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Nikkor-W 3.5cm F1.8, "S"/"L" - mount interchangeable lenses

The core of the information here on Nikkor-W 3.5cm F1.8 is extracted from Nikon's "The Thousand and One Nights" third tale written by Haruo Sato, but the personal comment is written by our Master Yoshiaki Kubota.  Number of productions, etc., were reference from (1) "The Complete Nikon Rangefinder System" (2)

Description of Nikkor=W 3.5cm F1.8 by Haruo Sato

This lens, first released in September 1956, is the brightest wideangle lens in the world at the time.  The body associated with it was the Nikon S2, but this was followed by the SP in the following year, then the S3 to be the next.  You can assume that Nikon had developed to match the concepts and designs of the SP and S3.  

The optics were designed by Senior Manager AZUMA, Hideo of the Optical Design Section, and the design was completed in the winter of 1955.
Azuma was one of the teachers of WAKIMOTO, Zenji (mentioned in the first tale), and had extensive experience in designing "S" / "L"-mount Nikkor lenses.  
He made an enormous contribution to improving Nikkor lenses, especially in laying the foundation for aberration balancing.  

At the time when he was active in the field, Dr. Ludwig BERTELE was also active in this field in Germany.  This expert Japanese designer was little-known outside the industry, but his achievements can be traced through his countless reports and patents.

He filed the patent application for the large-diameter, wideangle lens in 1956, and was granted the U.S. patent in 1959, signifying general recognition that this was indeed a new type of lens.

At that time, most 3.5cm lenses were in the F3.5 to F2.5 range, and this was the first lens of F2 or faster in the world.  It took another one to five years for competitors such as Ernst Leitz to develop similar lenses.

At that time, the tools of the designer were the abacus and the logarithmic table...... a staggering amount of computation and time must have been needed.   To be a lens designer back then required enormous determination and devotion.

​1I. Structure and features of the W-NIKKOR 3.5cm f/1.8 lens

Cross-section of W-Nikkor 3.5cm f/1.8 lens

Looking at the cross-section of the W-NIKKOR 3.5cm f/1.8  (Figure below.).  It is pretty clear that this is based on the symmetric lens type.From the left there is a convex lens, a compound convex/concave cemented lens, a diaphragm, a concave lens, convex lens, and then another convex/concave cemented lens.

The external appearance up to this point is similar to other Xenotar-type lenses, but the design utilized the totally new Lanthanum (La) -based glass convex lenses to improve spherical aberration and curvature of field, significantly enhancing both sharpness and image flatness.

The key feature of this lens is the cemented lens at the back.

Also called a doublet, this cemented lens improves the spherical aberration and coma so common in high-speed lenses.

It also provides a major improvement in correcting lateral chromatic aberration (peripheral discoloring, smear). The concave lens closest to the film surface serves as a field flattener.  It is quite difficult to design a high-performance lens with a picture angle (angle of field) of more than 62 degrees as a simple Gauss-type lens.

And back then, it must have been astounding to produce such a large-diameter, wideangle lens. Even in comparison with the designs of later manufacturers, the superiority of AZUMA's design stands out, because other designs are still fundamentally Gauss-type.

Two or three lens are cemented together in an attempt to cancel out the aberration generated at the lens surface. AZUMA's design, on the other hand, it significantly advanced in terms of manufacturing ease and compactness.

AZUMA's new lens type became the model for a host of new lenses.

Alert readers will have noticed, however, that new lenses built on this basic type are appearing recently.  The very latest lens design seems to have settled on this concept, again pointing up the superiority of the design.  AZUMA would be proud to know that his invention still guided the industry 50 years later.

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II.  Performance at various apertures

Definition from f/1.8 to f/2 is excellent, and the expression shows a slight drop in contrast, with a soft touch like a thin veil.

With the exception of a very small peripheral region, flare is uniform and contrast compression adequate, preserving rich gradation. Low astigmatism minimizes "stream" on the periphery, and while the periphery is a bit darker, it rarely presents a problem in monochrome shots.

With photo shot at f/2 to f/2.8, definition and contrast both will show improvement between f/2.8 and f/4.  In particular, the central region will be extremely sharp. However, the soft touch will not be lost. The darkening around the periphery will be improved to the point it no longer represents a problem.

At range, from f/2.8 to f/4, it will be a good choice for indoor shots, night-time shots, and portraits.

Between f/5.6 and f/8 the sharpness and clarity will be even better, with excellent rendition over the entire image area. This balance of gradation and definition cannot be attained merely through high contrast. This range is best for outdoor shots and scenery.  

The same tendency appears from f/11 to f/22. This level can result in photographs with strong contrast, Compared to other large-diameter, wideangle lenses it has a low number of lens elements and plenty of design margin, minimizing ghosts.

Comments made by our Master Yoshiaki Kubota

The W-Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 LTM lens was introduced in 1951 and released in 1956 by Nikon for its rangefinder camera Nikon S using the proprietary S-mount. It was the fastest 35mm lens available in the market at the time when Leica only had their 35mm lens still at F2.0. About 8,000 were produced in total and out of which 1,560 were made for Leica Thread Mount (LTM) which can then be mounted on any camera with M39 screw mount.  It was based on a Xenotar design but featured an additional doublet at the back which was meant to flatten the field as well as to improve the spherical aberration and coma, making it a 7 elements in 5 groups construction (a typical Xenotar features 5 elements in 4 groups). It has also been noted that the overly large rear element together with the front element, which was large enough for F1.4, were meant to decrease vignetting. A feature that is often mentioned in reference to this lens is that it used rare earth (radioactive) lanthanum glass known for its high refractive index, which allows opticalelements to be lighter and thinner, and low dispersion, which helps minimize chromatic aberrations.

With a fast maximum aperture of F1.8, it allows for exceptional low-light performance and the ability to create stunning bokeh effects. Whether you're shooting indoors or in challenging lighting conditions, this lens ensures that you can capture sharp,well-exposed images with beautiful background blur. Many photographers still call it “the best 35mm wide angle lens for Leica”.

 At wide open, it is sufficiently sharp for selective focus type images. Focus is critical as areas just out of it tend to have this sort of wooly look so if you miss it by a little bit the subject might end up looking unpleasant. Past that bit of woolliness the bokeh is very pleasing, slightly bubbly at times, not very swirly, not distracting but full of vintage character. Contrast isn’t very high but it is far from low. Subjects rich in detail and textures look crisp and well defined. This works particularly well in black. The colors produced by this lens are not overly vibrant or saturated but they are very natural and accurate. Might be a little too subdued for some but for me it works really well. The W-Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 LTM lens is practical and versatile, perfect for traveling and other circumstances that don’t leave a lot of room for fiddling with changing lenses.

Only shortcoming is that the price of this lens has gone up quite high and may be very difficult to justify.

Nikkor-W 3.5cm F1.8  S Mount (48mm) vs Leica Thread Mount (43mm)

We have compared S-Mount vs L-Mount, are here is our findings.

S Mount has weight of 158.5g, filter size 43mm, and lens hood thread of 48mm.

The original hood is short and round clip-on type with 48mm diameter, and is made out of aluminium. Price of mint version runs as high as US$500 to US$1,000.  Hood will cost between U$400 - US$600.  Nikon made total of 6,901 copies. 

LTM version has weight of 184.6 g, filter size is 43m, and lens hood thread of 43mm.  Original hood is rectangular, ugly, and is made out of plastic but very hard to find in the market.  Nikon made only 1,560 copies and recently has gone up in price to above US$2,500 for decent copy. 

The substantial price variance stems from the inherent incompatibility of this specific S-Mount version with Leica M cameras, when utilizing S-M adapters. 



Old Lens Junkies' original hood for Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 for S mount version, and 2) Leica 39M version (LTM)

As previously mentioned, the S-mount version of the Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 lens is not physically compatible with the Leica M-mount, even when using a well-crafted adapter like the Amedeo Adapter from Venezuela. This limitation arises from the specific design of the rear end of the lens, a design crafted by Asuma Hideo, which does not align with the Leica M-mount system. However, it's worth noting that other Nikkor lenses work seamlessly with Amedeo Adapters.

We found the original hoods designed for both the S-mount and LTM versions of the Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 lens to be rather underwhelming. The S-mount version, which was a clip-on type, had a plain, round shape and was made from metal, lacking the charismatic inspiration found in hoods like the one for the Nikkor 5cm F1.1 lens.  On the other hand, the LTM version featured a rectangular shape and was constructed from plastic material. To add to the disappointment, the S-mount version are traded with a hefty price tag of over $500, while the LTM version commanded a staggering price of over $2,000 on platforms like eBay. Given these factors, we made the decision to design new hoods for both versions, aiming to address the shortcomings in design and aesthetics.

For the S-mount version, we ingeniously crafted a hood that draws inspiration from the iconic Nikkor 5cm F1.1 hood, featuring a 48mm diameter filter size, which we hereinafter refer to as the OLJ Type 1. This design imbues the lens with a heightened sense of dynamism. Hideo Asuma's design for the S-mount version incorporates two filter threads on the lens: 48mm for the clip-on hood and 43mm for filters. As a result, our OLJ Type 3 version with a 43mm thread can also be securely attached to the Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 S-mount lens. However, it's important to note that aperture adjustments are not possible when the Type 3 hood is attached.

Remarkably, the OLJ Type 1 hood seamlessly complements the Nikkor P.C 8.5cm F2 lens, offering exceptional balance and versatility. For your information, this 8.5cm F2 lens gained worldwide acclaim, particularly through its association with David Douglas Duncan, a renowned photojournalist exclusively contracted with LIFE magazine, who first recognized its remarkable capabilities.

The LTM version of the lens features a 43mm diameter filter size, hereinafter referred as OLJ Type 3. We followed a design philosophy similar to that of the Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 S-mount version, ensuring compatibility. The OLJ Type 3 hood also pairs perfectly with the popular and long-selling Nikkor 3.5cm F2.5 S-mount lens.

Take a closer look at OlJ's Type 1 lens hood, comparing it side by side with Nikon's original lens hood designed for the Nikkor 3.5cm F1.8 lens.    

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