Hello, everybody! Nice Spring day we have today! It’s a great time to go to the park with my family to enjoy sakura trees in full-bloom! Having a great time doesn’t always have to be expensive. I enjoy fried SPAM and eggs, to me that is comfort food. The same also goes to camera gear and some of the cheapest lenses pack a lot of fun with them as you’ll soon see on this article’s feature lens.
Today, we are going to talk about the W-Nikkor 3.5cm f3.5 lens! This is a gem of a lens, it’s small and unobtrusive so your subjects will not be intimidated when you shoot them. It’s also the most affordable 35mm lens as far as Nikon S-mount lenses go. It’s pricier cousins go for almost double the running price for one of these and for that price, you get an f/2.5 or f/1.8 upgrade. Those do not really matter much to me and how I use this lens so I am more than happy with this. I did pay a little premium because I got the older version but that’s just me! This lens has a very special place in every Nikon aficionado’s collection as it is a historically important lens and a good everyday-carry lens for general shooting.
The lens looks odd with the aperture ring as a serrated cog in the front and the numbers are engraved in an inconvenient place but it is all-OK once you’ve got the hang of it.
This family of 35mm lenses is one the earliest model of Nikon’s 35mm lenses as it debuted at around the same time as Nikon’s first production consumer camera – the Nikon I in the late 40s (1948?). It’s design and ergonomics are ancient and the specs are nowhere near the standards of what we are used to these days. Nikon made other faster lenses with the same focal length and they all very highly-regarded but I gravitated towards this for two main reasons – price and nostalgia.
The optical design is very simple – 4 elements in 3 groups. The design was left the same in the lens’ production but the lens barrel went through a few minor cosmetic revisions. If you have a keen eye you will notice that my lens has no useable (or practical) filter ring attachment since the diameter of the threads are too small for most filters sold these in these days and one of the updates was to add a useable filter ring attachment thread to it. The last version came in black. To me, it felt too “pedestrian” so I settled with chrome. I’m going to admit that my infatuation with shooting Nikon rangefinders has a lot to do with how good they look. To me, Leicas do not evoke the same emotion as Nikons do. Sure, the Leica M3 looks gorgeous but there is something in Nikon (Contax) cameras that just wins my heart when I see and use them (like the one-hand camera operation).
It has a red C engraved on the name ring that indicates that this is a coated lens. Now, it’s coating are nowhere near what you would get from modern ones but back in the day it’s a big deal specially if you compare this to what the other manufacturers are using. Nikon is very good with making their coatings tough as evident in the state that Nikkors lenses from the ’60s earlier come these days. A reader told me that Nikon developed this during their war-time stint in making coatings for submarines so the Japanese Navy can shoot a torpedo accurately aimed at my grandparents hahaha! Sorry for the black humour.
For cameras with no built-in 3.5cm (35mm) frame lines, Nikon made plenty of finders for to help you frame your picture. The finders help with parallax-correction so they are an essential part of the kit. Nikon made several finder-types and it’s up to you to choose one that fits your style but the most economical one is the zoom-finder since it has all of the common focal lengths from 35-135mm at your disposal, the down-side is that they’re big. Notice that a Kodak film canister cover makes for a convenient lens cap for my Nikon S.
For cameras with 35mm frame lines, it’s optional to get the finders. I will tell you that it is more comfortable to view your frame with the finder because it is uncluttered and it sits right on top of the lens (or close to it) so your view is more natural just like what an SLR will give you. They are also helpful if you are right eye dominant.
(Click to enlarge)
Here are some pictures that I made using this lens. As far as I can tell, I cannot find any noticeable distortions in my images. If I look really careful, I may find the usual barrel distortion common with wider lenses but it’s not unnatural even if you saw it as in the case of my architectural photo above. The usual use for this focal length is for shooting street photography anyway and it matters less in this field. Most, if not all of the images were shot stopped-down to around f/8 to f/16 so they look sharp but the picture of the lady shopping was shot wide-open if I recall it properly. Notice that it is still sharp at f/3.5 and is very useable at that opening. I do find this lens lacking in lower light but that isn’t the point of owning an f/3.5 lens, economics is and this is as good as it gets in the ’50s!
The handling of this lens leaves a lot to be desired but there is a certain charm with using this old lens. You have to look into the front of the lens to see your aperture properly and the focus throw is on the long side. The engraved numbers are also smallish so they are a little hard to see especially when the sun is reflecting off the shiny chrome. You will soon get the hang of it and it will feel very natural to you. I don’t even need to look at the front just to check my aperture since the aperture ring is now so smooth after the overhaul so I just flick it with my pinky to any extreme and estimate how much I am at just by feel. I am so pro at this (OK, just joking).
I understand that S-mount lenses and gear make a small demographic of my readers but I feel that there is a lack of S-mount related literature on the internet, much less repairs so I took the task to write these. Do not worry, I will be writing the usual F-mount lenses articles,too. The next one will be a legendary F-mount lens so stay tuned! Let’s now move to the disassembly section!
Before We Begin:
If this is the first attempt at opening a lens then I suggest that you read my previous posts regarding screws & drivers, grease 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):
- Essential tools
- Best practices 1
- Best practices 2
- Best practices 3
- Ai conversion
- Working with Helicoids
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.
S-mount lenses are made differently from the F-mount lenses. For somebody like me who work with the usual F-mount lenses on a regular basis, this can be a good opportunity for me to learn something different. This means emptying my cup and getting into unknown territories.
The tools needed for repairing S-mount lenses are also a bit different apart from the usual cups and drivers. This will require some DIY to manufacture your own tool that will fit exactly with the part that you would like to remove. Thankfully, you do not need those to service this lens. A simple tip for figuring out wether you need special tools is when the usual tool does not fit into the part that you want to remove or when removing the part will damage or ruin something in the process. Think about it carefully and DON’T brute force it! There is usually a clever design that was implemented and all you need is to step back and study it carefully like a puzzle.
Be careful with using your drivers so you do not scar the beautiful stainless steel screws! Use drivers that fit properly and if you don’t have any, buy or file one down until it fits!
First, get a rubber stopper and unscrew the front elements group (along with the smallish name ring) counter-clockwise. This part is used to sandwich the objective, which is used to hold the lens together.
Carefully extract the front elements assembly and take special care NOT to damage the tiny and delicate glass on the other end of it.
You are now left with something like this. This is a good chance to blow some air into this part so you can get rid of any junk in the iris. Notice that it goes clockwise. Never wipe it while you go the other way or else something might snag and damage it. The iris doesn’t actuate in high-speed just like what automatic lenses do and you open and close them manually so some oil in the blades is OK. If you are really worried about that then you can carefully wipe the blades with a Q-tip soaked in naphtha.
Open the iris up and use a lens tissue or Q-tip that was moistened with naphtha or benzine and wipe away any grime that you see there. Be sure to go about in a circular manner and also go along the shape of the iris. The iris itself uses aperture leaves instead of the usual blades and it is safe to say that they are tougher than the aperture blades but you should still be careful with handling them. If it’s clean, just leave it alone.
Once that is through, time to head to the other end of the lens.
Carefully unscrew the objective and keep it in a safe place. It is rather heavy with all the brass parts. It feels dense even though it is just a very small part compared to the rest of the lens. This is very typical of the smaller f/3.5 primes by the way.
Be careful NOT to lose these shims. These are used to calibrate the focus of your lens. It’s calibrated at the factory and each lens was individually tested at the factory for infinity focusing using a collimating machine and these shims were added to calibrate how much was needed for the lens to achieve a passing mark as indicated by quality control rules.
You can now remove the rear parts of the lens. Notice that big spring? Make sure you are aware which side should face forward so you won’t put it back the wrong way.
The aperture ring can then be screwed off from the lens barrel itself. Don’t worry, It’s not like a helicoid wherein you need to note where these things separate. Be very careful not to damage the thread or it will feel rough or gritty each time you turn it.
The decades-old grease looks like this now. This lens hasn’t been serviced since the 50s if I am correct in my assumption.
Now, to remove the focusing ring you will have to unscrew this pin. This screw serves as a pin so that the focusing ring stays within it’s focusing range, removing this will allow it to be turned until it comes off. Focus your lens until you see the screw’s head if you can’t see it. Be carful not to strip the head so use a driver that fits perfectly.
Before you remove the focusing ring, make some final notes and see how much distance there is between the focusing ring and the rest of the lens. If you want to be accurate, use a digital caliper. Personally, I think a picture is more than enough.
Do note where it separates, if you don’t then you are just asking for it. If I am not wrong, I counted 3 possible ways that this helicoid can mate. Mine separated here, around this part near the 4ft mark in relation to the lens’ midline. I then use a permanent marker to mark that spot so that I can just wipe the ink off later after reassembly.
Here it is! Time to give this a nice and thorough cleaning! Just look at that caked gunk!
Here is another view. You see that quarter of a circle-shaped thing inside the lens barrel? That is where the pin that we removed from a few steps back is hitting against and thus, obstructs the pin’s way so that the focusing ring will not go past it’s range.
Interestingly, if you look at the focusing ring to the right you will find that the hole where the pin used to be coincides with the mark that we made noting the position where they separate. Very convenient, huh?
Time to restore the lettering! To know how I did this, please click on this link.
That’s it for today! I was hoping to write this earlier but I was too busy. I had a great time working on this and I surely learned a lot. I am currently stagnating with F-mount lenses so I needed something different to divert me from the usual and S-mount lenses offered me just that but the downside is that they cost a lot – even for those sold as junks!
I could’ve dismantled this even further but I was too lazy to do so. All I wanted is to clean it back to a state where I can turn the aperture ring effortlessly with a flick of a finger. It also mandatory for me to refresh the grease every time I open a lens up to this state as it doesn’t make sense not to, this will ensure that the lens will give me more decades of life as a useable instrument. I am not a collector in the true sense of the word and I use all of my gear intermittently. On this case, the W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/3.5 is my most-used lens when it came to my Nikon rangefinders.
I forgot to restore the lettering on the name ring! I am not too keen on fixing this since its lettering isn’t really affecting the lens’ operation at all. It’s purely a cosmetic issue. As for the corrosion on the chrome, I did polish it with metal polish so that it’s not rough to the touch. Sure, I will make the chrome a bit thinner but it’s better this way than leaving old corroded chrome on the brass.
I bought my W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/3.5 for a reasonable price but it didn’t come with any caps, I do not want to spend plenty of money just for the caps so I decided to make one myself. It is an old lens and during that time in Nikon’s history, some Nikkors didn’t have threads for any sort of front attachments like filters and clip-on caps. Any original caps that were available for this come in the form of the slip-on type that everybody seem to lose. These caps cost a lot and will easily set me back $30 or more! I find that price unacceptable and since I am not a collector (OK, maybe a little bit) I am not going to spend that much for a silly lens cap for something that I am not collecting.
I also fabricated a cap by scavenging a rubber cap that is a close fit to my lens but is loose enough for me to add a velvet lining. I trimmed it by half and sanded the edges to make it smooth. Finally, I carefully cleaned it with soap and warm water before applying some velvet with adhesive backing.
Works just fine if you ask me. I saved $20-30 just by doing this! I do not want to damage my shutter curtain by burning a hole in it just because I didn’t have a cap installed! Look at the lower-right corner of the image and pay attention to that conical thing. It’s a switch to disengage the helicoid lock and it is triggered each time you mount a lens that has an external helicoid (non-5cm lenses). The wider throat of the lens will push this aside so it can be properly fitted into the lens.
Did you enjoy this? If you liked this, please share this as I need a boost in traffic. The blog is hitting around 10k hits a month and I was told that it’s a healthy figure for a small blog written by a busy person on his free time. To those who donated to the blog, thank you! I was able to pay the renewal of the domain with your help and maybe I will have to move to a bigger server next time because all these images need to reside somewhere. You are motivating me to push myself to make better quality posts each time. Thank you all very much and enjoy the Spring! Ric.
PS: I will be updating this from time-to-time as I proofread it. Hay fever medication and alcohol don’t mix well so I was writing this with a bad hangover.
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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 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.
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.