Report: Nikkor Prototypes (Part 2)

Hello, everybody! This is part 2 of our Nikkor Prototypes series. In part 1 of this series we got to see a few lenses in the collection but we’re going to see the rest of it in the coming parts. The main exhibit is separated into several parts by focal lenght to make it easier to manage and for the viewer to have some kind of context as to what these lenses are for. I would be really confused if they jumbled everything in one big table and leave it for me to organize them for this article. Please enjoy part 2 of this series.

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This Fisheye-Nikkor 8mm f/2.8 Ai-S is a special lens. If I remember it right, an equidistant projection is where the projected image is “unwrapped” so that the details don’t “pinch” together at the poles or perimeter of the projection. An equisolid projection will do that, it will “pinch” or push the projection towards the edges of the projection veru much like spreading jam over toast so it’s not even. Now, if I understand it correctly, what this lens does is give a wider-angle projection by means of optical correction. I don’t know much more because the description is short and there are no samples. I don’t know what this lens is for and why it was made, I suspect that this was made for scientific research and for data collecting or observation. This is probably a proof-of-concept to see if something like this is indeed possible so a fisheye lens can be made more compact.

This article is part of the Nikkor Prototypes series, it’s a series that I made comprising of no less than 5 parts because it has so many pictures that putting them all in one article is going to be difficult for me. Please enjoy the rest of the series by clicking on these links:

  1. Introduction and Samples
  2. Wide and Ultra-wide Lenses
  3. Normal Lenses
  4. Zoom Lenses
  5. Telephoto Lenses

Please check them all out to see everything in their proper context. I could’ve just made it so these lenses aren’t organized but that will make things very confusing for my readers.

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The Fisheye-Nikkor 7.5mm f/2.8 Auto would later see production as the legendary Fisheye-Nikkor 8mm f/2.8 Auto. This lens is a bit wider by 0.5mm but at this angle, every degree is crucial since the wider you get the bigger the difference is in terms of focal length so the 0.5mm in theory should show you a little bit more of the edges. I don’t know it was made to be an 8mm lens but it may have to do with performance issues or maybe rounding-up the numbers to a nice whole-number makes marketing people happy, it’s a mystery.

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This is the PC-Nikkor 28mm f/4’s prototype. It was supposed to have an automatic iris but that would make it too-complicated to manufacture so they implementing the traditional preset-iris type for this lens. One of the visible differences that we can see is the focusing ring was made with a different shape.

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This is the prototype of the PC-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8, I am not sure how this lens is different (mechanically) from the PC-Nikkor 35mm f/3.5 that it replaced so I can’t tell you if this has an interesting gimmick that was designed for it. The PC-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 is a successful lens but costs a small fortune to own.

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This is a late prototype of the Fisheye-Nikkor 8mm f/8 and it’s nearly-identical to the one that went into production as far as we can see. There may be small differences inside its housing that we’ll never get to compare with the production variant. The pre-production models are necessary in order to plan its manufaturing steps carefully and help fix what the engineers find before manufacturing goes all-out.

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This is the prototype of the Fisheye-Nikkor 6.2mm f/5.6, a lens which was made in limited quantities and has an astonishing 230-degree view. It’s interesting to note that this lens in the picture only has a 220-degree view according to the engraving, did Nikon do revise its optical formula in order to achieve that extra 10-degrees? If you think that the legendary Fisheye-Nikkor 6.2mm f/5.6 is rare then this one should be made of unicorn tears!

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This Nikkor-D 15mm f/4 is interesting because of the shape of its front part. I am not sure if that was incorporated to hold a filter or just there so that the dedicated cap won’t touch the front element. It looks small but this is one of those “mirror-up-only” lens so the main barrel of the optics are inside of the mirror-box and you will need an external finder for framing. Focusing such a wide-angle lens is easy and you have a distance scale engraved on the focusing ring to help you with that.

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This is an early prototype of what would become the Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 Auto. Notice that it only has 7 elements compared to 8 on the production model and the filter diameter has what looks like a 62mm filter thread. Nikon used to pride itself on having consistent sizes for filters so professionals don’t need to carry odd-ball sized filters in their inventory. The practice was dropped in recent years but Nikon used to go through great lengths in order to standardize their lenses to the 52mm standard. I suspect that the extra element for the production model has to do with this and probably to also correct something else. This is a great lens and it’s interesting to see what it could have been if changes weren’t made.

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This lens is called the Nikkor-P 35mm f/2.8 Auto, I am not aware that a lens like this got to be sold but there’s a lens that’s close-related to this that was made shortly after this lens was made and that’s the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 which has 6 elements instead of the 5 in this one. The barrel also looks a lot different but the form factor is similar so I will argue that this lens is indeed an early prototype of the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8. It can never be a lens that’s related to the well-regarded Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto just because it has 2 less elements which I find to be too-big-a-difference and the Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto has the distinctively-large front element as opposed to this one and the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8. It is worth noting that the latter one resembles this lens more than the former. If anyone is willing to share their argument and facts, please do so in the comments and I will revise this as soon as I can.

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This is Nikkor-H 35mm f/2.8 Auto is probably the prototype of the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8. It has 6 elements which corresponds to the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8’s element count and it has a similar form factor. Do note that it uses the old diamond-patten rubber grip instead of the ribbed one found in most New-Nikkor lenses. The New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 was sold from 1974 to replace the amazing Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto which itself saw numerous if not excessive amounts of revision it its optics for a lens that was sold for 13 years or so. It is just a testimony to how important the 35/2.8 line is to Nikon.

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This Nikkor-O 24mm f/3.5 Auto would become the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto 3 years later. While it’s certainly a different lens for a different class of lenses, it has the same utility as the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto. I suppose that they added another element to make this as fast and compact as they could and ended up with the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto instead. I call these things “transitional models” and these were used to bridge a gap between the original existing technology to something that the engineers wanted. I am not sure if this has the CRC technology implemented just like the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto.

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This is the Nikkor-N 25mm f/2.8 Auto and I find this interesting because it is 1mm longer than the successful Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto while not being any faster than the original lens. I don’t see a reason why this lens has to exists but it has to be something special for it to be considered. There must be something inside that we can’t observe without taking this lens apart. Let’s hope that I can do an overhaul of this lens so we’ll put that to rest.

Roland Vink has some very important things to say:

The label says 1971 but I think that’s a mistake, this looks earlier than that; It’s engraved “Nippon Kogaku Japan No.400011“.  By 1971 Nikon had simplified the engraving to just “Nikon” and the serial number without the “No.” prefix.

The filter ring is chrome which is a feature of Nikkors in the early ’60s. The trend during the late 1960s and early 1970s was towards black filter ring like the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto, the Nikkor-O 35mm f/2 Auto and the Nikkor-S.C 55mm f/1.2 Auto.

The focal length is 25mm, not 24mm like the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto from 1967. During the early-mid 1960s Nikon was working on a lens with focal length wider than 28mm but didn’t require mirror lock-up like the Nikkor-O 2.1cm f/4 lens. The early prototypes have a focal length of 25mm like the W-Nikkor 2.5cm f/4 rangefinder lens. Later, they switched to 24mm to provide better separation from the 28mm focal length, so it seems strange to change back to 25mm in 1971.

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If you think that tick-mark Nikkors are rare then this should be the rarest of them all! It’s the tick-mark version of the amazing Nikkor-H 2.8cm f/3.5 Auto and I suspect that this has the same optics as the production model which came out a year after this was made. This makes this sub-variant of the Nikkor-H 2.8cm f/3.5 Auto the widest lens available for the F-mount during its early days. I wonder how many iris blades this has because the model that saw production only has 5 blades which gives this lens a distictive pentagonal iris so its bokeh balls all looks pentagonal. I can easily tell a picture was shot with this lens just because of the shape of its iris which is rare, if not unique amongst Nikkors.

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This lens is the Nikkor-S 28mm f/2.8 Auto, you can say that it’s the forerunner of what’s to become the New-Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 but the barrel design is not the same.. If this lens did saw production then this would have been Nikon’s first lens in the 28/2.8 family but that’s not to be the case because the New-Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 debuted 3 years later. I don’t know what’s the issue that kept this lens from being approved because there was a need for a lens of this class to bridge the gap between the good (but expensive) Nikkor-N 28mm f/2 Auto and the slower but cheaper Nikkor-H.C 28mm f/3.5 Auto. There’s probably an optical issue that they had to fix or resources had been diverted to the release of the legendary  Nikkor-N 28mm f/2 Auto which came out about the same time around 1970-1971.

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This is the early prototype of the legendary Nikkor-N 35mm f/1.4 Auto which debuted two years later in 1970. The lens was revolutionary and was at that time the fastest wide lens for 35mm photography (or anything else!). What’s amazing is Nikon kept the filter size at 52mm and it took considerable efforts to give use that. I don’t recall any big changes to its optical formula apart from the early models using radioactive glass. This is an excellent lens and I love my Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S a lot which is derived from this lens but with a few minor tweaks to its optical formula to compensate for not using radioactive glass.

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This Nikkor-D 20mm f/4 Auto was an ambitious project that would become the amazing Nikkor-U.D 20mm f/3.5 Auto in the future. It has a built-in shade and looks different from the Nikkor-U.D 20mm f/3.5 Auto in several aspects such as the size of the focusing ring or the slightly-slower f/4 maximum aperture. I said that this was ambitious because making ultrawide-angle lenses at this point in SLR history was challenging since the technology to design these lenses were still being-developed. It’s called retro-focusing and it was the pioneering efforts of P.Angenieux (A French genius) that made this possible if I’m correct. It enabled lenses with a rather large flange distance such as SLR lenses to focus properly and thus enabling designers to make wider and faster lenses for SLR’s. As the technology matured, it made more and more lens designs possible. Before this lens, you would need to shoot an ultra-wide Nikkor with the mirror locked in the “up” position in order for the large rear elements group to get closer to the film plane. This lens changed all that and it can be used as-is on any F-mount SLR cameras with enough clearance to clear the mirror and its travel so it won’t hit the rear element of the lens. This is an early prototype as far as I can see because there’s an even-later one which we’ll see in a bit.

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This is the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/4 Auto and it would later be sold as the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto after some revisions to its optics that will make it a bit faster. It’s also longer than the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto so mechanical changes had to be made to its lens barrel on the production variant. This is a later prototype because Nikon released the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto around the same year. I am surprised that it still had the f/4 maximum aperture at this point so the decision to market it as an f/3.5 came really late.

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The Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto is a big lens even today so a more compact solution had to be found which culminated in the Nikkor-D 20mm f/4 Auto which has the same name as the lens a few pages up but it totally-different in every respect. This lens would come to be known as the New-Nikkor 20mm f/4 in 1974 and it has several improvements over the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto such as being more compact and it also uses the standard 52mm filter size. Not many people know about this lens’ secret but it was also designed to be used in-reverse for enlarging or macro photography which will enable you to get to a huge magnification ratio that’s greater-than 1:1. It’s interesting to note that Nikon made the decision to make this lens as early as 1971 which is just about 4 years after the debut of the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto. The advances in optical engineering at that time must have been really great in order for Nikon to mobilize and create a replacement for many of their lenses at that time. Do note that it still retained many of the older-style of Nikkors such as the diamond-pattern grip and scalloped (hill-and-dale) aperture ring pattern.

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This Nikkor-TD 20mm f/2.8 Auto prototype was made around 1972 and it has a faster f/2.8 maximum aperture compared to the Nikkor-UD 20mm f/3.5 Auto so it’s more useful when you shoot in the dark and the faster aperture also means that it’s easier to focus, too. The lens would surface as another prototype a few years later but will only be released many years later in 1984 as the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 Ai-S. I don’t know why there’s a long delay in this lens’ development but it has probably something to do with the design or marketing. This would have sold very well if it came out in the mid-70s.

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This Nikkor 20mm f/2 Ai-S has a really fast (for a 20mm) maximum aperture of f/2 and a lens in this class was never made to have something like this. Nikon recently released the AF-Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED in 2014 and it would have made the front pages back then if a lens like this came out in 1980! The current AF-Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED is an unrelated to this except that they occupy the same lens class. I wonder why Nikon pulled it punches, it could have shown “who’s the boss” if this was sold 38 years ago. I suspect that it has to do with optical performace wide-open at the corners or other limitations of the same nature but all we can do now is speculate unless we talked to somebody in Nikon.

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This is the Nikkor-HD 13mm f/8 Auto, I’m not sure if this is the prototype for the amazing New-Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 that was released in 1975 which became the widest lens for SLRs (35mm) in its time. It has a clever mechanism to trap light out as you change the drop-in filter. There are also many traits that make this look more like a lens from the 1960s like the scalloped focusing ring and chunky features.

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This is the Nikkor-HD.C 13mm f/5.6 and it resembles a New-Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 more than the previous lens not only in name but also by how it looks. That shade is not part of the lens barrel but it makes it bulky. It also resembles the New-Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 in the way you attach its accessory filters by screwing them to the rear of the lens instead of being the drop-in-type of the previous prototype.

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The Nikkor 15mm f/3.5 is faster than the New-Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 by around a whole stop so it’s potentially more useful in most cases. The caption says that it’s a bit larger than the production model which came out in 1978 as the Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 Ai and was sold for a short time before it was replaced by the Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 Ai-S.

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The Nikkor-BD 18mm f/3.5 Auto would have been revolutionary when it came out in 1973 as it will make it the most compact ultra-wide lens for the F-mount but a similar lens that got into production is the New-Nikkor 18mm f/4 of 1974 and it has a slightly-slower speed of f/4 which is hardly-noticeable. It also looks different as the New-Nikkor 18mm f/4 has a squat-profile that makes it look wider. It won’t be until about 1981 can we see a lens that is closer to this prototype in the form of the Nikkor 18mm f/3.5 Ai-S.

That’s it for part 2 and if you haven’t seen part 1 please read it so you can begin with the series from the beginning. Come back again for part 3 in a coupleof days, check my blog and see if I uploaded something. I may publish the next part in a couple of days and you don’t want to miss it.

Before I forget, I would like to thank our friend Roland Vink for his excellent and helpful site on Nikon serial numbers. Without his site, it would have been really hard to research and date Nikkors. His work mirrors mine in many ways and is a product of dedication. It deserves our support in any way to keep it going and I imagine that it takes a lot of time and effort to maintain and keep it up-to-date. Roland, thank you very much for the work you’re doing. Nikon lovers everywhere owe you a pint (or burger)! If “Nikonism” is a faith I would glady see you as a saint!

Thanks for supporting this blog, it takes plenty of time to write all this and I also had to travel to the other end of Tokyo just to see this so I hope you appreciate this. I’ll see you again in part 3, Ric

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Report: Nikkor Prototypes (Part 5) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  2. Trackback: Report: Nikkor Prototypes (Part 4) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  3. Trackback: Report: Nikkor Prototypes (Part 3) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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