Repair: Nikkor-S 3.5cm f/2.8 Auto (Tick-Mark)

Hello, everybody! Do you remember the early days of the internet? I was at a website yesterday, searching for information about the Leotax G. It seems like it hasn’t been updated for 2 decades and it really felt like a time capsule with its tacky animated buttons and flashing gifs. I was designing websites a long time ago (with notepad) around 1998 and that look was considered old back in 1998. The internet and how websites looked was in transition to the more familiar look that we’re used to seeing until recently. Flash was really popular and websites began to use more and more animation to make them look more exciting and look less like digital newspaper. While we are on the topic of transitions, we will look at a Nikkor that was caught in-transition in the days when Nikon was beginning to shift towards the SLR with their new (then) Nikon F. It still retains some traits that are mostly found in their older rangefinder lenses and is considered by many to be novelties.

Introduction:

The Nikkor-S 3.5cm f/2.8 Auto was sold shortly after the Nikon F debuted in 1959. It’s the first in a long line of 35/2.8 lenses for the F-mount and it uses a simple optical design which is basically just a Tessar-type lens that has two extra elements at the front to help it achieve the wide-angle of 35mm. Nikon used this trick for the Nikkor-S 5cm f/2 Auto as well according to Mr. Oshita, I remember him talking about this when we were at Shinagawa. This clever trick was necessary because the Nikon F has a flapping mirror and the rear element has to clear it. This was something new for lens designers and they had find ways in order to get the desired focal length. This is easy for longer lenses but not so much for lenses that are 50mm and wider.

It’s one of the first batch of F-mount Nikkors which many people today call “Tick-Mark” lenses, they’re given that name because these lenses have small lines engraved on the aperture ring and focusing ring so you can turn them precisely to the value that you want. This is a throw-back to the days when Nikon was still mainly making rangefinder lenses and you’ll also see other similar traits of rangefinder lenses in this series like the 9-sided iris blades that are curved and other “legacy” features. These Tick-Mark lenses are not cheap due to their rarity, they were only made for a few years. Nikon had to find a way to simplify their lens-making pipeline in order to meet demands from professionals and distributors. I’ll point-out some of the features that makes these lenses “premium” compared to their successors later.

The optical formula is composed of 7-elements-in-5-groups, it was updated a couple of years later to make it easier to manufacture. This resulted in two different versions of the same lens which confuse many people because the name was never revised to reflect this change. The later formula is better, it renders a “cleaner” image based on my memory of that lens but it’s still not as good when you compare its results to the New-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8’s. We’ll talk about the later version in another article to avoid confusion.

Some features of the Tick-Mark lenses make it incompatible to use with a lot of later Nikons. The aperture ring has a lip that extends to cover the throat of the bayonet mount, this helps cover the seam so dust won’t end-up inside and it’s an early form of rudimentary “weather-sealing”. Some early Nikons won’t be able to mount these, too. The mechanical Nikkormats won’t mount these lenses because they have a speed-selector ring around the lens mount. This is the main reason why some Tick-Mark lenses can be found where the said lip of the aperture ring was shaved-off. This results is bad for resale, it’s important for collectors to buy lenses that are as close to original whenever possible. The Tick-Mark lenses also started Nikon’s tradition of standardized filter sizes, it was a radical concept back then at a time when lens designers would just make lenses that use odd-ball filter sizes. This resulted in people buying more filters than they had to, this radical, new concept makes it a lot easier and cheaper to invest in a set of filters because all you have to buy is a set of 52mm filters or attachments when using Nikon’s standard lenses. It was only necessary to buy bigger filters when using the specialized Nikkors but they’re also using standardized filter sizes such as 62mm and 72mm. It’s a mystery why Nikon recently makes lenses that uses odd-ball sizes like the Canon-style 58mm ones.

The Tick-Mark lenses were made a bit better than later Nikkors in terms of aesthetics and build. They all have a clear-coat applied to their barrels and these turns yellow as they age so the chrome trims look a bit yellowish. The screws of the sleeve and bayonet mount were also concealed, giving you the nice, clean look of most rangefinder-era lenses. The delicate 9-bladed iris is superb because it helps give you a smoother bokeh quality compared to the ones you get from a 6-sided one. The iris remains round at every aperture. I like this feature a lot but it was difficult for Nikon to make them at that time when they were transitioning their tools and dies to make automatic irises. The depth-of-field scale has a small, red “R” engraved on it instead of simple dot that you will find in all later Nikkors. These are just some of the features that you’ll see from the outside and you’ll soon see differences on the inner parts when it comes to the repair part of this article.

Going back to the iris, automatic-actuating iris mechanisms were new even for Nikon, at least at this scale. The Nikon F has an auto-return mirror and it was a big thing back then because it was faster and more reliable. This gave the Nikon F a huge advantage because you can now see through-the-lens as far as the Nikon system is concerned and you don’t need any attachments to do this. This required the iris to be light and reliable, it was challenging for Nikon to make these as they were new to this. It’s not unusual to find these early F-mount Nikkors with corrections made during production due to the mistakes made by the machinists. Nikon also wanted to give these then-new lenses a round iris, something of a hallmark for rangefinder lenses of old. It was hard to achieve both using what they had so later lenses used a simpler design with less iris blades. This went on for more than a decade until they got the know-how to make complicated iris mechanisms cheaper and faster using the engineering advancements that became available in the 2 decades after 1959.

It’s a really compact lens and it balances really well with any Nikon. You can wear this setup all-day and your neck won’t hurt the next day. The aperture scale is handy for focusing and the color-coded scale is easy to read. This is a feature that started with these lenses which continues today with Nikon’s manual lenses. Small details like this and its practical specs make this lens a favorite for many news photographers, etc. The reasonably-fast f/2.8 speed’s a good compromise, it’s just a little bit slower than Nikon’s old standard f/2.5 35mm lenses like the W-Nikkor•C 3.5cm f/2.5 but it’s now using the standard f/2.8 value instead of the annoying unorthodox speeds that Nikon used. This makes it easier to meter or guess your exposure.

Let’s now see some pictures that were taken with this. It’s important to see how a lens performs in order to learn how to use it effectively. You’ll know how to avoid its weaknesses and exploit its strengths. I took these pictures using f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 (left-to-right), these are the apertures where you will see the most changes in the lens’ rendering.

(Click to enlarge)

Vignetting is kind of heavy wide-open and it persists somewhat until f/5.6. It isn’t obvious unless at that aperture you’re shooting an even-colored wall or the sky where you’ll see traces of it. The good news is that it improves really well by f/4 but it’s still more than what I would have wanted. The cause may be due to the nature of this lens’ optical formula and I suspect that it is also the reason for some other things that you will see later.

Here’s how terrible the vignetting is. Geometric distortion can be quite high in certain situations where you have straight lines at the edges of the frame. You can’t see it much here but I will show you some examples later where it can actually be quite distracting.

(Click to enlarge)

Ghosting is a known problem for this lens and it’s also present on the later model, too. This may have more to do with its coatings than anything else. I find this quite distracting but it some people can find a creative use for this. The orbs start-out as diffused blobs and they will look more-defined as you stop the iris down, making the problem look worse.

This lens flares a lot, giving your photo a low-contrast look even if the iris is stopped-down. Again, this may be attributed to the inferior coatings used on this lens or fungus may have eaten-away at whatever was there before. The front element of my lens is scratched and worn, that may be another cause for this, light may have been diffused by the scratched glass.

(Click to enlarge)

Sphero-chromatic aberration is present wide-open but it’s mostly gone at f/4 and you’ll only see traces of it at f/5.6. This will also depend on where you’re focusing, it’s only bad in certain scenarios when the factors that trigger this is situated just outside your focus plane. I would not worry about it and this is not bad at all if you ask me.

(Click to enlarge)

The quality of the bokeh is pleasing for a lens of this vintage specially if you consider that this is a wide lens with a moderate maximum speed. The discs look clean and whatever dirt you see in them is caused by the scratches on the front element. The iris remains round at every aperture, it’s remarkable and it’s one of the things that make the Tick-Mark lenses special.

(Click to enlarge)

These were shot from the minimum focus distance up to around maybe 5m or so. There is a noticeable “soap-bubble” effect that some people hate. This is expected since the lens doesn’t seem to have a high field curvature. This is not bad at all for a lens of this class and is on the smooth-side but there are situations when this lens can exhibit cheap-looking bokeh.

There are times when you just have a bad combination of elements in your background like parallel lines, etc. This will result in a smudgy-looking blur. This example isn’t that bad and I will show you something worse later.

(Click to enlarge)

Sharpness at the center is pretty good wide-open but the corners look bad. I won’t shoot with this wide-open if my subject is anywhere near the corners. The center improves a lot by f/2.8 and the corners still look pitiful and it will only start to look acceptable when you get to f/8. Resolution is not bad at all for a lens of this vintage but it could be better. You would want to shoot this from f/5.6 if you want decent-looking corners. The image quality is better at closer distances and it sucks when focused further than 10m as you can see from my samples. Sphero-chromatic aberration plagues this lens when you focus it around or beyond the middle-ranges but it’s easy to avoid or at least lessen its effects by under-exposing. The set with the flowers demonstrates how bad the smudgy-look of the bokeh can be. It’s very distracting, I usually associate this look with over-corrected optics where you get high sharpness and contrast at the expense of the smoothness of the bokeh. I am not sure if this is the case for this but this lens sure has a higher-than-average contrast.

Let’s now look at some photos that were taken in real-world scenarios. One of the features of this lens is its 9-bladed iris so nearly all of these were shot with the iris stopped-down from f/5.6 and up. It’s pointless to shoot with this wide-open if I wanted to showcase the advantage of having a 9-bladed iris.

The colors look great in my opinion, the contrast is probably the highest in comparison to the other Tick-Mark lenses. This is either something that you will either like or dislike about this lens. I assume that this lens was made to give newspaper photographers a good, wide Nikkor for their Nikon Fs so its contrast had to be high, this will help their black-and-white prints look a lot better when printed. That’s just my pet theory, I am sure that Nikon designs lenses for a broad user base but 35mm along with 50mm were traditionally linked to this field until the advent of better performing zoom lenses which makes them the more practical choice for reportage. I used to do a little bit of shooting for a large community newspaper and I recall the editor saying not to use anything wider than 35mm as it “distorts” the truth too much. He is old-school and he wants to show things as-they-are and not sensationalize anything. I have a few published pictures from that period, too small to be a real portfolio, it was all for fun anyway.

(Click to enlarge)

This lens is great for shooting architecture, just don’t place any of your lines near the edges because they will look a bit bowed due to distortion. It is not that bad but it’s something that you should consider.

This lens can render with a “vintage-look”. Many people shoot with manual lenses from the Golden Age of Japanese camera manufacturing because the mentioned look gives their pictures a unique, vintage feel. My ex-girlfriend preferred older men because she thought that we’re more interesting, more responsible and low-key. That was until she met me and she scratched that part about being responsible out of her list. Lenses are like life choices, they are very personal and you can’t tell anybody which one to use.

(Click to enlarge)

The 35mm focal length is a favorite for many street photographers. This is a useful lens for this and the vintage-look that you get from this lens can help give your photos that unique look that many youngsters try to emulate with their digital cameras and phones. Just shoot a roll of film with it, it will sure bring you back in time because of the nostalgic look, the look of Showa.

The effects of sphero-chromatic aberration can be avoided to some extent if you under-expose your shot by a bit. If I metered for the whole scene, these coins would’ve been blown-out and I would get magenta artifacts over most of the highlights in the shiny bits despite stopping-down the iris.

Let’s now see some pictures that were taken with film. This lens was made to be used with film since that was the only practical medium available. It’s important that we judge a lens using its intended medium, this will help us give it a fair assessment and see what the lens designers really wanted. Film has a unique look that is difficult to simulate digitally because of film grain and how light reacts with it. This makes it more forgiving because grain can help mask some things that will otherwise show up in a picture shot using a sensor. I took these photos using a Nikon F2 loaded with Kodak Gold 200.

The contrast is pretty high when you stop the iris down. Sharpness is not so great but it’s definitely more than adequate for most cases. The corners are good but not excellent even when you stop the iris down to f/8. This is not a bad thing considering the circumstances of this lens’ development and what was available to the engineers when they calculated this. I will say that they made a good job if you put it in that context.

Sharpness is great when you stop the lens down. The corners look nice but I think that it can still be improved. This isn’t the sharpest 35/2.8 Nikkor but it isn’t so bad specially if you consider that this was Nikon’s first attempt with a 35mm lens for the F-mount.

Sharpness is adequate but you won’t get critically-sharp corners even if you stopped the iris down to f/8. My focus may be a bit off here but I don’t think that’s the cause.

Chromatic aberration can still be seen even if the iris was stopped-down. It isn’t obvious but you can still see traces of it if you look carefully.

All of the earlier variants of the Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 Auto lenses will do this despite the differences in optical formula. They’re somewhat prone to flare and ghosts when shot in contra-light, this one is worst by far because it uses older coating technology. You can even count how many elements it has just by counting the ghosts. This doesn’t bother me at all, if I want 35/2.8 Nikkor that won’t do this then I will just use the later versions. I embrace this flaw and I think of it as a fun effect to play with when I am bored.

This is how bad flaring is when the sun is at the edge of the frame. This can be used as a creative effect if you wish to. Using a hood may help alleviate it but this has more to do with the lens’ design and old coating technology.

(Click to enlarge)

Distortion is something that you should be aware of and never position any straight lines near the edges of your frame or they will look bowed. It is not terrible at all but it’s enough for people to notice it, printing your pictures in large sheets may disorient your viewers, though. There are people who are a bit more sensitive to this and I knew somebody who gets migraines even.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are some more photos for you to examine. This lens works great with film and you’ll want to shoot this lens with it once you saw the results from your first roll. Why use a digital camera only to apply filters to it to make its photos look vintage when you can just get that look effortlessly using a film camera. It’s authentic, too.

Were my photos helpful? I wouldn’t recommend this lens if you just want a lens to go with your daily shooter. These are too-expensive and rare just for that, like Indiana Jones said – “That belongs in a museum”. If you really want a classic 35mm Nikkor with a round, 9-bladed iris like this one then just buy the next version of this lens. It’s basically the same lens but the construction is a bit different, more in-line with later Nikkors. You can use Roland Vink’s very useful website to help you identify one using its serial number. They’re a lot cheaper but they’ll cost a bit more than the ones with the 6-bladed iris. I got this one for a reasonable price because it was in bad shape, I only got it because this will complete my Tick-Mark Nikkors collection. Let us now look at what’s inside this and see how Tick-Mark Nikkors differ from the rest.

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):

The barrel construction of all Tick-Mark lenses are a bit different from their later siblings but they all follow the same scheme. If you’re familiar with all of the usual Golden-Age Nikkors then this should be easy for you despite the small differences. The details may be minor but they’re worth noting if you are interested in knowing more about these old Nikkors. These are valuable lenses and you should never work on these without the right tools. Some of the parts are also brittle due to age and corrosion so you must be careful or you can turn a bad situation worse.

The focusing ring can be removed after extracting these (3) screws.

The focusing ring itself should be easy to remove since it’s not glued.

You can remove the front optics assembly if you wish. To do that, use a tool made from rubber to help you grip the bezel and turn it.

The whole assembly comes-off just like this. Don’t damage the rear part and the glass in it.

The iris is exposed at this point so be careful not to damage it.

Removing the aperture ring involves extracting this screw. It serves as a pin to couple the aperture ring to its fork underneath it. This enables it to adjust the iris mechanism deep-inside the lens barrel.

Turning the aperture ring will allow you to remove it but before doing it it’s best to note its position first so you’ll know how far the aperture ring sits in the barrel. You’ll have to put it back the same way or it won’t turn smoothly, the pin won’t sit properly as well if the aperture ring is sitting too far or too close in relation to the shiny grip. Removing the aperture ring will give you access to these screws that secure the bayonet mount. You can remove them now if you wish but it’s better to remove them later.

The sleeve (with the grip) can be removed after extracting these screws. The screws are concealed under the focusing ring which is clever but it can be a pain to produce these since these screws should be flush with the sleeve or it will scratch the focusing ring. This is the reason why Nikon stopped doing this with their lenses.

The sleeve can be removed easily after the screws are gone.

Carefully remove these and don’t damage the threads of the aperture ring. I often have to clean the threads in order to reveal these screws since they’re usually covered in dirt.

The bayonet mount can be removed once the screws are gone. I think there are 4 or 5 of these, maybe even less.

This is a good time to take notes on how the helicoids should be aligned. It’s important to take your notes while the barrel is turned to infinity, this will help you later because you’ll have a point-of-reference. You can remove the screws of the helicoid key through these ports. The helicoid key constrains the movement of the helicoids so turning the central one will enable you to turn the inner one, extending or collapsing the barrel.

Once the helicoid key is gone you can turn the helicoids beyond their range. I collapse the helicoids and make a diagonal mark as a guide so I’ll know if I got the alignment right after putting everything back. If I failed to replicate this then I will have to re-mesh the helicoids again until I got it right. This is just a guide and a little bit of difference is ok so long as the lines are not too far-off from each other.

Once you are satisfied with your notes you can separate the helicoids. Make sure to mark where they separated because this is also the spot where they should mate. If you are new to this, be sure to read my article working with helicoids. Many people get stuck here because they failed to mark where the helicoids separated and you don’t want to be in the same predicament. That is the reason why I started this blog.

This is the aperture fork and its ring. Note its position before you remove it. It’s a pain to adjust this later when you have everything assembled and you have to open things up again just to adjust its height.

Turn it until it separates. Be careful not to damage the delicate threads. The threads are easily-damaged which can result it cross-threading. This lens is valuable and you never want to damage it in any way.

The inner helicoid can be separated from the central one after you remove the helicoid stop. It’s in the way so you can’t turn it beyond its range. You’ll have to remove a few screws to remove it.

Locate and extract these screws to remove the objective. I think one of them is hidden behind one of the helicoid stops.

This is one of the screws of the helicoid stop, there are 2 of them.

The picture is a bit dark but you can see 2 screws in the photo. These screws secure one of the helicoid stops. Removing this will allow you to remove the inner helicoid through the front.

The housing of the objective can now be removed. Removing this as early as possible is what you would want to do ideally, you can even do this as soon as the focusing ring is gone. I don’t know why I only did it at this point but I am sure that I had a good reason for it.

The inner helicoid can be removed from the central one but do not forget to mark where they separated.

Clean everything really well and make sure that none of the old lubricant is left in the helicoids. I used a thicker-type of grease for this lens because it is a wide lens and they usually have a shorter focus throw. This will give me a nice, damped feel each time I turn the focusing ring. It feels great when the weather is warm, giving me just the right resistance to turn it precisely.

Disassembly (Objective):

The objective is where you’ll find most of the differences between the older Tick-Mark lenses and their later versions. The construction will remind you of the older rangefinder Nikkors and the iris have more blades. This makes for a delicate assembly that’s bothersome to produce in large quantities and you’ll find a few of these with milling mistakes and corrections. These were made during a time when most things were made by-hand so the parts and their fit were all adjusted by a team of skilled machinists. You can even say that these lenses are the last of their kind when it comes to Nikkors, an end to an era and the beginning of another. The parts are very delicate and you should use the appropriate tools to open them. The fit isn’t always perfect, I sometimes find that some of the parts fit badly. I don’t know the cause but it is obvious that Nikon was working in overdrive when they were making all these because the Nikon F was selling really well.

The rear element and its housing can be removed by unscrewing it. If this is stuck, use a bit of alcohol and apply it to the threads to soften the seal. Wait a while and try again, repeat the alcohol routine again if it’s still stuck. This is the last group containing the 6th and 7th elements. They’re cemented as a single unit so be careful with using solvents near this part or it may damage the cement and cause an even bigger problem that’s difficult to correct.

This is a very delicate operation because you can scratch the glass if you are not careful. The 5th element is sealed to its casing so don’t bother removing it.

Carefully extract the casing while making sure that the glass is safe.

The 3rd and 4th elements are sealed to their housing. Carefully remove the housing and don’t damage the delicate lip of the 4th element. Be careful not to damage this part and don’t use solvents near it because this is a cemented group.

The iris is secured by these screws.

Once the screws are gone you can carefully pick on the actuator ring. This is what holds the iris down, it can be a very tight fit so be careful with this. It’s easy to damage this part if you’re not careful. Don’t forget to put it back the same way you found it so take plenty of notes before you remove this.

There is a brass regulator ring pushing the iris blades down, removing this screw will allow you to remove it. This screw couples to the aperture fork, it regulates the size of the iris by adjusting the play of the actuator lever in the ring that we removed prior to this step.

Carefully remove this rotator plate and don’t forget to put it back the right way with the flat-side facing the blades. It’s easy to remove this, just push its tab from the outside to lift it and pick it with a pair of tweezers.

The iris blades can now be accessed. These are delicate so handle them with care. If you warped any of these then the iris won’t work properly.

The iris can be annoying to put back because the blades are small so they’re light and they won’t stay-put. Just pressing on one of them is enough to send the other blades out of their positions and it’s back to zero again for you. It’s not easy and it may take you several tries before you get it right. This had to be done because actuating all 9 blades require that the iris blades be as light and small as possible. Remember, this was Nikon’s early attempt at building these and they will soon perfect this after a few years’ time.

Conclusion:

This didn’t take long at all and I think I only spent less than 3 hours for this. I had a fun time working with this lens, noting its unique features was very interesting and my effort should benefit all who wish to know more about these unique lenses.

After cleaning the lens barrel thoroughly, I painted the lines so they’ll look a lot better. Read my lettering restoration article to learn how I do this. This is important if you want to use the lens regularly, some people prefer to use a worn lens or preserve the original paint for collection but I don’t mind it at all if it’s just a minor touch-up. There will be times when I have to pain the whole barrel again but I am getting tired of doing it and I don’t want fumes to reach the bedroom where my child is usually at.

All that effort paid-off and I now have the rarest production tick-mark lens that works perfectly! There’s no other feeling like restoring a valuable lens like this and making sure that it will continue to take photos long after all of us gone and turned to compost.

Hope you enjoyed this article about one of Nikon’s rarest production lenses. This is more for historical and educational purposes rather than a complete repair article and I hope that this article satisfied the true Nikkor fans when it comes to seeing what’s inside of these lenses. I will continue to write more articles on these lenses if you guys want me to. If you liked this one, share it to your friends at social media. Facebook has been acting-up lately and I can no longer share my repair articles like I do before. I may get banned if I did it and I can no longer access my account. I can only share to my own pages and maybe a few other ones that I am connected to. Facebook wants people to pay for shares and I don’t want to pay $14 just to share my work. Help me support this blog to help keep this alive, I may not have the usual platform for sharing my work online and that is going to hurt my ad revenue which is not a lot to begin with. Helping support this blog will help me pay for film and development along with hosting the site. Thank you very much 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 site’s upkeep, you can make a small donation to my paypal.com (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’s name or other information so that the donations will totally be anonymous. 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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