Lenses that have made history.

Profiles of noteworthy NIKKOR lenses

There are some lenses that are referred to as historic. There are various stories behind the creation of these lenses, and it would be safe to say that the materials and technological developments that gave rise to them have also brought prosperity to our current photographic technology. Here we introduce a selection of some of these epoch-making lenses.


NIKKOR-H C 5cm f/2(1946, for mounting on Leica cameras)

NIKKOR-H C 5cm f/2
(1946, for mounting on Leica cameras)

With the end of the Second World War in 1945, Nippon Kogaku (now known as Nikon) began to focus more on developing consumer equipment. The same year saw Nikon decide to produce photographic lenses, developing first a series of interchangeable Leica mount lenses in the 5cm f/3.5(1945), the 5cm f/2(1946), the 13.5cm f/4(1947), the 8.5cm f/2(1948), the 3.5cm f/3.5(also 1948), and the 5cm f/1.5(1949). It is said that Saburo Murakami designed each of these six lenses himself.


W-NIKKOR 3.5cm f/1.8 (1956, Fast Standard Lens)

W-NIKKOR 3.5cm f/1.8
(1956, Fast Standard Lens)

A modified planar model with 7 elements in 5 groups created by famed designer Hideo Azuma. A minimum filming distance of 0.9 m. At the time, this was said to be the fastest wide-angle lens in the world. Mr. Azuma's achievements were great, and many still claim that he laid the foundations of aberration balancing for NIKKOR lenses. The patent application for this normal wide-angle lens was submitted in 1956 and granted by the United States patent office (US PAT) in 1959, evidence that they recognized that a new type of lens had been invented. The 3.5cm lenses of this era were mainly f/3.5 or f/2.5, so the appearance of a lens even faster than f/2 was also the description of the word “invention” for the world as well.


Nikkor-S・C 8.5cm f/1.5( 1952 )

Nikkor-S・C 8.5cm f/1.5
( 1952 )

There were two master photographers from the Showa era who shone faster than all the others: Ken Domon and Ihei Kimura. Ken Domon, who was known for his sharpness and documentary spirit, loved NIKKOR lenses all the way from 35mm to larger sizes. Ihei Kimura, on the other hand, was famous for being a wizard with Leica who excelled at taking snapshots full of humanity and views of daily life. It was often said that Ken Domon took photos full of masculine strength, while Ihei Kimura's images were feminine and chic. But, the lens both of them loved and used to create many of their most famous works was actually the NIKKOR 8.5cm f/1.5. Both of these masters broke the common misconception that NIKKOR lenses were unpolished and not good for photographing people. It's said that this lens takes pictures that are soft stop down the aperture to the point of release with fine lines, but also have rich tone and appealing bokeh. Just stopping down the aperture two stops removes any conspicuous flaring and makes the picture sharp with a moderate amount of contrast. Stopping down the aperture to f/5.6-8 adds even further contrast and sharpness.


NIKKOR-H Auto 2.8cm f/3.5(1960, High Power Retro Type)

NIKKOR-H Auto 2.8cm f/3.5
(1960, High Power Retro Type)

The lens was released in March of 1960, the year after the Nikon F. At the time it was a high power lens with all the best specs available, but it is also just as important for being the lens that made single-lens reflex cameras become recognized as all-purpose. Most cameras at the time had a rangefinder and interchangeable lenses, whereas single-lens reflex cameras still didn't have any outstanding wide-angle lenses and were as such viewed as cameras for either long-distance or close-range shots that would be too difficult for a rangefinder. The Nikon F, which appeared in 1959, was designed to be an all-purpose camera that surpassed rangefinders by being capable of handling any type of situation. In order for the Nikon F to be accepted as such, it became urgent to develop a high performance wide-angle lens. NIKKOR designer Mr. Wakimoto dramatically corrected and improved the comatic aberrations at the edge of the field that had been the weakness of retro focus types, resulting in a 28mm lens with excellent performance. Many out there still believe that not even the lenses we have today can compare to the quality of images this lens produced. Photographs that faithfully depict the details of their subjects have a knife-like sharpness and power from the maximum aperture. This lens perhaps created the image of NIKKOR lenses as being sharp with crisp contrast.


Micro Nikkor Auto 55mm F3.5(1961, SLR High-Performance Micro)

Micro Nikkor Auto 55mm F3.5
(1961, SLR High-Performance Micro)

Microphotography was often associated with copies and miniature copies. In Japan immediately after the war, the decision was made to introduce the same micro file system that was cutting edge technology in the US as a way of safekeeping valuable historical data and documents. However, the maximum aperture of the system's optics at the time was small and lacked resolving power. In particular, the kanji used back then often featured many strokes, so it was said that in order to differentiate between them, several times the resolving power used for the English alphabet would be required. After much design trial and error, the NIKKOR 5cm f/3.5 was perfected following the second prototype. Professor Koana then astounded the world when he used the freshly completed NIKKOR lens to fit all 70 pages of Ichiyo Higuchi's novella “Takekurabe” onto a single micro card.

Mr. Azuma and Mr. Wakimoto developed the Micro NIKKOR after receiving a request from Professor Koana. In 1956 the Micro NIKKOR 5cm f/3.5 for S-mount cameras was released. As time passed and the era of the Nikon F arrived, Mr. Wakimoto began making design revisions in order to extend the length of the rear focus of the popular S NIKKOR. As a result, the focus distance was extended by 5mm, and the Micro Nikkor Auto 55mm F3.5 arrived and made “Micro NIKKOR” a household name.

The first release in 1961 was a manual lens that made it possible to shoot at the same magnification with a single lens. 1963 saw the release of the Micro Nikkor Auto 55mm F3.5, which featured an automatic aperture mechanism that kept the lenses' maximum shooting magnification at 0.5. This was the true start of the history of Micro NIKKOR.


PC-NIKKOR 35mm f/3.5(1962, the World's First SLR PC Mechanism)

PC-NIKKOR 35mm f/3.5
(1962, the World's First SLR PC Mechanism)

The PC-NIKKOR was released to much acclaim in July of 1962 as a removable lens for single-lens reflex cameras. The developer's concept was to realize tilt-shift, one of the most natural techniques of large cameras, with highly portable 35mm (135) single-lens reflex cameras. Countless design experiments were conducted before the first PC-NIKKOR 35mm f/3.5 was completed. While the initial prototype did feature a tilt mechanism, unlike larger lenses the 35mm wide-angle lens had a sufficiently deep subject field, so the mechanism was removed since it was determined it would not be used very frequently. Thanks to this, the lens was truly compact with simple mechanisms that were easy to use. It's safe to say that the development of the PC-NIKKOR lenses featured here was largely dependent upon the talent of the mechanical (lens) designers.


OP Fisheye-NIKKOR 10mm f/5.6(1968, the World's First Aspherical SLR Lens)

OP Fisheye-NIKKOR 10mm f/5.6
(1968, the World's First Aspherical SLR Lens)

Nikon has a long history with fisheye lenses that begins with the 16mm f/8 (180-degree angle of view) in 1938. In March of 1957 this lens was modified to create the Fish-eye-NIKKOR 16.3mm f/8. The OP Fisheye-NIKKOR 10mm f/5.6 then appeared in 1968 as NIKKOR's fourth fisheye following the 7.5mm f/5.6. As an orthographic projection lens, the OP Fisheye depicted subjects in the center much larger than other fisheye lenses, with other subjects in the circumference seeming more squashed and small. It was possible to create an accurate orthogonal projection by making the foremost lens aspheric. So, the OP Fisheye was not only the world's first orthogonal fisheye lens, but also the world's first aspheric lens for single-lens reflex cameras.


Nikkor Auto 35mm f/1.4(1971, NIKKOR's First Multi-Coated Lens)

Nikkor Auto 35mm f/1.4
(1971, NIKKOR's First Multi-Coated Lens)

There were plans to make the W-NIKKOR f/1.8 even faster. Furthermore, the design was set to be wide-angle yet with the limitation of keeping the standard lens and filter size at the same diameter. The man placed in charge of designing the lens was Yoshiyuki Shimizu. Released in 1971, this is the first NIKKOR lens to feature multi-coating. Also the world's first 35mm f/1.4 lens for single-lens reflex cameras, it fittingly embodies all the best of Nippon Kogaku's technology at the time. Since the release of this lens, we have seen changes in lenses and the latest Super Integrated Coating, but it turns out that optical adjustments were actually added when the lens design changed to NEW-NIKKOR. While the fundamental composition of the lenses hasn't changed since its release,, Teruyoshi Tsunajima changed the composition of the glass and curvature of the lens, improving its efficiency of the aperture. The reason this lens has been so widely used in the subsequent 30 years lies in NIKKOR's spirit of continual perfection and improvement. A 35mm f/1.4 lens with filter-attachment size of 52mm is still unprecedented to this day. So, for the present this lens holds the title of the smallest 35mm f/1.4 lens for single-lens reflex cameras.


Super-Telephoto Lenses for the Olympics: 300mm f/2.8(for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics)
Super-Telephoto Lenses for the Olympics: 300mm f/2.8
(for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics)
400mm f/4.5(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
400mm f/4.5
(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
600mm f/5.6(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
600mm f/5.6
(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
800mm f/8(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
800mm f/8
(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
1200mm f/11(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)
1200mm f/11
(for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics)

Super-Telephoto Lenses for the Olympics: 300mm f/2.8
(for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics)

The advice of sports and news photographers plays a crucial role in the development of telephoto and super telephoto lenses. This is also one reason why NIKKOR's lens line-up features many lenses deeply connected to historic events. For example, the development of lenses used by focusing units such as the NIKKOR Auto 400mm f/4.5, NIKKOR Auto 600mm f/5.6, NIKKOR Auto 800mm f/8, and NIKKOR Auto 1200mm f/11 is tied to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, while the NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 is connected to the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. NIKKOR's first NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 in particular was born from requests by press photographers for a lens that would allow them to take sharp photos of the indoor events at the Sapporo games from as far a distance as possible. If you speak of NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 nowadays, you are probably referring to the telephoto lens that has proven so popular with both pros and amateurs, but back when it was first developed it was a piece of professional equipment made for special purposes. Foremost among its characteristics was its use of special low dispersion glass (later given the proprietary name of “ED (Extra-low Dispersion)”glass that allows it to completely eliminate chromatic aberrations that occur so easily with telephoto lenses. Another major feature is that the aperture is in the center of the optics system, giving it a normal aperture instead of an automatic one. Professional cameramen at the time stated, “When shooting indoor competitions, we only open the aperture at close distances. The smaller apertures are really only necessary when shooting slowly, so it doesn't matter that the aperture isn't automatic. That's why it's better to focus on high performance!” The optical design of the NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 was done by Yoshiyuki Shimizu, so surprisingly it had an image circle that covered a 6x6 area. In addition to good correction of chromatic aberration, little spherical aberration, and a slightly under-corrected feel, the lens had little astigmatism and negative field curvature. On top of this it also had high resolution and excellent separation of color, and photographers could expect good gradation and background bokeh.


Nikkor Auto 35mm f/1.4(1971, NIKKOR's First Multi-Coated Lens)

Ai AF DC NIKKOR 135mm f/2D
(1991, A Mid-Range Telephoto Lens that Explored Shallow Focus)

This is an ambitious and playful lens that tackled the major optical issue of being unable to capture the beauty of both foreground and background bokeh. Bokeh that is considered favorable generally has plenty of light gathered in the center with flare surrounding it. In other words, the shape of the bokeh is closely tied to the nature of any remaining spherical aberrations, which is why it is impossible to have both foreground and background bokeh. So, the idea of DC (Defocus Image Control), which would allow users to choose depending to suit each type of shot, was born. Of course, the flavor of the bokeh is to be found only with a large lens. It features RF (Rear Focusing) in order to achieve high-speed autofocus.

The construction is an altered Gauss type with 7 lenses in 6 groups with a DC ring that produces optimal spherical aberration for each aperture value by moving the third and fourth glasses while last 3 glasses are used for conducting rear focusing. The memory was set at f/5.6 due to small amount bokeh amount and poor DC effect if the aperture was set too small, but it was originally planned to go all the way to f/11, so the stroke of the DC ring remains capable of doing so. This is due to a playfulness that makes the soft focus effect interesting when the ring is fully rotated. This is a lens that is capable of showing off its strength even more when paired with a digital camera that lets you check the DC effect on the spot.


Super-Telephoto Lenses for the Olympics: 300mm f/2.8(for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics)

AF Zoom-Micro NIKKOR ED 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D
(1997, the World's First AF Zoom Micro Lens)

Microphotography requires zoom. For example, in microphotography using a tripod switching magnification is a tedious task even with the most familiar of lenses. But, if it were possible to zoom it would be much more convenient. This is the belief that drove the development of this zoom micro lens composed of two blocks of independent lenses that kept the span fixed even when zooming. The result is a great lens the can be used freely without changing working distance or focus point. Another characteristic of this lens is the way in which the image will not become dark if the exposure multiplier is doubled even at any distance. It proved very popular upon its release in 1997, and went on to win several awards as well as the first optics design prize at a conference presentation. The lens was especially beloved by optical designers, perhaps because it was the only place to experience freedom of usage that allowed them to quickly focus on a macro level while making the fine compositional adjustments using the zoom. This is one lens that is definitely recommended for photographing flowers or for shoots in the mountains.


AF Zoom NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR(2000, NIKKOR's First Lens with Auto Correction for Hand Movements)

AF Zoom NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR
(2000, NIKKOR's First Lens with Auto Correction for Hand Movements)

Though it wasn't a major hit due to being released too early in 1994, Nikon followed up their release of the Nikon Zoom 700VRQD, the first camera in the world with vibration reduction built into the lens, with the lens, the first removable lens to be equipped with vibration reduction. Made by the serious and steady optic designer Masayuki Aoki, this six-group zoom lens with the convex-led group reflects its maker's personality in its capabilities. It utilized the two-group vibration reduction that is a standard feature today, so it was able to deliver stable optic functions with little to no reduction in performance when the VR was activated.