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Repair: Nikkor 200mm f/4 (K/Ai)

Hello, everybody! Lately, there has been a shortage of cheap lenses in the junk markers in Tokyo so I haven’t added anything new into my lens collection for a couple of weeks now. There are many factors that contribute to this and one of them is the swarm of mainland PRC tourists flocking here to Tokyo. It was very different several years back but what can I do – it’s an open market and it is everybody’s right to shop. Luckily, I can still find a few good deals like the lens that we are going to talk about in this blog post.

Introduction:

We are going to discuss a very important lens in Nikon’s lens lineup during the 1970s and that lens is the Nikkor 200mm f/4 K/Ai lens! The K (New-Nikkor) and Ai version of this lens is near identical so you can use this guide for both lenses.  I have overhauled both versions and I cannot find anything different between the 2 versions.

IMG_0463The lens is pretty compact considering that the lens it succeeded was pretty long. The lens that it replaced is the Nikkor-Q 200mm f/4 and if you have been following my blog you will remember that I made a writeup of that lens a couple of months ago here.

img_2868Here is my collection of Nikon’s 200 f/4 primes. All of them were bought as junks and were restored during my spare time. These comprise all of the major cosmetic variants for this lens line and we will have a guide for each of these one of these days.

From left to right (chronological) you have:

  1. Nikkor-Q 20cm f/4 bis – This looks similar to it’s successor but there are a few small differences between the 2 in terms of construction. The latter lens was made more to be more durable and short cuts in production are also made to manufacture this lens faster/cheaper without compromising quality.
  2. Nikkor-Q 20cm f/4 – The subject of our blog post. While nothing much has changed from the previous version, there are numerous improvements made in productions to cut corners and also to make the lens more durable. Note that it’s slightly slimmer than it’s predecessor so parts are NOT interchangeable in most cases.
  3. Nikkor-Q 200mm f/4 – This is the last version of the Nikkor-Q range. The minimum focusing distance has been lessened to 2m, the handling and construction was vastly improved, the optics were tweaked a bit to offer better sharpness and the C version is probably the sharpest in this range because it uses Nikon’s multilayered coating. We have a guide for this lens and I advise that you also read it, here’s the link.
  4. Nikkor 200mm f/4K/Ai – This version/s represent a total departure from the older lens range because the optics are totally different. The lens is also smaller and lighter, for many people this change alone is a big deal when deciding which lens goes in the bag or stays in the dry box. The K (New-Nikkor) and Ai versions are near identical so I have bunched them together in one group. I also made a guide for this lens, click on this.
  5. Nikkor 200mm f/4 Ai-S – This is the last version in this long series. Optically, it is the same as the previous one above but the construction is totally different. The coatings are probably different on the later ones but I have no data for this. Handling is pretty much the same as the previous version and cost-cutting decisions are obvious in the construction, very typical of Ai-S lenses (scotch tape,anyone?).

IMG_0532The image above shows the 3 major versions of this lens (the Nikkor-Q 20cm f/4 lens wasn’t included because it’s too similar to the Nikkor-Q 200mm f/4).

The first versions are big lenses. It was well-regarded and very important to the history of photography for it achieved. The second version of this lens is noticeably more compact and it the optics were also updated to the standards of it’s time as well. Finally, the third version is made even smaller but the optics remained mostly the same apart from small improvements made to accommodate the Ai-S standards mechanically and ergonomically. Performance wise, the last 2 versions perform very similarly in my tests and the 1st one is probably the weakest of the 3 (but still VERY sharp) due to the older technology of the coatings and outdated optics.

(Click the thumbnails to enlarge, more images and discussions here)

I do not have a lot of samples shot with this lens on digital and the only things that I can find in my archive were scans from cheap C41 films. From the test shots that I made with this lens on digital, I can say that it is pretty sharp and it is still relevant today when used together with cameras with high megapixel sensors like the D7200. The lens is very light and I can imaging that this will be a nice lens for trekking. It also takes 52mm filters so it’s another advantage for keeping your system light. Small filter size means smaller filters as well as smaller attachments like hoods, ND filter holders,etc. I do not have to worry about stopping this lens down because even at f/4 the image quality is already excellent. Stop it down to f/5.6 and there is little that can be improved from here in terms of sharpness. You are only going to get more depth-of-field when you stop down further. Typical with lenses from this era, the chromatic aberration wide-open is a bit high and improves a lot when it is stopped down to f/5.6.

IMG_0531Here is the lens mounted on my Nikon FM – “Ferdie“. It makes for a very light setup that is great for hanging around your neck the whole day. In fact, I usually have this setup along with a Nikon F3 with a wider lens.

The reason why this lens line was not continued after the Ai-S version is probably due to the advances made in the designing of lens optics. This enables manufacturers to make small zoom lenses with comparable performance to primes while retaining a small lens chassis. The zooms also tend to have a more useful range of 70-300mm and this alone will make you decide against this lens because you can now bring just 1 lens instead of 3 lenses to cover that focal range.

Enough of the gear talk and let’s start opening up this lens!

Before We Begin:

If this is the first attempt at opening a lens then I suggest that you read my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Also read regarding the tools that you will need in order to fix your Nikkors.

I highly suggest that you read these primers before you begin (for beginners):

Reading these primers should lessen the chance of ruining your lens if you are a beginner. Also before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in Youtube and the internet. Information is scarce, vague and scattered (that is why I started this) but you can still find some information if you search carefully.

I highly recommend that you also read my working with helicoids post because this is very important and getting it wrong can ruin your day. If I can force you to read this, I would. It is that important!

For more advanced topics, you can read my fungus removal post as a start. This post has a lot of useful information here and there and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

About Me:

I am a photographer based in Tokyo who scours the junk section of the camera shops here on a regular basis. I started this hobby of fixing old lenses and cameras because I kept on getting scammed before when I purchase online. This turned out to be a blessing because I now buy junk lenses for a fraction of the price and then fix them to add to my growing now collection. This allowed me to buy gear that were otherwise off-limits to me if I were to get them in better condition.

I was a scale modeller before who built models for other collectors for a very longtime, got an education as a dental prosthodontist (but didn’t pursue dentistry) and growing up in a watch repair shop gave me the useful skills that would help me in this craft. Fixing my car also contributed some know-how.

Having mentioned the above, I will tell you now that I am not a professional repairman! So please take what I do with a grain of salt and I will never be held responsible for anything wrong that will happen to you and your project. I hope that the pros would guide and teach us but nobody is writing anything.

As my collection of repair notes grew, I get requests from people with similar interests and from professionals who just needed some notes just in case. Now, I am sharing my library with you for your entertainment and reference. I hope that you find my work useful.

Disassembly (Front):

Disassembly of this lens can be confusing as there is a lot of going back and forth. I will try and make it as simple as possible so please bear with me.

Like most lenses, we will begin the disassembly from the front part of the lens.This lens is one of those lenses made in a certain era when Nikon thought that it is a good idea to use plenty of glue. Go about slowly with a firm hand and use plenty of alcohol/solvents.

Now, if all you need to do is to clean the front elements then you can check out this video by Kenneth. Do follow his YouTube channel for repair videos.

IMG_0464To remove the front ring, extend and rotate the built-in hood until you see the set screw in the hole. Get a precision screwdriver and remove that tiny set screw.

IMG_0471Get sheet of rubber the size of a coaster and use it to remove the front ring using friction. Leather or any material will also do so long as it grippy enough. If you look at the picture, the encircled hole is where the set screw used to be in. If this ring refuses to move then it is most probably glued into place so you will have to place a drop of alcohol or acetone into this very hole and let it sit for awhile for the alcohol to work the glue before attempting to remove it again.

IMG_0472With the front ring gone, you can now remove the built-in hood from the front barrel. The front lens elements can be accessed by removing the retention ring at the front. Mine was glued into place so I place a drop of solvent into the seams of the front ring and as I let the solvent do it’s job softening the glue on the retention ring, I will clean the felt on the inner surface of the hood by scrubbing it with a soft toothbrush. Mine looks OK so I do not need to replace it.

IMG_0473Going back to the front of the lens, locate these screws and remove them. These 3 screws hold a cosmetic metal sleeve. Removing these 3 screws will not remove the sleeve because it is sandwiched in between the barrels so you will have to wait a couple of steps more to remove it.

IMG_0474By this time, the solvent has penetrated and softened up the glue in the retention ring, use a lens spanner to carefully remove this ring. This part can be tough to remove because it is screwed in really tight so be careful. Maintain a firm grip so your hand will not slip and the spanner is kept steady with pressure while you turn this ring counter-clockwise. The front element is exposed and you do not want to damage it or you will end up with a junk lens.

IMG_0475The front element can be removed using a lens sucker. Be careful and note which surface should face outward. You will need that for your reference later when you reassemble this lens.

IMG_0476Now that the front element is gone, you can simply drop this metal ring into the palm of your hands. This ring is used as a spacer of some sort so that the 1st element will not touch the 2nd element. This ring is milled with the same curvature as the elements so take note which side should be facing where.

IMG_0477The front barrel can now be removed after you remove the set screw that is securing it to the main barrel. Look at the picture and see the scar on the threads and that is where the screw was sunk into. The set screw on this lens crumbled and fell off of it’s own hole so I have no picture to show you. These things happen sometimes due to the age of the lenses.

IMG_0478Now that the front barrel is off, the metal sleeve can now be removed…

IMG_0479Removing the 3rd glass element requires you to remove another retention ring, this time it is on the opposite side of the front barrel. Use a spanner and carefully remove it and you may want to do the alcohol routine on this part because it is glued in place. Look at the pic above and you will see a waxy film on the seams and that is a sure indication of glue being applied to the threads.

IMG_0480After a little bit of alcohol and patience, the retention ring was safely unscrewed.

IMG_0481You can now remove the 3rd element using a lens sucker. These elements will usually take some time and a bit of effort to remove using a lens sucker because it is being held in place by vacuum or the tolerances were just to tight so do not force it or it may crack the edges of the element. Notice that I marked the edge of the element using a Sharpie. This mark will be cleaned off later before I install this during reassembly. It pays to be safe so mark and take plenty of notes or pictures!

IMG_0482OK, the 2nd element is not being secured by anything so it is in danger of free-falling into my floor! Luckily for me this is a tight fit or else I would be depressed. Again, mark which direction should be facing forward. This element looks symmetrical so marking it is super important because geometrically, there is nothing much this thing can tell you.

IMG_0483We have now stripped the front barrel to it’s bare components, congratulations!

Disassembly (Rear):

The bayonet and rear part of this lens is pretty straight forward. Be careful with the screws used in this section because they are usually glued. If you accidentally stripped any screws then you will have to use a screw extractor to get rid of the screw safely and cleanly. Avoid getting yourself into a situation where you would need to use the screw extractor.

IMG_0466To get rid of the bayonet, you will have to remove these 5 screws. Be careful with removing these because they are most likely glued in place with Loctite or epoxied into place as in the case of the K/New-Nikkor lenses. I just applied some alcohol into these screws and let it sit, some people will use a solder gun to heat the screws to soften up the Loctite before turning the screws while they are still hot. It does not matter which route you go so long as you use the correct type of JIS screwdrivers, you will not strip the screw heads so be careful.

IMG_0467The rear bayonet mount comes off without any trouble. Some lenses will have springs and some will have parts connected to the bayonet, this one has neither of them. You might be tempted to remove the aperture ring but wait till you see the next step.

IMG_0468The aperture ring is screwed to the aperture fork/prong inside the barrel. Simply unscrew these 2 screws and be careful not to damaged these. Treat them like the ones found on the bayonet plate because these are usually secured by Loctite.

IMG_0469Now that the screws are gone, the aperture ring can be extracted. If you look at the picture you can see that the 2 holes have some sort of residual powder left in it. That powder is the dried-up Loctite/glue that was used to secure the screws. Just take a look at all that yucky fungus feeding off of the old dried up grease. This is the reason why I take apart almost all of the lenses that I buy. It may look clean on the outside but the inside is a different story.

IMG_0470The aperture fork is what’s linking the aperture ring to a lever in the iris assembly. Simply pull the aperture fork from the lens but it might snag here and there so be careful as you pull it out.

Disassembly (Main Barrel):

This is the most challenging part of the lens because in order to make this lens compact, a lot of tricks have to be engineered and this makes things a little bit complicated. You will have to watch the order in which you dismantle things as well as how the parts interlock with each other. Do not forget to take plenty of notes and pictures as you go. Remember, this is not considered to be a lens for beginners.

IMG_0484Removing the rubber grip will reveal these screws underneath. Be careful while removing this because it may rip or tear. What I do is run a smooth rounded toothpick around the whole circumference of the rubber grip to free it from the contact cement that was used to glue it in place then I carefully pull the rubber sleeve out with my hands.

IMG_0485Before removing any of the screws in the focusing ring, be sure that the lens is focused all the way out to infinity. Remove these screws (3 all) and that should free the focusing ring.

IMG_0486Before removing the focusing ring or the screws, be sure to mark where the infinity mark should line up with the focusing ring, this will serve as your guide and reference later on when it’s time to reassemble the lens.

IMG_0487The focusing ring should come off easily. Just look at that disgusting gunk collected under the focusing ring!

IMG_0488This picture shows how the helicoid should be in relation to the white focus mark. Look at the picture carefully and you will notice another line that I made (circled). This line is used as a reference to the white line when the helicoid is compressed all the way until it will not go any further. I use this line to check if I indeed got the helicoid positions right.

IMG_0489Before removing the helicoids, we need to remove some other things in order to make that possible. Remove the metal grip by removing the 3 screws that are holing it in place. In the picture, I have encircled where these screws used to be.

IMG_0490Next, carefully remove these 3 screws to remove the helicoid key. You may need to heat or treat these with solvent first because in my experience, these are usually glued in place by something heavy duty like epoxy. Failure to treat these before removal can be risky and it may cause some of the screws to break into 2 pieces. Remember, these are OLD lenses.

IMG_0491With all the screws gone, the helicoid can be popped out of it’s slot. See what is left in the holes where the screws were? That is hardened decades-old glue. You can tell when epoxy was used by the colour, smell and appearance of the residue. Epoxy has the tell-tale smell of peanut butter, it tends to be beige in colour and it usually ends up looking like a bead on the the other end of the screw hole.

IMG_0492These 2 screws secure the aperture stop-down lever mechanism underneath. Before you remove these you would want to make some marks or take some notes.

IMG_0493I made a mark on the mechanism as well as on the surface on which it was installed. This mark will help me align this thing later. Only after marking this was I comfortable getting rid of the 2 screws.

IMG_0494It’s not time to separate the helicoids. I keep on saying this and I will not stop saying it in every blog post – ALWAYS MARK where the helicoids separate. If you forgot to do so then you are going to waste a lot of time figuring out where it should mate.

IMG_0495As soon as the central helicoid was separated, I removed the stop-down mechanism. This mechanism is connected to a shaft leading all the way to the iris assembly so it was a little tricky to remove it without separating the helicoids.

IMG_0496Here is a clear view of the mechanism.

IMG_0497And this is another view view. The encircled screw can be removed if you really wanted to overhaul this part as well. My lens was filthy so I needed to overhaul it, yours might be OK and clean enough so you can just leave yours alone unless you really want to have a clean lens in and out.

IMG_0498We can now finally separate the central helicoid and inner helicoid. Again, Don’t forget to mark where they separate!

IMG_0499The rear elements group should be removed before you proceed. Simply unscrew the barrel with your bare hands or use a spanner if there are slots there for your spanner bits to sink into.

IMG_0500There is a retention collar securing the iris coupling mechanism. This lens extends a lot. It can actually get pretty long fully extended so the aperture fork/prong needs to connect to this mechanism in order to affect the iris mechanism when the lens is fully extended.

IMG_0501And here is the mechanism. Simply pull this out of the barrel and appreciate it. Remember where and how things were connected before you remove anything. This lens can get a bit complicated when it comes to reassembly and this part is just one of those places where you should be careful.

IMG_0502To remove the iris assembly from inner helicoid, you should remove these screws but you should make a mark first to note it’s position. Look at the right side of the picture and you will see 2 lines that I scratched to the surface. Aligning these 2 lines means that the parts are in proper alignment.

IMG_0503After you are satisfied with the markings, you can remove the iris assembly.

IMG_0504The aperture blades were filthy but not oily as it functions properly anyway. But This is not acceptable to me so I will take it apart later.

IMG_0505The barrel containing the iris assembly can be separated from the inner helicoid by simply removing these 3 screws. Again, do not forget to make some marks for alignment.

IMG_0507And off it goes! If you did not make some alignment marks in the previous step then there is no going back.

IMG_0508Wow, just look at all that solidified grease. Encircled in the picture is a swivel mechanism responsible for stopping down the iris. The lens had to be made this complicated in order for it to be made this small.

IMG_0509To remove the swivel mechanism and clean it thoroughly, you need to get rid of the E-ring underneath it.

IMG_0510I do not have an E-ring / C-ring remover so I just used whatever I have to get rid of this. It can be difficult with a screwdriver and a tweezer but I did it.

IMG_0512Before pulling off the swivel’s shaft, you need to undo the spring from the column first or else you risk ruining this fine spring.

IMG_0513Now it’s safe to pull the shaft.

IMG_0523Let’s go back to the focusing ring. To clean this thing thoroughly, you need to remove the scale from the focusing ring. First, remove these 3 set screws so that you can unscrew the scale. These are being secured with a dab of black paint so use some alcohol or lighter fluid to soften the paint first before you attempt to unscrew these or you will risk ruining these.

IMG_0524Before I remove the scale, I made some marks so that I know how these should align later.

IMG_0525Finally, remove this cosmetic sleeve from the outer helicoid/rear barrel. Mine was secured by glue so I had to treat it with solvents and alcohol before it came of.

Disassembly (Rear Optical Block):

This part of the lens has nothing unusual that is worth noting. The only thing that where I spent some time and effort was on the retention ring because it was set too deep inside the barrel/baffle.

IMG_0514There is a retention ring inside and to remove it, I had to make myself a DIY spanner. Go to this link to see how I made mine. I used acrylic because it will not scar the alloy.

IMG_0515The rentention ring on my lens is glued so I had to treat it with alcohol first or else I would just chip the edges of my DIY spanner and ruin it.

IMG_0516The rear element can now be easily removed using the lens sucker. Notice that I scribbled a few lines on the lens to show which lens element it is and which side should face where.

IMG_0517After the last element is gone, you will have to remove this spacer. Be careful not to drop it on the floor because this thing is not being held by anything – no screws and no glues.

IMG_0518You can finally remove the 4th element with a lens sucker. The marks were made using a Sharpie and they will be removed before I reinstall the lens elements. I use a water-based marker, alcohol-based markers are also great.

IMG_0519Here are all of the glass elements. These are safely stored inside a plastic box while I finish the rest of the lens.

Disassembly (Iris Mechanism):

The iris assembly of this lens is impressive because it was made heavy duty. Surprisingly, it also has a 9-bladed iris. Overhauling this part is not difficult at all in fact I would even say that I had an easy time with this. If your aperture blades are snappy, clean and oil-free then I suggest that you don’t mess with these. If you need to clean yours, use lighter fluid and lens cleaning paper to wipe the dirt off from each blade. Be very careful when with the blades because these are delicate and if you bent one then the iris will not work properly.

IMG_0520The iris can easily be dismantled by unscrewing the barrel from the plate.

IMG_0521As you can see, this lens actually has 9 aperture blades, really neat for a cheap lens.

IMG_0522This the view from the other side. It pays to make notes and take pictures while you can as these will save you from guessing later on. Do notice that the shape of the iris is not very uniform. This can be fixed by jumbling the order of the aperture blades. There can be a lot of things that can cause this condition and one of those is storing the lens on it’s side for a very long time while the aperture was set to a very small aperture. I know that this sounds stupid but there is an “old wives’ tale” to store a lens while with it’s iris set to the middle like f/5.6. I have seen lenses where the iris is stuck wide-open or stopped all the way down. It seems that the blades have rusted and fused them into that position. If the lens is stuck at f/5.6 then you still have room to wiggle the aperture blades until the rust comes off. This might be the reason for the said “old wives’ tale” of storing a lens with it’s aperture set to f/5.6-8. Does it make sense? Maybe it does for lenses with steel blades that corrode.

Adjusting Infinity Focus.

Reassemble your lens as usual but leave out the focusing ring. You will need to adjust the infinity focusing of your lens just in case the tolerances has changed ever so slightly when you were dismantling your lens.

It is advisable to use a Nikon DSLR or any of the modern Nikon film camera bodies that has the focus confirmation dot on the LCD because they are much more accurate as compared to using a split prism on manual cameras.

IMG_0529Be sure that you have your lens in the same state as the one in the picture above. Focus all the way to infinity and loosen the 3 screws on the brass stop. Be sure not to loosen these 3 screws too much because if the part keeping this together comes loose then you will have to open the lens again just to put it back into position! Do you want that? I sure don’t. You just want to loosen it enough for the brass stop to move left or right when pushed.

Now, attach the lens to your camera and focus on a far away object like a building several kilometres away. Focus your lens until you see the focus confirmation dot turns SOLID and not when it’s blinking. A blinking dot means that the camera is not sure wether the object you focused is properly focused or not, you want to be as precise as you can with this step because everything is calibrated with the infinity focusing of this lens. If you messed this up then all of the distances in your scale will be off.

While your lens is accurately focused to infinity, move the brass stop left or right until you get it into position. In my case, the left edge of the brass stop should be situated squarely on top of one of the screw holes on the focusing ring. Put your focusing ring back and see if the focusing ring will stop turning when it hits infinity. When it does, give your self a pat on the back or else, try again until it does.

IMG_0530After the previous step is done, loosen the set screws on the focusing ring to loosen up the scale. While the lens is still focused to infinity, move the scale until the infinity symbol is centred exactly on the white focusing line then tighten the set screws to secure the scale. Do some more tests until you get this perfect. Finally, to secure the set screws use a small brush or toothpick and place a small drop of clear nail polish or semi-gloss black enamel paint on the set screw to seal it. Be careful not to make a mess and never use cyanoacrylate or super glue on this lens because it fogs

Congratulations! You have successfully overhauled an advanced prime lens (for it’s era).

Conclusion:

This lens actually took longer to overhaul than what I initially expected. It would probably take  you the whole afternoon and well into the early evening just to overhaul this thing properly. Most of that time will go to the proper disassembling of the aperture mechanism and stop-down lever mechanism. I would say that most zoom lenses will take more time to overhaul but this will probably be a close second.

The only things that you should be aware of during reassembly are the order and sequence of the parts as well as the numerous precision alignments found within the lens. Another thing which you should be very careful about is the direction of the lens elements. If you got them wrong then you will end up with a blurry lens. I have another sample of this lens and the elements were assembled in the wrong direction so I end up with a blurry lens that is impossible to focus. I got it for parts so it never mattered to me.

I hope that you enjoy this post. I took so much notes and adding the commentaries alone took me several afternoons. I will take a break and write a really short one in the next post. Thank you very much for supporting this blog, if you are not aware of our Facebook page then please check out this link. Until next time, Ric.

Help Support this Blog:

Maintaining this blog requires money to operate. If you think that this site has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the upkeep of this site, you can simple make a small donation to my paypal.com account (richardHaw888@gmail.com). Money is not my prime motivation for this blog and I believe that I have enough to run this but you can help me make this site (and the companion facebook page) grow.

Helping support this site will ensure that this will be kept going as long as I have the time and energy for this. I would appreciate it if you just leave out your name or details like your country and other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous it is at all possible. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Roman Prokhorov
    Jul 24, 2016 @ 16:57:47

    Good afternoon! Thanks for the very informative article! I read with pleasure! Respect and bowing

    Reply

  2. Stephan
    Aug 24, 2016 @ 11:03:17

    Hello,
    thank you very much for the very detailed description of the process. I have the same lens, it is very clean but needs some lubrication of the helicoids. Can you advise me which steps are needed to re lubricate “only”.
    thank you very much

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Aug 24, 2016 @ 12:58:17

      Hello, Stephan!
      That is a very difficult task since the lens’ construction is a bit complicated! You can follow all of the steps but leave out the ones that has anything to do with the optics because all you need to access is the helicoids. If this is your first lens I would advise you to follow this guide carefully and read all of the prerequisites like grease, screwdrivers,etc.

      There is a very lazy way to lubricate the helicoids and I would not recommend it but some people drop silicone oil into the helicoid itself. That is stupid because it will gum up the grease eventually. It will work for a couple of months,though. Ric.

      Reply

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