Repair: Nikkor-S•C 5cm f/1.4 (LTM)

Hello, everybody! Do you remember “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan? But do you know that it was originally by Prince? Many people thought that Prince covered this song (and many more) but he’s actually the one who wrote the song in the first place! It’s important that we find out more about the things that we like, this will give us a better connection to them and appreciate the origins that they came from. I will show you today a Nikkor that many don’t know much about and even confuse it as something else since information about it is kind of scarce online. Like the Chaka Khan song, this is a variant of an existing Nikkor.

Introduction:

The Nikkor S•C 5cm f/1.4 is one of Nikon’s best during the post-war years, it’s basically an improved Nikkor S•C 5cm f/1.5 which is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 5cm f/1.5 but with better performance at closer distances. This was a very popular lens and Nikon made plenty of these. Many professionals had them in their bags including the recently-deceased Robert Frank. It’s sharp, durable and cheaper than the German equivalents so it became a success. It remained generally the same optically for a long time until Nikon decided to stop rangefinder camera production.

The Nikkor S•C 5cm f/1.4 was made in different mounts, the native Nikon S-mount version and an LTM (Leica Thread Mount) version which we’re going to talk about in this article. Both share the same optical formula but this one is special because it can do something special – focus really close. It does this by extending the barrel further but it gets decoupled from the rangefinder. If you think this sounds familiar, it’s the same trick that the Nikkor-H•C 5cm f/2 (LTM) employs to achieve the same thing. This is a clever gimmick which many Leica users can exploit, I do not know any native Leica lens that does the same thing.

The barrel was milled from brass and plated with chrome. The lens is heavy but well-balanced. Its weight inspires confidence and the handling is great thanks to the large focusing ring. The front barrel doesn’t turn as you focus so it’s great if you’re using polarizing filters. This one is a later version and I can turn the aperture ring and get a reassuring click at each f-stop.

I love using this lens with my Nicca 3S, the setup balances really well. I also like to use this setup with a Voigtländer VC meter because it’s tiny and it fits perfectly on top of my camera.

If you want to know more about the Nikkor-S•C 5cm f/1.4, read my article on the Nikkor-S•C 5cm f/1.4 (S-mount). They share the same optics and history, I consider them to be the same lens despite the obvious lens barrel difference and maybe even element size.

Let’s now see some photos that were taken with this lens. It’s important that we test our lens and learn its strengths or weaknesses. This will help us use it to its full potential, exploiting its strengths and avoiding its weaknesses. I took these pictures from f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 (left-to-right). I consider these f-stops to be the most interesting since the rendering changes a lot, it’s also worth noting that these are the more common f-stops that most people will be using this lens with.

(Click to enlarge)

Vignetting is quite heavy wide-open, improves a lot by f/2. It is much better by f/2.8 where you’ll only see traces of it and it’s as good as gone at f/4 but it can still be seen if you try really hard.

(Click to enlarge)

The first set was cropped and the 2nd one was left as-is. Sharpness is quite acceptable wide-open but sphero-chromatic aberration is prominent but it’s to be expected from classic Sonnar-type lenses. Stopping it down to f/2 helps a lot and the characteristics of the rendering looks very different. You’ll get a more refined look, sphero-chromatic aberration is toned-down, sharpness and contrast looks much better thanks to the improved resolution. Shooting this at f/2.8 results in sharp and clear pictures while still retaining a little bit of spherical aberration to make your highlights look a bit more interesting. This is probably the best aperture to shoot this lens with as it gives you both sharpness and clarity while still retaining a unique look. Peak performance can be obtained from f/4 and f/5.6 where everything looks great, resolution is really good and the rendering looks much cleaner. The rendering starts to look less interesting but that’s a trade that I’m willing to take if I require this lens to produce a technically-superior photo. I’ll just stay with f/2 or f/2.8 for things that require a delicate-look, and f/1.4 is only reserved for cases when I feel like taking trippy-looking photos.

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Here are crops from the center and the corner of the frame. The upper one is a tight center crop while the lower one is from the corner. This scene is a good example since the pencil sharpener is great for showing the effects of sphero-chromatic aberration, the focus is on the eye-dropper. Performance at the center is as mentioned in the previous section, no surprises here. The glow was caused by spherical aberration, it can be annoying but it is what it is. I just embrace this “feature” and incorporate it into my pictures when the effect can be desirable for some scenarios like portraiture. The corners look mediocre and is probably 2-stops behind, it does pick-up by f/5.6 and f/8 but it’s still not quite as good as the center of the frame.

(Click to enlarge)

One unique feature of this lens is its ability to focus really-close. Sharpness is not that bad wide-open but resolution is not quite there to support it, the effects of spherical aberration actually makes it look even worse. Stopping the iris down to f/2 improves everything considerably, the resolving power of this lens gets a big boost so it can now support the sharpness of this lens. Spherical aberration is now better controlled, resulting in a clearer picture. Everything just gets better as you stop the iris down. This was calculated for better performance at closer distances compared to the Zeiss original and it shows in this set. The performance is a lot better compared to the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 5cm f/1.5 if I remember it right, from closer distances up to infinity.

This was taken at the closest focusing distance, see how nice it is?

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The character of the bokeh is as expected from a Sonnar-type lens. You’ll see outlines at the discs which cleans-up very well by f/2 so you get nice, smooth and even orbs. The quality of the bokeh is generally smooth but you can get a bit of smudging with thin details at the background. The iris is kept round thanks to the 12-bladed iris, this helps a lot.

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Despite being a coated lens the ancient coating isn’t of much help when you are shooting with the sun in your frame, you will get flares, ghosts and haze which you can use for your creative vision.

(Click to enlarge)

These sets should help give you an idea as to how this peforms at the center of the focusing range. This lens is surprisingly good from f/2 on and it’s very good when you compare it to other lenses from the same class and vintage.

This was taken wide-open, notice how spherical aberration gives the photo a nice, delicate glow? This is how you can use this to your advantage, it can be used to take nice portraits and give you the same effect that you see with old photos of Hollywood celebrities from the pre-war period. I consider this to be a feature more than a flaw of the lens itself.

Spherical aberration can also be used to add a feint haze to your photo and it can help add a “soft” quality to it, making your subject look delicate.

If you’re a fan of that “soap bubble look” then this lens will give you some of that. This was taken at f/1.4 so sphero-chromatic aberration is quite high. It has an interesting look that’s typical of the classic Sonnar-type lenses.

Let’s now see some pictures that were taken with film. This lens was made for use with film so it’s only fair that we judge it using its intended medium. Film has a unique look that’s difficult to simulate with a digital camera and most if it is due to how film grain works and how it reacts to light. I used my Nicca Type-5 to take these and I loaded it with Kodak Color Plus 200.

The photos certainly have that vintage-look and using film with it helps you get that authentic look that’s difficult to mimic with a digital camera.

I think this was shot at around f/4 or so. The contrast and colors look great, I like how it captured the warmth of the sun and spherical aberration helped a lot in capturing the feel of a hot summer afternoon.

Stopping it down beyond f/5.6 helps alleviate the chromatic aberration issue present at wider apertures.

The character of the bokeh is typical for Sonnar-type lenses. Film grain helps obscure some of the edge artifacts so you won’t see them as much.

50mm is a classic focal length for street photography, I like it a lot and I use it as much as my 35mm lenses for things like this.

(Click to enlarge)

Sharpness is nice when the lens is stopped-down from f/5.6 to f/8. I’d say the resolution is more than enough for taking sharp photos of architecture. It’s pretty good for an old lens and I was actually surprised to see these photos, the negatives look even better when viewed with a loupe.

I highly recommend this lens to every Leica shooter who wants to use a real “Japanese Sonnar” and people who shoot mirrorless cameras may want this lens, too. They’re not cheap at all and excellent ones will cost as much as the German equivalent. Collectors will want to have one of these since this is an important Nikkor from a historical point. If you were to look for one, check if the iris is oily and make sure that the rings turn smoothly. Scratches and a bit of coating damage is normal for lenses of this vintage but you should not buy a lens that has balsam separation. This lens has many cemented glass, it is important that you check it properly and it may take a trained eye just to identify it. Having said that, this lens is one of my favorites and I’m sure it’s going to make some of you happy, too.

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 (Main Barrel):

Compared to the Nikkor-H•C 5cm f/2 (LTM) this one has a more complicated main barrel construction where things can be adjusted. This makes this lens a bit annoying to work with because you will need to take plenty of notes or photos to help you find your way back. You will also need special tools and openers for this and it’s best to make them when you need them. Using tools that don’t-quite-fit is a recipe for disaster and you should never use them if you’re not sure. The good thing is this lens follows a common format when it comes to barrel construction so those who are familiar with post-war LTM lenses will find this easy to repair, by that I mean the professional repairer.

Like most LTM Nikkors you need to remove a ring from the back so you can separate the lens into its 2 basic components. The ring can be tight at times so you may need to soften it with a small drop of alcohol. Be careful so your hands won’t slip and scratch the glass while you remove the ring with a lens spanner. I have a pipe-key of the right diameter and I used that to extract it.

Be sure to remove the ring while the lens is rested on a table because that is the only thing keeping everything together.

The main barrel can be extracted rather easily once that ring is gone, this is the reason why we want to be careful with this because the front barrel can drop to the floor once the ring is gone since it’s heavy. Store the front barrel in a safe place so it won’t get damaged while we work with the main barrel.

To dismantle the focusing ring, extract these 1mm set screws. This part can be adjusted so be sure to take notes before removing anything.

This is how tiny the screws are, they’re delicate so I’ll replace these with the good stainless ones that I have in my spares box.

Before you remove the focusing ring, take a few measurements of the main barrel so you’ll know how tall this should be, this will help you later during re-assembly.

Extract the ring using a lens spanner and the focusing ring can be removed easily since it’s only being held by the retainer ring. You adjust the focus of your lens by turning the focusing ring and making your changes permanent by tightening the retainer ring. The retainer ring can be a pain to put back, I spent lots of time on this because the threads of the set screws should align, if you don’t get this right the screws won’t sit properly and potentially cause damage that’s not east to repair.

When removing the focusing ring, make sure the barrel is turned to infinity, do not disturb the barrel’s alignment until you take notes and create marks. I made 2 small scratches so I’ll know how the brass helicoid aligns with that triangle in the depth-of-field scale. This will serve as a reference later.

You can remove this retainer ring after extracting the set screw securing it.

This is the screw that you have to remove.

Extract the ring with a lens spanner.

There is a brass shim inside, you don’t want to lose this thing.

This set screw secures the helicoids, you can adjust the helicoid later if your lens isn’t focusing properly but if you re-assembled everything properly this lens should not need any further adjustments apart from the focusing ring.

The helicoids can now be removed. The outer barrel is often dirty, clean the inner surface very well to get rid of germs and lubricants.

The helicoids can now be separated. Never forget to mark where these two parted because that’s also the same spot where they should mate. If you are new to lens repair, read my article on how to work with helicoids. There are many people who get stuck here because they don’t know how to put these back, reading my article should help you prevent this problem. Please don’t message me about this because I can’t help you with this.

That’s it for the lens barrel, clean everything really well and paint anything that has to be touched-up with fresh paint. I used a lighter type of grease for this because the focus throw is rather long which was the standard for this lens mount. When putting everything back, leave the focusing ring for now as you will need to adjust that later.

Disassembly (Front Barrel):

The front barrel is the most complicated part of the lens. It houses the optics and the iris mechanism so it’s heavy. The fit is precise and you should put it back together carefully to make sure that the tolerances are good or else the parts will rub against something and result in rough operation. Be careful if you want to use solvents to soften seals since it has many cemented groups. The vapor and the solvent itself can affect the cement. Care must be used if using metal tools near any glass elements because there’s not much space in the whole assembly. The screws are also brittle and they can easily be worn just by tightening them, this is a common problem with many older lenses.

The rear elements group can be removed using a pipe-key or a special tool. I am always nervous when removing this part from Sonnar-type lenses since this is always a delicate job. You can damage this part easily when you slip.

The sheath of the front barrel can be removed after extracting these screws.

The sheath has slots inside of it for the detent spring to slide-into. Clean this very well as it always tend to accumulate dirt and germs. Never lubricate it apart from the slots and only do so sparingly. This is also the aperture ring, it couples to the iris mechanism inside the housing of the objective.

The front ring can be removed after extracting this screw, I think.

Unscrew the front ring and you can remove the front lens assembly. Careful with this part as the raised lip of the inner element can easily be damaged.

Ok, that screw is actually used to secure the aperture scale.

The 2nd group can be unscrewed from the whole assembly. This is delicate, be sure to use the right tools when doing and never twist it by handling the glass itself, use the ring where it’s mounted to instead.

The front element is secured to the front ring with this retainer.

Remove it carefully and make sure that you don’t scratch the front element.

All of the elements can now be cleaned, you don’t have to dismantle this any further. If you’re feeling foolish, stop right now and smoke a cigarette.

The iris mechanism is being secured by this retainer. Remove it with a lens spanner and be careful not to damage the iris itself.

It can be tight since it’s usually sealed so just drop some solvent and wait. It should be easier to remove after an hour or so.

Carefully remove this screw, it couples the aperture ring to a cup inside and that’s how you control the size of the iris.

The rotator cup can bow be picked using a pair of tweezers once that screw is gone.

Carefully remove the individual blades and make sure to take photos of the iris before you remove anything. Handle these carefully because they’re old and they can easily get warped and damaged.

This collar can be removed but do not forget to note which edge should face the front as it’s not symmetrical. Clean this part really well and never apply any grease on this thing, it will only end up in the iris as time goes by.

Putting the iris mechanism back will take the most time, for people who are not familiar with working with this type of iris mechanism, read my article on how to re-assemble preset-type irises. It’s challenging even for a seasoned repairer, I usually take 2-3 tries on average and it’s rare for me to get it right in the first attempt. Clean all the parts carefully and never apply grease, oil or any wet lubricant in this part except for the slots for the detent spring. It only needs a very thin film of grease to function smoothly. Clean the blades with a lens tissue saturated with naphtha and be careful not to damage and warp anything. These are very old lenses and the iris blades were made in a crude fashion so they break easily.

Conclusion:

Repairing this lens was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from this and I’m sharing them all with you. This one will take you a bit more time to service because there are several adjustable parts that you need to pay attention to. It took a lot of effort to adjust this one because I had to dismantle things each time I had to adjust anything.

Once the iris has been cleaned and re-assembled, put everything back so it’s ready for testing. Once everything is good, apply some powdered graphite. I like to apply a generous amount and then massage the iris by turning it so it can get the powder into the deepest parts of the iris. Use a bulb blower and blow the excess powder off from both sides of the iris. This should give your iris a nice coating of dry lubrication that will last a long time and your iris is never going to turn oily unless you applied grease anywhere near it.

The tiny screws have been replaced with tough stainless ones. File or grind one side of the screws’ heads so they won’t get in the way of the helicoids. It is important that they remain as low as possible. Note the paint marks that I applied on the inner wall of the focusing ring, this should help me see if the focusing ring is aligned properly with the holes. This is a tedious process so it can take a while.

To make sure that the lens barrel turns smoothly, make sure that the sheath is centered perfectly so the focusing ring won’t rub on it. You can do this by tightening the screws one-by-one and at the same rate to make sure that the sheath is centered, not offset to one side. Seal the screws with lacquer, wipe the excess away with tissue after it dries.

It’s important that you calibrate the focus of your lens. This is a fast lens so you should get it right or else you won’t be able to focus this accurately. The focus has to be perfect, if you got it all wrong then your pictures will show if you’re focusing on something up-close with the lens wide-open. Sonnar-type are notorious for focus-shift issues but that’s not an excuse to be lazy. If you don’t know how this is done, read my article on how to calibrate the focus of your lens. I use a Nicca 5 for this since it has a back that I can open, it’s great for this kind of job and that’s the only reason I have it in my collection.

I’m glad that I worked on this lens, it’s a real classic and I love using it with my Nicca 3S. This lens will still work long after we’re all gone that’s why it’s important that you send yours to a competent repairman.

Thanks for reading my article, if you liked this article then please share this with your friends at social media. You can also support this site, it helps me offset the cost of maintaining it and paying for film and development. This is a labor of love and thanks to your support this blog continues to operate. I am incredibly busy but I will still find time for this blog. Thank you all and see you again in my next post. 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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