Repair: AF-Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8

Hello, everybody! We had some Japanese-style steak tonight for dinner. It’s a fusion dish and a new take on a classic dish by adding elements of Japanese cooking to make it more interesting and familiar to the palates of locals. While it’s arguably delicious, this is still a new thing and I estimate that this dish is probably only less than 2 decades old. While it’s delicious and it builds on established cooking techniques and dishes, I feel that there’s is still a lot of room for improvement. While we’re on the topic of fusion and improvement, I would like to introduce to you an interesting lens because it’s an early attempt to fuse 2 paradigms. While it’s a good start, it’s still has lots of room for improvement but the lens had plenty of potential and that’s what’s most important if you ask me. Read on.

Introduction:

Today, we are going to talk about the AF-Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 lens! This lens is not known by a lot of people due to its relative rarity. It was only made a few years before it was replaced by a superior design. This lens is one of the original lineup of AF lenses that Nikon introduced in the mid-80s for their new AF system cameras like the Nikon F4 and it gained the underserved bad reputation amongst hardcore Nikkor fans because of the use of plastics. Nikon was also experimenting with AF lens design during this era so these all suffer from awkward handling characteristics which will annoy people who are used to using newer AF Nikkors. I will outline them later and you judge these for yourself.

IMG_7427The AF-Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 is a rather boring-looking lens. It looks like a tea cup or a salve pot depending on who you ask. Appearances can be deceiving because this lens is a great performer throughout its range until you reach f/11-f/16 where diffraction begins to come into effect. This lens can also go to a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:1 without the use of any accessory. This lens is the first lens in the 55mm Micro-Nikkor family that’s able to do this natively since the Micro-Nikkor 5.5cm f/3.5 from 1961. It achieves this feat by using a long telescoping set of barrels to extend the lens to about 2X its length. If this all sounds familiar to you that’s because this lens is the predecessor of the amazing and still in-production AF-Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D lens. While both lenses seem similar, it’s safe to say that both lenses are different mechanically and optically. Both lenses extend their barrels using 2 totally different methods.

IMG_2277There is a little-known “feature” of this lens and that’s the front ring with the “A” printed on it. This ring can be turned by pulling it towards the camera and then turning it so the line lines-up with the large white dot. This ring is used to regulate the resistance and feel of your focusing ring. When the 2 white dots are aligned, it add resistance to the focusing ring so that it tries to emulate how a manual focus lens feels. When you want to use this as an AF lens, just turn the ring to “A” so the focusing feels lighter. This will help with the speed of its autofocus performance and it also prevents the AF drive on the camera from being over-stressed (and draining your batteries, too!). Many people forget about this so they complain about this lens being painfully-slow to focus. To be frank, even if the ring’s set to “A” the AF performance is still slow so don’t expect too much from this lens when it comes to this aspect. That ridged ring at the front is its focusing ring. It’s inadequate and I don’t enjoy using it to be honest. If you have accessories attached to the front of the lens it’s going to get in its way and prevent your lens from collapsing all-the-way. Nikon wasn’t expecting people to use these so they gave us a “vestigial” focusing ring.

IMG_2279Here is the lens besides the Micro-Nikkor-P 55mm f/3.5 Auto. The older lens is completely made of metal (almost) while our lens here is mostly plastic. The toughest thing here in this picture is that pot of Tiger Balm. Just like all early AF-Nikkors, our lens uses a nipple that you can turn (pun not intended) to lock it to its smallest aperture when you want to use the command dial to change your aperture. Later AF-Nikkors use a tab that you can slide, this is more durable and is less likely to be knock-off position.

img_2326This lens is the last in the long line of 55mm Micro-Nikkors. It succeeded the popular and still in-production Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 Ai-S lens. This long-lived lens family created a new standard in 35mm photography when it comes to optical performance when using it in high magnification scenarios. It popularized the “normal macro lens” genre that lots of manufacturers copied but it wasn’t the first to introduce this concept, that honor goes to the Zeiss Tele-Tessar. This lens family is very popular because of their practicality and performance. Today, the AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED is the current model in this class of lens but that will soon be replaced with an even better one.

Enough with all the technical talk because it’s better to back those statements that I just said with pictures. Unfortunately, I woke up too late into the morning and all the insects are gone because it’s beginning to get hot as noon approaches. I took these boring set of pictures at a nearby park. While they’re uninspiring to say the least I hope that you will get a good idea of how this lens performs.

(Click to enlarge)

These sets of pictures were taken from f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 (in that order). I would’ve liked to take pictures up-close for this section but it would be meaningless because this lens is just like every macro lens in the sense that the effective maximum aperture changes as it extends so we will have to make-do with these pictures.

At f/2.8, the lens shows decent to good resolution at the center. It’s quite sharp but you’ll find some color fringing which is quite surprising but it only happens on certain scenes where you have really bright light blowing-away the highlights. Everything improves by f/4 and you won’t notice any color fringing if there’s any at all. Resolution and sharpness improves a lot, too. By f/5.6, the center resolution is beginning to peak and everything is beginning to look really good. The lens’ sweet-spot is around f/5.6 up to f/8. Diffraction is going to noticeable at about f/13 and it’s definitely obvious by f/16.

Breaking down the pictures, you can see that the lens is decent when shooting things that are further-away into the frame like the crane in the first set. It’s certainly not very good for objects about 20m and further. The same can be observed with the hut by the pond. It is a sharp picture but it certainly lacks that certain quality that makes you say “wow”. It’s tendency to produce color fringing can be observed in the set with the crane. Strangely, it isn’t coming out as much in the set with the leaf at the foreground. This gave me the idea that this lens was calculated to perform better up-close. If you check the set with the boy you will see that the lens is sharp right from its widest aperture.

I took the pictures below with the lens stopped-down from about f/8 to f/16 unless I said it was shot in a wider aperture. I also used a ring light because shooting this close with this lens is going to be problematic for natural lighting since you will have to be very close to your subjects in order to achieve 1:1 magnification. It’s only about a few inches of space between the tip of your lens to your subject at this magnification.

(Click to enlarge)

These were shot at around f/11. The lens renders high-frequency details very well. It feels as if you can touch and feel the velvety petals of this flower.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are 2 pictures that I cropped really tight to almost 1:1 pixel size. Unfortunately, that ladybug larva is the only insect that I chanced upon that late morning. Because this lens needs to get really close to your subject at high magnification, it’s not advisable to use it for shooting shy bugs. Subjects that will stay still for you like snails will probably be OK as long as you have the proper light setup.

(Click to enlarge)

Typical of most macro lenses, this lens has nice bokeh when shot wide-open. You can say that it is one of the requirements of a good macro lens. There’s hardly any trace of color fringing in these 2 pictures and the overall rendering is delicate and natural/organic.

(Click to enlarge)

The pictures above show how sharp this lens can be when you have good light. It’s sharp and the details look 3-dimensional. People usually use this lens for shooting stationary or flat objects for reproduction and other things that require a flat-field. The original lens in this family was designed to shoot microfiche film with Japanese/Chinese characters so it’s resolution and flatness-of-field are very important. Chinese characters are more intricate that alphabets so a lens with a very high performance is essential for reproduction. This set of properties set the tone for the development of all subsequent Micro-Nikkors of this lens family and you can be sure that any future lens will also be this sharp.

Now that we have seen what this lens can do and what it cannot, I’m sure that people are asking whether this lens is a good purchase or not. The simple and direct answer is no. It is a great lens optically but mechanically it is a design that’s best left in the ’80s. There is also a better alternative to this lens in the form of the AF-Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D lens which is a better lens in almost every aspect. I said “almost” because some people claim that this lens is slightly sharper than the AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D up-close. I haven’t tested this myself so maybe I will make a test in the future. Let us begin with the repair article because we are mainly a repair site and not a lens review blog.

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 now-growing 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:

This part shows how to remove the lens elements from the lens. There are a few ways to go about doing this and I will show you 2 ways in which you can go about doing this. You will see both methods here in this section. This lens was riddled with fresh fungi when I got it so I had to get to each element make sure I made a good job cleaning each element to prevent further damage. I’ll strongly advise that you don’t attempt to repair this lens if you don’t have the correct tools. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to just leave this lens to the professionals because you can easily damage this if you’re not careful. The electronics on this lens are fragile and they can be bricked by static electricity. If you think that saving a few dollars is a good idea then think about the cost of losing this lens and the investment needed when buying tools and lubricants. Just make sure that you give it to a competent person to repair or else forget about it. If your repairman isn’t sure how to repair it then just show him this blog and tell him to follow this site so I will get more followers. 🙂

IMG_7428You can remove the front elements cell by using a spanner. Now, what I’m showing here is the easiest way but there is an even better (and safer) way to do this but you will need to remove the front barrel. I will show you how later, the method I am showing you now is the method wherein you remove the least number of parts as possible to access all the glass elements. Don’t forget what I just said, it will make more sense in the next steps.

IMG_7449OK, if you want to do it in a safer way, you can extend the lens until you see these screws. Remove these and you can remove the front barrel.

IMG_7450The front barrel can now be easily removed just like this.

IMG_7460The front elements assembly is easier to access now that the front barrel is gone. At least you don’t risk scratching anything if you do it this way and you get to clean whatever is underneath the front barrel, too. It’s all up to you if you wish to do it this way or not.

IMG_7429The front elements cell can be safely pulled-away with your fingers. Take note that there is a brass shim washer underneath it. Be sure not to lose or damage this thing. We’re OK with the front part of the lens for now so let’s move to the rear.

IMG_7430The rear element can be removed without removing too many things, just use a spanner and remove this collar if you have enough dexterity. If you want to remove this in a safer manner then you will have to first remove the baffle surrounding it.

IMG_7431The baffle can be removed unscrewing all of the screws found at the walls of the bayonet mount. The larger screws secure the baffle and the smaller ones secure the contact block. You must also free the contact block in order for you to safely remove the baffle or else it will snag on the baffle as you pull it away.

IMG_7434This is how the baffle come off. You should be careful not to damage the electronics here or else your lens won’t be able to communicate with your camera properly and you will end up with a manual focus Micro-Nikkor!

IMG_7432It’s your choice if you wish to remove the bayonet mount in order to give you more space to access the rear elements. I would advise you to do so but this isn’t necessary if you are gifted with steady hands and if you have the right tools for the job.

Removing the screws on the bayonet mount can be challenging for beginners so if you’re new to this, make sure to read my article on how to remove bayonet screws so you won’t get stuck because you stripped the head of your screws.

IMG_7433Make sure to only remove the cross-point screws and never use a screw to drill the head of the AF motor coupling screw. It’s ridiculous but some people mistake that for a screw!

IMG_7436The bayonet mount can be removed just like this after the 3 screws have been extracted. Be careful not to damage that long stop-down lever or scratch something with it. Notice I extended the lens so that the glass sits deep within the lens barrel. I did this to prevent it from getting scratched as I work on the rear of the lens.

IMG_7437The plastic (yuck) aperture ring comes off just like this. It can catch the iris regulator, just be careful when you remove this so you won’t damage anything.

IMG_7438Study how the mechanism inside works. This is a great chance to learn something new. I also took plenty of pictures and notes just in case. See that IC near the rear? Don’t touch it with your hands or you can damage it with static electricity and brick your lens.

IMG_7439The rear elements can now be easily accessed now that most of what’s in the way are all gone. Retracting the lens barrel will pull the rear elements closer to you for easier reach. As mentioned several times earlier, it’s not necessary for you to disassemble the lens to this state in order to get to the rear elements. I had to do this since I wanted to clean this lens very well so I did it anyway. See how disgusting the lens was?

IMG_7444The rear element is secured by this retention collar. I removed it with my fingers but the lacquer used to seal it had to be dissolved with alcohol first. You can use a lens spanner if you wish to do so, just be careful not to scratch the rear element.

IMG_7445The rear element can be extracted with a lens sucker. I know that the picture shows my pixelated fingers but just imagine that my fingers has the same suction power.

IMG_7446There is a spacer underneath the rear element. Make sure you scratch a small mark at its outer wall to help you know which side should be facing forward. Putting this back the wrong way can damage you lens because the curvature of the spacer matches that of the elements adjacent to it. Store this in a safe place so you won’t warp it accidentally.

IMG_7447Here’s the doublet underneath the spacer. It’s a cemented unit consisting of 2 elements. It should never be cleaned with strong solvents because that may damage the cement used to bind these 2 elements. It’s easy to remember which way this should be facing because the element facing forward is shorter. Carefully extract this with a lens sucker and make sure that you don’t accidentally drop this. The sucker can sometimes fail so be careful.

IMG_7453The front element can be removed with a lens spanner. It can be tough to remove since it was sealed with paint so just place a drop of naphtha to soften that thing up and try this trick again until the paint is soft enough for you to easily remove this thing.

IMG_7454The front element can now be safely removed once the retention ring is gone. As usual, it is very important that you make a small mark at the wall of the lens to help remind you later which surface should be facing the front.

IMG_7455There is a spacer underneath the front element. As usual, don’t forget to make a mark at the outer wall to help you orient this later during reassembly. The fungi is thriving, look how happy they are here in this picture. They won’t last long because I am going to douse them in strong chemicals. Read my article on how I remove fungi from lenses to see how I do it. I use strong chemicals and it may damage your lens’ coatings if you’re not careful.

IMG_7456The 2nd element can now be safely removed. Notice that I made 2 marks, these will help me later determine its orientation and its order. I would like to make the marks smaller, these are too big but whatever. The 2 lines denote that this element is the 2nd element.

IMG_7457The 3rd element can now be easily extracted. As usual, don’t forget to take notes.

IMG_7458Here are all of the lens elements. They look dirty here in the picture but thankfully they were all cleaned and all of the fungi on the lens were easily removed. The damage wasn’t extensive but it did leave a negligible mark on one of the elements. The black ink used on the lenses are soluble in water and alcohol so be careful not to accidentally remove it.

IMG_7459This is how it looks like after cleaning, no more nasty fungus! You can hardly tell that this lens was ever infested unless you’re experienced in appraising lenses. It looks great now.

Wow, this section alone spanned more than half of the article! Well, for most people this is all that they need to see and know about when working with this lens. If you want to see more then I will highly recommend that you read my old article on how to repair the AF-Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D lens. Both lenses share some similarities but they’re not at all similar because they are totally different in terms engineering and design but that’s not a reason for you not to look at it because you may still pick up some tips there.

Disassembly (Main Barrel):

This part is probably best treated as an appendix. What you see here isn’t necessary but I had to clean this lens as much as possible. For those who don’t need to do this, it is still a great idea to read this just so that you will know what’s going on. Most of the parts here’s made of (good) plastic so they flex and there’s a big chance of cracking them if you’re not careful. Most of the things here are easy enough to remove but you will still have to take plenty of notes just in case. The AF transmission can also be taken apart and cleaned but take care to only use a very thin oil in small amounts on the pivots of the cogs. The cogs’ teeth can be lubricated with a special grease that’s thin. If you don’t have it then you can use the thinnest grease available to you. This type of grease is usually too thin for use on manual focus lenses and is only used by lens manufacturers for things like this.

IMG_7440Removing these screws (3 all) will allow you to remove this plastic ring.

IMG_7441The plastic ring comes off just like this. It holds the spring used for locking the lens to its minimum aperture. That small nipple you see attached to the spring is fragile and it can be snapped easily so be careful when handling it.

IMG_7435Remove these screws (3 of them) so you can remove the outer shell.

IMG_7443You can remove the acrylic window by using your fingernails to pry on one of its sides. It is brittle so don’t force it. Removing the window will enable you to access some screws in the distance scale underneath it if you wish to adjust it.

IMG_7451It can be tricky to remove this shell and you will have to rotate it to find some clearance so you can safely pull it away. You really don’t have to disassemble the lens this far if you have a clean sample, mine was filthy so I need to disinfect in as much as possible.

IMG_7442These screws secure the collar for the focusing ring’s resistance regulator. Do not bother removing these because it’s not easy to disassemble the lens any further. I removed mine just because I had to but putting some of the parts back took more time than expected.

IMG_7452See how delicate everything is at this point? I cleaned the AF transmission so it will move will less effort. It can get dirty after years of neglect. Those long helicoid keys were also cleaned with a Q-tip saturated with naphtha and were greased a bit with fresh grease. It is also worth noting that you can also clean the iris at this stage with a Q-tip but carefully go at it so you won’t damage the blades. Removing the entire iris mechanism is out of the question because it will take plenty of time to put it back so it’s not worth it unless yours needs to be serviced. Clean as many things as you can while you still have the chance.

That’s all for this sections. Clean the parts properly with alcohol and lens tissue. Wipe the inner surface clean as well because germs tend to reside where the sun doesn’t shine. It’s also worth mentioning that oil will make the dirt form a layer of hard gunk that you can only remove be mechanical means (with a toothpick, etc.) so make sure you use a brush to clean whatever is there. A chopstick cut to the shape of a wedge wrapped with tissue is a great way to clean away the dirt deposits, just saturate it with alcohol and watch all the dirt get shoveled away. You will also want to use alcohol only because the lens is mostly made of plastic and stronger solvents will craze its surface. The clear acrylic window is a delicate part not only because it’s clear but it’s also silk-screened with a scale. Only wipe it with soft tissue and water to prevent the markings from lifting. Alcohol and solvents is going to be risky and you may end up making it foggy or yellowish. If you ruined the nice markings then you will end up with an ugly lens so be careful when cleaning it.

Conclusion:

This is supposed to be an easy task that just got more complicated because I had to clean it as good as possible inside-and-out. It made me wonder how this lens got so dirty but it is now cleaner than what you usually see being sold at the shops. This is a great lens and it’s a pity that the previous owner didn’t give it the proper treatment of at least keeping it in a dry-box away from moisture and dirt but that’s OK, the lens is safe now and I assure you that this lens will not suffer again from neglect. Every Nikkor that found its way into my collection is safely stored in a dry-box, my house is like a sanctuary that way.

People will usually only bother with cleaning the optics of this lens but we went the extra mile by cleaning as much dirt as we can so this guide got more comprehensive that it has to be which is also a good thing because I got the chance to make a better article for you.

Reassembling the lens is pretty easy if you didn’t take it apart like I did but I would like to point out some things to you just so that you know what’s going on.

IMG_7461Everything looks much cleaner now! While I would prefer to clean this lens down to the last screw, it’s impractical to do so and AF lenses usually aren’t made to be disassembled completely unlike manual focus lenses because some parts will take too much time just to disassemble it and it will take more time to put them back. You also risk damaging the parts that were permanently-sealed at the factory.

IMG_7462When putting the bayonet mount back, make sure that the stop-down lever is reinstalled correctly. The lens extends to about 2x of its length so Nikon had to think of a way just to couple the F-mount levers to the iris mechanism so these clever solutions were designed.

That’s all for this article. Sorry for the late upload as I was busy with my family over the weekend. I had to make a choice between this blog, repairing cameras and my family so I decided to spend my time with the little one because I have been so busy lately and I just took it as a chance to bond with her. I will make it up to you in the coming weeks, please come back to this page and see what I have for you. See you guys 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 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.

 

Buy me a roll of film or a burger?

Thank you very much for your continued support!

$2.00

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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: