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Nikon Owner Issue 11

History of Nikon Part IX

Gray Levett presents the rarely seen 5.5cm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor made for the Nikon F.

5.5cm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor

In August 1961 Nippon Kogaku (Nikon Japan) released the world’s first macro lens for a reflex camera, the 5.5cm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor (pre-set aperture). It is one of the earliest lenses made for the Nikon F. It is also one of those Nikkor lenses which only a very few people know about other than dedicated Nikon collectors.

A study of early Nikon literature will tell you that its optical design had not changed from the earlier rangefinder version. The 5.5cm is designed for close-up work and allows one to focus from infinity to 1:1 (life-size) reproduction. As you can see from the photograph, the lens has a black finish and a scalloped focusing barrel. This lens is a delight to use. As you rotate the focusing barrel the lens doubles in length from 6.6 to 12cm. The closest focusing distance is 21cm and there are 5 elements in 4 groups. Offering an angle of view of 43º and weighing 235g, it is beautifully designed and has a wonderful smooth as silk albeit slow operation. There is a coloured depth-of-field scale, a distance scale in feet only, and a red reproduction ratio scale. The lens lacks the aperture-coupling fork and has a chrome pre-set aperture ring.

The 5.5cm was only available for a short period of time and by January 1963 it had been superseded by the 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor which was supplied with the ‘M’ ring to allow focusing down to 1:1 ratio. Without the ring, the lens focuses down to 1:2. Why, you may speculate, did Nippon Kogaku produce a lens requiring two items of equipment to do a job, which before only needed one? Well, there are a couple of reasons. It featured an automatically compensating diaphragm system for correct exposures at very close distances and an automatic diaphragm. The automatic stop-down made the lens easier to use. However, despite these obvious practical advantages it has to be said that there is something quite delightful about handling the pre-set version.