhere from f/5.6 to f/11 will yield excellent results.
The "Micro" designation lives up to its promises by giving a superbly flat field of view and very low levels of geometric distortion. On its own, the lens focuses to 1:2 scale.
The "E" stands for electromagnetic aperture operation, which entails a need for power supplied from the camera in order for it to operate. In practice this means any Nikon camera that supports VR. It is entirely feasible to use the lens on non-VR-enabled cameras, but setting the aperture becomes messy and a bit of a kludge. On the newest Nikkon DLSRs, such as the D3, D300, and D700, the lens won't interfer with the overhang of the finder; on other models, you might not always be able to utilse the full range of tilt and shift in all positions the lens can be set to. The lens can be modified at a Nikon repair facility to align the axes of tilt and shift to be parallel.
|45 mm f/2.8 GN-Nikkor||
'GN' designation derives from 'Guide Number' and implies
the rationale behind this surprisingly small lens, which
utilises the simple and well-respected Tessar optical
formula. From f/5.6 to f/16 respectably sharp images can
be obtained. Produced in an era where using flash meant
calculating exposures from distance charts, the GN
ingeniously saved the day by coupling the aperture
setting to the focused distance. The user simply aligned
the guidenumber from the flash with a corresponding
setting on the lens barrel, and engaged a catch to lock
aperture and focus together. This system gave quite stiff
focusing action but did work in practice. By the way, the
GN-Nikkor is the sole Nikkor lens to focus the 'wrong
way' with infinity to the right. This was caused by the
focusing cam that combined distance and aperture. This
cam wears rather quickly so the user should decouple the
GN feature for all normal uses.
Recently, Nikon introduced a follow-up to this old-timer, viz. the 45/2.8 P Nikkor. Look under Normal Lenses for a review.
cannot resist. In this case, shown a 1.5 kg hunk of glass
with a humongous front element to be given away free for
a worthy cause, my only option was, on the fly, to
develop a wildly impossible application for it. Thus, I
broke the f/1 speed barrier.
This speed monster has "exotic" written all over it, from its 8 cm wide front element to a fixed f/0.75 aperture and lack of a focusing collar. The image circle is too small to cover the 35 mm format at infinity, but this is of no consequence because the short back focus wouldn't allow mounting the lens for infinity focus anyway. Thus, the only possible use on an SLR is for shooting at close distance, which suits me just fine.
Pressing the Heligon into a non-optimal shooting position, far from infinity focus, simply means you are "rewarded" with extreme curvature of field and huge amounts of spherical aberrations. However, these side effects also makes the lens extremely "pictorial" to work with, so in terms of imaging enjoyment, it surely deserves a top rating! Indeed useful images can be obtained at f/0.75.
|55 mm f/1.2 Nikkor-O [CRT or Oscilloscope Lens]||5
very rare speciality lens was made for industrial use to
record faint cathode-screen traces and came with a long
Leica-thread mount. It can be mounted on any Nikon camera
with the LF adapter and a restricted focusing range is
achieved by rotating it in the adapter. It is optimised
for the limited magnification range 1:4.4-1:5.5 only and
here it delivers exceptionally sharp images. Peak performance is between f/1.4
and f/4 so the lens is extremely useful for hand-held
close-ups. Its quality for flower photography is further
enhanced by a negative field curvature thus enabling both
central and outer floral areas to be in sharp focus even
at wide aperture settings.
Be aware that using this lens way outside its optimum magnification range will induce severe spherical aberration, flare, and changes in field curvature. All these alterations may or may not be desirable for a given task.
example of the industrial lens range offered by Nikon,
this 55 mm delivers outstandingly sharp images even wide
open. Contrast and recorded sharpness increase when the
lens is stopped down a few more stops. This is probably
due to the fact that the Ultra-Micro never was designed
for general (close-up) photography, witnessed by its
Leica thread mount, lack of focusing mechanism, and short
back focal distance of 28.8 mm for 1:4 magnification. It
was likely designed for a narrow spectral band as was the
28/1.8 Ultra-Micro-Nikkor, but such data is not engraved
on the lens itself unlike the 28 mm. However, the lens
behaves so well across the visible range that it easily
can be put to good use on a D1/D1X (no, it will NOT
illuminate the entire 35 mm frame so using it on a 35 mm
system is difficult). The lens should not be reversed
used this way (on a 35 mm system, the opposite applies).
You'll need a Leica to Nikon (LF) adapter to mount it on
a D-series camera, and end up with a remarkably sharp and
fast fixed-focus lens. Get down on your knees and explore
the world seen through the eye of this superb lens.
I recently modified this lens to give it a matrix metering capacity. Read about the conversion here.
|5.5 cm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor (Preset Aperture)||4
|This is the original Micro design of 1961 from which all other Micro-Nikkors for SLR cameras subsequently evolved. Unknown to most people, it goes directly to life-size 1:1 magnification by virtue of its unbelievably long double helicoid. Sharpness up close is very good, but field curvature of this early lens is very prominent in the corners of the image. The aperture settings are done with a preset ring. This 5.5 cm Micro was discontinued after a very short production run so is an absolute rarity and a much sought-after collector's item. It needs to be stopped down to f/5.6-f/8 for top results, but sharpness suffers if apertures are set to f/16 or more. Because of the field curvature it should not be reversed on a bellows.|
|55 mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor Auto (Compensating Aperture)||5
modified Micro-Nikkor from the mid '60 had much flatter
image field than the first version of 1961, and gave
close-ups with tremendous sharpness. Despite its
single-layer coating, the deeply recessed front element
ensured flare problems were minimised. This lens had an
outstanding feature directed at the non-TTL light meters
of its era, viz. an aperture that changed f/numbers by
itself as the lens was focused closer. This meant the
photographer could measure exposure the usual way and let
the lens take care of the adjustment needed by the
close-focus extension. Really neat if you didn't use TTL
(I did TTL, however, with my Nikon F Photomic of these
halcyon days, and the aperture re-re-adjustment was
cumbersome indeed - I ended up doing stopped-down
metering with it). The 55 mm Micro was optimised for
close-ups with peak performance at 1:10 magnification,
and the image quality suffered when it was used for
landscape shots. For close-up work, peak performance was
between f/5.6 and f/8. The near symmetrical design
ensured that it performed well when reversed onto a
bellows or extension tubes. I have used it this way
successfully for shooting macro images on 6x9 cm and
Some confusion exists as to which Micro-Nikkor is the one with adjusting aperture. Partly this is due to the term "Micro-Nikkor P" used in Nikon literature, whilst the lens itself only is engraved "Auto". At least my sample is. Since there is an immediate successor without the compensating feature, but "P" designation, identifying this model is not easy. However, a lens with chrome barrel, magnification factors printed in light blue, and hill-and-dale focusing and aperture collars likely is the real thing.
|55 mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor-P·C||
final successor to the second type of 55 Micro-Nikkor had
multicoating (hence the "C" designation). There
evidently was a "P" without multi-coating prior
to the "P.C" version.
Nikon gave it a better image rendition for shooting distant objects, meaning there had to be some quality sacrifice for close-ups. Since most users didn't use it for really close-up work anyway this modification was a comprise that made most users happy (not counting me, I continued to use the older model to this day ..). Maximum sharpness needs an aperture setting of f/8. Beyond f/11-f/16, sharpness rapidly deteriorated.
|55 mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor||
|The faster f/2.8 version of the Micro-Nikkor had floating elements to make it perform equally well up close and for distant scenes. Unfortunately, the f/2.8 design is extremely prone to getting lubrication onto its aperture blades to make the aperture stick unexpectedly when shooting. I gave up my f/2.8 after having cleaned it twice. It makes an excellent paper-weight, however. Newer versions may have a stiffer lubrication so as to minimise the seepage problem. Storing the lens in an upright position and avoiding hot spots such as car trunks may also contribute to mitigate this issue.|
|AFS Micro-Nikkor 60 mm f/2.8 ED G N||
of the members in the long line of Micro-Nikkors also
happens to be the best of them all in optical terms.
Images are super sharp already from f/2.8 and keep their
bite up to f/11, from which point a graceful decline
kicks in. The f/22 result is very acceptable, but the
f/32 isn't on the D3.
Compared to the predecessor, the new 60 Micro convinces by offering much better performance at the wider apertures and at distance, both areas in which the older lens didn't do too well. Colours are rendered vividly saturated and image contrast is high all the way up to f/16.
The new lens is slightly bigger than the older model but since it is an IF design, it doesn't get any longer when focused to its near limit of 18.5 cm or life-size reproduction (1:1) . Obviously it can do this trick only by shortening its focal length. Free working distance (FWD) then is only 5 cm, so you have to remove the HB-42 lens hood in this case. The FWD in fact is approx. equal to that of the older model.
As becomes a Micro-Nikkor, geometric distortion is negligible and the flatness of field is excellent. The sophisticated nano-coating (N) technology provides good resistance against flare and ghosting, but since the front element now is no longer recessed, always using the lens hood is recommended.
IR: Unfortunately, this lens does not work well for IR. There is a weak but clearly visible IR hot spot, and sharpness suffers.
|AF Micro-Nikkor 60 mm f/2.8||
latest version of the 'normal' Micro-Nikkors got an
increase in focal length, and reaches 1:1 on its own. At
the near limit there is scarcely any free distance left
in front of the lens, so this isn't the appropriate item
for doing close-ups of shy animals. It manages to go to
life-size by shortening its already very short focal
length. I don't like this lens and shy away from using
it. For those utilising it, however, sharp images are
obtained at apertures from f/5.6 to f/11. Beyond that
range image quality deteriorates. Be aware that it has
re-introduced a feature of the first Micro-Nikkors by
being less sharp at distance.
IR: This 60 mm lens is not a good candidate for IR work. There is an obvious hot spot, and sharpness declines too.
|Coastal Optics 60 mm f/4 UV-Vis-IR APO Macro||
new (2008) offering from the American company Coastal
Optics is remarkable on several acocunts. Firstly, it is
a specialised design aiming to give absolutely no
focus shift over the entire spectal range from UV
into IR (315 - 1100 nm), so it can be focused in visible
light and you can go on shooting UV, IR , or any
combination afterwards. If you accept a slighly lower
transmission, its range extends all the way from 275 to
1500 nm. This makes the lens simply perfect for
multispectral photography. Secondly, it has stellar image
quality across UV, visible, and IR spectral bands so
indeed lives up to to the "APO" designation.
The coatings are computed to minimise flare and ghosting
over the entire spectral range it covers and there is
absolutely no hot spots in IR with this lens. Thirdly,
the manufacturer has included a CPU in the lens so as to
allow it to meter with all Nikon and Fuji cameras.
Workmanship is excellent as witnessed by all lettering
being engraved not just printed onto the lens barrel. The
focus action is a little sluggish since the collar is
very well damped, but on the other hand the focus stays
put when you attach a filter to the 52 mm front threads.
The travel is very short between 4 m and infinity (due to
all the fluorite and quartz elements inside, the infinity
mark can be overshoot slightly), but becomes very
generous towards the nearer limit that corresponds to
1:1.5 magnification. Add a PK-13 or similar tube and you
can go beyond life size as well.
The optics are so well corrected that sharpness extends all over the field and there is virtually no field curvature. A very slight darkening of the corners of the frame can be detected with FX and f/4, just so that also the nit pickers of this world are pleased. Stopping down to f/5.6 or beyond deprives them of this small pleasure.
According to the designer, Dr. Brian Caldwell, the theoretical maximum performance occurs already at f/5.6. My field tests bear out this, but since the lens already wide open is an excellent performer, you can feel free to shoot it at any sensible aperture setting. Stopping down provides excellent sharpness up to around f/16 depending on the camera format (FX, DX), but further down towards the f/45 minimum the quality gracefully declines. At least with the D3, I'd say f/45 shots are entirely acceptable (given you add some USM to the output, to offset the inevitable loss of contrast).
Bokeh is nice although the rather short focal length means the background can begin to intrude when you stop the lens way down.
To balance all the merits described above, there is a very healthy price tag to ensure this superb lens may not be found in all photographer's gear kit. Given you are into specialised photography in fields such as forensics and law enforcement, industrial applications, medicine, archeology, science etc., you would appreciate the quality and go to some length to get funding for the purchase of this outstanding lens. It ranks amongst the very finest lenses in my possession and is indispensable for any serious work with "invisible" light.
IR and UV: Since the lens is specifically addressing the UV and IR bands, it should come as no surprise that this lens is a truly superb performer when used outside the visible spectrum. Noteworthy also is the good suppression of flare and ghosts in UV and IR. This product ranks as the modern reference lens for UV and IR photography.
|60 mm f/4 Zeiss S-Ortho Planar||
|I salvaged this remarkable lens from a wrecked repro-copying machine found in a garbage container, and adapted it to an "F" mount. The adapter cost me a few $ and there is the expense of some Araldite to be taken into account, but still I would say this lens is a real "bargain"... The maximum aperture is strictly for viewing and focusing so the lens has to be stopped down to at least f/5.6-f/8 when taking pictures. There is no focusing helicoid so focusing is achieved simply by sliding the lens back and forth in its adapter - crude, but does work in practice. This lens is a ultrahigh-definition design from Zeiss and although it's optimised for ortho B/W film it also gives good images for long-wave UV and visible light photography. Its single-layer coating makes it susceptible to flare, however. And the UV response does not extend into the really "deep" UV range.|
|63 mm f/3.5
enlarging lenses are not normally something I review, but
this little-known vintage gem deserves an exception to
The 63 mm lens is remarkable by being constructed to give imaging into the UV area, and is specified to pass the entire 350 - 700 nm spectral range unimpaired.
Since UV-capable lenses are so hard to come by, the 63 EL is a most welcome addition to my lens arsenal. I've built a focusing mount for it and it will easily focus to infinity mounted on my Nikons. I keep another sample of this lens for use on a bellows in order to do close-ups.
Visible light: Image quality is quite excellent, but not stellar and this wouldn't come as a surprise since the lens orginally was designed to cover the much bigger 32 x 42 mm format.
However, when used just for UV, image quality really springs to life and you can get impressively sharp images with it.
|AF Zoom Micro-Nikkor 70-180 mm f/4.5-5.6 ED||
zoom with a true "macro" capacity, this lens
tries to combine many features into a handy package. It
is an ideal lens for long mountain hikes and covers
landscape as well as close-up photography with ease. As
Micro-Nikkors go, this lens has noticeably more field
curvature and image corners are less crisply defined,
too. It would outperform any zoom with a
"macro" setting, though, when it is set to
apertures ranging from f/8 to f/11. Due to field
curvature, this lens is not likely to benefit from a
reversed close-up lens being added to it, you could just
attach the 5T/6T units in their normal position.
The tripod collar is way too small to support a heavy camera such as the F5. Incidentally, this was the sole reason for my not buying the 70-180 ED.
After a few more years, I finally bought the 70-180 Micro and reconfirmed the issue with a poor collar. However, this time being the owner of said lens, I now could sink my drill into it at strategic positions to add steel bolts to the collar. Adding a big locking screw instead of the skimpy one originally provided and I was ready to obtain amazingly sharp images with my D1X camera. The lens now is rock steady on my Sachtler tripods. This only shows what is lost in image quality due to poorly designed tripod collars.
A nifty feature of the 70-180 Micro is that the optical design actually prevents light fall-off when the lens is focused closer. So, the effective and nominal aperture are identical even at the near limit. No other Micro-Nikkor behaves like this.
The 'bokeh' of this zoom Micro is unfortunately far less convincing than its other advantages, so watch you background carefully and use the DOF preview frequently to discover any issues and take preemptive measures.
IR: The performance in the IR band is excellent and I haven't seen any hot spot issues with it. The focus shift in IR is small, a welcomed property since there is no IR focus mark on the focusing scale. However, the shift isn't constant along the zoom range so using an IR camera with LiveView (eg., Fuji S3 UVIR) is a must.
|75 mm f/1.1 Rodenstock XR-Heligon||
|Another of the superfast Heligon lenses by Rodenstock, this is an exciting performer for pictorial close-up photography. It has much less field curvature than the 50/0.75 Heligon and image contrast is better, too. I modified my sample to have "F" mount with a matrix chip thrown in for additional exposure accuracy.|
|85 mm f/1
those elusive industrial-type Nikkors from the heyday of
the hippies, the 85/1 was optimised for 1:1 magnification
and lacks any focusing means whatsoever. Further, its
non-standard 48 mm internal and 53 mm external threads
don't make adapting it to modern cameras any easier, but
it's certainly doable.
Images, even with the lens set wide open, have a crispness and bite that makes you wonder where the optical evolution is headed these days, since 30+ year old designs could give these stunning results.
It makes a perfect macro setup for field use with or without a 1.4X TC added to it. Another application is deploying it as a relay lens for various non-retrofocus fisheye lenses (6, 7.5, 8, and 10 mm).
|85 mm f/2.8 PC-E Micro-Nikkor N||
addition to the PC-Nikkor line will replace the earlier
85 non-E lens. The two versions are almost identical in
appearance, the main difference being the new lens having
a slightly narrower aperture collar (compensated by a
slightly broader focusing collar), and nano-coating (N)
that lends the front element a clearer and more
contrast-rich impression. Remarkably, the lens has the
golden ring that traditionally heralds ED glass inside,
but there is no ED label on the lens and according to
Nikon's official web site, the first published
specification of ED being used later was corrected to
indicate no ED glass had been included. Not exactly the
first time Nikon has made strange nomenclature decisions.
Whatever the story, the lens feels sturdily constructed and has a much better and smoother focusing action than its predecessor. Again, as in the case of the 45 PC-E, nano-coating brings with it high contrast and a reduced tendency to showing flare and ghosting issues. Despite the alleged non-ED design, colours are rendered with high saturation and details are crisp and sharp. My tests suggest that the new lens is a little sharper than the old one at the wider apertures, about equal around f/5.6-f/8, and - perhaps a little surprisingly - not quite as sharp when it is stopped way down. The nw lens also goes "only" to f/32 whilst the predecessor went all the way to f/45 (effective f/57 at the near limit).
All the considerations about the PC-E mechanism are as for the 45 PC-E, and the 85 PC-E shares the same near limit magnification at 1:2 scale too.
|85 mm f/2.8 PC Micro-Nikkor||
long awaited lens certainly lives up to expectations.
Click here for a full review of this innovative lens.
It is a stunning performer on the D2X, yielding images with superb sharpness, high contrast ,and virtually no CA issue. All these nice characteristics continue to be seen on the D3 too.
Since it is a manual lens and has the tilt and shift features, you need to learn how to handle it in the field. Not difficult, but you do need the practice. It can be set up for tilt and shift planes in parallel or at 90 degrees (factory default) to each other. Each configuration has its merits and drawbacks. I often realign the orientation of the tilt and shift in the field on my 85 PC, since all you need is a little patience, and a good screwdriver.
IR performance (DX): Not surprisingly given its simple yet highly optimised optical design, the 85 PC delivers the goods equally well in the IR range. I have yet to observe any hot-spot issue with any of the various IR transmitting filters I have used with the 85 PC.
|100 mm f/4 Bellows-Takumar||
|Short-mount lenses for use on bellows were in the vogue in the 60's, and this lens head by Pentax is nicely built besides boasting very good image quality. Apertures are set with a preset collar. It is single-coated meaning that lens flare can be a problem. I mount it on a Nikon bellows through a "T"-adapter. In common with many older lenses it imparts a nice and pleasing roundness to image detail.|
|105 mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor||
complex lens design features CRC correction to give it
very good image quality over its entire focusing range
from 1:2 to infinity. Unexpectedly, peak performance
occurs for distant objects and the image quality is
slightly reduced when it is brought to its near limit at
half life-size. The focal length is a mere 88 mm at the
near limit. To go beyond 1:2, it's necessary to add the
PN-11 extension ring. However, the CRC system isn't
working optimal when the extension is added so Nikon
advises the lens be stopped down more to retain
flat-field correction. The lens flares easily and the use
of a long lens shade is recommended at all times. Best
image sharpness occurs at f/5.6-f/8 and the quality
deteriorates very rapidly beyond f/16 (this decline is
common to all Micro-Nikkors).
IR performance: Rather unexpectedly, this Micro didn't perform well with IR. This results because of severe hot-spot issues.
|AF-Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8||
'macro' lens capable of going to 1:1 by itself, the
successor to the MF 105 Micro-Nikkor has very good, but
not outstanding, image quality. Its performance wide open
is superior to the MF version, though, and so is its
resistance to flare and ghosting. It reaches optimum
sharpness at f/5.6 and delivers good results to f/11 or
so, thereafter image quality is quickly lost. It employs
the same focal shortening trick as the 60 AF and thus the
focal length at 1:1 is a mere 60 mm, which is too short
for a comfortable working distance. The design also means
it is awkward to use on a tripod if the needed
magnification is between 1:2 and 1:1. In this case, one
cannot focus the lens without changing magnification, so
framing the subject can be frustratingly difficult. I now
use my AF 105 quite seldom because of this issue. To go
above life-size, the PN-11 extension tube is convenient
because of the tripod collar, and yields up to 1.6X
magnification. Close-up lenses can also be employed, but
as the case is with most other AF Micro-Nikkors, they must be mounted in
a reverse position to
retain image quality.
IR: There is a persistent tendency for a hot spot. Thus, this lens is not recommended for use in critical IR photography.
|AFS Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8 ED-IF VR G||
4 - 4.5
|The 105 mm
f/2.8 VR Micro looks nice on paper, but using it in
practice tells another story. The lens barrel is now
massive and you need a big hand to get a good grip on it.
VR does work very well, but unless you use a tripod you
end up with a lot of close-ups of just adequate, but not
perfect, sharpness. VR shouldn't be used with the
lens/camera on a tripod so there is yet another slider to
set correctly and Murphy's Law dictates you'll forget
this when shooting someting of critical importance or
using slow shutter speeds.
Like the predecessor it uses the trick of shortening the focal length during focusing meaning that in a distance from slightly less than 40 cm to 31.4 cm (near limit), the magnification changes dramatically from 1:2 to 1:1. Fine if you hand-hold the lens, hopeless if the camera is on a tripod since you cannot adjust focus ever so slightly without altering the framing of the subject in a major way. This in fact was the very reason I dropped using my 105/2.8 AF and reverted to the manual f/2.8 and f/4 models instead.
Colours are rendered better than the old 105 AF and the bokeh is much better. The "nano" coating probably gives crisper images as well. However, the optimum aperture range is still f/5.6 to f/11, and the IF design gives a some longitudinal CA, indicated by slight emphasis to reddish fringes in the foreground and the complementary greenish ones in the background of the focused zone. Lateral CA isn't very obvious, much less so than with the older AF version, but you can observe slight vestiges of it on the D2X.
AF action with the TC14E is slow and slightly erratic, and with the TC17E just a bad joke. True, Nikon warns against AF with TCs and evidently for a good reason. You do get VR with the converters, CA isues are added, and sharpness declines a bit. But the lens will give greater than life-size images with the converters. In fact, as long as there is no "G" compatible extension ring in the Nikon product line, this is the only way of going beyond 1:1 with the AFS 105 VR lens (I'm not familiar with possible third-party offerings).
Is the 105VR Micro a good lens? The answer likely depends on how you intend to use the lens. Obviously a lot of engineering efforts have gone into the new design and for many this will be a dream lens, in particular for portraiture or the casual close-up snapshot . I'm lukewarm and have no immediate plans of purchasing one for myself, although my aim of owning each and every Micro-Nikkor conflicts a little with this decision.
OK, so I eventually yielded and added it to my line-up of Micro-Nikkors. Just proves I'm human, yes? Well, I proved my sanity by selling off the lens a few months later, replacing it with the Voigtländer 125 mm APO-Lanthar.
On the D3, the 105 VR gives high contrast images and excellent colour rendition, but similar to what I observed on DX models, the image isn't entirely convincing unless the lens is stopped to f/5.6 or so. Field flatness is excellent as expected from a Micro-Nikkor, though. CA seems to be under strict control, but can occur in the near range for high-contrast subjects.
|105 mm f/4 Bellows-Nikkor||4.5
short-mount lens replaced the old 135 mm f/4 design for
use on bellows around 1970. It had preset aperture in 1/3
stop increments, one of a very few Nikkors ever to have
such fine control of the aperture settings. The optical
design is a Tessar derivative calculated for close focus,
and the image quality is excellent. Single-coated, the
lens is prone to flare, however. This optical formula was
transferred unchanged to the first 105 mm f/4
Micro-Nikkor (see below).
UV: Probably because of its single coating and the non-complex optics , UV response is adequate. Don't expect miracles in terms of sharpness, though.
IR: I was surprised to learn how well this lens performs in IR. Excellent sharpness and a lack of hot spots is a winning combination. However, there is a significant focus shift involved with IR, so you do need to conduct some tests of correct focus, or use a LiveView-enabled camera.
|105 mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor||
are divided regarding the optical quality of this lens,
which derives directly from the Bellows 105mm f/4. My
sample is excellent, however. Getting top-notch results
demands that the lens is stopped down less than ~ f/11,
because image quality deteriorates rapidly from there on.
This behaviour is by the way typical for all
Micro-Nikkors. Although it's multi-coated, flare still
can be a problem for some shooting situations. The
earliest (AI) version lacked the small locking screw to
secure the focus setting, and thus the focused distance
would change when the lens was pointed downwards. It
focuses to 1:2 on its own and the PN-11 extension ring is
needed to give 1:1 magnification.
A terrific macro capacity can be given this lens by mounting the short-mount Bellows 105mm f/4 onto its front thread. The lens head should not be reversed in this case, contrary to usual practice, and is easily attached to the 105 Micro by using the K3 ring. This setup yields 1-2X magnification without any light loss at all so effectively equals a 50 mm f/2 lens! The viewfinder is brilliantly clear and focusing the package is a joy compared to other setups I've tried. I have obtained my sharpest insect photos ever using this combination. The only drawback is that the working distance can be a little on the short side for shy objects.
On the D2X, you are assured superb image quality for near subjects (distant scenes not yet tested). Images are crisp and clear across the entire frame at f/4 and get even better when the lens is stopped down. The field flatness is remarkable and no ills from CA can be detected. Quality holds up well even at f/16 on D2X.
IR: Very good. No problems detected, no hot spots. There is a focus shift that largely can be taken care of by refocusing according to the red dot on the focusing scale.
|UV-Nikkor 105 mm f/4.5 (UV-Micro-Nikkor)||Visible light
isn't much to be said about this special-order design.
With a spectral transmittance ranging from 200 to 900 nm,
this is the ultimate lens for doing ultraviolet (UV)
and infrared (IR) photography. It gives incredibly sharp
pictures - period - surely this is one of Nikon's finest
lenses ever - end period. Even at a list price of
$3.000,- it can be regarded a real bargain in quality
terms. The lens is by the way a true "Micro"
design and therefore focuses to 1:2 by itself. In fact,
the first batch of these lenses were labelled 'UV-Micro'.
Towards 1:2 it nearly doubles its physical size, but as no shortening of focal length occurs a long working distance is kept. It reaches life-size 1:1 when the PN-11 tube is added. The lens coating is optimised for the UV range and is less effective for visible light photography so flares quite easily when it is used for ordinary pictures. For visible photography the use of a UV filter (L37C) is imperative. At f/5.6 to f/11 it delivers outstandingly sharp images even for ordinary photography. However, the magnificent optical quality is fully unleashed only when it is employed for recording UV images.
High-resolution digital cameras, such as Nikon D1X, will also display the superb optics of the UV-Nikkor. What a pity this lens now is discontinued, because UV recording by D1X is a breeze using it. Mind you, "discontinued" does not entail "obsolete"....
If you do broad-band photography with this lens (Nikon rates it for the 200 to 900 nm range, which is huge indeed), be aware that its UV and IR focus are slightly different, so one needs to stop the lens down quite a bit to keep good sharpness. Also, if focus is adjusted for UV/visible light and there is a high proportion of IR light entering the UV-Nikkor, some colour fringing (due to IR) can be found. The remedy is using a more efficient IR-attenuating filter, refocusing for better IR focus, or concentrate on IR only.I have reduced its rating for IR because of the focus shift. Ignore this if the focus shift doesn't bother you.
Surprisingly, a new UV 105 mm with identical spcifications to the old classic has been released in the autumn of 2005, made by Tochigi Nikon, an industrial subsidary of Nikon. So UV freaks may now have another go with this elusive and expensive optic.
|120 mm f/4 IF Medical-Nikkor||
lens improves the design of the 200 mm Medical-Nikkors by
offering a bigger ringflash and much better optics. The
aperture is interlinked to focusing so changing
magnification automatically alters the aperture. This
design makes snapping close-ups quick and simple, but the
approach appears awkward compared to modern TTL flash.
The biggest drawback with the 120 IF is that effective
aperture is smallest at high magnification, the exact
opposite of what is optically desirable.
This lens is really not suited for use on D1- or D2-series bodies, if you want to balance the ring flash with the background. However, for the quick and reliable close-up shot, you could hardly find anything more convenient.
|Voigtländer 125 mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar||
"macro" design, made by Cosina of Japan, is a
rare gem indeed. The beautiful workmanship and external
appearance bear a close resemblance to the Zeiss ZF
series that appeared about one year later, also made by
Cosina. Probably the lens was only produced for a short
while (one year?). A real pity since it is worth every
penny you have to pay for a sample of it.
The optics are superbly corrected, renders vividly satured colours and high-contrast images all the way from infinity to the close limit at 1:1. Focusing is by a quite narrow collar, but the focusing itself is remarkably silky-smooth. The Voigtländer is equipped with an aperture ring and thus easily can be combined with extension tubes or a bellows unit. The click-stops on the aperture ring are very precise unlike most Nikkors.
The lens barrel does extend signficantly when the lens is focused closer, but since the rear element stays put, some kind of focal-length change in conjunction with CRC wizardry must be in play. Still, the free working distance at 1:1 is 19 cm, which is much better than with most 105 mm close-focusing lenses. Flare is well controlled but you can provoke it to give some ghosting. The filter thread is 58 mm and the lens came with an unusual quadratic lens hood that bayonets to the front.
This is the lens that has replaced the 105 VR as my all-round lens for close-ups on DX and FX cameras.
IR: The 125 mm APO-Lanthar is unsuited for IR photography, since there is a huge hot-spot present in IR no matter what aperture is used, or whatever filtration is used. Sad but irrefutable true.
|135 mm f/4 Bellows-Nikkor||
|Originating from the rangefinder era, this short-mount lens head shows it heritage by an old-fashioned preset ring for the unevenly spaced aperture settings. On the plus side, it delivers quite sharp pictures with a very nice "bokeh" thanks to its rounded aperture. Contrast is moderate by modern standards and the lens is single-coated, thus making it possible to apply this lens for long-wave UV photography. Beware of the possibility of lens flare, however. Because it has a remarkably large image circle, it can be applied for medium-format photography as well. I have used it for UV photography on my 6x9 cm Arca-Swiss F-Line camera with great success.|
|160 mm f/5.6 FAX-Nikkor||
lens with a beautiful craftmanship, this lens of days
long gone is a very fine performer for UV photography
with the digital camera. Nikon gave it flat spectral
response down to 350 nm, and my tests indicate a useful
response even lower than that.
It projects a huge image circle, so obviously cutting out just a tiny bit of this with the DSLR cannot really match the quality from DX/35 mm dedicated lenses. However, used for UV photography, the results are very crisp and clear even with the D70, and are remarkable on any larger recording format.
There is - of course - no focusing means of any kind here, but its 58 or 62 mm threads can be used for step rings to make mounting the lens on a bellows feasible. The design is perfectly symmetric and its optical performance hence holds up quite well towards infinity, despite the lens being designed for close-range work.
|200 mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor IF AIS||3.5
nicely handling lens, that due to its IF construction
focuses very quickly and smoothly. It renders quite sharp
images within the optimal range of f/5.6-f/11, but either
wide open or stopped well down quality isn't that
impressive. Depending on the subject and focused
distance, residual colour fringing can be an issue as
often observed with IF designs. This in particular holds
for the out-of-focus areas in the image. The lens flares
quite easily and ghosting can really be prominent when
shooting with it into the sun. By itself it focuses to
1:2. Nikon advocates the use of TC-300/301 to get to
life-size 1:1, but this gives a very dark and
vibration-prone package, and the image quality declines
significantly by adding the teleconverter.
It's much better, and simpler, to use the close-up lens 4T for attaining this magnification. Note however that 4T must be mounted in a reverse position in order to give good image quality (the AF Micro 105 behaves in the same way). This is easily achieved by mounting 4T onto a 52/52 mm thread reversal ring. You can glue together two Cokin adapter rings or similar in a piggy-back fashion to get a makeshift solution. Cheap - but it works. The reason why reversal gives better quality is likely linked to improved control of spherical aberration. Alternatively, the close-up lens is designed to correct field curvature, but a Micro-Nikkor is designed as a flat-field lens so adding a close-up lens might overcorrect thus creating unsharp corners. Try out for yourself.
Evidence of CA is more pronounced when this lens is used on a DLSR. On the other hand, since the current "DX" format of Nikon DSLRs is smaller than 24x36mm, you get less trouble with softening of the image corners.
|AF-Micro-Nikkor 200 mm f/4 ED||5
bigger than its MF forerunner in every respect: Size,
weight, price, and optical quality. I consider this one
of Nikon's premier lenses. However, I find it cumbersome
to operate hand-held and its AF action is quite slow even
on the F5. This is of little concern because only a fool
or newbie would seriously consider using AF for doing
close-up photography under field conditions (this is
valid for any "macro" lens). Mounted on a
tripod, it handles quite well, but manual focusing is
much heavier than on the MF 200 and putting the focusing
collar up front of the lens doesn't help either.
Pictorial results are outstanding and this lens gives the
proverbial razor-sharpness within its optimal range
f/4-f/11. Stopping further down results in a significant
softening of the image. It also flares less easily than
the MF 200 lens and ghosting is better controlled, too.
To go beyond life-size, adding the 6T close-up lens is
the preferred choice. As with all AF Micro-Nikkors, the
close-up lens should probably be mounted in a reversed
position to ensure optimal corner-to-corner sharpness.
When the 200 ED is applied to landscape photography, f/11
is the optimum (and only) setting that renders
Many AF 200 Micro Nikkors develop a problem with the A/M collar. It has a poor plastic construction, is too wide, and hairline cracks eventually develop around the mounting screws. On my sample, the collar broke apart after 6 years of not being used. Secure the collar with tape from the onset and forget about AF, which is useless for close-ups anyway.
IR: The 200 AF is troubled by IR hotspots, so is not recommended for critical IR work.
|Medical-Nikkor 200 mm f/5.6||
example of Nikon's commitment to producing speciality
lenses, it came with a built-in ring flash to make
medical photography quick and simple. The flash is
powered by a separate battery pack, or a mains AC/DC
Image quality cannot match modern close-focusing designs, though. You only have fixed reproduction rates which are achieved by combining members of a set of dedicated close-up lenses. The lens itself has no means of focusing.
However, it's my preferred lens for ant photography (not joking; ants do produce unpleasant acids and a long working distance is needed!)
Last Update 27 August, 2008