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Nikon 15mm f/5.6
NIKKOR (1973-1978)
(This AI version: 1977-1978)
© 2008 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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Nikon 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6 AI (internal and rear gel filters, 22.9 oz./650g, about $600). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use any of these links, especially this direct link to this lens at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), or to it at Adorama, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.


Nikon Ultra-Ultrawide Lens Comparison 23 December 2008

How to Use Ultrawide Lenses 11 August 2008


February 2008    More Nikon Reviews


Best for

Ultra-ultra wide special effects shots on film and FX. Don't bother with it for DX digital; get the 12-24mm DX instead.


Optical Quality

Very Good (excellent sharpness and freedom from distortion, but only fair color transmission).


Very Good.



Excellent, for ultra-ultra wide use.


Introduction     top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations

This is a rare and exotic lens.

As old as it is, it works extremely well today's newest D3. It has far less distortion than the far more expensive 14-24mm zoom lens introduced in 2007.

Stairs. Nikon 15mm f/5.6 at f/5.6, Nikon D3 auto ISO chose ISO 4,500 and 1/15.

This 15mm f/5.6 lens works far better on an F6 or the D3 today than it ever did on film cameras. The slow f/5.6 aperture caused the split-image rangefinders of manual focus cameras to black out, often necessitating the use of a special interchangeable focus screen. The slow f/5.6 speed isn't an issue with today's brighter viewfinders and electronic manual focusing.

Its optics are as good as all of Nikon's other fixed ultra-ultra wide lenses: its contemporary, the ultra-exotic 13mm f/5.6, its successor the 15mm f/3.5, and the 14mm f/2.8 AF. The newest 14-24mm f/2.8 is sharper, but has more distortion.


Size Comparison among all other Nikon ultra-ultra wide lenses. enlarge.

Nikon Ultra-Ultra wides

Nikon 13mm f/5.6, this 15mm f/5.6, 15mm f/3.5, 14mm f/2.8 and 14-24mm f/2.8.



Be sure to get an AI version, or an older version which has been updated to AI. If you get an older non-AI version, it won't even mount on any modern camera.

On the D3, D300, D200, D2 and F6, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to set 15mm and f/5.6 to get full matrix metering, EXIF data and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.

The meters of cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below) will not couple (or work at all) with this lens, so you'll be on your own guessing exposure using the rear LCD or an external meter.

It works perfectly every professional film camera (F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6), and adds Matrix metering on the FA, F4 and F6.

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AI, AI-s" column for this lens. If you have a non-AI version, read from the "Pre-AI" column.

Nikon 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6.



Nikon tempted the world in 1972 with a 15mm lens in its catalogs, but it never saw production.

This real lens was introduced In the summer of 1973 as the most insanely wide lens in all of 35mm photography.

The optics of the 15mm f/5.6 were unchanged as the mechanics of the lens went through a few changes. This f/5.6 lens was replaced by the faster 15mm f/3.5 of 1978.


c. 1972

A NIKKOR-PD was seen in catalogs, but never produced for sale or assigned a product number. It had 15 vs. 14 elements, weighed only 19.8 oz (560g) vs. 22.8 oz (645g) and a skylight instead of the clear default filter of the newer models.



NIKKOR-QD C. This first production version had a diamond-pattern rubber focus ring and a chrome filter release tab.



Now simply called NIKKOR, and the rubber was the classic rectangular waffle pattern.



Updated to the AI version reviewed here.


Summer 1978: Replaced by the 15mm f/3.5 AI-s.


Production Quantities and Pricing

Olden Camera advertised these for $804.50 in June of 1977, or the equivalent of $2,800 in today's money considering inflation.

Since they have always been so expensive, Nikon never sold very many.

Nikon made about 2,500 of the non-AI versions, and probably less than 1,000 of the AI version shown here.

In 2008, I've seen them for sale used for $899.


Nikn 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6. Note purple sticker on filter ring denoting swapped FLD filter.


Specifications    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations



Nikon calls this the Nikon Nikkor 15mm f/5.6 AI.



14 elements in 12 groups.

Nikon Integrated Coating (NIC).

Floating-element close-range correction (CRC).

Actual Focal Length


If you're silly enough to use it on a DX camera, it gives angles of view similar to what a 23mm lens would give on an FX or 35mm film camera. See also Crop Factor.


Angles of View (FX and film):

    Diagonal: 110º
    Horizontal: 100º
    Vertical: 77º



7 blades, stopping down to f/22.


Focus Ring

The whole middle of the lens rotates: the rubber-covered focus ring and the distance scale rotate. The front stays put, although it extends a fraction of a millimeter as you focus more closely.


Nikn 15mm f/5.6 Focus Ring

Nikon 15mm f/5.6 focus ring.


Hard Infinity Focus Stop?



Close Focus

1 foot (0.3m).


Maximum Reproduction Ratio



Focus Distance Scale?



Depth-of Field Scale?



Infra-Red Focus Index?

Yes, red dot below the depth-of-field mark for f/5.6.



Four internal filters and rear gels. See filters below for more.



3.000" extension from flange (focused at infinity) x 3.618" diameter (76.2 x 91.90 mm), measured.

The widest thing is the filter selector ring. The hood-like protuberance measures an exact 90.00mm in diameter. Nikon specifies 76mm extension from flange and 92mm diameter.



22.920 oz. (649.8g), measured, no caps.

The aluminum front cap adds an additional 2.480 oz (70.3g). Nikon specifies 22.8 oz. (645g).

Nikon 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6 with 90K slip-on front cap.

Front Cap

90K slip-on felt-lined metal, with a holder for spare gel filters inside!






None. The metal extending in front of the lens is mostly for protecting the glass from impacts.


Performance    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations

Color Transmission    Peripheral Color    Falloff

Filters    Focus    Ghosts    Mechanics    Sharpness


Performance is excellent. It has no weak points except for some color shifts in the corners. It's sharp and almost distortion-free; one of the highest performance ultra-ultra-wides ever made.

Yes, it's only f/5.6, but unlike most of Nikon's lenses, it doesn't lose performance wide-open. Shoot it at f/5.6 and it works great.

La Jolla

Instant La Jolla Panorama (just cropped-off top and bottom). Nikon 15mm f/5.6 at f/5.6, Nikon D3 auto ISO chose ISO 1,250 and 1/15.



Rubio's. Nikon 15mm f/5.6 at f/8, Nikon D3 auto ISO chose ISO 720, aperture-priority chose 1/15.

Color Transmission (Color Balance)     back to Performance or top

Tomy Bahama's, La Jolla, CA

La Jolla, CA. Nikon 15mm f/5.6 at f/11 and 1/1,000, Nikon D3 at ISO 400.

The 15mm f/5.6 renders bold, sharp colors like every other lens. That's not what I'm discussing here. Here I'm discussing color transmission; the overall skew or bias of colors one way or the other. just as if one used a mildly colored filter.

This 15mm f/5.6 is slightly more yellow than my other lenses. It looks this way through the finder more than it does in actual photos, since auto white balance tends to compensate for it.

It's almost as if the "N" filter is really a Nikon L39 filter, popular at the time, which was a stronger and very slightly more yellow filter than the clear (NC) or UV (L37c) filters of today.

Here's what happens if I set a manual preset white balance for a neutral reference with my 14-24mm. I then shot the other lenses at the same WB, which shows us how they differ in color.

Center and Peripheral Color Balance Comparison      

back to Performance or top


15mm f/5.6 at f/11


15mm f/3.5 at f/11



14mm f/2.8 at f/11


14-24mm at f/11 (reference)



Look very carefully and you'll see the corners get bluer. You can see the bluer corners in real photos. The overall differences in color balance cancel out if you set WB using the same lens with which you're shooting. If I set WB using this 15/5.6, its center would be neutral and its corners, and the other lenses, would look bluer.

This brings us to the next discussion, peripheral (corner) color shift.

Peripheral (corner) Color Shifts     back to Performance or top

Lens coatings become less effective at longer (redder) wavelengths as the light's angle of incidence increases. In other words, when the light hits a lens sideways, more red light gets reflected and less gets transmitted, making for a cooler color balance in the corners of extremely wide lenses.

I've seen this effect on film with my ultra-wide lenses on my 4x5 and other film cameras for years, and I see it with my digital cameras and these older ultra-ultra wide lenses.

It's rarely a problem, but of you put a big wall in your image, you'll see it.

La Jolla Post Office

La Jolla Post Office. Nikon 15mm f/5.6 at f/11 and 1/2,000, Nikon D3 at ISO 400.

See how the wall on the left and far right gets not only dimmer, but cooler? That's what this lens, as well as the 15mm f/3.5 and 14mm f/2.8 do. If this concerns you, the 14-24mm f/2.8 does much better.

If you missed it, I just showed this with flat targets above.

What about the Chief Ray effect?

The Chief Ray effect describes what happens when light hits a CCD at a weird angle, as it can in the corners. If the angle is too severe for the sensor, the light goes through the microlenses the wrong way and misses the photosites, or crazier, may hit the photosites for different colors! Whoops!

The color shifts with these ultra-wide lenses in the corners of the D3 are not caused by this because:

1.) Although this effect can be serious for non-SLR cameras like camera phones, the Leica M8 (wonder why its still not full-frame?) and point-and-shoots, wide SLR lenses use retrofocus designs so that the rear of the lens stays far enough out of the camera to avoid the flipping SLR mirror. Even these ultra-ultra wide lenses have their rear exit pupils at about the same position as with a normal lens. (The rear pupil is the apparent hole in the diaphragm blades.)

The incident light at the corner of an SLR sensor is at about the same angle with ultra-ultra wide lenses as it is with normal lenses. The light comes out of retrofocus lenses at different angles then they enter; that's why the front elements are so huge and the rear elements normal sized, or even smaller than with 50mm lenses.

2.) Chief Ray effects often result in shifts to different colors depending on the direction of the light for the same incident angle. Light coming from different directions may not just be partly missing a photosite, it could miss and hit the wrong photosite and be interpreted as a different color!

In these examples we're seeing the same color shift in each corner, regardless of direction around the compass. Anti-alias filters help prevent this, too.

3.) Unlike testing the vast destructive power of America's recently deployed network of space-based nuclear-pumped lasers (what do you thing the Space Shuttle missions were all about these past 20 years?), these optical effects are easy to explore at home. Trying these lenses on film I see the same effects as shown above on the D3.

It's caused by the lens, not the sensor interface.

Historical note: Most people think the Chief Ray effect is named after the optical term for the ray which goes directly through the center of the lens, the chief ray. In fact, the Chief Ray effect is named after its discoverer, Oneida Indian Chief Ray "Howling Wolf" Natisquonk who first documented this effect in the early 1800s near Syracuse, New York. His work involved characterizing the effects of light as it passed through patterns of sequins as applied to cloth.

Distortion     back to Performance or top

Unlike almost every other Nikon wide-angle and fast normal lens, the Nikon 15mm f/5.6 has no distortion except some barrel distortion at the closest distances. It has some distortion used on a DX camera, but it's silly to do so since the 12-24mm DX is so much better for DX cameras.

It has distortion on DX cameras because it has a bit of a pot belly. Shoot a wall on FX and the sides are all perfect, but the center bulges out a little bit. This shot below was made from about 6 feet (2m) away. You'll see the tiles on the floor along the bottom are perfect, but the ticket-holding boxes bulge just a little. This shot would look relatively awful as shot with the 14-24mm f/2.8. Of course the 12-24mm DX or any DX camera simply can't go this wide.

Nikn 15mm f/5.6

Swiss Railway Station. Nikon 15mm f/5.6 at f/5.6, Nikon D3, auto ISO chose ISO 640 and 1/15.

Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.

FX and scanned film
30' (10m)
10' (3m)
6' (2m)
3' (1m)
1' (0.3m)

© 2008 KenRockwell.com

* invisible waviness ("moustache" distortion) remains, only +/- 4 pixels at 12MP FX resolution.

Falloff (dark corners)      back to Performance or top

It has very little falloff, even wide open. Feel free to shoot at f/5.6 if you need it.

These shots of a flat lab surface exaggerate the falloff. These shots are made in the D3's black-and-white mode, so you won;t see and of the corner color shifts here.

Falloff isn't a problem even wide-open at f/5.6. The only issue is the peripheral color issue covered above, which means the falloff is much greater in the red channel than the green channel, and the blue channel is completely even.





Filters     back to Performance or top

Unlike the $1,800 14-24mm f/2.8 which can't use any filters at all, front or rear, this 15mm f/5.6 has both built-in filters and accepts rear gel filters.

Nikn 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6 AI.


The Nikon 15mm f/5.6 has no front filter thread. There are four internal filters, selected by pressing the unlock lever (seen on the left) and rotating the ring above the focus ring.

As shipped, the four internal filters are N (clear, not really a filter), Y48 yellow, O56 orange and R60 red.

The four internal filters are selected by pressing the unlock lever just under the word "NIKKOR" and rotating the knurled ring just in front of the focus ring.

The built-in Y48, O56 and R60 filters were popular for black-and-white film, which is what almost everyone shot back in the 1970s.

Since polarizers make no sense for ultrawides and putting a grad inside the lens won't work, there is no reason to use any filters other then the clear "N" position for digital.

For shooting color film, many enterprising people have different filters installed as a custom hack to replace the standard yellow, orange and red.

This sample of lens for instance, has had the orange replaced with an 80A (tungsten-to-daylight) conversion and the red replaced with an FLD (fluorescent-to-daylight) color conversion filters. This lens was probably used for interior and architectural photography, for which those two filters are very useful.

Since the original owner of this lens left the original internal glass filters in the flap in the case, I can give you their specifications:

Material: Solid glass, single-coated.

Diameter: 20.88mm (0.822").

Thickness: 1.24mm (0.049").

Index of refraction: I don't know, I didn't measure it. You need to use the same so that the effective optical path length remains the same.

Although it seems deceptively similar, these internal filters are about a millimeter smaller in diameter than the glass in the rear bayonet filters used by the 13mm f/5.6, 15mm f/3.5 and the 16mm f/2.8 fisheyes.


There is a clip for mounting gels on the rear.

Nikon 15mm f/5.6 gel holder

The big front cap has a secret gel holder inside!

Nikon 90K cap with gel holder

Gel filter holder hidden inside Nikon 90K front cap.

Focus     back to Performance or top

Focus is manual-only.


The 15mm f/5.6 focuses easily on any camera with electronic manual focus assist, like the D3, D40, D300, N75, F6, F4 and etc. Any AF film camera, except the N55, has a focus confirmation dot or dots for use with manual lenses.

It's a pain to focus on manual-focus cameras because the finder is so dark. Microprisms work, but you have to work to keep your eye centered to use the split-image rangefinder. I'd focus by setting the distance on the focus scale instead of looking through the finder on a manual focus camera. The newest AF cameras like the D3 have far more precise focusing.

You'll be much happier on newer rather than older film cameras, like the FE2 vs. FE, since they have brighter screens. Cameras before about 1980 had dim screens which were optimized for fast prime lenses of their day, and cameras newer than about 1980 are brighter and optimized for the slower zooms popular today.

It's dim on the F, F2, and FE. It's better on the FE2, FA, N75, F3, F4 and F6. You get the idea. The F6, while still expensive, is the best film camera ever made for manual focus lenses because you get excellent focus precision, a bright screen, and color matrix metering.


Manual focus is extremely precise. That means it's slow and great for setting with a laser interferometer, but slower then the newer 15mm f/3.5 if you're trying to shoot news of move fast.

Flare and Ghosts     back to Performance or top

Nikon 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6. Front element is exposed to light from any angle.


Ghosts, those sharp blobs and dots that run along a line from the sun (or other light source) through the center of the image and out again, is about the same as Nikon's other three fixed ultra-ultra wide lenses. The 14-24mm is better than any of these fixed lenses.

Ghosts will vary depending on your aperture and position of light sources.

Supernatural Ghosts

Supernatural ghosts, a weird phenomenon unique to these fishbowl-style ultra-ultra wide lenses, are fuzzy blobs usually caused by light outside the image, like an open window or the sky. Light gets into the fishbowl from any angle, and comes out in the image.

The 15mm f/5.6 has superior supernatural ghost performance to all the other fixed ultra-ultra wides. Only the 14-24mm is better.

The good news is that you don't have to make a special shade to use this lens outdoors. The worst of all Nikon ultra-ultra wides for these weird ghosts is the 15mm f/3.5, with which the sky often leaves blue blobs on the bottom of your images.

Supernatural ghosts, being not of this Earth, don't vary with aperture.

Mechanics and Construction     back to Performance or top

The 15mm f/5.6 is made like they used to. It is built to the highest mechanical standards.

Front Pseudo-Hood: Metal, internally ribbed.

Barrel: Metal.

Focus Ring: Metal, rubber covered.

Aperture Ring: Metal.

Finish: Black enamel over black anodize.

Mount: Chromed brass.

Internals: Metal.

Markings: All engraved and filled.

Noises when Shaken: A moderate amount of clicking the diaphragm blades and klunking from the floating elements.

Sharpness      back to Performance or top

I've shot extensive side-by-side tests comparing the Nikon 13mm f/5.6, this 15mm f/5.6, the 15mm f/3.5, the 14mm f/2.8 and the 14-24mm f/2.8.

On the D3

Sharpness on the D3 FX cameras is excellent, even wide open. In most cases it's sharper than the newer 15mm f/3.5.

On the D300

Sharpness is great, even wide open, in the center. It's softer in the corners, getting better as you stop down. The 12-24mm DX is about the same in the center and much better in the corners. This lens is wasted on the D300 and DX cameras, since you're cropping out most of the ultra-wide angle for which you're paying.

Nikon 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/5.6. enlarge.

Recommendations    top

Intro   Specifications    Performance    Recommendations

It's not likely you'll find one of these, but if you do, it's a great lens!

It probably will cost you close to a grand. It works great on the D3, so if you're considering one, go for it.

Except for the distortion, which is better with this 15mm f/5.6, the new 14-24mm is far superior, especially for color balance, but costs twice as much.

Many used samples are missing the AI-coupling prong. This is because people unscrew them for use on on film cameras to get more light on the back of the aperture ring so they can read it through the camera's optical viewfinder through what Nikon calls the "Aperture Direct Readout."

I found this one at Adorama.


Help me help you         top

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

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