During my experience with photography, analog photography to be more specific, I found myself distancing more and more from the research for “the best equipment” and more interested in the idea of constance, this made the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 part of my “arsenal”.
Yes, it’s easy (especially at the beginning) getting caught by the trend of the moment when it comes to equipment, especially lenses.
Usually this deceive the photographer, that is going to auto-convince himself of being able to shoot better photos thanks to this new equipment (even when speaking of film photography, so stuff from the use market), when the real secret to improvement is constancy and familiarity with your tools.
So with this review of the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 I want to show you the reason behind this conviction.
The Micro-Nikkor series of lenses represents the macro lineup from Nikon.
This 50mm is characterized by it’s sharpness, probably the sharpest Nikon lens ever made (at least for what concerns the pre-AI, AI and AIs lenses) and by the absence of any distortion, two reasons that made me chose this lens to be paired with my Nikon F2.
As I said before, this a lens (theoretically) dedicated to macro photography, but it’s equally good for “normal” photography, the only downside (if you want to call it that way) compared to a normal 50mm f1.8 is the f-stop of 3.5.
If you have the necessity for a wider iris there is a version of this lens with a f2.8, but it has some problem with leakage of oil on the aperture blades…
Returning to the f3.5 version in my possession, there are various release of it, with different characteristics:
- 1961-1969 with a scalloped focus ring (metallic) and compensating for close focusing; non-AI.
(Is perfect for macro, according to many, but less “optimal” for a normal use).
- 1969-1979 with a rubber focusing ring and non-compensating but with single or multi-coating (depending on the production year) and is available both in AI and non-AI (sempre a seconda degli anni).
(The one I own is a single-coated, rubber focusing ring (diamond pattern) and non-AI, and in my opinion it’s the happy medium when it comes to performance between macro use and “normal” use, plus is the more compact of them all).
BE CAREFul choosing the MICRO-NIKKOR 55mm f3.5 version
AI and pre-AI are different and you need to take it in consideration when choosing which lens to buy:
- If you what to use it with an SLR and want to use the internal meter, unless you have a Nikon F with the Photomic finder or a Nikon F2 with the DP-1, 2 o 3 finder, buy the AI version
- If you want to use it with a DSLR Nikon, buy the AI, the non-AI version can damage your camera
To resume it all, the AI version is compatible with all Nikon cameras (analog or not), so if you go with it you’ll be sure it will work but is going to cost you a bit more.
How I use it
If you are following me and saw some of my work, you may have noticed that macro photography isn’t “my thing” so what do I do with a lens like this?
Its sharpness and the absence of any distortion at all are the reasons that made me choose it to replace my trusty 35mm Zeiss Distagon.
The iris of 3.5, that could seems a “big problem”, doesn’t bother me at all: I usually shoot outside using Sunny 16, I don’t really love bokeh but above all, I’m starting with an iris that best express the potential of the lens (how many times did you ear the phrase “…it starts becoming sharp at f4…”, well, this 55mm f3.5 starts being sharp as a razor at 3.5 and it only gets better until f11).
Is the lens that I chose in 99% of occasions when I take my F2 and returning to the “constancy” theme, having a common focal length across all the formats that you shoot (Mamiya RZ67 Pro II with a 90mm Sekor Z f3.5 and Nikon F2 with the 55mm f3.5) is the “secret” that made me a better photographer and I recommend it to all of you.
Unfortunately or not, this lens is being discovered by many, so the price is going up on the use market, but here are a few tips to get one chep:
If you have a pre-AI compatible SLR, buy one of those, otherwise find one “AI adapted” or make the mod yourself, it’s pretty easy to do.
- Avoid the 55mm f2.8
Is more expensive and it’s build “worse”, if you are in the search for bokeh, just look elsewhere.
In summary, it’s a good lens for every type of photography, super sharp and underestimated, the only defect that I could find is the stiffening of the focusing ring, due to age, but it’s easily solvable (there are many guides online).
These are my opinion on the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5, if you are interested in some of my work taken with this lens, I invite you to follow me on my Instagram profile and if you want to take one (or more) home with you, visit the Shop!
While if you are searching some videos about film photography, visit my YouTube chennel; see you soon!