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The Printing Nikkors for Close-Up Work


Michael Erlewine

The Printing Nikkors for Close-Up Work

Since the term apochromatic has no standard definition, various ideas of what is apochromatic exist. Finding apochromatic (APO) lenses that are really outstanding is difficult. By now, most of us know that the three new Zeiss APO lenses (135mm, 55mm, 85mm) are corrected apochromatically to a high standard, but finding lenses of similar quality (as to APO) is difficult without delving into the various industrial lenses, lenses designed for enlarger work or for various film-scanning operations.

One good set of APO lenses are what are called the “Printing Nikkors,” a series of four Nikon industrial lenses designed for or use in film transfer (copy) machines, making accurate copies of 35mm cinema films and the like. These machines cost upward of $100,000, and the lenses individually cost (I am told) some $12,000 each. They are very highly corrected. To achieve this, chromatic aberration is corrected not only for the red, green, and blue range of the visible spectrum, but for the entire wavelength range (400 ~ 800nm).

These four Printing Nikkors were each designed for a particular usable magnification range. Of the four Printing Nikkors (75mm, 95mm, 105mm, and 150mm), I have managed to find three of them, being the 95mm, 105mm, and 150mm. Here is a list along with what reproduction range they were designed for, and the general range suggested for use.

75mm = 1/4x (usable 1/6X ~ 1/3X)

95mm = 1/5x (usable 1/3X ~ 1/1/5X)

105mm = 1x (usable 1/1.5X ~ 1.5X)

150mm = 1x (usable 1/4X ~4X)

I don’t use the Printing Nikkors for macro or higher magnifications, but primarily for close-up photography. This particular Printing Nikkor, the 150mm is of no use to me mounted directly on my Nikon D810 camera. Rather, it needs a bellows, and I generally use the Nikkor PB-4 for that. Since I mostly use this particular lens for focus stacking, the bellows works well for the close-up range.

As a quick sidebar, to take advantage of the available focus-stacking software (I use Zerene Stacker), there are three main ways to stack focus and they produce different results, so it is important to use the most efficient method if you can. I give them here, starting with the best solution on down to the least efficient. The ranking is in terms of avoiding unwanted artifacts in your resulting stacked images:

(1) The best way to stack is on a bellows, by fixing (locking) the lens to the front standard (so it does not move), and then focus with the rear standard on which sits the camera body (and sensor). So, we fix the lens, and only move the camera to focus.

(2) The second best way to stack photos (and easiest) is by turning the focus barrel of the lens itself. This is why it can be important to purchase a lens with the longest focus throw you can get. For example, the famous Coastal Optics 60mm APO f/4 forensic lens (which is highly corrected) only has a focus throw of about 210-degrees, way too small (IMO) for stacking photos. You really have to use it mounted on a camera, mounted on a focus rail, and that is not good. On the other hand, the legendary Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar Macro lens has a focus through of some 610-degrees. What a difference!

(3) And lastly (and worst-ly) is to mount the camera-body and lens on a focus rail and move the whole combination to focus. This is not recommended, but I still have to often revert to it.

(4) And there is the concern that spherical objects are the hardest to stack because you must take even smaller incremental layers with spheres, since there is no flat surface. To capture a sphere without artifacts takes some very fine increment-steps to stack properly.

The above choices (themselves) each involve problems of their own, of course. Not all lenses will work well on a bellows, not all lenses have a decent focus throw, and the third option of using a focus rail should be avoided, if possible. These three options were first explained to me by Rik Littlefield, the author of Zerene Stacker, the focus-stacking software that I find to be the best for my work.

I must say that my choice of flowers here is not ideal. In my experience the color yellow (and red, for that matter) are not as easy to capture correctly compared to the greens and blues. But this is what I have in the studio, so I am using it.

Here are three different images, the first two images are stacked images shot with the Printing Nikkor 150mm wide open (f/2.8), and one at its narrowest aperture (f/11). The third image is a non-stacked traditional one-shot photo at f/11. My thoughts?

My first thought is that I have to learn to better master the color yellow. Second, I feel this lens is very unforgiving, perhaps even a little aggressive or “forensic,” as in: what you see is what you get. And thirdly, I continue to wrestle with the question of to-stack-or-not-to-stack at all.

The traditional one-shot photo is not bad. Why bother to stack, when stacking means artifacts of one kind or another (visible or not to the average viewer) will be present?

It seems to me that the three new Zeiss APOs are not, well, so “forensic,” and have a softer feel to them. The bottom line is that I have to learn to better use the Printing Nikkors or….. just stick with the Zeiss APOs.

Now, the industrial enlarger-lens, the El Nikkor APO 105mm, does not seem to have a “forensic” look. This is not to mention that maneuvering a large lens like the Printing Nikkor 150mm, mounted on a bellows, mounted on a quick-release clamp, in the field is no easy trick.

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Very interesting! Thanks for the write-up about Printing Niks.

 

Michael, have you ever used/evaluated the Stack Shot for your work?

I may have missed such a write-up as I can't keep up with everything here, so a link would be welcome if you have one.

Thanks.

 

One more question:  Have you ever used the Zeiss S-Orthoplanar?

It is an EL but reported to be "legendarily" sharp.

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Andrea:

 

I have thought about StackShot, for sure. Yet I don’t do enough true macro work to need it. Most of my work is close-up and a long focus throw seems to be enough, with the occasional rail or bellows for those lenses that require it. It is ironical that each of us probably has a point where we draw the line with technology. My hand on the focus ring, focus rail, bellows is pretty ingrained. I can feel the vibrations die away from each mirror-up press, while I wait to make that second press. For me the process is very much a part of the result and, to a degree, determines it, if only because I like it and that keeps me going.

 

We each have a process and that in my case is meditative and comforting. If I wanted to do more dragonfly eyes (macro), then I might need such a device, but then the dragonfly would be dead and that is not so appealing to me.

 

And of course StackShot does not know when to narrow the steps for objects that are spherical, etc., or to speed up what there is really nothing much to stack for in a space.

 

There are literally hundreds of enlarger lenses that perhaps need to be explored and many, many bargains to be found for the dedicated experimenter with these lenses. I have only scratched the surface and (I hate this analogy) reached for the low-hanging fruit, the best known examples of these industrial lenses. The Printing Nikkors are very, very well corrected and also very flat. If they have a major fault for my work, it is just the lack of character. They are a blank slate and that, sometimes, is too harsh in my opinion. They are copy lenses, pure and simple.

 

The El Nikkor 105mm APO lens is also very sharp and well corrected, but it has a lot of character. Some might like it, some not. I happen to like it.

 

I don’t have the Zeiss S-Orthoplanar, but I do have the Zeiss S-Planer 74mm f/4 lens, which is also very well corrected. And I have other industrial lenses I am still tinkering with. Like a Rodenstock Scitex S3 89mm, and so on. 

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And of course StackShot does not know when to narrow the steps for objects that are spherical, etc., or to speed up what there is really nothing much to stack for in a space.

Which neatly sums up why I have never gone down this route.

 

For the stuff I do I also prefer the adaptability of manual operation. As well focus peaking in my mirrorless cameras has made that operation so much quicker and easier.

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Guest nfoto

Posted

Andrea: funny you should mention the S-Orthoplanar. I once salvaged one from a wrecked repro machine. Tested it for UV and it wasn't that great so put it away. Now, I may need to find it again as it has relocated itself somewhere in the lens house. Or I have forgotten its location.

 

Michael: great presentation of some obviously great lenses.

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These Printing Nikkor lenses are very flat, but also very well corrected. This alone is hard to find in lenses, at least to this degree. But any magic in the use of these lenses will have to come from the photographer. They don’t have a “random acts of magic” generator in them like the CRT-Nikkor or the Ell Nikkor APO 105mm apparently have, where you get unexpected results, some of which are a gift, etc.

 

However, using the new Zeiss lenses, I struggle with stacking them with many layers, stacking them with just one or two shots, or simply getting better at traditional one-shot photos. It would be ironic if I find that after all this stacking I end up discovering the elegance of one-shot photos. I am getting close to that with the Zeiss Otus APOs and one shot at f/16. One-shot photography certainly helps with the development of composition, etc.

 

Photo of the Printing Nikkor 150mm APO lens.

post-2886-0-13869500-1427071064_thumb.jp

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Great post, Michael. I have duly promoted this to an article on our system so that it gets more attention from search engines and more prominence on Fotozones. 

 

I encourage all our members to consider contributing articles and read-worthy posts like this. 

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Guest Colin-M

Posted

Thanks for this Michael.

 

Long term visitors here will alread have seen much of your excellent close-up work, but its great to understand some of the thought processes that go it it. In addition to the lenses you've told us about, it is fascinating to be reminded of some of he gotcha's when Stacking.

 

...there are three main ways to stack focus and they produce different results, 

>  so it is important to use the most efficient method if you can...

 

It is worth doing a separate article to expand on this? I see Alan added some related comments here

 

In addition to areas of the subject with spherical surfaces, are there any other special considerations? For example transparent areas (e.g. insect wings) bright specular points from reflections etc

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Colin: Of course there are lots of things to be aware of. I will think about putting together a brief guide to some of the main ones. Thanks for the suggestion.

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Some newer lenses for mirrorless cameras have implemented focusing-by-wire. The Olympus Zuiko Digital 2/50 for 43 mount gives you two full turns, that is 720 degrees turn, from infinity down to 0.5x magnification. The Olympus M.Zuiko 2.8/60 will give you six full turns, that is 6x360 degrees, from infinity down to 1x magnification. This is parallelled only by the Leica 2.8/100 Apo-Macro-Elmarit.

Focus-by-wire lenses allow this, since they can accelerat the AF motor, according to how fast the focusing ring is turned. Turn the focusing ring slowly, and you get an amazing focusing throw.

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Yes, my Leica Elmarit 100mm APO Macro has about 720 or so as a focus throw. The Voigtlander 125mm APO-Lanthar has over 600-degrees, but these lenses are an exception. We don't need that much, but we need more that we find with Micro-Nikkors like the 60mm f/2.8. Those really have to go an a focus rail, which is not the best way of stacking. 

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Guest nfoto

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You move the position of the entrance pupil and thereby the perspective, I surmise.

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      With the Hartblei Superrotator 120mm, what you do get is a lens of known quality (the famous Zeiss Macro Planar 120mm CFi/CFe), a strong tripod color, a very helpful side focus system, plus the (and let’s use their word) three “Superrotators.” As mentioned earlier, I have had all three Nikon PC lenses (24mm, 45mm, 85mm) and their physical restrictions and too much chromatic aberration make them pretty-much unusable for my work.
       
      There is a learning curve with the Superrotator 120mm lens. There is a lot of functionality packed into a small package, in particular getting used to the three rotations. It’s a lot like the old test of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. And the little release buttons for the rotations are not totally easy to hold down and do the rotation at the same time. For my work, I probably will use the same (or a similar) setup each time, so this may not be a big problem. Also, I have to learn to recognize where the tilt is, since unlike most PC lenses, where the lens tilts, in the 120mm Superrotator it is the camera body that tilts.
       
      After all, the lens packs almost a complete view camera, with all of the main movements that I need, into a tiny (albeit a somewhat heavy) package.
       
      And while I may not use this lens all that much in the studio because I have so many temperamental exotic APO lenses on hand, I will take the Hartblei Superrotator 120mm f/4 lens into the field where it is just a single lens, albeit a heavy one, and get many of the movements I like and find in the standard view camera.
       
      I would like to hear from other owners of this particular lens.
       
      Here are a couple of photos, one with the camera setup and a first image with the Nikon D850 with the Hartblei Superrotator. This shot focuses on the leaves and the flower is not stacked.
       


    • By Michael Erlewine
      As a focus stacker, I especially like the tilt in tilt/shift lenses and the reason is that by using tilt I can compress the area that needs to be stacked enormously and thus get more in focus using less layers. 
       
      I had all three of the main Nikon PC lenses (24mm, 45mm, 85mm) early on, but lost interest in them because the quality of the lens was not corrected enough for my taste and they were physically too limiting at times. I liked the 45mm PC the best.
       
      I even have one of those small macro-tilt adapters for nikon that provides 8-degrees of tilt only, but rotates 360-degrees. It actually works and is the least expensive way to get tilt on a Nikon that I know of. But mostly my interest in tilt has been in view cameras.
       
      I have had a number of view cameras, ranging from big 14 pounders to little miniature view cameras that still had all the movements, but were too frail for real work with a DSLR. And I still have the Novoflex BALPRO system, which is poorly designed IMO, but offers some movements. And of course there is the view camera system I use the most, the Cambo Actus Mini, of which I have a streamlined version. What a great system for my work!
       
      And I have taken a number of these view cameras into the field, but have found them pretty awkward, yet have done it just the same. However, I have not done it THAT often because they can be a pain.
       
      What if I told you there was a robust, small, view camera that I would not hesitate to take outside and into the field. You might ask: why do that when the wind (in the flat-state I live in -- Michigan) is almost always present and this would prevent any large focus stacks. I hear you, but that’s not the point here.
       
      With a small view camera, if it was really small and compact, I could us the tilt feature to compress what needs to be stacked in a single shot. Or, I could create what I call “short stacks,” taking a few close-focus images at key points in the image and stacking just those, perhaps three or four layers. But there is something more useful than that, which is the reason I am writing this piece.
       
      When the Hartblei Superrotator Macro 120mm F4 TS came along, I could see that at heart this lens is a tiny view camera all wrapped in a lens and one with a very small vertical component (no more than just mounting a lens), making it relatively easy to carry around and still have some of the main movements that I like in view cameras plus some unique features of its own. 
      Perhaps the Hartblei Macro 120mm is not purposely designed for stacking in the field, but why not? I don’t find that this discourages me. What it does offer is the ability (through Tilt and Shift) to add depth-of-field to a shot, if need be, in a one-off photo. I may not have time (or the wind prevents) to make large stacks, but I can independently rotate to tilt and/or shift the lens to maximize the depth-of-field in a single shot or a short-stack in just a few seconds. The result is I get more depth-of-field by the tilt and shift than I otherwise would. In my work, every little angle counts.
      And it is this capability that makes this rather complex lens system worthwhile in the field as well as the studio. It shines in the studio! It is a heavy lens, but not as heavy and cumbersome as any of the view-camera systems I have otherwise used with equal features.
       
      The Hartblei 120mm Superrotator uses a sturdy collar that mounts directly to the tripod via an Arca-Swiss plate so that the Nikon D850 hangs off the back of the collar mount and the heavy lens hangs from the collar and does not hang on the camera flange. This is very important for a 2 lb. lens. The lens kit also comes with a side-focus wheel which provides 2:1 fine-focusing, much like the focus-pullers I am familiar with in video work. 
       
      And the lens is called a “superrotator” has three rotations:
       
      (1) Rotation Collar (horizontal/vertical)
      (2) 360-degree Rotation Shift Movements
      (3) 360-degree Rotation Tilt Movements
       
      These rotations are each 360-degrees by increments (all the way around) and the shift and tilt rings can be used independently of one another in any combination. This feature, which is very desirable, is unlike any lens I have ever gotten my hands on and it is no kludge, but very well made and it works smoothly.
       
      As for the lens itself, this is the same 120mm Zeiss macro lens that Hasselblad has successfully used for many years, the “Zeiss Macro Planar 120mm CFI/CFE” of the Hasselblad last build. It has been thoroughly vetted and reviewed, so it is a known entity.  
       
      And the lens itself has two separate focusing helicoids, a ring to get from infinity to 1.2m (170-degrees focus throw) and a second ring for close focus 1.2m to 75cm (160-degrees focus throw). In addition, there is a side focus which allows 2:1 fine-focusing. As a focus stacker, this is right up my alley. And I am told that this Zeiss lens has the best coating on the market; the blue channel is about 15-20% denser than other lenses. 
       
      However, it’s true that the Zeiss lens used in the Hartblei implementation is not as well corrected as some of my exotic APO lenses, but most of those APO lenses have no infinity, are VERY restricted in their range, have very old coatings, odd-ball mounts, and so on. The Hartblei 120mm looks to be an all-around general purpose lens and not just a specialized lens, although it is special indeed.
       
      This particular Zeiss 120mm Macro Lens is well known and has been a feature of the Hasselblad system for many years, so we know what it is and isn’t. And while the optics may be slightly old fashioned, it is certainly fine enough, especially as Hartblei has configured it. Given its very low vertical profile, the sturdy tripod collar, and the refinement of the side-focus wheel, what you have here is a miniature view camera built into a lens, ready and able to work well in the field where I find it can be difficult to cart a larger view-camera system.
       
      This lens may have to be used stopped down more than I would like, but it’s portable and for stacking some photos, I can also take a shot wide open to get whatever bokeh I can and feather that in with the main stacked image shot at higher f-stops, if needs be.
       
      What is at least a psycho-social barrier is the price of the lens, which is over $5k. Ouch! For me, I am kind of used to high prices and I just have to sell a few more of the lenses I don’t use much. LOL. The Zeiss Otus lenses cost a lot and many of the lenses I most use do also, I guess that’s the price of admission. 
      With the Hartblei Superrotator 120mm, what you do get is a lens of known quality (the famous Zeiss Macro Planar 120mm CFi/CFe), a strong tripod color, a very helpful side focus system, plus the (and let’s use their word) three “Superrotators.” As mentioned earlier, I have had all three Nikon PC lenses (24mm, 45mm, 85mm) and their physical restrictions and too much chromatic aberration make them pretty-much unusable for my work.
       
      There is a learning curve with the Superrotator 120mm lens. There is a lot of functionality packed into a small package, in particular getting used to the three rotations. It’s a lot like the old test of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. And the little release buttons for the rotations are not totally easy to hold down and do the rotation at the same time. For my work, I probably will use the same (or a similar) setup each time, so this may not be a big problem. Also, I have to learn to recognize where the tilt is, since unlike most PC lenses, where the lens tilts, in the 120mm Superrotator it is the camera body that tilts.
       
      After all, the lens packs almost a complete view camera, with all of the main movements that I need, into a tiny (albeit a somewhat heavy) package.
       
      And while I may not use this lens all that much in the studio because I have so many temperamental exotic APO lenses on hand, I will take the Hartblei Superrotator 120mm f/4 lens into the field where it is just a single lens, albeit a heavy one, and get many of the movements I like and find in the standard view camera.
       
      I would like to hear from other owners of this particular lens.
       
      Here are a couple of photos, one with the camera setup and a first image with the Nikon D850 with the Hartblei Superrotator. This shot focuses on the leaves and the flower is not stacked.
       



      View full article
    • By Michael Erlewine
      The Printing Nikkors: Images and Range
       
      The Nikon industrial Printing Nikkors are exemplary and highly corrected lenses, but for whom? Who wants to use them because, for the most part, they are restricted to a particular narrow field of view. There not only is no infinity available, but in general they are highly restricted as far as view. 
       
      Worse (much worse) is that the higher the f/stop, the less sharpness and resolution. So, we can’t just dial up the f/stop to f/11 or f/16 and expect spectacular results. The Printing Nikkors are optimized wide open or close to it.. They may be better than ordinary lenses, but the sharpness and resolution are confined to the lens either wide-open or nearly so. And that is a very thin depth of field. Who uses that?
       
      And so, there is no sweet spot for standard photography unless... and here it comes, we stack focus. That’s where these lenses come into their own and earn their high prices, at least in my book. Using focus stacking, we can paint on focus just where we want it, a razor-thin layer at a time.
       
      Yet, even for focus stackers, the reproduction rate for most is very limited in range. It’s a kind of “take it or leave it” proposition, i.e. use this limited field of view or forget about it. Most Printing Nikkors only come alive on a bellows system, some work only well on a focus rail and none work well on the camera itself without a rail or a small helicoid. There is no native helicoid or way to focus other than the rail, which as focus stackers know, is the least preferred way to stack focus.
       
      Why do I bother with these lenses and invest hard-earned cash in finding them? That’s a good question, but the answer is: I like the quality in these lenses and I only wish that kind of correction was the standard in lenses. The closest I come are the Zeiss Otus lenses, (and the Zeiss 135mm) which I consider an Otus.
       
      With the above in mind, let’s look at the main Printing Nikkors (95mm, 105mm, and 150mm) and see what their field of view IS like. Forget about macro range and above. These lenses can go there, but I don’t. Someone else can check that out.
       
      The 95mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/3x~1/1.5x, while the 105mm PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/1.5x~1.5x, and the 150 PN standard magnification range is listed as 1/x. Other than there, we are going outside their optimum qualities at our own risk IQ-wise.
       
      Since I don’t usually do macro, but rather close-up photography, that tells me that the PC 95 is going to be the most useful (all around) for me. It does not mean that the others (or the 95mm) don’t go higher in f/stops, but that they don’t go higher at their sharpest. 
       
      What’s the point of having a $3K lens if I am not going to be able to shoot at the range I want to shoot at and get top IQ? Unless I want to stack focus, I am kind of limited to “arty” photos, ones with just a hint of field depth. It’s nice, but for only once in a while.
       
      The 95mm PN can be used mounted directly to my Nikon D850, provided that camera is mounted on a focus fail. I could also add a very small helicoid to the lens, but the moment I do that I immediately lose some of what I most need, range. This lens is designed for something like 1:2 magnification. I find the 95mm very sharp, easy to use, and probably gives me the best bang for the buck, so to speak.
       
      The PN 95mm has 45mm outer threads. The lens mount M45 x 0.75 and there are 12 blades.
       
      The 105mm PN pretty much has to be on a bellows or view camera and, even then, the range is limited to about one view and (for my work) that is not even at its sharpest.
       
      The PN 105mm has 43mm filter threads and the lens mount is M45 x 0.75. There are 12 blades.
      There are two PN 150s (actually three), but the one not mentioned here follows the lead of the PN 150, 2nd version, and I don’t have it.
      The 150mm PNs are advertised for 1X magnification range, but it will work wider, but of course at a loss in IQ I would imagine.
       
      The PN 150mm (first version) has front and rear threads of 62mm. I’m not an expert, but this earlier version of the 150mm has an additional ring that compensates for the magnification, insuring sharper images over a wider range of magnification. This is perhaps what makes this version the most useful to me. It actually works and is kind of amazing to watch. You just dial it in and it is sharper.
       
      And the PN 150 (version 2) has a filter thread of 58mm and 12 blades. It can’t go much above f/4.5 and not lose quality. It does not have the extra ring to compensate for magnification.
      As far as mounting the Printing Nikkors to the Nikon-F mount, it is not difficult, but you do have to match up adapters. I have enough laying around here to mix and match until they all are ready to go. 
       
      I post here two stacked photos for each of the four Printing Nikkors I have. These photos give you a rough idea of the kind of reproduction-ratio that I can get with these lenses. I am sure if you want to go 1:1 and above, you would with some get better results. However, I do the best I can with what I have.
       
      Below are shown two sets of four images, the first four are simple stacks of 2 layers, one each focused around the center of each flower. This lets you see each lens with little stacking. However, these are at f/11, which is the opposite end of where the lens is sharp. It still is pretty good.
       
      The second four images are all stacked liberally. They will show you what a stacked image looks like with each lens.
       
      I’m not sure what you will get out of these, but you can take a look. Meanwhile, I continue checking out these interesting (to me) lenses, the Printing Nikkors.
      I will have to post the other four images in a second post. Won't fit.
       
       








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