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Lenses: Info links for old Nikkors

May 10, 2013

ai5512b lens

My >45 year old Nikkor (Nikon) “F” lenses that I use with modern video cameras were originally designed for use with full-frame 135-format still photography SLR cameras. Because these lenses were designed to “cover” the relatively large size of 135-format stills film, they can be used with pretty much any size digital video camera sensor.

I currently use Fotodiox “Pro” lens mount adapters to mount my old Nikkor lenses on various video cameras, each of which have different lens mounts, including Micro Four Thirds (Panasonic), E (Sony), and EF (Canon & Blackmagic). I’ve heard good things about RedRock EF adapters, which might be stronger than the Fotodiox version, so I hope to try one soon. There are a wide variety of lens mount adapters available from many manufacturers.

My old Nikkors are fully manual and don’t feature any modern conveniences. Everything about these lenses is manual: Focus and aperture are adjusted using purely mechanical rings on the lens barrel, and my lenses are fixed focal length “primes”, not variable focal length “zooms”. These lenses have no electrical connections to communicate with a camera. Most modern video cameras include focus and exposure aids (such as focus magnify or peaking, and exposure zebra display), so it’s relatively easy to adjust these lenses quickly and accurately.

Old Nikkors generally aren’t as sharp or contrasty as modern lenses, but I’ve learned to appreciate their look. They add a slight glow to highlights, and their slight softness is especially pleasing when shooting close-ups of people’s faces. Their softness may also slightly reduce the aliasing and moire artifacts that some modern digital cameras suffer from.

I currently own Nikkor primes with the following focal lengths: 24mm, 35mm, 55mm and 85mm, all f2.8 or faster.

Setting the lens aperture wide-open or nearly so results in relatively shallow depth of field. For example, I can keep the subject in sharp focus while causing the foreground or background to be out of focus. Or, I can also stop-down the aperture to yield deep DOF with more of the scene in sharp focus from front to back. In general, zoom lenses with maximum apertures of f2.8 or faster are more expensive than old, used prime lenses.

Some newer Nikkor lenses don’t have an aperture ring on the lens barrel itself. There are Nikkor “G”-type lens mount adapters which have a built-in lever/control to enable adjusting aperture on these lenses.

One odd feature of all Nikkor/Nikon lenses is that their focus ring spins in the opposite direction compared to lenses made by other manufacturers. Not usually a big deal, but something to be aware of.

You might find the following sites helpful for researching classic Nikkor lenses:

I usually buy used lenses from KEH.com because they have an enormous inventory, a very useful “grading” (condition) rating system, reasonable prices, excellent customer service, and a no-questions-asked inspection period and return policy.

Info resources for old Nikkor lenses:

http://www.kehblog.com/2011/10/nikon-lenses-non-ai-ai-ai-s-and-aid.html
http://www.naturfotograf.com/lens_surv.html#top1
http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/hardwares/classics/michaeliu/cameras/nikonf/index.htm
http://www.photosynthesis.co.nz/nikon/lenses.html

Note: The field of view obtained with a lens will vary depending on a camera’s sensor size. For example, a 24mm lens on a GH3 (MFT) will have the FOV of a 48mm lens on a 135-format camera such as a Canon 5DM3. Refer to ProLost’s sensor size diagram and Abel’s FOV Comparator.

Video examples:

The video below was shot using my old Nikkor prime lenses mounted on a Panasonic GH2 MFT DSLR camera:

vimeo.com/53976124

The video below was shot using my old Nikkor prime lenses mounted on a Blackmagic Cinema Camera-EF:

vimeo.com/59554240

My list of related links, short films, and resources for Blackmagic Design cameras.

For my words & videos only: ©2013 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved. http://www.peterdv.com

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

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