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.