Repair: Nikkor-Q 135mm f/3.5 Auto

Hello, everybody! I always wanted to buy the AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G but I can’t justify its cost. It’s an amazing lens, a real modern masterpiece and it is the only lens of its kind when it comes to lenses that are still made new. It is a luxury for me and the next-best thing that I can thing of is modifying an old Russian lens so it can autofocus which resulted in my Autofocus Helios. I love it a lot and I saved a lot of money. It’s not close but it will do for now. It is a good alternative to the best until I can afford the real thing. Having said that, I will show you one lens that’s a nice alternative to the more expensive ones without compromising too much in terms of build and quality. It’s one of Nikon’s oldest lens designs that’s still relevant for use today.

Introduction:

We’re going to talk about a cheap but fantastic lens that’s always considered by many as the underdog of the Nikkors – it’s the magnificent Nikkor-Q Auto 135mm f/3.5! Many people poo-poo this lens because of its modest specs and its rather old optical formula that has roots in the rangefinder era and it’s a real dinosaur because it’s also one of Nikon’s earliest consumer lens designs that was made a few years after the war. It’s so good that Nikon desided that it’s OK to re-fit it as an F-mount lens in-time for the Nikon F’s debut in 1959. The optical formula remained mostly un-changed until it was redesigned in 1977 with a more modern formula.

IMG_0456The lens is overshadowed by its faster professional f/2.8 sibling, the Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto for obvious reasons but I will tell you that this lens has some tricks of its own. That is saying a lot because the NIkkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto is one helluva lens and many consider that to be a “magic lens”! This is such an underdog that many can be found today for next-to-nothing except for the rare Nikkor-Q 13.5cm f/3.5 Auto “tick-mark” version because it’s one of the original lenses that was sold together with the Nikon F in 1959. It has a beautiful 9-bladed iris which helps a lot in rendering smooth bokeh. That’s a highly-desirable lens for collectors and if you’re not one of us then this is going to be all you will need. Shown here is the most common version that you will see in the market and this is the version that we’ll tackle today.

As mentioned earlier, this lens’ optical formula dates back to the late 1940s and the formula didn’t change much, if at all. It’s still the same 4-elements-in-3-groups design. The diameter of the elements did change depending on version to fit their housings but the general scheme remained the same. The old formula is so simle and reliable that it remained in production until the later Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai came out in 1977. This lens family only had two optical formula revisions in a span of nearly 30 years. That’s Nikon trying to spread the profits thin. On the other hand, if something works so well then why revise it?

IMG_0055.JPGThis lens came in a few minor versions and one of which is the one shown above in centimetres – the Nikkor-Q 13.5cm f/3.5 Auto (right) in which we’ll talk about in a future article. Every version has some differences internally and they require their own articles to document them properly. It can get a bit confusing because they all look the same but they’re technically not. I’ll try and help clear-up the confusion in the next picture.

IMG_5749Here are all of the major variants for the F-mount. The right-most one is the earliest and the left-most one is the latest. There will be 3 lenses more if you add the rangefinder ones into the picture. This lens family is one of Nikon’s longest-selling line and its lineage can be traced back to Mr. Wakimoto Zenji in the immediate years after the war and the last one from this long line of 135/3.5 lenses came out from the factory around 1983 as the Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai-S. I won’t include the Nikkor-Q.C 13.5cm f/3.5 here because it’s an old rangefinder lens and doing so will only confuse you even more.

I’m going to stress again that the lens today will be the most common model in the market which is the Nikkor-Q 135mm f/3.5 Auto (mid-production) and while this article will be relevant for the later Nikkor-Q•C 135mm f/3.5 Auto since they mostly share the same schematics, this article will not be useful for the New-Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 because its barrel is totally different. Early versions such as the Nikkor-Q 13.5cm f/3.5 Auto have a different barrel and internal design despite looking similar from the outside so this article won’t be useful for those, too. One very important change that many won’t notice from the outside is the iris. The earliest versions have a 9-bladed iris that’s rounded. Middle to later production Nikkor-Q 135mm f/3.5 Auto versions all have 6-7 iris blades. This is essential and will affect the quality of the bokeh. Keep this in mind when selecting which one to buy as they play a big role in your picture. I’ll try and document every major version, may take me some time but I wanted to complete this series.

Let’s now see some sample photos that were taken with this lens. Learning how to use your lens is important so you can maximize its use. You’ll know how to use its strengths and avoid its weaknesses. Knowing these will help you decide which lens to bring next time to a shoot. These photos were shot from f/3.5, f/5.6 and f/8 from left-to-right. These are the most common f-stops that people will use this lens with and these are also the apertures where it shows the most changes in terms of character. My observations aren’t based on any measurements and are not scientific in any way. The comments are all based on my impressions of the pictures when viewing them in my Mac.

(Click to enlarge)

There’s slight vignetting wide-open and it’s gone by f/5.6. It’s not obvious at all and you won’t notice it 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 too bright. 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 and you only see it wide-open there. It’s generally 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.

(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 nice but not too much, it’s just-right so your pictures don’t look like kids’ cartoons.

(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 out-dated. 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. The amount of iris blades is also important in rendering, the lens I used has a 6-sided iris so that may be one factor for the ugly bokeh quality.

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, cosider the amazing Nikkor-Q 135mm f/2.8 Auto. You can buy 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. The only 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 hood with it. Sphero-chromatic aberration can be a problem with elements that have high-contrast and over-exposure like twigs with the bright sky as the background or shiny metal highlights in a dark background. The good thing is it can mostly be avoided by stopping it down by a stop or just avoided the said scenarios that will trigger them. You also don’t see the ugly bokeh qualities here since I know how to use it well.

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 way that lens renders a picture.

(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 get that instantly!

(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 $200 on average, at least here where I’m at. Check the lens and make sure that the iris is snappy, all of the rings should turn in a smooth way and the barrel should collapse and extend smoothly. Check its optics and make sure it’s clean, too. These usually cost from $30 up to $100, mint-in-box will obviously cost you more. This is a great lens for students or those who just want a simple manual lens because it’s good for teaching the once-famous attribute of photographers – patience. I’ll end the introduction with that statement and let’s now start with the repair article.

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.

IMG_0535begin 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.

IMG_0536If 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.

IMG_0537Once the bezel is gone, we can now remove this set screw. This secures the front barrel to the rest of the lens barrel.

IMG_0538The 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.

IMG_0539Carefully 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.

IMG_0540To 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.

IMG_0541Carefully 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.

IMG_0542With the screws gone, the bayonet mount can now be pulled-away from the rest of the barrel.

IMG_0544The aperture ring can be a bit stiff, be careful as you do not want to damage anything in there.

IMG_0543Remove the 3 screws securing the sleeve. Use a driver that fits perfectly so you won’t scar the screws or their surrounding material.

IMG_0545The 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.

IMG_0546With 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.

IMG_0547Now 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.

IMG_0548The 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 fecusing 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.

IMG_0549Remove this and don’t forget to note which side should be facing the front.

IMG_0550Mine 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.

IMG_0551You 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.

IMG_0552With that adjuster ring away, you can now remove the inner helicoid from the central one. Never forget to mark where they separated.

IMG_0553To 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.

IMG_0554While 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.

IMG_0555The solvent has done its job after half an hour and constant application of solvent so it this came off effortlessly.

IMG_0556Here’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.

IMG_0557You 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.

IMG_0574You 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.

IMG_0560Remove the bezel with your fingers. This was glued but you can easily twist it off with your barehands.

IMG_0561The bezel holds the front element in place so be sure not to drop it. Remove it carefully with a lens sucker.

IMG_0562The 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.

IMG_0563Unscrew the collar on the rear of the assembly to expose that big chunk of glass.

IMG_0564Now you see why this lens feels so heavy. This is called a “doublet“, two glass elements cemented into one unit.

IMG_0565The rear lens assembly can be removed easily.

IMG_0566Remove 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.

IMG_0567The retainer comes off just like that.

IMG_0568Use 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 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.

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 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.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

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  4. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor-Q.C 13.5cm f3.5 RF | Richard Haw's Nikon Maintenance Site
  5. Trackback: Repair: NIkkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai | Richard Haw's Nikon Maintenance Site
  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

  7. Trackback: Report: Nikkor Prototypes (Part 5) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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