Technology & Philosophy

vol.3

What makes NIKKOR lenses so appealing?

  • Vol. 1
  • Vol. 2

The pillar of NIKKOR lens design

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

While the previous volume mentioned the fact that lenses reflect the individual preferences of their designers, the unique characteristics of each lens are backed by a steadfast NIKKOR identity. This design philosophy, however, is not clearly spelled out. New hires spend their first year in off-the-job training, having the philosophy behind NIKKOR's optical design drilled into them. Experienced designers teach employees assigned to the design department part way through their career about NIKKOR's aberration balance. The design department has a major school of thought to which designers must adhere, but it also allows room for individual preferences and characteristics.

Koichi Ohshita

Development Sector
Imaging Business Unit, Nikon Corporation

Born in Hiroshima in 1962. As a child who loved watching stars, his passion brought him to join Nippon Kogaku K.K(. presently called NIKON CORPORATION) in 1985. His first product as an designer was the NIKONOS RS R-UW AF 28mm f/2.8, followed by viewfinders single-lenses and lens for the COOLPIX compact digital camera. He is currently in charge of designing the 1 NIKKOR lens. As for interchangeable lenses, he has designed the AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D IF and Ai NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8P.

Development SectorHiroki Harada

Aberration balance appropriate for NIKKOR lenses has been clearly determined. However, the way in which this aberration balance is achieved varies significantly by individual designer. Once the determined aberration balance has been achieved, designers are free to apply their own individual preferences. While this is actually quite difficult, it is also a lot of fun.

Hiroki Harada

Development Sector
Imaging Business Unit, Nikon Corporation

Hiroki Harada started photography in his high school art club. Impressed by the fullness of the wood that stood out from the prints of large trees he took with his first purchase, a1950s bellows camera, Harada states, "I was unsure of whether or not it looked more solid than the resolution, but this is when I began to hold it as a standard for the quality of lenses". In college he majored in physics and belonged to the photography club, but he often cut classes to spend his days holed up in the darkroom focusing on his prints. Intrigued by the difference of his photographic prints and the reproducibility of mass printing he discovered through hisself- publishing experiences, Harada became even more obsessed with the depth of photography. Within three years of joining Nikon he engaged in the technological development of stepper motors. From there he would use the intercompany free agent system to switch over to lens design, where he was placed in charge of the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED among others. In his free time Harada develops monochrome prints at home and enjoys viewing photo collections and exhibitions.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

Another important point is to make sure that the lens is finally manufactured as designed. Our job is not just to design lenses. It is vital that the lenses we design can actually be manufactured to achieve the design intent, and that they are capable of taking pictures that satisfy design goals. Users do not purchase lenses based on design values. They purchase them based on how well they render images.

The road from design to manufacture is long

Development SectorHiroki Harada

Quite some time is spent working with the production team, as collaboration with them is absolutely vital.
For example, because we are only able to achieve large ED lens elements and aspherical lens elements because of the skill of our technicians, we work closely with them from the first stages of design.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

While working with the production team, it is also important that lens designers collaborate with mechanical designers and those in charge of electronics to achieve their design intent. Regardless of how interesting a lens may be optically speaking, it cannot be completed without the assistance of mechanical designers who tell us where motors should be positioned, how and where components, including electrical components, should be arranged, and how lenses should be stored. Electrical engineers also play a large role in determining aspects such as AF speed.

Favourite lenses

Development SectorHiroki Harada

My absolute favorite lens is always the one I am developing at any given time. While I can't show it to you yet, my favorite right now is the FX-format 35mm f/1.8 that I designed. Because the f/1.4 is faster (brighter) than the f/1.8, it is also quite a bit more expensive. However, I concentrated my energy on ensuring that the f/1.8 would offer a relatively high level of performance. For the aberration balance of this f/1.8 lens, I used our superior lenses from the past as a reference. This aberration balance refers to balance such as that between sharpness and chromatic aberration, and bokeh. I used OPTIA to analyze these characteristics. The balance between size and weight, and a minimum focusing distance of 25 cm is also important. As the f/1.4 offers an appropriate amount of bokeh for that lens, I hope everyone will try them both so that they might enjoy choosing between them depending on occasions.

AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G

AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

Personally, I often use the older Nikkor 28mm f/1.4. I don't think that any other 28mm lens offers such large and beautiful bokeh. I enjoy astrophotography. With this type of photography, the difference between f/1.4 and f/1.8 is great. A fast lens is absolutely vital to clear capture of shooting stars. The number of shooting stars that can be reflected is significantly different.

Ai AF Nikkor 28mm F1.4D

Ai AF Nikkor 28mm F1.4D

Development SectorHiroki Harada

This is a photo I took with the 35mm f/1.8. I was drinking sake at home one night during a full moon. I photographed the reflection of the full moon in the glass. The photo was easy to take because this lens supports a minimum focusing distance of 25 cm. This allowed me to get very close to the glass.

A day in the life of a NIKKOR lens designer

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

Nikon lens designers have always been regularly instructed to first take pictures themselves. Therefore, we often spend working hours out taking pictures. Many lens designers are somewhat peculiar, and we spend a lot of time taking pictures and considering how to achieve designs that will satisfy our photographic goals.

Development SectorHiroki Harada

It's true that there are a lot of designers who are a little odd. Even our coffee breaks are spent talking about lenses and discussing designs. It is during these unreserved, free discussions that some of the best ideas are often born. Good or bad, many of us are photography geeks. We often design lenses by considering what we want to do with our own photography, and many of us take our own test shots.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

The know-how and ideas of individual designers, cultivated in this way, are shared with the group in an effort to produce new NIKKOR philosophies.

Important aspects of lens design

Development SectorHiroki Harada

In the initial stages of lens design, there may be information to which we can refer to some degree, but for the most part the road ahead is unclear. It is like climbing a mountain, the summit of which cannot be seen. Even if you begin climbing along a path that seems correct, you may discover that the chosen path will not take you to the summit. When this happens, some will decide to descend and begin again along a different path while others will fight their way to the top along the current path. Developing lenses with completely new specifications is the same as finding a new path up a mountain. It is rarely found on the first try. Rather, we most often end up slipping backwards several times. Sometimes, when you find a path that looks like an animal trail, it takes you higher than you expected. We feel triumphant when this happens. The well-known designers of the past also discovered their own routes that were beyond the common knowledge of the time. To follow in their footsteps, I put my energy into keeping an open mind that allows me to consider a variety of routes and maintaining an optimistic outlook, even when I slip.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

Mountain climbing! That is a good metaphor. Lens making can also be called an art in that there are no correct answers. However, I do not mean that the lenses we have made are works of art. I mean that a work of art is first achieved when a photographer takes up a lens and captures an amazing photograph. I always wonder what sort of person will use this lens to capture what sorts of photos, and I include myself in these thoughts. The time I spend designing lenses while considering these things is truly wonderful time spent.