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Repair: Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8 Auto

Hello, everybody! How are you this weekend? I’m currently very happy playing with my Nikon rangefinder cameras. They are very fun to use and while they are not as accurate and as precise as the F-mount SLR cameras, they do win in the fun department where it comes into it’s own with many intangible qualities that makes them worth using despite all the hassle and quirks of the Nikon S-mount camera system. Like what I told my friend yesterday, you must follow your heart because it can detect the intangibles of life, giving you the metric for happiness and satisfaction. Today, we will talk about a lens that has an intangible quality to it that it still survives today as a viable option for exquisite images.

Introduction:

Today, I will introduce to you the venerable Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8 Auto! This lens is really good that many people still shoot with it specially here in Japan. It is considered to be a hidden gem of some sort these days because people tend to ignore it’s modest specs and the f/2.8 maximum aperture is not as fast as what many people lusted for  these days but I will show you in this blog post why this lens is still relevant today as a professional lens for portraiture and fashion if focus speed is not much of a concern.

IMG_1928Just look at the size of this thing! The lens is so dense that it feels like holding something for the gym than a precision optic! Let’s see if the fancy electronic lenses for mirrorless cameras will survive a direct collision with this lens! It feels like it was built to survive a nuclear war during the Cold War (those were scary times).

IMG_1930Despite the size and weight of the lens, it is perfectly balanced so carrying it with a small camera like the Nikon Df or Nikon F2 is no problem. It can be front-heavy obviously but I do not feel the strain at all. Balance is also a very important aspect of lens engineering.

The lens was introduced in 1970 for the press but sold to the general public only in 1971. The lens has a simple formula of 5-in-4 (5 elements in 4 groups) hence, the P in Nikkor-P which stands for penta (5) and was designed as an Ernostar-type lens. It’s really amazing how so few elements were used to make this masterpiece while making it compact.

The lens is the fastest lens of it’s class in the Nikkor world when it debuted and it quickly acquired a following in sports, fashion and stage photography. You can say that this lens is the equivalent of Nikon’s modern monster lenses – the 200mm f/2 family of lenses. The f/2.8 speed was considered to be pretty fast for the time for a handheld 35mm lens and it enabled photographers to shoot with a higher shutter speed.

OK, I am sure you got the idea. This was the lens to have back in the day but will it still be relevant today in 2017? The answer is YES! The simple 5-element design enables this lens to outperform it’s modern rivals in the intangible qualities of the images it produces such “character” and colour-rendition. I am sure that there are metrics to measure things like these but people usually end up arguing over it because it can be very subjective.

This lens is also the first lens in the venerable 180/2.8 family of lenses and was produced in a variety of iterations beginning with this lens to the now-legendary ED version that followed this one in the early ’80s and finally by the several AF versions of this lens that only ended recently in the 2000s because Nikon (and us consumers) all thought that the 70-200/2.8 lenses are just as good.

As you can see from my samples above, the lens is still very well-corrected and sharp but not clinically-sharp like much of the modern lenses coming out these days. It still retains the optical flaws that are characteristic of classic lenses but instead of taking away from the images it produces, it adds an “intangible” quality to it and you end up with an image that is unique – sharp where it matters but creamy and soft on the out-of-focus areas.

Flare-resistance isn’t perfect as well but not so bad when you compare it to other lenses made in the day and the good thing is it the flare and ghosts don’t offend me at all. They look very natural and organic. This is the advantage of having less glass in your lens. The light doesn’t get filtered too much before it reaches the sensor or film. Lenses these days are over-corrected because of the people who shoot charts and brick walls instead of the real thing like people. Nikon realised this so the current/new AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G and the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED will not really top the chart tests because they were designed to produce images that look natural like the lenses from the old days. I went to a talk sponsored by Nikon about their current lenses and the philosophy behind their design and this was indeed part of the consideration. This is why I love Nikon.

HAW_7413Now, for some non-human examples! These were shot at f/2.8. Just look at how good this lens is at isolating your subjects! I love the rendering a lot as it looks very natural and its not over-corrected like most modern lenses tend to be and add the fact that this lens has a low element count count of just 5 elements and you get this. The more lens elements in a lens, the more glass-to-air surfaces there is which causes image degradation.

HAW_7435Stopped-down to f/4, this lens is very capable of very sharp images. Wide-open at f/2.8, its already capable of giving you a very sharp center but just stopping it down by a stop will give you even better results! Some lenses do not pick up until you stop it down by 2 stops and that is normal but this is even better since you achieve it with just one stop.

The focus throw of this lens can be long and it was only improved later on last iterations of the manual focus versions of this lens. This can be a problem when shooting sports as you need to be fast and precise with your focusing but is not much of an issue for studio and general portraiture. You will soon get used to it.

I shot the above images on a Nikon D750 If I am not mistaken and I was happy to see that the images were crisp when zoomed to 1:1, the eyelashes retained their details and you can even count the individual strands. The bokeh is exquisite, isolation and flattening is also very good as expected from a 180mm lens. Great for details and face/bust portraits.

That’s it for the introduction! Let us now begin with the meat of the article!

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):

Just like most Nikkors with built-in hoods, you will have to remove the front barrel along with the hood just to access the objective. We need to remove the objective so that we can work on the lens barrel while the objective is safely stored somewhere else. This is also a classic Nikkor from ye olden times so it typically has to be opened from the front. Front or back, you choose! I choose legs (sorry, feminists).

IMG_1931First, we must remove the hood and the front barrel. To do this, you will need to unscrew this set screw that is securing it to the rest of the barrel.

IMG_1932The front barrel can then be unscrewed off with your bare-hands. If yours isn’t moving, I suggest that you place a drop of solvent into the hole of the set screw and allow capillary action to take it throughout the thread, let is sit for awhile to give it time to work on the glue and then attempt doing it again. Repeat the whole process if it is still stuck.

IMG_1933This is optional but I I had to do this since I really wanted to clean this thoroughly. In the picture above, I have encircled the position of a set screw that you have to remove so you can unscrew the front ring off. It can take some time to locate this screw with the hole on the hood but you can do it!

IMG_1934Just like the front barrel assembly, this part is usually glued in-place by Nikon. If yours is stuck then you should do the solvent routine again on this part. The front ring is easily to remove by unscrewing it using a rubber pad. Some people even use an old mouse pad to remove rings like this so be resourceful!

IMG_1935The hood can then be pulled-off from the front barrel. Notice the anti-reflection material found on the inner surface of the hood and be sure not to damage it!

IMG_1940The objective can now be accessed once the front barrel is gone. First, unscrew the front element cell assembly and be careful not to damage it in any way. Store this big chunk of glass in a safe place where it will not roll-off the edge of something or get scratched.

IMG_1941If I recall it correctly, you will can only access this ring once the front elements cell is out of the way. This ring can simply be unscrewed by using a lens spanner. If you are good at observing things then you probably noticed that mine was glued from the picture before this step. This retention ring is very important so it had to be secured by glue. Be careful with this because this was made from a soft aluminium alloy and it is easy to ruin it!

IMG_1942The retention ring secures the lower half of the objective which houses the iris assembly and the rear elements cell assembly. If the housing of the objective is oily, use naphtha to clean it together with a lint-less tissue or else the oil will migrate to the iris assembly!

IMG_1943For safety’s sake I combined the front and rear assemblies of the objective and kept it in a safe place where there is no danger of it rolling-ff an edge. It is very heavy and is easily almost a kilogram in weight. It felt dense, this is one of the reasons why this is so pricey!

Disassembly (Lens Barrel):

Now that the objective is stored safely somewhere, we can now work on the rest of the lens barrel without worrying about all that glass. This is good standard practice and I’m very strict about this. I will always separate the objective from the lens barrel whenever possible. Better safe than sorry, that is what I was always told.

IMG_1936The bayonet screws had to be removed in order to remove the bayonet plate. These were secured with some kind of Loctite-like substance and usually, one of the screws is glued with something stronger. Do read my post on how to work with these screws to prevent damaging these. Many people damage these screws and get stuck so be careful! Ignore the fact the objective is still in the lens barrel on this picture.

IMG_1937The bayonet plate can be picked-off just like that after the screws are gone. Don’t worry about anything getting snagged because nothing is connected to this (like a spring).

IMG_1938The aperture ring also came-off easily without any issues.

IMG_1938 2By the way, in one of my journeys to the junk shops, I happened to find this aperture ring for the Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8 Auto. It isn’t Ai’d but I bought it anyway just for fun!

IMG_1944This chrome grip has to come-off and to do that you will have to unscrew these 3 screws. As with all external screws, be careful not to damage them by using a driver that will fit perfectly with the slot. One of my screw snapped into 2 pieces just because they are old. I advise you to be careful with the screws on these old lenses because they deteriorate as the decades go by. I had to use my handy screw extractor bit for this.

IMG_1945The grip should come off easily. Do the solvent trick on this if yours was glued. A this era of Nikon’s production history, the management decided that it was good to use plenty of glue on Nikon’s lenses. Good thing that stopped!

IMG_1946This part is optional because there is nothing underneath the rubber that you have to get to in order to strip the lens down. I only removed this just because I just wanted to clean what is underneath it and also to give the rubber a nice scrub with soap and water.

Now, you can remove the broad rubber grip from the focusing ring by running a thin rod underneath it’s whole circumference to detach the old contact cement from it and slowly and carefully pulling it off from the focusing ring.

But,wait! Stop! There is a better way to remove this without stressing the old rubber part too much! Just follow the next step and see how and why.

IMG_1947You can remove the rubber grip in a safer manner by first removing the name ring that’s on the front of the focusing ring. To do so, simply remove this set screw and unscrew the name ring off. Again, this part might also be glued. Talk about substance abuse in the ’70s!

IMG_1948And off it goes! The old rubber grip does not need to flex as much after this thing is gone. It really isn’t much but it still helps. Again, removing the rubber grip is totally optional!

IMG_1949Now, time to remove the focusing ring. Unscrew these big screws underneath it to free it from the central helicoid but before doing so, please do not forget to take notes or make a small mark near one of the screws to serve as a key or reference later on when its time to reassemble your lens. This ring can be adjusted so that the lens can properly focus all the way infinity. It has been done in the factory and making a mark ensures that you will be able to know how to adjust it back to the factory spec later on.

IMG_1950The focusing ring should come off easily. This part is usually glued in-place by the way.

IMG_1964This is also another optional step but since old grease tend to accumulate under this, you will want to clean this part thoroughly. This ring is another part of the focusing ring that lets you adjust the lens’ infinity focus. Again, carefully mark it’s original position before you remove it because it is a precision adjustment point.

IMG_1951You can remove this decorative sheath with the scale after getting rid of the shiny grip. It is not important wether you remove this earlier or later while stripping the lens but you need to remove this to access the helicoid key. Simply remove these screws to remove the sheath from the main lens barrel. Again, this part is sometimes glued. The gunk or dried grease underneath it can also make it stuck.

IMG_1952The sheath can be pulled off from the main lens barrel just like this.

IMG_1953Once the sheath is gone, you can now access the helicoid key! The key is being secured by no less than 4 screws on this lens. It makes sense since it is a big lens anyway.

The helicoid key keeps all the 3 helicoids in sync as you rotate the central helicoid. It also keeps them in place so they will not over-extend and disassemble itself. Some lenses will allow you to do that but not on most lenses.

IMG_1954Once the helicoid key is removed, you are now able to separate the central helicoid from the outer helicoid. Be sure to mark where they separate or else you will waste plenty of time guessing where they should mate later on. Read my helicoid guide just in case.

IMG_1955At this point you would want to separate the inner helicoid from the central helicoid but it is impossible to do because this helicoid stop is on the way. This prevents the lens from focusing past it’s focusing range. carefully remove it and remember which side faces up!

IMG_1956As with the central helicoid, you will want to mark where these separate.

IMG_1957Its time to remove the rest of the parts connected to the main barrel/outer helicoid. Just like the grip and the sleeve, you can remove this at any point during disassembly as soon as you are able to access them. Remove these 3 screws to remove the rear baffle from the main lens barrel. This is in charge of keeping stray light and dirt from entering the lens. Be sure to note this part’s orientation before removing it.

IMG_1958The baffle assembly also houses the stop-down lever spring and bearings. Do not bother with these unless you need to. I rarely have to clean these unless they are fouled up with old or bad lubricant that is preventing it from operating smoothly. Wipe off any oil/grime that you see with naphtha using a lint-less tissue.

IMG_1959Now, back to our lens! Before you proceed, you have to remove this tall-headed screw in order to free the aperture coupling fork and it’s ring underneath. These screws are made specially so be careful not to lose or damage them because they can be delicate.

IMG_1960To remove the aperture coupling fork mechanism, you will have to remove this set screw so that you will be able to unscrew the retention ring that is securing it.

IMG_1961The retention ring can be delicate so be careful while you unscrew it. Never lubricate the aperture-coupling fork or the stop-down lever!

Conclusion:

Wow, that was certainly a chore! Bigger lenses take more time to rebuild even if they are made simpler than a smaller lens because you will have to clean a bigger area and make sure that things are clean. This is a simple lens to work with but I will not encourage new comers to work on this as their first or second lens. Bigger lenses require different tools and techniques. They also require more strength and stamina to work on and if you don’t believe me then try it for yourself! This is no task for wimps!

Be sure to use a lighter grease for this lens because of the long focus throw. Also keep the grease on the lean side because this lens can be prone to the oily iris syndrome. Just put a reasonable amount just enough for a smooth-feeling focus ring but not so much as it will leave a pile of goo at either ends of the helicoids. It may be fantastic at the start but it will soon develop some lubricant-related problems later.

I usually do not make a reassembly portion because most of it is common senses and all you need to do is backtrack but this lens can be difficult to put back because the objective is huge and the barrel is deep. One of our readers asked me how to put the objective into the barrel easily and the answer to this is simply to put back the lens barrel together first and then align the slugs (screw heads) from the iris mechanism found on the objective to their corresponding slots found on the aperture coupling fork and stop-down lever.

Once they are aligned, carefully lower the objective into place and make sure that its also aligned to where it should be. At this stage, I always make it a point that the bayonet isn’t installed when I do not need it to so that I can peek at it from under the lens if I had to.

Use your senses and feel for the clicks and listen for anything that gets engaged. This will be very helpful until you are sure that things are where they should be. Once the whole thing is inside the barrel, flick the stop-down lever and rotate the aperture ring to see if they are working properly and the iris is opening-up or stopping-down as you do so.

IMG_1965Reassemble your lens up to this point wherein the objective is safely secured in it’s final position and leaving-out the front cover of the focusing ring unattached. You will have to adjust your infinity focusing while the lens is in this state.

You will need to attach the lens on a camera with an electronic rangefinder like the ones found on many of Nikon’s autofocusing film bodies or on Nikon’s DSLRs. You need to see the focus confirmation dot light-up when focusing on an object that is 10km or further.

First, focus the lens on the far-away object that I talked about in the previous paragraph. A building or pylon is good enough so long as you can see the shape properly and clearly.

As soon as you see the focus confirmation dot light up, take a picture and look at it in the LCD. Zoom-in and examine that far-away object and see if it is in perfect focus. Repeat it until you are satisfied. Move the focusing ring so that the middle of the infinity symbol is squarely positioned on the thick white midline mark on the lens. Check your focus again and chimp at the LCD another time just to be sure and when you are fully satisfied with the results, tighten all of the screws to secure the focusing ring. Do a final check again on the far-away object and then seal the screws with lacquer paint or nail polish.

Sounds tedious? Of course it is tedious! But you have to thank Nikon for giving us the dot on the viewfinder! There are more accurate or easier ways to achieve this but this is the most egalitarian way of doing it that is accessible to almost everyone. If you only have a manual film camera then you will need to do it the hard way with a focusing screen and a loupe – the old-fashioned way! I will teach you how to do this in the future.

IMG_1966

That was certainly a lot of effort just to fix the infinity focus of this lens but it was all worth it because this lens is impressive!

The images this lens make are exceptional! I sometimes wonder how this lens achieved a cult following because quite frankly, a zoom is much more convenient than this and also not any slower but having used this lens on a portrait shoot I can only say that this lens deserves to be hailed as one of Nikon’s top legendary lenses for portraiture!

It is heavy but at the end of the day, I was very happy with the results and I’m ready for the consequences. Both the results from film and digital showed creamy background and amazing subject isolation.

This lens will not be sold and will always be part of my kit for portraiture or fashion as long as speed id not a problem because it is a manual focus lens.

I hope that you liked this blog post. I am sorry for not showing you how to work with the objective because I do not have to clean mine! This lens had been serviced by somebody else some-time ago as evident by the clean but dry grease and the clean glass. I was lucky to find this lens and of course, I will always select the cleaner one over the dirtier sample in a shop. Thank you very much for supporting and following this blog! We are getting around 13,000-15,000 visitors a month and I was told that it is not a shabby number for a blog that is maintained by a busy person with no production value. I will try my best to always give you the best content possible. See you again next post! Love, uncle 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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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carlos Fernandes
    May 21, 2017 @ 20:46:29

    This is not good …
    Now I want one. 🙂

    Good post, Very good post.

    Reply

  2. Kokon
    May 28, 2017 @ 15:30:26

    Incredibly useful article clearly written to show all the issues involved in servicing this lens. Have waited a long time for such info, now I have the confidence to tackle my 180mm with stiff focus ring.
    Great work hugely appreciated!

    Reply

  3. Andrey Slizkiy
    Jun 11, 2017 @ 17:58:33

    Hi Richard, I’m really impressed by your work and commitment! I was doing some maintenance and repair of old Nikkors more than 15 years ago and I remember how difficult was to find relevant information and materials. Unfortunately, a nature of my work – I need to travel a lot, doesn’t let me keep my hobby running, but from time to time I like to pick up a broken or just not in a good condition lens and clean it or fix it. Lately I got a Ais version of 50/1.2 one with stuck iris (according to the seller). Optically it is in good condition (not counting a bit of fungus) but in reality, inside there were no iris blades at all…anyway, now I’m thinking how to fix it and whether worth trying this, because I cant find any source of parts for 50/1.2. There is not much of use for it without iris and I’m wondering if there any other model of a manual Nikkor with 9 blades iris is compatible with 50/1.2?? And, sorry, I apologize for off-topic…

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Jun 13, 2017 @ 05:08:59

      Hello, Andrey.
      I would skip that lens if I were you. Now, the Ai-S version is a current lens so the factory still have the parts in their inventory. I am not sure if they are willing to sell them but you can try.

      If it is the Ai version, then good luck! Iris blades are rarely interchangeable and you will want to stop this lens down a bit as f/1.2 isn’t very useful for practical things.

      Glad that you liked the blog. Ric.

      Reply

      • wheelghost
        Jun 17, 2017 @ 16:04:13

        Hi Richard,
        Thank you for you opinion! I’m not going to put much efforts in this one, unless a possible donor with damaged optics will pop up. My version is Ai-S, but I’m quite sceptical about possibility to get parts via official channels from Nikon )).
        Thanks again!
        Regards,
        Andrii

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