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The Printing Nikkors: Images and Range


Michael Erlewine

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.

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.
 

XLabel_MEB8291-PN150-1-f-11-777.jpg

XLabel-_MEB8242-PN150-2-F-11--777.jpg

XLabel-_MEB8188-PN95-F-11-777.jpg

XLABEL_MEB8185-PN105-F11-.jpg

 

 

 

 

_MEB8245-2-PN150-1-777.jpg

_MEB8191-2-PN150-2-777.jpg

_MEB7927-2-PN105-Bellows-777.jpg

_MEB7727-2-PN95-on-Rail-777.jpg


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Another sweet set of limited-range macro lenses are the Olympus OM Zuiko macro series, but they seem to be much cheaper. These include 20mm ƒ2, 38mm ƒ2.8, 80mm ƒ4, and 135mm ƒ4.5.

 

Like the Printing Nikkors above, they don't focus to infinity, and require an extension in order to be useful. Unlike the Nikkors, Olympus made a nifty Telescoping Extension Tube that has a speedy "twist, slide, twist" method of extension, much more nimble than the "crank, crank, crank" of either a macro helicoid or a bellows.

 

Olympus also made the T-8, a unique sideways-firing ring flash for getting soft, even, 360° macro light. It which works well with the longer three lenses, and they made a Lieberkühn reflector for soft 360° illumination with the 20/2. I have converted the T-8 to work with the Olympus Digital FC-1 flash controller, for TTL camera control of flash.

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