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Archive for August, 2009

August 23, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

Nikon News Revisited — The Day Nikon Prophesied the End of FIlm

For film enthusiasts, it could hardly have been any darker or colder that eleventh day of January … 2006. Word began to spread like wildfire in photo forums around the globe. What started with a low murmuring whisper rapidly escalated into a raging, unstoppable whirlwind of fire. Far and wide — people came together to discuss the news and comfort each other as if it were the day Don McLean sang to us about when he narrated his epic American Pie. It was the day that Nikon USA issued a routine press release with the deceptively bland title of: “Reshaping Nikon’s Film Camera Assortment”. It was a day for Trojan horses. It was a day that would reshape photography forever — and it was a day which read in part as follows:

With film cameras accounting for an ever smaller percentage of Nikon’s total sales volume, the company has decided to concentrate its vast resources toward those business categories that continue to demonstrate the strongest growth. Consequently, as Nikon focuses more on the digital camera business, the company must adopt appropriate measures to ensure its continued success. With that, the Nikon film camera lineup will be reshaped, allowing more of Nikon’s planning, engineering and manufacturing resources to be focused on the digital products that now drive our thriving industry. The measures that Nikon will adopt include discontinuing production of all large format Nikkor lenses and enlarging lenses, as well as several of our film camera bodies, manual focus Nikkor interchangeable lenses and related accessories. Sales of these products will cease as supplies are depleted.


Film advocates and Nikon manual focus enthusiasts everywhere — had postponed into the distant future a day which digital photography would sweep them aside — but today the big shoe dropped. It was a moment of historical proportions that would tip the course of the future. It was the day that 35mm would die. It wouldn’t be long now before the great yellow grandfather would take our Kodachrome away. Old school masters were stunned — perhaps more like blind sighted. Nikon’s revelation was discussed in the same somber tones as if our favorite celebrity had just passed away. It didn’t matter if it were James Dean, Elvis Presley, or Michael Jackson. If you were from any other generation but the present — each of us felt just a bit of the same.

… Nikon will continue to produce the manual focus 85mm f/2.8D PC Micro-Nikkor(R).


Only a single specialized tilt-shift lens for commercial product photography had won a temporary reprieve. This lens had proven itself extremely popular as a macro lens, and was the only modern tilt-shift still left in Nikons line up.

With the interests of its customers in mind, Nikon will offer continued post-sale service for products whose production has ceased for a period of 10 (ten) years from Nikon Inc.’s last date of sale.


Ten years? In just ten years all official memories of legacy Nikon Ais, Ai, the Nikon mirror lens, and most Nikon manual focus product would be but distant memories? Scrubbed from Nikon’s list of replacement parts? Nikon had broken the last barrier. A new era was about to start, and we had to jump onto this new train or be left behind. It was the old timers I felt sorry for the most. The ones that had taken that Photoshop course six times — only to quit in frustration at exactly the same place each time. The ones who knew how to work the knobs on their cameras, and roll there own reel of black and white. The same ones with dark developer stains on their fingers, and fixer splash onto their shirt. The ones that came out pie eyed after six hours in the darkroom to proudly show their latest one-of-a-kind production. The big dogs – they were in for the worst. Many would just fade away. There was no place left for them but on the forums, where they could reminisce and wax gloriously to younger audiences about the days when they could practice their lore. Old soldiers, whom if you still look hard today, are but on the cusp of fading away. Vivere disce, cogita mori … or … learn to live but remember death. If the subject of Nikon News, views and tips piques your interest, be sure to come back and visit the Nikon News Hound from time to time. Or bookmark our RSS feed. We’re not a rumor site, but we hope to add valuable, intelligible comment and analysis to new and old Nikon technologies and how they might apply to photographers today.

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August 9, 2009 @ 9:50 pm

Knobby, Knurly, Neither — the three siblings of the nikon manual focus lens family

Nikon Manual Focus Lens

About half a century ago — back in 1959 — Nikon (nee – kon) made history with the introduction of the new Nikon F SLR (single lens reflex). It was the right 35mm film SLR for the right time.  Alongside, it had a complementary series of well engineered lenses. At that time the lens barrel used what was known as a scalloped metal focusing ring. These rugged black metal knurly lens designs lasted into 1974, when Nikon engineers started to replace them with a metal barrel and rubber focusing grip. Aside from offering tactile relief,  these rubber grips had the effect of performing reliably under conditions of heavy perspiration or dampness.

  • 1. Nippon Kogaku (pre-Nikon) 28mm f3.5 — shows the knurly scalloped ridges — or as some call the “hill and dale” design —of most nikon lenses manufactured prior to 1974. The metering prong on this model was factory converted from the original F style — to the Ai (aperture index) style. Note the holes in the prong so they they would allow light to illuminate the ƒ numbers behind it.
  • 2. Nikon Nikkor 50mm f1.8.— shows the knobby rubber waffle grip and diamond cut aperture ring.  Ai, and later Nikon Ais lenses had a meter coupling ledge on the rear of the lens which automatically mated with new cameras . The prong on the front was a legacy artifact that kept these lenses backward compatible with older non Ai compliant cameras.
  • 3. Nikon Nikkor 45mm f2.8 P — chronologically out of order, this lens was introduced in 2001. The focusing barrel is intended as a nostalgic complement that honors the fine traditions of it’s predecessors. The lens barrel is metal, the aperture ring is now plastic, but the numbers and marking are once again engraved.  A hybrid of both the knobby and knurly — this design balanced weight and size for the cameras of the day. The aperture prongs were considered redundant. Instead a computer chip was mated with the mount for coupling with matrix metering technology.
  • 4. Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f2 — for Nikon news was made when this radical new lens design was first introduced in 1990. Autofocus lenses were designed for both automatic and manual focus cameras. The epoxy graphite like composites and plastic components were necessary to reduce the weight of the lens so that the camera motor would not burn out. The effects of this compromise can be seen as the rubber waffle grip has fallen off and the plastic lip damaged. This model will not suffer the same torque and tension applied to any Nikon manual focus lens with an all metal barrel. The printed numbers and markings are also prone to wear with extensive manual operation.
  • 5. Zeiss ZF 50mm f1.4 — it was back to the future when Zeiss introduced this nostalgic design in 2006. The all metal focusing barrel and metering prong —redundant by Nikon standards — are meant to appeal to those who still respect the look, feel, and operation of a traditional Nikon manual focus lens. In the same spirit of going back to the future, the numbers and marking are engraved onto the lens and the focusing mount was most definitely made knurly — but without scallops.

Optically, each successive generation of a lens was typically much improved. However mechanically, they evolved so design compromises were necessary to balance the customers desire for lighter lenses, standard components, low cost, and new technologies. For those who have a critical preference for manual control of their optics — and there are a variety of reasons why this may be so — there is no better solution than an ergonomically designed barrel and grip. This type of exoskeleton is mandatory for optimum manual performance.

Up until a few years ago, it was not difficult nor relatively expensive to acquire a Nikon manual focus lens.  However a surge of new interest in high quality mechanical designs, manual control, and their inherent compatibility with some models of the Nikon SLR digital camera, is making these lenses much more difficult to find and buy. Especially ones in prime working order. For optimum manual control, Nikon news hound strongly recommends you consider trying some of the vintage Ai and Ais lens barrel designs  — or third party alternatives such as the Zeiss ZF. Knobby or knurly — don’t let the fine opportunity for manual control of your optics slip away.

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