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A Flexible Friend

Simon Stafford reviews the unique AF Zoom Micro-Nikkor 70-180mm f4.5-5.6D ED.

Lens Shot

Over the years Nikon has produced a long line of lenses with a close focus capability. Many of these have achieved almost legendary status and set the standards by which others are judged.

For their reflex cameras this heritage can be traced back to August 1961 and the release of the Micro-Nikkor 5.5cm f3.5 (pre-set aperture). Now highly prized by collectors, it was this lens that gave rise to the “Micro” designation carried by all subsequent close focus Nikkors, since it provided a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:1, or life-size. Strictly speaking ‘micro-photography’ lies in the domain of the microscope, so in the context of lenses for 35mm and digital Nikon SLR cameras, the term ‘Micro-Nikkor’ is something of a misnomer. The term ‘macro-photography’ applies when the reproduction ratio is 1:1 or greater, whilst a reproduction ratio of less than 1:1 is referred to as ‘close-up photography’. Although the Nikon Corporation has a long tradition of producing very high quality optical instruments, including microscopes, Nikon has never produced a general purpose, close focus, camera lens that has provided a magnification greater than 1:1 without the aid of a supplementary accessory; all Micro-Nikkors should be called Macro-Nikkors.

Semantics aside, why did Nikon see fit to produce this intriguing lens?

Tripod collar

During September 1997 Nikon Corporation announced the release of the AF Zoom Micro-Nikkor 70-180mm f4.5-5.6D ED, thus creating an entirely new class of optic, the world’s first ‘true’ macro zoom lens with autofocus. At the time, and I suspect even now, many photographers questioned the worth of this lens. This was because Nikon already had three superb fixed focal length AF-D Micro-Nikkors in its stable: the 60mm f2.8, 105mm f2.8, and 200mm f4, all of which provided a life-size (1:1) magnification and had larger maximum apertures. It now has, in addition, the specialist manual focus 85mm f2.8D PC Micro-Nikkor that offered shift and tilt movements. The Zoom Micro-Nikkor, however, remains one of Nikon’s best-kept secrets, its merits known only to the Nikon cognoscenti or those lucky enough to have had direct experience of its qualities.

Wasp's nest

Physically, it looks like a scaled down version of the AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8D ED. It is a two-ring design, one for focus the other for the zoom control, with an auto/manual focus selection ring with lock button. The lens barrel is finished in the familiar crackle-enamel, as is the HB-14 short tubular lens hood, which is supplied with the lens. It is a relatively large optic, overall 6.9 inches (175mm) long and 3 inches (75mm) in diameter, weighing 34.9 oz (990g), which is testament to the 18 elements arranged in 14 groups and the substantial build quality.