Nikon 55mm f/2.8
Nikon AF MICRO-NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8. enlarge. I got this one at this directly link to it at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), and it help me keep reviewing these excellent old lenses when you use that, and also these links, whenever you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
Ideal Uses: Ultra-sharp, low-distortion, ultra-high performance FX lens for use with D3, D700, D3x and film. Especially good for close-ups, scanning or copying slides and as a normal everyday lens if you don't shoot in dim light without flash.
Not for: D40, D40x or D60; you'll have to focus manually with these cheapest cameras. In very low light, the 50mm f/1.8 AF and 50mm f/1.4 AF are better ideas. No 55mm or 60mm lens is for serious macro-only work since you never have enough room (working distance) between your lens and your subject to stay out of your own lighting. For serious macro work, use at least a 105mm lens.
The 55mm f/2.8 F is Nikon's first autofocus macro lens. It's also Nikon's sharpest autofocus lens. It uses the same optics as the extraordinary 55mm f/2.8 AI-s manual focus lens. This AF lens adds autofocus and extends the macro range to life size (1:1) in one continuous focus range. This is among Nikon's sharpest lenses ever, even wide-open at f/2.8.
Nikon calls their macro lenses "Micro," and I'll use the two words interchangeably.
When it came out with Nikon's other first AF lenses in 1986, everyone laughed because these were all plastic, and had hard, thin, nasty plastic focus rings.
Only the outsides were plastic, to fit in with all the other 1980's hi-tech consumer electronics of the day. The insides are all metal. People, including myself, passed on these lenses back then because we didn't think they'd work well or hold up over time. We were wrong: this lens is over twenty years old and still outperforms most of my other new lenses.
Even funnier to those of us with long-term outlooks, I'd rather own this excellent old klunker than the newest 60mm f/2.8 AF-S because this 55mm always autofocuses, even if I'm at the wrong end of the focus range. The newest AF-S lenses tend to hang-up and not autofocus if the focus is too far off to start, and the newest AF-S lens has 1/4" less working distance.
The optics of this lens, the 55mm f/2.8 AI-s manual focus, the 60mm f/2.8 AF-D and 60mm f/2.8 AF-S are all virtually perfect. Any attempt to pick a winner among them will lead to your own insanity; they are all this good.
Today I'd buy the 60mm f/2.8 AF-D, simply because these old 55mm AF lenses are very hard to find used. The 60mm AF-D is better for macro because it allows an extra 3/4" of working distance, however this 55mm lens is sharper for use at regular distances if you're really counting pixels.
Deeply inset glass: no hood needed.
The 55mm f/2.8 AF works great with almost every film and digital Nikon camera made since 1977. If you have a coupling prong added to the diaphragm ring, it's perfect with every Nikon back to the original Nikon F of 1959.
The only incompatibility is that it will not autofocus with the cheapest D40, D40x and D60, but if you focus manually, everything else works great. The D40, D40x and D60 even have in-finder focus confirmation dots to help you.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AF, AF-D (screw)" column for this lens.
Nikon made a 55mm f/3.5 Micro for rangefinder cameras. God only knows how you focused or composed.
Nikon made various versions of a 55mm f/3.5 manual-focus Micro. Nikon made about a half-million of these.
Nikon still makes the excellent manual focus 55mm f/2.8 AI-s Micro-Nikkor. Nikon has made about 600,000 of these — so far.
This 55mm f/2.8 AF, Nikon's first AF micro. Nikon only made about 50,000 of these. These hit the store shelves in early 1987.
60mm f/2.8 AF, the otherwise identical non-D version of the next 60mm AF-D lens. Nikon made about 150,000 of these non-D 60mm AF lenses.
* At full NYC discount. Very few people bought their lenses this inexpensively back then.
Specifications with commentary top
Indicators. Note that feet and meters are both white, along with the reproduction ratio. This is confusing!
6 elements in 5 groups.
Close-Range Correction (CRC) with floating elements. This lens continuously adjusts itself for optimum performance at every focus distance.
It's multicoated, which Nikon calls Nikon Integrated Coating.
9" (0.228m) from the subject to the image plane (the back of the camera).
2-1/8" (55mm) from the front of the lens.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Hard Infinity Focus Stop
Yes, but its not always perfect.
Yes, but only for f/16 and f/32.
Infra-Red Focus Index
7 straight blades.
Stops down to f/32 at infinity and f/64 at 1:1.
Yes, full-stop clicks.
Does not rotate.
Nikon specifies 2.91" (74mm) extension from flange (3.23" [82mm} overall) by 2.91" (74mm) diameter at infinity.
At 1:1, it extends to a total of 5.16" (131mm) from the flange.
13.895 oz. (393.95g), measured.
Nikon specifies 14.8 oz. (420g).
Not needed; incorporated into lens.
Apocrypha suggests the HN-22 may be used, but you won't need it.
Optional CL-32S, pouch #62 or CP-8 clear plastic bubble case.
TC-200/201 and TC-14A, manual-focus.
The 55mm f/2.8 AF is Nikon's sharpest lens.
Its mechanics are klunky and plasticy, but the image is the sharpest and least distorted there is from Nikon, even in the corners of FX at f/2.8.
Like most traditional AF lenses, you must use the switch on the camera to switch between auto and manual focus.
Another complaint is that the feet, meters and reproduction ratio scales are all the same color: white. When using the lens, its confusing not to have meters in white, feet in yellow and repro ratio in orange, as other Nikon micro lenses. When using this lens, they all look the same.
Roll mouse over to focus to 1:1.
Just like the Alien, the front of this lens extends with two nested sections. The middle section is metal, and the front section is plastic.
Autofocus is fast and exact.
AF works better than the newest AF-S Micro lenses. Why? Because the 55mm's AF never gets stuck if you're way out of focus. If you need to focus on something at the other end of the focus range, this 55mm AF just autofocuses as it should.
The newest AF-S lenses tend to give up if you're at the wrong end of the focus range, and require you to fiddle with them manually to bring them into better focus before they'll start autofocusing. I'd rather have this old lens than the newest 60mm AF-s for this reason. The 60mm AF-D is fine.
AF is fast!
One full turn (two half-turns) of the AF screw pulls focus from infinity down to 6 feet.
It's virtually instantaneous for normal shooting, and pretty fast even when it needs to rack all the way in or out.
Autofocus Selector Ring
There is a ring on the front of the lens with a dot and an A. "A" is for autofocus. The dot position adds drag to the focus ring for manual focus, for instance, if you are on a copy stand. Otherwise the focus ring has very little drag just like other AF lenses.
To rotate the ring, push it toward the camera and turn. There is no shift forward or backward and no clicking.
The camera will autofocus if set to the dot, but it won't be happy due to the additional drag.
The “A” setting still has plenty of resistance for most manual use anyway. The dot is just additional drag if you really need it manually.
Manual focus is fine. We were such whiners back in the 1980s. It's a pain to have to move a switch on the camera to get in and out of manual focus, but once I do, it's great to have the focus ring on the front of the lens where I can find it by feel.
The color rendition of this 55mm ADF lens appears to match my other modern Nikkors. I specifically compared it to the 24-70mm AFS, and they match.
There is no coma (saggital coma flare.) The biggest issue in the corners is physical alignment of the focus track to ensure perfect focus across the field.
The 55mm f/2.8 AF has no visible distortion at normal distances. It almost has the tiniest bit of barrel (bulging) distortion at the very closest distances, but its still invisible unless you're dropping straight edges on prints may feet wide.
If you're doing very careful measurement work, you can correct the very little bit of barrel (bulging) distortion by plugging these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
The Nikon AF MICRO-NIKKOR feels great in-hand: it's just the right size to hold solidly, and it's front-mounted thin focus ring doesn't interfere with hand-holding.
You must move the camera's switch to go between auto and manual focus.
The A — • ring merely adjusts focus-ring drag, not function.
I've exaggerated this by shooting a gray field and placing these on a gray background.
There aren't any ghosts. You'll go blind with the sun in your image or have to do something really stupid to cause any.
There's no need for a hood, because the front element is deeply recessed into the lens' own internal hood system. Adding a hood wouldn't block any more light, but would reduce the working distance.
There are no lateral color fringes on the D3 or D7000, which would correct them if the lens had any.
The maximum aperture is f/2.8 at infinity and reduces to f/5.3 at 1:1. This 55mm lens and all AF and digital cameras are smart enough to compensate for this automatically. You can demonstrate this by setting the Aperture Priority mode to f/2.8 at infinity, and focusing more closely. Watch the aperture indication, and it will change as you focus.
On manual focus cameras using external light meters, you'll have to compensate the exposure manually. TTL meters, even on Nikon's oldest cameras, correct this automatically.
© 2008 KenRockwell.com
Nikon 55 2.8 AF Micro-NIKKOR. enlarge.
The exterior looks crappy, and the internals are solid. These are good, solid lenses.
Ribbed hard plastic.
A — • Ring
Yes, at f/16 and f/32.
Plastic, painted numbers.
Painted on barrel.
Laser engraved onto bottom rear of aperture ring.
Ass-Gasket (rain seal at mount)
Noises When Shaken
Sounds like a hardware store during an earthquake.
With those caveats, the 55mm f/2.8 AF is ridiculously sharp. It's proibably Nikon's sharpest lens, It's so sharp that the photos I made at f/2.8 I thought had to have been made at f/8. It had me double-checking and re-shooting, and yes, it is completely sharp even at f/2.8.
It is so sharp that it is one of the few lenses that can excite aliasing with fabrics on my D3. It can do this at f/2.8!
The biggest limitation to sharpness will be your ability to have it focus properly, and any mechanical misalignment either internal to the lens, or in your setup, that might make the image plane not parallel to the subject plane.
Lawn Furniture Fabric. D800, f/8 at 1/250, ISO 100, VIVID +3 Saturation, sharpness-robbing Auto Distortion Correction OFF, Sharpening set to 6, hand-held. Camera-original © LARGE BASIC Optimum Quality JPG file.
Sharp enough? The corners would have been sharper if my seat cushions were flat, and if I had the camera more properly aligned.
At f/2.8: Sharp and contrasty throughout the entire FX field.
At f/4: Just as sharp.
At f/5.6: Just as sharp. Friends at a division of Kodak that made CCD cameras, who MTF tested the manual focus version 55mm f/2.8, told me that the 55mm is diffraction limited in the center at f/5.6. That means it has almost 300 lines per millimeter of resolution!
At f/8: Just as sharp.
At f/11: Diffraction limits performance slightly.
At f/16: Diffraction limits performance.
At f/22: Diffraction limits performance.
At f/32: Diffraction greatly limits performance.
It's just as sharp edge-to-edge on the 16MP D7000. This lens is the sharpest lens made by Nikon.
The Nikon AF MICRO-NIKKOR has a tiny bit of spherochromatism.
Spherochromatism is when out-of-focus highlights take on slight color fringes. Laypeople sometimes mistakenly call spherochromatism "color bokeh."
If you're really looking closely, out-of-focus background highlights may take on slight green fringes, and foreground out-of-focus highlights may take on slight magenta fringes.
At its closest focus distance, there is only 2-1/8" (55mm) of room between the front of the lens and your subject. This makes it very hard to light your subject, unless it's a backlit slide.
This is why 55mm and 60mm lenses are not used for serious macro work. You need enough distance to your subject to avoid getting in the way of your own lighting, which is why serious macro is best done with a 105mm or longer macro lens.
The newer 60mm f/2.8 AF-D is better, with 2-7/8" (73mm) of working distance. The newest 60mm f/2.8 AF-S is worse, with only 1-7/8" (48mm) of clearance.
See my page of explicit comparisons among the 55mm AF, 60mm AFD and 60mm AFS.
Compared to the 55mm f/2.8 AI-s manual focus, they have the same optics. This AF lens focuses to 1:1 (life size) instead of only 1:2 (half life size) as does the manual focus lens. The manual focus lens feels much, much better if you focus manually.
The 55mm f/2.8 AF is an extraordinary lens, but they're not easy to find. That's OK, because the 60mm f/2.8 AF-D is even better, especially with regards to working distance. Since used 55mm f/2.8s aren't inexpensive even when you can find them, I'd just order a 60mm f/2.8 AF-D out of NYC and be done.
The front element is set so deeply into the lens that I wouldn't bother with a protective filter.
I also wouldn't bother with a hood, which would only make the working distance problem worse.
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