Repair: Nikkor-N 35mm f/1.4 Auto

Hello, everybody! I just had a few beers tonight, I love Asahi beer because it tasted a bit like San Miguel but more refined. It’s smooth on the throat and it doesn’t have a bad after-taste. I like beer a lot but I am more of a din guy. It’s rare that I would crave for beer but I used to drink it by-the-gallon. In China way-back 17 years ago I downed 2 boxes of Tsing-Tao beer by myself. That’s when I represented my country in a cultural/sporting event. I enjoy a pint if that suits me, the nice amber liquid is hard to resist specially if it’s ice-cold. I have something that I would like to show you today, something with a great amber hue to it, it’s difficult to resist, too. It’s something that a lot of people in the Nikon collectors’ circle crave for because of its special characteristics. Please enjoy a nice, cold beer with me while reading more about this.

Introduction:

The Nikkor-N 35mm f/1.4 Auto is a legendary lens in its own right. It goes by the name of “Atomic-Nikkor” or “Atom-lens” within Nikkor collectors since it has thorium-infused glass. It’s also the first Nikkor to incorporate the best of what Nikon could give at that time and that’s CRC, Nikon’s latest multicoated lens, a 9-bladed iris and of course, the radioactive glass. This was the best in its day when it debuted in 1970 and photographers, scientists and whoever had the money wanted one. It allowed people to shoot stars, nightclubs and do scientific research like they never did before. These sound like tall-tales but it really was a game-changer back in its day. NASA sent several of these to space but they were modified to survive the extreme conditions of space.

The barrel looks gorgeous with its all-black look. This has a factory-installed Ai-ring which will allow me to use it with newer Nikons. It handles well and I love the all-metal focusing ring. It has a longer focus-throw as opposed to a Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S which has a pathetic range. Some people like longer ones while some don’t, it all depends on what you’re used to.

It’s rather large for its time and quite heavy, too. What is amazing is Nikon’s engineers worked overtime just so we could have a 52mm filter with it. The small attention to details is what made this a masterpiece, Nikon could have sold this with a bigger filter-ring size but they went extra just to give us the standard 52mm filter size. This is a nice touch and that’s why I love Nikon. It is something that makes them special in their heyday, something that makes them a step-ahead the competition.

(Click to enlarge)

The real reason for hunting-down this lens is the 9-sided iris. Later versions only have 7-sided ones so you should be diligent enough when shopping for one. Only the earlier ones that fall-within a certain serial number will have the coveted 9-sided iris. It is also worth noting that the discoloration can be seen in the above photos as well as the beautiful multi-coated surfaces, this is its claim-to-fame apart from having CRC implemented.

Going back to the iris, only the earlier batches have 9-bladed irises, you will not find them on later ones, even the New-Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 and the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai won’t have it either. The Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S has it, I do not know why it Nikon reimplemented it or why the others didn’t have it. There must be a reason, it’s probably related to economics or difficulty producing it reliably. If you’re curious as to which ones actually have it please refer to Roland Vink’s amazing site to help guide you through your search.

This lens is infamous for one more thing and that’s its thorium-infused glass which turns amber over-time. It can be treated with UV light but it will take several days for it to go-away but you’ll still see traces of it. That’s not only a tedious thing to do since you will have to babysit your lens while it’s getting a tan but you’ll also run the risk of ruining the cemented groups. It is really not worth it if you ask me.

Learning how your lens works is key to maximizing it, you’ll learn how to harness its strengths and avoid its weaknesses. This knowledge will help in determining which lens you’ll bring next time on a shoot, it also give you an intimate connection with your gear because you will know more about it. I shot these photos from f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8 and f/4 from left-to-right, you’ll see the most changes in its character with these apertures and I imagine that these are the most common apertures people will use this lens with. If you do not use this lens for its ability to shoot at such a wide aperture you’re better-off using a slower lens instead. I took these with my trusty Nikon Df.

I took these photos with the white-balanced set to daylight to simulate how it looks like when we’re shooting it with film. This isn’t a problem when it’s mounted to a digital camera since you can set the white-balance to auto and everything will be adjusted by the camera. Just ignore the fact that all of my photos have an amber hue.

Distortion is quite pronounced, I wouldn’t use this for shooting architecture if I can help it. It’s not bad at all and the profile isn’t complex, fixing it is not a problem in post. Position any straight lines away from the edges, you can hide this effect by not making it obvious.

(Click to enlarge)

Vignetting is quite heavy wide-open, it improves considerably by f/2 but it is still dark around the corners. Stopping the iris down from f/4 to f/5.6 helps a lot and you won’t notice much of it from here-on but you’ll still traces of it if you have an even-colored background such as the sky. I don’t think it will go away even if you stop it down to f/8 but I can’t be sure of it.

It can flare quite badly wide-open when you have the sun in your frame. It’s also prone to ghosts so you’ll get blobs in your scene. Stopping the iris down will help with the flare a bit but the blobs will look more-defined as the iris gets smaller. Internal reflections can form a ring, too. You won’t see much of it when you stop the iris down beyond f/2.8.

(Click to enlarge)

The character of the bokeh is quite good at closer focus distances but it can look terrible at moderate distances as you can see in the 2nd set. It can look a bit unrefined at these distances specially if you have twigs or any lines in your background. They will render with “double-line bokeh” which I dislike. The good news is foliage seems to be rendered quite well and the character of the foreground blur looks good. In general it looks quite nice, all the ugly things can be easily avoided when you’re aware of what’s in your frame. Its nice 9-sided iris helps in keeping the bokeh quality smooth specially when it is stopped-down to awkward values where the background border on being blurry and half-focused. In my observation, these apertures tend to produce unsightly bokeh characteristics since the blurry parts are neither smooth or defined so you’ll end up with clumpy-looking details on lenses with terrible bokeh quality. Outlining of the discs can be observed wide-open, it will start to look even by f/2.

(Click to enlarge)

Sharpness isn’t bad at f/1.4 but it looks worse because of excessive spherical aberration and astigmatism. It does give your photos a dreamy-like quality and you can use that to your advantage. Stopping it down to f/2 can give you amazing results as the resolution starts to improve. Spherical aberration is better-controlled but it still retains some of that “magic look” which can be a good thing. Things start to look really good at f/2.8, its center looks exquisite and you’ll get really sharp details since the resolution can support it. You’re going to get peak sharpness at the center by f/4. The only reason to stop the iris down further is to get better corners or more depth-of-field. It performs great at infinity or anywhere close to that at f/2 but the corners will not look great until you stop the iris down to f/4. It performs equally well throughout its focus range, this good since this lens was once a favorite of scientists and astro-photographers. I don’t have any samples here but coma looks terrible, it improves when you stop it down to f/2.8 but I’ll avoid shooting starts with this at anything wider than that.

It’s actually quite sharp even wide-open but you won’t appreciate it because of spherical aberration and astigmatism. It does give you a dreamy-looking photo so it’s up to you on how you’ll want to play with it.

This is how thin the depth-of-field is wide-open, it can be difficult to focus it specially at closer distances.

This picture should give you a better idea of how sharp it is wide-open. This isn’t bad at all specially if you don’t have spherical aberration making your photos look they were shot with a “glow filter” installed.

Chromatic aberration can be seen wide-open. It’s easy to avoid it, stop-down the iris to f/2 and you won’t see much of it from there and beyond. It doesn’t look terrible at all like some cheap zoom-lenses tend to do and it helps make your photos look more natural. That statement is debatable so it depends on who you talk to.

The focus-transition is smooth so you won’t get a “wall-of-focus” like what a lot of modern lenses tend to do. This helps make your photos look natural, I love this personally because it makes my photos look more refined. You can get the background blurred like this even if this is a wide lens.

Spherical aberration and astigmatism can be observed easily in this photo. I will shoot this with f/4 if this were to be an important photo, I just wanted to show you how it looks like in real-world scenarios.

You can deal with the distortion by positioning your straight lines away and far from the edges. I use this trick a lot on lenses with terrible distortion, it’s something that you will learn as you get deeper into photography.

Here’s another angle of the theater’s stage. You’ll notice the outer pillars are bowed-out slightly but that’s about it.

Well, this doesn’t look so bad despite having lots of straight lines parallel to the edges of the frame.

This photo should make the distortion look more obvious but it’s not bad at all. Look carefully and you’ll notice it but it doesn’t stick-out much.

The foreground blur characteristics is just as good as the background blur. I love how the quality of the bokeh is when there’s nothing in your scene that can trigger any nasty-looking artifacts in the bokeh. Chromatic aberration is prominent but that’s a given since the parts at the top of the frame are over-blown. It goes without saying that astigmatism goes along with it.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more photos for you to enjoy. This is a nice lens, I love shooting it a lot. It can give you amazing photos so long as you know how to workaround its weaknesses or use them to your creative advantage. If you can see it that way then there’s nothing stopping you from taking great photos with this.

How does the amber-hue affect photos that were taken with film? I took the photos with a daylight-balanced film to show you how it looks like. Film has a unique look that’s difficult to simulate with a digital camera, this is due to grain and how silver reacts to light. Film grain has an organic structure, it’s different from the rigid-looking noise that digital sensors produce. It helps masks flaws and may even amplify them depending on cases. Film is not as reflective as a sensor so you may get less internal reflections with it. We are going to give this lens a better assessment, too. It was designed for use with film so it’s only fair that we judge it with its intended medium. I used Kodak Gold 200 for the photos and the camera that I used is a Nikon F100.

This is how bad flare can be on a real-world scenario, you’ll get a blob in the frame even if you’re using a hood or the sun is outside of the frame. You are also going to see that ring form somewhere in the frame, too.

Here’s another one. Flaring and ghosts can be a problem for photos like this so re-angle your shot so the blobs won’t be visible. Flare can be accepted at times but I’d prefer not to have any blobs at all.

Here’s a nice photo taken at the minimum focusing distance. It’s over-blown by a bit, it’s going to look nicer if I underexposed this by 1/3 of a stop.

The ability to focus really close is great, wedding photographers can use this to take photos of the rings or cake. This is a very handy feature of this lens, I found myself using this quite a lot. It’s not really high-magnification but it’s still better than nothing.

Here’s a photo of a Tara, I took this at f/2 to get more depth-of-field. This is a tiny statuette so I’d need every millimeter of focus I could get. Since this has plenty of small details, stopping the iris down a bit helps a lot. You can help avoid spherical aberration so you’ll get small details rendered better.

Here’s another photo that was shot at f/2, if I took this wide-open I won’t be able to render the brass geese cleanly. Spherical aberration can be seen but in smaller amounts compared to shooting this wide-open. You can stop this down to f/1.8 if you want to have just a bit more of that glow yet get more of the benefits of stopping the iris down to f/2.

This is not a good use for a 35mm lens. If you want to make a hipster project about people’s shoes you’d benefit more from a 50mm lens.

This is a very sharp photo, the focus transition is smooth but background is kind of ugly. This was probably taken at f/4 or f/5.6, those values can render in a funny way since it’s in-between blurry and well-defined. You can avoid this by either stopping the iris down more to f/8 or opening it wider. You’re background is just as important as your subjects.

Distortion can be easily-observed in this photo. This is not what you’d want to use when taking photos with strong lines parallel to the frame’s edges.

You can feel the distortion here, too. The good part is your attention is fixed on the Honda Cub so you don’t see how the bent the pipes look towards the far-right of the frame.

Positioning your straight lines at the center of the frame helps a lot, you can be assured that they’ll stay straighter compared to positioning them close to the edges of your frame.

If I were shooting on a sunny day then the Nikkor 35mm f/2 Ai is going to be the better choice. It’s smaller and quite sharp when stopped-down to small apertures like f/8.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more photos for you to enjoy. It’s an excellent lens with film but its amber-tint can turn some people off. I personally wouldn’t use this to shoot film photos unless I have a blue filter installed because my photos look like they have some sepia filter applied to them. Modifying the color in post isn’t easy at all unless you took the photo with a digital camera and process all of your photos using the RAW files.

How about some photos taken with a higher-speed film? I shot these using a roll of Cinestill 800T, it’s made with a bluish cast to balance-out the effect of tungsten lighting, making photos look less-yellowish. Let’s see how it offsets the yellowish tint of this lens. It took these with my Nikon FM3A and I used my trusty Minolta Spotmeter F to help give me better exposures in lowlight.

In reasonably-varied lighting you won’t notice the yellowish-hue so much, it is subdued by the tungsten-balanced nature of Cinestill 800T.

It’s most prominent in scenes where most of the lighting are of yellowish or reddish color which obviously amplifies the yellowish-tint of this lens. This film won’t help much since the color of the ambient lighting will negate it.

This is not so bad but it’s still a bit too-yellowish for my taste.

It’s a shame that this lens has a yellowish-tint, this would have been a better photo if the white-balance looks more-neutral.

This film is fine-grained and so it supports the sharpness of this lens. I took this at a smaller aperture, probably around f/2.8.

Distortion can be seen here, just look at the accordion door and you can see the lines curve slightly.

This lens if great for lowlight photography and it’s useable wide-open but it is best shot from f/2 according to my experience.

This lens is perfect for shots like this but I just hope that I had a bluish-filter with me at that time. That would have corrected the white-balance better.

It’s amazing how thin the depth-of-field is despite it being a wide-lens. Your background can be blurred to this extent which you can use for creating an interesting effect or help you tell a story.

This is a lovely scene, the sharpness of this lens complements the fineness of Cinestill 800T’s grain.

(Click to enlarge)

Cinestill 800T’s halation helps mask the spherical aberration of this lens. It’s not going to remove it entirely but it mutes it a bit with the halation so your photos won’t have that distinct-glow that spherical aberration tends to give. I don’t know if its just me but spherical aberration is not as prominent with my film photos compared to the ones shot with digital, did you notice that? I don’t have an explanation for this except that this lens was made for film so it only makes sense that I should perform better with it.

I can’t recommend this one since the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S is a better lens. It has better coatings, non-amber glass, a more-modern feel and a you’ll also get a shorter focus-throw for quick-focusing. The only reason to get this one is for its 9-bladed iris, that’s only for hardcore Nikkor fans or for those who have special needs. The focus-throw is longer, too. That may appeal to those who shoot videos but I really don’t see much benefit from it. The price for a good-condition sample is not cheap, specially for those with the coveted iris type. For the going price, just add a little bit more and you can purchase the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S instead. This is more for collectors to be honest. I do not see anybody using this as an everyday-carry lens. It’s not practical and I don’t think it will out-perform the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S. The Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S also has the 9-bladed iris which the later Nikkor-N 35mm f/1.4 Auto and New-Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 (also the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai) do not. To make things a bit more tough for this lens, you will have to look for ones with the factory-installed Ai-ring, that will cost you a small premium. Without it, this lens won’t be able to be safely mounted on a newer Nikon because of the Ai-coupling tab unless you have the Nikon FM, Nikon F3, Nikon F4, Nikon Df or Nikons that will enable you to use non-Ai Nikkors. It’s a magnificent lens but this is best left to those who know what they really want.

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):

The main barrel is a lot more complicated than your usual Nikkor prime, its lower-half has to house a few more things in order to facilitate CRC. There’s a couple of things that you should be aware and I will show you what these are in the coming steps.

This lens isn’t for beginners to repair, any Nikkor that has CRC isn’t. If you’re itching to repair this yourself and you do not have the right tools and skills, skip it. Send it to a real repairer who’s familiar with Nikkors. If you couldn’t find anyone who’s good with Nikkors then find one who’s reputable-enough with other brands and show this article to him so it will help him repair it.

You’ll need special tools to open some of the parts here and you’ll also need several screwdrivers of various sizes. A set of rubber cups will also be great for opening retainers. One important thing that I’ll mention is Nikkors from this era tend to have their screws and rings sealed with lacquer and even a substance that’s similar to epoxy. This can be annoying and you’ll strip and damage the lens if you’re not careful. I usually heat the screws up or apply a drop of alcohol on them to soften the seals up. That works with lacquer but the tougher ones will require heat or stronger stuff like MEK to work. Mark and take photos before you remove anything so you’ll know how to put the parts back again later during reassembly.

Locate and extract this so you can remove the front of the focusing ring. It’s a bit difficult to remove and you may need to apply solvents to it since these are usually sealed.

Unscrew the front part of the focusing ring. If it won’t turn, apply solvent or alcohol on its threads and wait for it to work on it before you try it again.

Locate and loosen this, you may have to turn the focusing ring to access this screw. It secures the front barrel which in turn secures the objective. Once it is loose, turn the focusing ring to infinity and unscrew the front barrel. You have to turn the focusing ring to infinity so you’ll have a point-of-reference, you’ll know what I mean in the next couple of steps.

Carefully pull the objective off from the main barrel while focusing ring is at infinity. This way, you won’t disturb the configuration of the CRC unit and it can be easily documented.

Grab a micrometer and measure the gap between the CRC group and barrel of the objective. This is how it should roughly be when the focusing ring is at infinity, you should be able to reproduce this later when you reassemble it.

Carefully extract these. You should heat these well before you remove them or saturate them with alcohol first. Nikkors from this era are known to have plenty of glue used on their screws and this is one of them. If you’re new to lens repair, read my article on how to remove bayonet screws. Many people get stuck here because they stripped the heads of these because they aren’t using the right tools or may not have the right skill. Read and follow what I said in my article and you should be fine.

Once the screws are gone you can easily remove the lens mount. There’s no parts that will snag since the objective is gone and you can safely remove it without worrying about anything.

The aperture ring comes-off next.

This is the aperture fork, it couples to the iris mechanism. There’s traces of grease here, something that I will never do. If I had to apply grease here I’d only apply a very thin film so any excess grease won’t migrate to the iris.

This is the fork for the CRC mechanism, it also has traces of grease. A small amount of grease is sufficient to lubricate this, you really need a thin film of grease for this to be honest.

Extract this, it serves as a pin to couple the aperture ring to its fork, turning the former will allow you to control the iris mechanism because of this link. It can be brittle so be careful when you remove it.

Extract the screws of the metal grip so you can remove it. The depth-of-field scale should come-off with it as it’s glued to it. These are sometimes glued, it can be annoying when that happens and you’ll have to apply alcohol to this before you remove it.

I carefully made a small scratch so I will know know the midline of the lens is. This is also where the center of the infinity symbol should roughly be.

Extract these so you can remove the focusing ring. These are usually sealed with lacquer or cement and alcohol will be very handy here.

The focusing ring should come-off easily.

Locate and extract these so you can remove the helicoid key. The key is used for syncing the helicoids so they’ll turn at the same rate, enabling the barrel to extend or retract. These screws are usually cemented, apply heat through the other side to soften the thread-locking compound before you extract the little screws.

Once the helicoid key is gone you can turn the helicoids however you want. Collapse the central helicoid until it won’t go any-further, make a diagonal mark, you should be able to reproduce this later.

Locate and extract these so you can remove the fork of the CRC mechanism. I remember that these were glued, too.

Remove the fork and clean it well.

You can now separate the central helicoid from the outer one. Do not forget to mark where they separated since this is also the same place where these should mesh. Many people don’t do this and they get stuck. Read my article about working with helicoids so you’ll learn the basics of helicoid repair.

Now’s the time to take the lower barrel apart. Remove this brass ring so you can remove the aperture fork and its rail.

Remove this and clean everything really well.

This is the helicoid stop, it constrains the helicoid to within the focus range. Note which side should be facing-up and then extract these to remove it. It’s annoying but these screws were also glued.

With the helicoid stop gone you can now separate the inner helicoid. Never forget to mark where these separated like how you did with the one before.

These screws secure the focus-adjuster ring. The ring and these screws are all sealed, pickle the whole assembly in alcohol for a night and get back to it the next day. Once the seals have been dissolved, loosen these to remove the ring but before you do that, take notes or make some marks so you’ll know how to put this back again later.

Pickling this overnight in alcohol sure softened-up the seals and you’re able to remove it safely. The threads are easily-damaged so be careful when you reassemble this so you won’t cross-thread it.

Clean everything really well and don’t leave any residue. Scrub everything well and soak them in an alcohol bath to remove stubborn dirt. I applied a thicker-type of grease which was a mistake, this benefits from a lighter-type of grease since it has a longer focus-throw.

Conclusion:

I didn’t have to clean the objective so I left that part out. If you’re curious as to how its done, read my article on the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 Ai-S, it should be a bit similar to this and you can use.

I enjoyed working with this lens, it wasn’t an easy task but it isn’t a difficult lens to service either. I didn’t have to clean the objective so I did not spend a lot of time with it. If I ever get to repair one with an oily iris problem then I will update this with more photos of the objective’s repair.

Don’t forget to note how the CRC group separates, it has a helicoid so you’re going to need to treat it like one.

Putting the objective back can be challenging because you’ll have to align it properly, the easiest way to do this is to put the lens mount back after all of the objective is reinstalled, if you do it like this you’ll be able to see how the CRC mechanism couples to its fork. Putting the lens mount back won’t be an easy task but it still beats lowering the objective down the main barrel with no idea where and how things should align.

It’s now time to adjust its focus. Reassemble everything but don’t install the cover of the focusing ring, this way you’ll be able to access the screws of the focus-adjuster ring and calibrate your lens. Read my article on adjusting the focus of your lens to know how I do it in a DIY setting. This is easy to adjust, it’s a wide-lens so you can get away with minor offsets, just be sure that it’s perfectly-focused at infinity and you’re good.

Thanks for following my work. I was asked a few days ago as to where I get the time to update my blog, my answer was I sacrifice a lot. By that I meant I was giving-up a lot of my life-force to this site since it’s the only thing that will be left for everybody when I am gone. If you liked my work, share this with your friends. Every view and click counts, I earn less than $0.90 a day from that. You can also consider supporting this site, it helps me offset the cost of hosting it. You’re also helping me purchase, scan and process film. I am proud to say that this site is unique and that’s all thanks to your support that I am able to show film photos and document repairs for everyone. This is becoming the best site for anything about classic Nikons, I could never do it without your help. Thank you again and see you in the next article, Ric.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jeremy
    May 10, 2020 @ 00:42:47

    I picked up one a bit rougher than yours that was sold cheap because of the yellowed glass. It’s not too hard to clear the glass back up. I tried to do it with sunlight at first but where I am it’s stays cloudy most of the time (about a weeks worth of good sunlight will do it). But I actually found that using a white led lamp was faster after someone suggested that. I had a small reading spot lamp that was led and it finished it up in about a day or so.

    Reply

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