Repair: Nikkor-Q 135mm f/3.5 Auto

Hello, everybody! I was out looking for something cheap to eat as usual. I’m budget-conscious when it comes to things outside of my camera hobby and one of the things that I try to be cheap is food. I frequent Indian restaurants since they offer good value and cheap calories. I could ask for a roti refill or another serving of rice, for free. This means I could satisfy my caloric needs in a meal, that should last me the next day. While we’re on the topic of being cheap, I will introduce to you a lens that offers great value. Despite being an inexpensive item it’s able to give you adequate performance. Find out more about it in this article.

Introduction:

The venerable Nikkor-Q 135mm f/3.5 Auto was made from 1959 to 1979 and it was made in several versions. The most common version is cheap since it is one of Nikon’s most-produced lenses. Many people disregard it today due to its modest specs and abundance. Despite that, many people do not know that it used to be Nikon’s best moderate-telephoto lens for the F-mount for a short period and it has a couple of things that makes it appealing.

The Nikkor-Q 13.5cm f/3.5 Auto preceded it and it’s one of the original lenses for the Nikon F when it debuted. The one here is the late-production model, it’s the most-common variant and it’s the lens that we’ll showcase here. It’s an underdog, many people compare it to the Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto, an incredible lens but it costed a lot more in those days so it’s not fair. This has its place in the Nikon catalog, it offered a cheaper, lighter alternative to the bigger, pricier NIkkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto.

The venerable 4-elements-in-3-groups design was reworked, despite having the same layout the geometry of the elements are different, the optics of the Nikkor-Q 13.5cm f/3.5 Auto are not the same as this one despite both having a similar heritage. The change happened around 1969 and it has a 7-bladed iris instead of the older 6-bladed one. The optical design remained until the New-Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 was retired in 1977 and the Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai replaced it in the catalog. The latter has a totally-new optical design which made it more compact.

This is how cheap they are these days, I paid more for a pack of cigarettes. I often see these selling for less than $50.00 in good condition while the mint-condition ones could go upwards to $100.00, complete with box, etc. It does not mean that it’s suitable for everybody, the cheaper ones are usually non-Ai like the one you see here which means you couldn’t mount them on new Nikons that have rigid Ai-coupling tabs. The ones with the Ai-ring are a little bit more expensive, maybe $10.00 more.

Handling is quite nice but I feel that the focus-throw is quite long, it allows you to focus with it more precisely but that also means missed-photos when you have fast-moving subjects. It’s quite a long lens, its barrel is heavy and a bit fat but it balances well with most Nikons, from the older ones to the new ones that came out in recent years.

These come in several versions so it’s fun to collect them all. I will show you the major ones but there are more minor variants between them.

These are the major variations of this lens family with the earliest model to the right. From right-to-left, these are:

There are more sub-variations than what’s shown here but the differences are insignificant so I didn’t include them here. The Nikkor-Q•C 135mm f/3.5 Auto is similar to this one apart from having better coatings. The one in the photo above has the Ai-ring installed, a valuable upgrade. It is confusing to identify the versions but the easiest way is to look at the iris. A 7-bladed one is the late version like the one featured here and a 6-bladed one is an earlier one which has a different optical design.

Learning how to use your lens is important, you’ll know its strengths and its weaknesses. This knowledge will help you maximize its use and you’ll know if it is the right lens to use on an assignment or not. I shot these photos from f/3.5, f/5.6 and f/8 from left-to-right. We’ll see the most changes within these apertures and I also assume that these are what people would want to use it with most of the time.

(Click to enlarge)

There’s slight vignetting wide-open but it is gone by f/5.6. It’s not obvious at all and you won’t notice this in most of your pictures. When you have bright objects in the scene that are washed-out such as shiny reflections and other similar things in your frame then you will see some chromatic aberration in the bright spots wide-open. It generally goes-away by f/5.6 but it can still be observed if the bright spots in your scene are overblown. Check the dome in the 3rd set, you will see that it’s still present at f/5.6 but it’s not obvious at all in the 2nd set apart from the one shot wide-open. It’s mostly gone by f/8 but you can still see traces of it in extreme cases like the dome in the 3rd set. It’s also a sharp lens even wide-open, stopping it down will even make it better. Resolution is so-so and doesn’t seem to improve by much as you stop down. You can see some spherical aberration wide-open but it won’t show in your photos unless you have elements that can trigger it such as the white dome or a person in all-white costume. It’s a nice thing to have occasionally if you are taking portraits as it can help give a subtle glow to the skin.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more samples. It’s a pretty good lens when you know how to use it properly and avoid things that will show its flaws. Sharpness is what you’ll notice the most in the pictures along with good contrast and it is consistent across the lens’ aperture range. Saturation is also high but not too much, it’s just-right so your pictures look natural.

(Click to enlarge)

The bokeh quality is this lens’ weakest trait. It has a tendency to show rough or nervous characteristics when you give it a chance to, an example is when you’re focused somewhere in the middle of the focusing range. The pictures on the 2nd set illustrates this very well. It’s already terrible wide-open, stop it down a bit and it looks even worse and f/8 will make it seem like you are looking at colored sandpaper. This is a “feature” of this lens to make it more polite to my readers. It’s the result of using a 1950s lens design so the feel of the bokeh is also outdated. The good news is you can avoid this by focusing the lens closer to the minimum focusing distance. Doing so won’t make this lens magically acquire a smooth rendering but you can mask its rough look by doing so. If you look at the first set you will see that the bokeh still looks a bit rough but at least it’s not as terrible as the one we have on the 2nd set. If you stop it down, the character of the bokeh starts to look worse but it’s still better than what we’re looking at in the 2nd set.

This is probably the worst-looking bokeh quality that I have ever seen from a Nikkor. It looks like impressionist painting, some people may like this but I certainly don’t.

Here’s a real-world example. It will be impossible to always shoot this at the closer distances so it can be difficult to avoid the ugly bokeh. If this bothers you, consider the Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto. You can purchase those for a bit more and those have amazing bokeh quality.

Here are more pictures that were taken in real-world settings. Do click them to see larger versions of the photos. These will show you the potential of the lens for portraiture. It’s a great lens for its price if you learned how to use it.

(Click to enlarge)

The pictures above were mostly shot wide-open but I think that one of them may be shot at f/5.6 or somewhere around that aperture. Another weakness I can find with this lens is its rather outdated flare resistance when shooting against the light. Even if the sun or a bright light source is barely seen in the frame, it is probably strong enough to give you some contrast loss across the frame so I advise that you use a shade with it. Sphero-chromatic aberration can be a problem with things that have high-contrast such as twigs with the bright sky as the background or shiny subjects with a dark background. The good thing is this can be avoided by stopping the iris down or avoid the said scenarios that will trigger it. You also don’t see the ugly bokeh qualities here since I know how to use it well by now.

Let’s now see some photos that were taken with film. Photos that were shot with film has a unique look that is near-impossible to replicate with digital because of grain and how light reacts with it. This lens was also designed to be shot with film so seeing these pictures will give you a better idea on what this lens is all about. I took these using a Nikkormat EL loaded with Fujifilm Industrial 100.

(Click to enlarge)

The details look great with film as they do with digital but the biggest thing that you will notice is the rough quality of the bokeh is masked by film grain so you don’t see that happening in the photo of the bronze Buddha.

(Click to enlarge)

The character of the bokeh isn’t so bad now that grain is working for us. It’s nice and sharp wide-open, you get the impression that this was shot using a more expensive Nikkor until you notice that the transition isn’t as smooth as what the Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto is capable of.

(Click to enlarge)

Amazing sharpness and tones! The rendering isn’t as refined but it is still a good balance of correction and softness. The rendering feels cheaper and it pales in comparison to the Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto when it comes to the subtle ways that lens renders a photo.

(Click to enlarge)

This lens makes for a great portrait lens, you get nice skin tones with it and the subtle glow of spherical aberration helps a bit, too. It certainly has that “vintage-feel” to the pictures that many people are trying to mimic today in social media via filters, just use film and you’ll get this effortlessly.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are some more photos from that afternoon. The lens is perfect for use with film and it’s good that we saw these photos because they balanced my observations regarding its ugly bokeh quality. Shooting it with film showed that you should judge a lens that was designed for film with pictures that’s taken using film or else you’re not giving it a fair trial. I knew this for a long time and that’s why I always try to add photos that were taken with film in most of my reviews here in the blog.

That’s it for the introduction. If you want to buy one of these make sure that it has the convenient Ai-ring installed. That will allow you to use it with the newer Nikons that support the Ai-interface. Mounting a non-Ai lens with the newer Nikons will damage them because the lips of the aperture ring is long and will squash the Ai-coupling tab easily. Repairing it isn’t cheap, parts and labor can easily cost you $300.00 on average. Be sure that the iris is dry and snappy when you actuate it. The rings should turn in a smooth way and the barrel should collapse and extend flawlessly. Check its optics and make sure it’s clean, too. These usually cost from $30 up to $100, mint-in-box condition will obviously cost you more. This is a great lens for students or people who just want a simple manual lens, it’s a nice tool for teaching the once-famous attribute of photographers – patience. Having said that, be patient when you are hunting for one, you can get the right lens for not a lot of money and all you need to do is just wait.

Before We Begin:

If this is your first attempt at repairing a lens then I suggest that you check my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Also read what I wrote about the tools that you’ll need to fix your Nikkors.

I 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 novice. Before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in Youtube or 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 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 and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

Disassembly (Lens Barrel):

Working on the barrel is simple and some may even say that it is perfect for beginners but I’m going to say that while this thing is indeed easy to repair, there are many little things that will frustrate a beginner so pay attention to what I’m going to say in the commentaries. I’m going to tell you beforehand that you’ll need plenty of alcohol and solvents for this lens because there’s a lot parts that were sealed with lacquer and contact cement. You’ll also need the right tools for this such as precision drivers that fit perfectly and a good set of lens spanners with different tips. You’ll also need a set of rubber cups to help you open some of the retainers. As with most older Nikkor primes it is important that we remove the objective from the barrel as soon as we can so we can work on the lens without worrying about scratching anything.

begin by removing the bezel of the focusing ring, remove this set screw and then unscrew the bezel. Notice that the screw is a cross-type one – this is an indication that somebody else worked on this and probably lost the original set screw which has a minus slot.

If it’s stuck then you will have to apply some acetone to the screw’s hole and around the seams of the thread and let capillary action take the solvent into the deepest parts of the threads. You may want to use a grippy rubber glove to help you remove this. Be careful not to warp or damage this ring because you will end up with an uneven or rough-focusing lens when the bezel isn’t perfectly circular.

Once the bezel is gone, we can now remove this set screw. This secures the front barrel to the rest of the lens barrel.

The front barrel should come off easily. Notice the hole on the thread? That hole is used to lock the set screw into place so the front barrel stays. When it is time to re-assemble your lens later, make sure that the screw sinks into this. There is a way to modify this with a drill bit and pin vice but I will not be teaching you this technique here.

Carefully pull the objective’s housing from the barrel. Notice that the screw you see in this picture goes into the slot in the barrel. This is a standard way to secure the objective in most Nikkors. Earlier versions use a different way to secure the objective that involves 3 small screws to secure it to the barrel.

To remove the focusing ring, unscrew these screws that secure it but before doing so, make some marks so that you’ll know the approximate alignment of the focusing ring later on during reassembly. This is also how you adjust the focusing ring so that the marks will align correctly with the scale.

Carefully remove these screws to remove the bayonet. If you have not read my article on removing bayonet screws, please stop now and follow it. It’s an important article that teaches you how to work with screws in general. The internet is filled with stories about people who get stuck repairing their lens because they stripped the heads of their screws. Follow my article to avoid a similar fate, you have been warned.

With the screws gone, the bayonet mount can now be pulled-away from the rest of the barrel.

The aperture ring can be a bit stiff, be careful as you do not want to damage anything in there.

Remove the 3 screws securing the sleeve. Use a driver that fits perfectly so you won’t scar the screws or their surrounding material.

The sleeve comes off easily. These are sometimes secured by some glue but mine was not so I had an easy time with this. While pulling this sleeve out, be careful not to damage the detent spring. It sometimes gets in the way so you’ll have to press it down with your fingernail before you can remove the sleeve safely. From this point on, you’ll want to work with the barrel while it’s fully-collapsed or focused to infinity. This will help when taking notes so you will have a point of reference later when re-assembling the barrel. It’s a lot easier because you know that your notes were taken while the barrel is set to infinity.

With the sleeve gone, you can now access the helicoid key. Take pictures for reference before you remove the helicoid key so that you will know how to put this back together later and how the tolerances should be. Remove the 2 screws that can be accessed via the 2 holes.

Now that the helicoid key is gone you can now remove the helicoids. Just be sure to mark where the helicoids separate. Mine separated here and this is also the same position that these 2 should mate. Many people get stuck here because they didn’t mark where their helicoids separated. Read my article on working with helicoids so you will know how it’s done. This will help you avoid the mistakes that many people do.

The central and inner helicoids can’t be removed because of these helicoid stops that were milled to the focus adjuster ring. These prevent the focusing ring from turning beyond the focusing range. It’s also where you adjust this lens’ focus so it stops perfectly at infinity. Since this is an adjustment point, I will advise you to take as many notes as possible before removing it. This is usually sealed at the factory, the threads and screws are usually sealed with lacquer or contact cement so you should apply plenty of acetone to this and that should soften the seals so you can remove the screws and the ring with ease. The screws simply pushes the ring up so it locks itself into the helicoid.

Remove this and don’t forget to note which side should be facing the front.

Mine was glued so I had to spend a little bit more effort to get it off. There is another helicoid stop below it and you can just leave that alone.

You can now remove the focus adjuster. If yours is stuck despite applying a lot of acetone then it’s time to escalate! Leave this part soaking in an alcohol bath for a day and that should dissolve everything. Be careful not to ruin its threads while removing this, the threads are so fine that they’re easy to ruin by way of cross-threading.

With that adjuster ring away, you can now remove the inner helicoid from the central one. Never forget to mark where they separated.

To remove the aperture fork and its rail, remove this retainer using a lens spanner. It can be difficult to remove because it’s sealed with cement so put a couple of drops of acetone to soften it up before you attempt to remove it. You will also require a lens spanner with really long bits to reach this thing.

While waiting for the solvent to work on the glue, remove this pillar screw. This serves as a pin to couple the aperture fork to the aperture ring. These types of screws are delicate and I advise that you should never over-tighten or use plenty of force when working with these. If it doesn’t move, put some solvent and try it again later.

The solvent has done its job after half an hour and constant application of solvent so it this came off effortlessly.

Here’s the aperture fork and its rail. The long screw that we removed in the previous steps also serves as a means to secure this thing so it obviously can never be extracted safely without removing that pillar screw first.

You can skip this if you’re in a hurry because dismantling this isn’t needed. I only wanted to remove this because I wanted to clean this thoroughly. It’s a pain to put back, it takes plenty of time and patience.

Before you start, remove one end of this spring from the stop-down lever or you risk damaging it. Notice that there is a retention ring in this part and as you can see from the picture above, it was sealed to prevent this from being moved. This ring secures the bearing and I advise you not to open it unless you know what you are doing.

You can actually just remove the whole assembly instead. This was sealed, I had to pickle the whole assembly in an alcohol bath overnight before I was able to remove this thing. I have serviced 4 lenses of this type from different eras/versions and this was never easy. Once the glue has been dissolved this thing can be removed rather easily.

There is an easy way of re-packing the bearing and that is to drop all of the balls on the ring while the ring is on a dish. Gently lift one side of the ring until the balls fall into place and insert all of the balls one-by-one. This step is time-consuming so only do this if you have to.

Clean the helicoids very well and make sure not to leave any residue so the fresh grease won’t be contaminated by the old one. I used a lighter grease so I won’t have a hard time turning the focusing ring. This will help me focus it faster and with much less effort.

Disassembly (Objective):

The objective is pretty simple but you will still need specialized tools to open it safely. The lens elements can be a tight fit at times so don’t force your way if something won’t move. Also be careful not to drop anything because some of the lens elements are heavy.

Remove the bezel with your fingers. This was glued but you can easily twist it off with your bare-hands.

The bezel holds the front element in place so be sure not to drop it. Remove it carefully with a lens sucker.

The cemented group should come off easily. If it didn’t, apply a bit of solvent to the threads and try again after the solvents has worked on the glue. Don’t apply too much because the 2nd and 3rd elements are glued together using Canada balsam and solvents will melt that bond.

Unscrew the collar on the rear of the assembly to expose that big chunk of glass.

Now you see why this lens feels so heavy. This is called a “doublet“, two glass elements cemented into one unit.

The rear lens assembly can be removed easily.

Remove this retainer using a lens spanner. As you can see from the picture, this retainer is sealed by some black paint, you need to scrape some of it off before you apply some solvent to soften it up good. The smudge there is just my fingerprint by the way.

The retainer comes off just like that.

Use a lens sucker to remove the last element and be careful to note where it should be facing.

I didn’t have to work on the iris since it’s clean but if you have to clean your iris mechanism just look for a lens with similar iris design in my blog. Most Nikkors from this era share a common iris mechanism design and you can use my others guides to look for tips. There are some differences between a later iris design and an earlier one, mainly the number of blades but this is just a small difference which shouldn’t confuse you at all.

Conclusion:

Before you put the focusing ring back or tighten the adjuster on the central helicoid, make you sure that your lens is focusing to infinity properly. Once your lens is capable of focusing to infinity, turn the adjuster ring so that the helicoid key touches the adjuster at that point and then tighten the 3 screws in the adjuster. Be sure that you use the correct screws because the screws for the adjuster ring is longer than the ones for the focusing ring. If you are new to this, read my article on how to adjust your lens’ focus so you’ll know how to do it the easy way without having to use specialized equipment.

I now have something that I could take great photos with and I only spent a few bucks to get it, what can you buy for $5.00 these days?

I hope that you enjoyed this blog post and if you have any questions or just want to drop by to say “hello” then you should definitely “like” our facebook page. You will also get updates on your facebook app or browser any time I post something new and you can also discuss stuff with other people there. Thank you for supporting this blog, your help goes a long way in keeping it alive. See you again next time, Ric.

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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 site’s upkeep, you can make a small donation to my paypal.com (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.

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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 countrym name or other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous. This is a labor of love and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can. Ric.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

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  6. Lewis Francis
    May 06, 2018 @ 02:35:59

    Thanks for sharing this, was super helpful in today’s flea market restoration project. Couldn’t get the rear element unscrewed so had to go after the fungus though the aperture, which was a serious pain. Needed to take a hair drier to the optical block after many attempts to loosen the glue with Ronsonol to do the same, but finally won the battle with your help — thanks again!

    Reply

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  14. Bart Youngblood
    Jun 20, 2020 @ 13:37:10

    I just picked up one of these really cheap, and maybe even unused (there’s not a mark on the glass or bayonet mount I can find!) and I’d like to do an Ai conversion on it.

    I very carefully mounted it on my D7000, and the aperture ring appeared to clear the indexing tab on the camera. The tab rubs it very lightly, but I can rotate the aperture ring on the lens fairly freely. I’m guessing there’s not enough material on the aperture ring to engage the tab in this case?

    Reply

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