Repair: Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto

Hello, everybody! I was listening to Air Supply this afternoon. While I liked them in my younger years I got tired of listening to this group after buying their “Goodbye” album. It is a fine album with a catchy song in it but it was played-to-death by DJs so you could hear the song everywhere you went. It got so annoying that listening to somebody singing in a falsetto voice made me want to act violent. After some 3 decades after “Goodbye”,  I’ve decided to make my peace with Air Supply and began to enjoy their music again. It looks like I just need some time-off from them in order to rekindle my love for their music. It’s fun again to listen to their music and relive my younger days when you dedicated a song to a girl that you liked and had the DJ play it. Today, I’m going to show you something that was so popular that people began to treat it as a mere lens cap despite the fact that it’s a nice lens with more than decent-enough performance.

Introduction:

The Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto is probably Nikon’s most prolific 50/2 lens and it’s certainly the most successful if you consider the longevity of its optical design. It was sold in 1964 as the Nikkor-H 5cm f/2 Auto, that was revised as the lens in this article and later on as the multi-coated Nikkor-H•C 50mm f/2 Auto. A huge redesign effort by Nikon in the 1970s or the late 1960s turned it into the New-Nikkor 50mm f/2 and it arrived at its final form as the Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai in the late 1970s. All the lenses that I mentioned used the same basic lens formula and it was modified in small ways to improve its optical quality or to give it new features like the ability to focus closer. The reason why it was so successful is because its performance is great for its time and so the need to develop a better design wasn’t so urgent. This earned a lot of money for Nikon as the same design was used for almost 15 years, spanning several versions. The key to all of this is the design’s simplicity which makes manufacturing easier. These were usually sold with cameras as “kit-lenses”, as they will be called later, cheap and decent lenses. This lens fulfilled them all and so it became one of Nikon’s most successful “kit-lenses” of all time.

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Many folks consider this to be one of Nikon’s best 50mm designs that could still compete with many modern lenses. This was so successful that it stayed in production until 1979 as the Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai which is simply the New-Nikkor 50mm f/2 with minor modifications. It’s a good lens if you ask me but I like the Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 Auto better for artistic purposes.

The optical formula is simple, a 6-elements-in-4-groups design of the Gauss-type variety. This gives it a well-balanced character, it is also the reason for its ability to control the effects of chromatic aberration. Its original formula was introduced in 1964 for the earliest model, it was subsequently tweaked to make it focus closer. The later ones have better coatings applied, making them better at countering flare and ghosts which I think is the weakness of the earlier lesser-coated versions.

Here are all 3 major models of the Nikkor-H 50mm f/2 Auto from the earliest one to the left and the last version with multi-coating called the Nikkor-H•C 50mm f/2 Auto. The external differences are obvious, the earlier one has the classic-look while the later ones have the hill-and-dale (山谷) aperture rings. Nikon also sold factory Ai-kits for these like the one you see in the middle so you could use them with modern Nikons. Minor details like the screws and knurling differences aren’t obvious. I can confirm that the barrel sizes are a little bit different between these so you couldn’t swap their parts around.

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The later multi-coated version has a black front ring to help combat against reflections. It looks handsome, many prefer this over the silver-nosed ones.

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Here it is with the Nikkormat EL, the later black-nosed version is a sexy lens if you mount it to a black camera. Its size is typical of smaller Nikkor primes of the same era. Handling is excellent like most vintage Nikkors, I like these as they have all-metal rings. I find these easier to turn when wearing gloves since the knurling is deep. Some don’t like touching metal when shooting in winter for obvious reasons but I don’t really mind.

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The usual silver-nosed ones look best when paired with a chrome camera. There are some people who can be really conscious when it comes to these things because cameras and lenses are like jewelry to them. This setup will certainly turn a lot of heads.

Knowing your gear is important so you could maximize them. I’ll show you a couple of pictures that I took with it under various apertures. I shot these from f/2f/2.8 and f/4, these apertures show the most changes in terms of its characteristics, these are also the best apertures to shoot with if you want to see any flaws from a lens. They are sequenced from left-to-right by aperture value.

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Vignetting is on the heavy-side wide-open but improves as you stop it down to f/2.8 but it will only go away from f/4 and up. While this won’t be obvious when shooting real-world pictures you may want to avoid shooting it wide-open with an even-colored background or against the sky. You may use it to your own advantage if you want. Ghosts and flare resistance is on the poor-side specially on the latter where shooting with the sun near the frame will cause everything in your frame to lose contrast and stopping it down won’t be of any help.

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Its bokeh quality is kind of harsh, it is one of the reasons why I stayed away from it. I took the photos above with foliage in the background because this is the best way to show if a lens has terrible bokeh or not. The good news is it isn’t bad at all when you have something else for a background, just avoid twigs and you should be fine. The 6-sided iris won’t make things better since it makes the character of the bokeh appear harsh when you stop it down. Its discs aren’t going to look circular, I prefer the heptagonal one.

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The discs can exhibit some outlines wide-open, stop it down by a bit so you won’t see this happen. It’s otherwise quite natural-looking so long as there’s nothing in the background that could trigger its tendency to produce harsh-looking artifacts.

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Some may be wondering how effective the multi-coating is so I shot these to help illustrate its benefits. The left ones were from the uncoated model, the right ones were taken with the multi-coated one. If you click on the pictures and examine them you’ll see that the multi-coating is effective in countering the effects of internal reflections. There’s a blue ring, ghosts look bigger and more opaque on the photos from the uncoated version. These are caused by internal reflection. I can at times even count how many elements a lens has by looking at the ghosts and counting how many geometric shapes I see. You will also notice in the photos that were shot using the multi-coated lens that it’s at least twice as effective in resisting flare. The falloff curve of the flare’s shallower on the uncoated one so you see more of it spreading in the frame. You can see that it could reach towards the corners (about 1/3 of the frame) while it’s absent on the pictures to the right. The effect of flare is terminated not too far from the light source and you will see that the dark parts appear darker, too.

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These were shot with the subjects at various distances. Wide-open, the lens is sharp and the contrast is more-than-adequate. Resolution is not there yet but it’s decent. It has reasonably-smooth bokeh when shooting at things that don’t have foliage or twigs in the background. Vignetting is high if shooting against the sky. Stopping this down to f/2.8 will make it resolve better as you could now see finer details. The quality of the bokeh still looks pleasing and its contrast improves a bit. Stopping this down to f/4 will make your photos sharp to the corners. The bokeh quality remains decent, the overall frame is clear. I’m impressed with its performance since it’s predictable through-out the aperture range and across various distances. Its character won’t change much as you stop it down, this is typical of the Double-Gauss or Planar-type designs, it’s one of the reasons why I prefer the more “exciting” Sonnar-type lenses. While chromatic aberration is well-controlled, spherical aberration can be seen wide-open in the form of a slight flare in areas of fine detail but you won’t notice it unless you look for it.

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Saturation seems pretty good. Contrast is quite high but it could be better if you ask for my opinion. Having said all that, this lens has the ability to take natural-looking photos.

It has decent subject isolation qualities that’s going to be adequate for most cases. This is a lens that was calculated for rendering images that have well-balanced traits and not as a tool for rendering “art” photos like the Nikkor-S.C 5cm f/1.4 where it was made to render really well up-close and perform with “lots of character” at further distances. This was deliberate and is one of the things that you should find out for yourself when you are evaluating lenses or learning how to use a new one.

Flaring is terrible but it can be caused by the damaged coatings on this lens. If you’re looking for this kind of look then this is for you. You could use this creatively to add a bit of “atmosphere” to your photos, making them stand-out from the competition.

Sphero-chromatic aberration is well-controlled, you won’t see any purple or green tint at overblown highlights in your scene in most cases. I tried really hard here but I still couldn’t manage to produce it.

This is how the vignetting can affect your photo if you shoot it wide-open. I sometimes like this effect but I’d rather avoid it most of the time.

It’s a great lens for travel or street photography. It’s quite versatile, a 50mm lens is something that everybody should own.

Its bright maximum aperture speed means it’s perfect for low-light use. It’s a bonus that it could render nice, sharp photos even at f/2.

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Here are some more photos. It’s still a great lens despite its age, you’ll able to take amazing pictures with it so long as you workaround its weaknesses and exploit its strengths. I could recommend this to any videographer who wants a lens that renders with a “vintage-look”.

Film has a distinct look that is difficult to simulate with a digital camera. In order to evaluate it better we’ll need to see how this renders with both film and digital, this will give us a holistic view of its performance. We could also see how this performs under its intended medium since it was made during the film era. I was using a Nikkor-H•C 50mm f/2 Auto to take these, I have to make this clear for transparency’s sake.

It’s a wonderful lens for use with film, I think I prefer shooting this with it.

It could give you sharp results despite using cheap-grade film. It has enough resolution to create nice, sharp details even wide-open.

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I really love how this lens renders when shot with film. The pictures have a clean look without being “sterile” like what most modern lenses tend to do. The pictures have a natural feel to them, the bokeh’s character is quite nice when you have the right variables in your background. It has a tendency to show bad bokeh character if you gave it the chance to exhibit that.

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This definitely renders pictures with the unique “vintage look”. Shooting it with film just makes it even better because this is as vintage as you can get. Colors look neutral so far unlike most lenses that were designed before the early 1970s which has the tendency to add a blue tint, they were optimized to work with black-and-white film. These echo the results that we got from a digital camera in the sense that the colors look great under ideal lighting. There are some lenses that are so bad at this that they will render a muddy-looking look even when shot under ideal lighting conditions.

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Stopping this down beyond f/5.6 will give you sharp photos from corner-to-corner in most cases. I haven’t done any tests but it looks like it has a flatter field curvature compared to others. I have read somewhere that this lens is great when used as a close-up lens or when shot in-reverse with bellows so this is probably the reason why. If this has a higher field curvature it won’t be good for close-ups. Barrel-type distortions can be observed in the photos but you won’t see much of it in real-world use.

I hope these pictures help give you an idea as to how this lens performs. It’s still a very good lens by recent standards (maybe 2 decades ago?). These are still great for practical photography so long as you get the later multi-coated one, earlier ones tend to flare a lot like what you just saw. While I will admit that it may be due to bad and scratched coatings it’s still something that you should look out for if you want to purchase one for regular use. These are a lot of fun to collect because they come in numerous versions and all of them are cheap. These can be bought for less than $100 these days while the ones that have the factory Ai-rings being just a little bit more expensive. Look for the ones with the factory Ai-rings, they will be mandatory if you want to use them with modern Nikons. This is a good lens for taking videos but I suggest buying the New-Nikkor 50mm f/2 instead because that has a round focusing ring, you can attach a follow-focus or an attachment for motorized focusing. These are excellent and they’ll last you for decades more to come so long as you maintain them properly and I’ll show you how to do that.

Before We Begin:

If this is your first attempt at repairing a lens then I suggest that you check my previous posts regarding screws & driversgrease and other things. Also read what I wrote about the tools that you’ll need to fix your Nikkors.

I suggest that you read these primers before you begin (for beginners):

Reading these primers should lessen the chance of ruining your lens if you are a novice. Before opening up any lens, always look for other people who have done so in YouTube or the internet. Information is scarce, vague and scattered (that is why I started this) but you can still find some information if you search carefully.

I highly recommend that you read my working with helicoids post because this is very important and getting it wrong can ruin your day. If I can force you to read this, I would. It is that important!

For more advanced topics, you can read my fungus removal post as a start. This post has a lot of useful information and it will be beneficial for you to read this.

Disassembly (Lens Barrel):

These are simple to service, their construction is similar to many Nikkors of the same vintage. It is good for beginners as their first Nikkor attempt but it is best that they work on something from another brand first because those are even cheaper. Don’t forget to use right tools like drivers and take plenty of photos as you go so you’ll know how to put things back together.

Like most lenses, we’ll begin by removing the objective first so we can work on the barrel without damaging the glass. It’s easy to do with this lens.

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The front ring is secured by a tiny set screw and extracting it will allow you to unscrew the bezel.

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If the bezel is stuck just apply some alcohol to soften the glue and try again later, repeat the process until you get it to turn easily.

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Pull the objective out from the barrel. Store that in a safe place.

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The focusing ring is secured by these. Make sure that you turn the focusing ring until it reaches infinity and take several notes and pictures before you remove it. This is where you adjust the focus, you’ll want to put everything back properly.

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The screws are sealed with lacquer, I usually apply some alcohol to dissolve them.

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The bayonet mount is secured with these. Carefully remove them with a JIS screwdriver. Many people strip these because they’re using the wrong type of drivers. To prevent this from happening, read how to remove screws from bayonet mounts. There’s also a video there so please check it out.

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The bayonet mount comes-off easily. There’s nothing that will snag so don’t worry about it.

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Here’s how it looks like when you remove the rear baffle. You don’t have to do this unless it’s really dirty. Be careful with the spring, don’t stretch it too far. Remove it if you need to work on the bearing.

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Removing this ring will allow you to dismantle the bearing. I had to re-pack it because mine was really dirty. Putting it back will require all the patience you can muster but I have a way to do this easily, it still takes a lot of time.

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The aperture ring can’t be removed, it’s still coupled to a lever under it that allows it to control with the iris.

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Once the screw is gone you can easily remove the aperture ring.

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Carefully extract these to remove the sleeve. Be sure to use drivers that will fit the heads perfectly so you won’t damage these or the sleeve’s surface.

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Remove the sleeve by sliding it off. It can get stuck due to hardened grease, I sometimes have to douse this with alcohol to soften any glue or grease. Note that I made a few marks so I’ll know how the helicoids should align.

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Turn the helicoids a bit until you could see these, extract these. The helicoid key can be removed once its screws are gone.

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Carefully remove the helicoid key. It keeps the helicoids synced, turning the central one will allow you to extend-or-retract the barrel.

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Separate the central helicoid from the outer one. Make sure to mark where they parted since this is also the same spot where they should mate.

Many forgot to do this or did it the wrong way so they get stuck. Follow my post on how to work with helicoids to prevent this from happening to you.

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The inner helicoid can’t be removed from the central one because this is in the way. This is the helicoid stop and it prevents the helicoids from turning too-far and undoing itself. Simply extract these to remove it.

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These are sometimes glued and you’ll need to wedge it out. Be sure that you remember which way should be facing up.

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Separate the inner helicoid from the central one and don’t forget to scratch a small mark so you’ll know where they parted.

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These secure the adjuster ring, this is where you adjust the lens’ focus. Soak the whole thing in an alcohol bath overnight to soften the seal. Cement and hardened grease can make it tough to remove the screws or the ring. These are delicate parts so you should go about it carefully. Loosen these and turn the adjuster ring until they’re off. Before doing that, be sure to make a mark so you’ll know how the ring should be aligned, you should be able to get this right again later.

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Be careful when you unscrew the adjuster ring, the threads are really fine it is easy to cross-thread them.

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The aperture fork and its ring are secured by a brass retainer. Remove it by turning the brass retainer’s end towards the slot and use a small dental pick to push the retainer out.

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Clean these thoroughly and make sure it’s moving smoothly before you put everything back later.

Clean everything thoroughly, don’t leave any residue. Brush the helicoids in a solution of strong detergent to remove the grease and pickle them in a vat with alcohol to soften any hardened gunk. Pick any stubborn dirt, toothpick or a sharp plastic stick works. Polish the threads with a stiff-bristled brush, clean them more with solvents and lens tissue. Apply some grease, don’t use a thick one, a thin one won’t do, too. Get one that’s just-right. Never apply a lot, excess grease will end-up in the optics sooner or later.

Disassembly (Objective):

It’s easy to service the objective so long as you have the right tools. Take lots of photos before you remove anything and do not clean anything that is not dirty.

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The front optical assembly can be unscrewed easily.

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The front element is being secured with a retainer and it can be removed by using a rubber cup. If it’s stuck, alcohol will help dissolve the seal.

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It’s ridged so it’s easy to unscrew with a rubber tool.

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The front element can be extracted with a lens sucker.

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The 2nd and 3rd elements are cemented together into a doublet and housed in a collar that can be unscrewed. I usually place a drop of alcohol into this hole to soften the seal so it’s easier for me to unscrew it.

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Never remove the cemented group from its housing.

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Unscrew the rear optical assembly. It should be easy to remove and alcohol will help dissolve the seal if its stuck.

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The rear element is secured by a retainer. It’s sealed with paint, you’ll need a sharp needle to scour the the seams to break the seal. Apply alcohol and it should be easy to remove once the alcohol did its job.

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Be sure to note which side should be facing where, putting an element back facing the wrong direction will shatter it.

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The rear doublet is secured with this. It can be difficult to remove because it may be sealed at the factory just like the retainer from the previous steps.

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Carefully remove it and make sure not to drop the glass.

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The rear doublet can now be extracted.

Carefully clean each element. If your lens has fungus, follow my lens fungus cleaning article. Never use the solution full-strength, always dilute it using a bit of distilled alcohol. Never soak the cemented elements, it’s enough to do damage to the optical cement.

Disassembly (Iris Mechanism):

This section is entirely optional and should only be done if the lens is really filthy or the iris is oily. Putting the blades back can be frustrating but this is easy for this since it only has 6 blades. Only handle the blades at their bases using their pins, do not bend anything.

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The iris mechanism is held by this ring. It can be adjusted and so it’s sealed. In order to put this back at the correct alignment again I made 2 marks that serve as keys so all I have to do is align these later. The marks I made were a bit deep, don’t follow my example.

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Extract these. Apply solvents to dissolve the glue before extracting them.

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Use your nails to pick the regulator lever and its ring off. It can be a snug-fit, use a lot of care when removing it so you won’t damage anything.

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Here’s how the spring should be positioned. The hook should be at the side facing the inner wall of the housing. The other end should push-against the tiny button in the lever.

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Extract this to remove regulator.

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Extract the regulator don’t forget to note its position.

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Carefully remove the diaphragm plate by pushing its tab from outside then picking it out.

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Carefully remove the blades and clean them thoroughly.

Wipe the blades with lens tissue saturated with naphtha. When putting the iris mechanism back be sure to refer to your notes. Be careful when putting the parts back so you won’t reinstall them incorrectly and cause damage. Do not lubricate the iris and its parts, it’s designed to operate without any oil.

Conclusion:

These usually take me 2 or so hours to service completely but this one took me more than that since I had to clean everything properly. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with it since its construction is conventional. I repaired a lot of similar lenses, servicing this one was peanuts for me.

All you need to do now is to adjust the focus. Read my article about focusing adjustments so you will know how this is done in a DIY setting. Follow what the article says and you should be fine.

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It’s now clean and beautiful, who would’ve thought that I got this for $18.00 or maybe even less than that. Repairing junk lenses is my passion.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please help me share this, the site gets about $0.30 a day from views alone so every visitor counts. Big thanks to those of you who support this site, you’re helping me offset the cost of maintenance and hosting. This ensures that the blog will continue serving people and to help educate people about film photography and its appreciation. Thanks a lot and see you again next time, Ric.

Help Support this Blog:

Maintaining this blog requires money to operate. If you think that this site has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the 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!

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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.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Patrick, Sweden
    Feb 17, 2019 @ 17:41:47

    Hi, interesting blog. I have the same lens as above, Nikkor-H 1:2 50mm No 850319. Would you consider cleaning it for me if I send it to you? It’s also very stiff i the focus ring, so it badly need cleaning.
    Regards

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor 50mm f/2K (New-Nikkor) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  3. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor-S 5cm f/2 Auto (Tick-Mark) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  4. Marcus C
    Jun 25, 2020 @ 13:08:14

    Hi it looks like one of my iris blades is missing or moved….is it worth trying to fix myself?

    Reply

  5. Taokara
    Aug 29, 2020 @ 03:17:16

    This lens absolutely better than f1.4

    Reply

  6. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 Auto | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  7. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor-S 5cm f/2 Auto | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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