Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai

Lens Stories ~ Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K

Lenses as tools of photography can gain status in various ways that enable or enhance the imaging process.  Some lenses are legendary for their resolution (Kodak Ektar, Schneider, Zeiss, Leica all come to mind).  Some lenses are prized for the way they "render" a scene.  Some people claim they can tell a lens "signature" which would be a give-away as to which lens was used in the making of an image (and on this point I've put a few of these people to the test and I think their claims are nothing more than bunk).  Other optical effects are more obvious.

A number of years ago a small part of the community of photographers re-awakened to the "swirling" out of focus area rendition given by old Petzval lenses.  In search of this effect eBay prices for the original 1800's lenses as well as lenses for much smaller formats like the Helios 40 and Contax Biotar lenses started climbing through the roof.  Even now when someone finds a lens that gives a Petzval-like effect eBay prices rapidly climb.  I'm thinking of old Russian slide projector lenses.

All this seeking for that "special" effect seems to me to be like looking for magic.  Maybe you can find it and buy it, but how does one use it?  In all my years of photography I have come across very few artists who create magical images using the magical effects of the Petzval.  One of these artists is named Alex Timmermans.  He uses the real thing and I find his images to be, well, magical.

Recently I looked in my Box of Goodies and found I had three 85mm Nikon Nikkor lenses.  One was a newer design f/2 Ai.  Another was an old pre-Ai single-coated f/1.8 H.  And the last is the subject of this article.  It's a Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K (multi-coated) pre-Ai.  The first two lenses have found new homes, but the K is still with me.

This lens came by way of leboncoin here in France.  Someone offered it for what was at the time a rather fair price.  Normally I wouldn't see one for less than 250Euro, and at those prices the lenses were usually pretty beat up.  These lenses reputedly had that certain "magic" about them. They are legendary (or at least they were).  So I snapped this one up almost as soon as it had been posted.  And this is where I was reminded of carefully checking any piece of camera gear before hauling out my wallet.

The moment I returned home and had it mounted on a camera I realized that while the man who sold the lens might well have bought a f/1.4 Nikkor and had no need for the f/1.8, it one had sand in the focusing mechanism!  Ugh. The lens had spent too much time in the desert (though the glass is perfect - which reminds me of a story about a lens I bought years ago that had be sand blasted during a windstorm somewhere out in the desert southwest of the USA).  It meant I needed to disassemble the optic, clean it, and put it all back together.  I couldn't believe the amount of sand in the focusing mechanism.

Lesson learned; ALWAYS check ALL aspects of a lens before buying.

I went through all the effort required to get this lens in proper shape because this series of 85mm lenses is known for it's Petzval-like out of focus rendition.  It can give a "swirl" effect.  You see, I too had been infected by this weird photographic tool virus and the various claims to magic.

Using the old single coated H version of the lens showed that, indeed, the out of focus areas swirl on these Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 manual focus lenses.  But for learning how to use the effect, I have to work on it.  It seems that I have no talent for these kinds of special effects.
[example1, example2, example3, example4]

However, and this is indeed a very nice "however", when used on a Sony APS-C mirrorless and Lens Turbo II focal reducer, the Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K gives almost the smoothest, creamiest out of focus rendition of any small format lens I've ever owned.  It's absolutely glorious.
[example1, example2, example3, example4]

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