Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai

Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5

I've owned this lens for years, having picked it up well before we moved to Europe.  It's small and light so it was easy to pack and carry across the Vasty Waters.

If memory serves I paid 100USD for it.  But, as the Lens Gods would have it, it sat unused while I worked through the last years of my DSLR insanity.  After the Sony NEX/Alpha series found their place in the closet and after the Canon strong-AA filtered behemoths were sold I bought the appropriate adapter and re-tried the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-Ai.  I'm glad I did.

From a design perspective the 55mm f/3.5 macro is 5 element 4 group Double Gauss.  I call it a Double Gauss even though the rear cemented doublet in the traditional design is really just a single element in the Micro-Nikkor.  In any event, the lens design is rather simple and with few air to glass surfaces it feels like images really "pop."

Looking at it's performance I find that it's wickedly sharp from wide open.  Contrasty, too.  Just a marvel, actually.  Nikon designed and built a very beautiful lens when they made this one.  Rumor has it that the f/2.8 version is even better, but I can't see how.  There was a pleasant surprise lying beyond resolution and contrast.

When I was looking at my fast Nikkors and how they render the out of focus regions I uncovered a surprise.  Wide open the out of focus highlights from the Micro-Nikkor are flat, creamy, smooth, and utterly glorious.  Of all the 50-ish mm lenses I've owned this is one the best OOFR's of any of them, with only the 50mm f/1.8 AiS being able to complete with the 55mm f/3.5.

The Micro-Nikkor's aperture is "slow" compared to the 50mm f/1.8 AiS.  But the world does not revolve around razor thin depth of field, does it?  Yes.  Sure.  It's All The Rage these days.  Yet, if you're an artist who doesn't work quite that way this kind of old optic might be very usable for focusing on the eyes and keeping your subject's nose in focus too, all the while getting that OOFR yumminess, at the very same time.

Just the other day a fellow photographer friend contacted me.  It'd been a long time since we'd traded emails.  I went out to his website to get caught up on what he's been doing.  Lo and behold, what's this?   He bought a new Sony mirrorless camera and finds he enjoys using a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8.  I took a look at what he's done with the combo and... found... huh... not 1/2 bad, this.

I looked at Ken's gorgeous work and it was as if the Beautiful Muse whispered something in my direction, too.  Inspiration, in this case, came in the form of three pears.  She arrived on a day when we do our weekly house-cleaning.  After the floors were vacumned (quick and easy in 55 metres carres), the plumbing plunged (ah the glories of French egoutes), and while waiting for the sheets to dry (yea! we have our very own clothes dryer!!),  I gently carried the pears into the living room next to the big floor to ceiling windows, arranged them in various ways, and set to work.  Of course the lens I used had to be this sweet 55mm f/3.5 Nikon Micro-Nikkor.

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