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Nikon's 12 Legendary NIKKOR Lenses

Legendary Nikon Nikkor lenses - Here, we take a look at 12 NIKKOR lenses that changed the photography game.

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Over its vast history, (almost 100 years in fact), NIKKOR have produced some groundbreaking lenses. This innovation has helped them to produce over 100 million NIKKOR lenses

Whether in terms of world firsts, usability or simply popularity, here are 12 NIKKOR lenses, in release order, that have achieved legendary status in the field of photography. 


1. NIKKOR-H C 5cm f/2 (1946)

Nikkor 5cm

One of the first consumer lenses made by NIKKOR, the lens was made for mounting on Leica cameras. A benchmark for modern lensmaking. The 5cm (50mm) focal length has become the go-to length for natural-looking portraits and capturing images as the eye sees them. 

Legendary for: 

As well as being an original and groundbreaking lens, it's said to be designed by Saburo Murakami himself, a NIKKOR founder. 


2. W-NIKKOR 3.5cm f/1.8 (1956)


This lens was the first 3.5cm lens with an aperture faster than f/2. It's a modified planar model with 7 elements in 5 groups and was created by famed designer Hideo Azuma.

Legendary for: 

It was said to be the fastest wide-angle lens in the world at the time and was patented in 1959, hailing the creation of a new type of lens. It's claimed that Azuma laid the foundation for aberration balancing in NIKKOR lenses with this lens.


3. NIKKOR-S C 8.5cm f/1.5 (1952)

Nikkor S C 8.5cm

This lens was favoured by master photographers Ken Domon and Ihei Kimura. Both were very different photographers in terms of style, but this lens had the versatility and quality to please them both. Both were documentary and portrait photographers that disproved those that said the NIKKOR lenses weren't great for portrait photography due to its softness. 

The lens gives rich tone and appealing bokeh and by stopping it down you can sharpen the image and get rid of unwanted flare accordingly. 

Legendary for: 

Being the lens of choice for two masters of 20th-century Japanese photography and having a versatility not seen before in terms of what it can photograph. 


4. NIKKOR-H Auto 2.8cm f/3.5 (1960)

Nikkor 28mm

This was a high-power wide-angle lens that at the time of its release was the very best in its class. Designers worked hard to minimise chromatic aberrations on the lens, which was the weakness of many retro focus lenses. 

Super sharp, it is said to faithfully depict the details of the subject with the utmost precision. This lens was created to help the Nikon F become a true all-purpose camera. Before this lens, no outstanding wide-angle lenses existed for single-lens reflex cameras. 

Legendary for:

It's still classed as an excellent 28mm lens, with some claiming it surpasses even modern lenses. It is the lens that cemented the NIKKOR brand as one of the best in the world.


5. Micro NIKKOR Auto 55m f/3.5 (1961)

Micro Nikkor 55mm lenses

This lens was created for precision and resolving power when photographing documents, for preserving important historical works. The NIKKOR Auto 55mm f/3.5 made it possible to shoot at 0.5 magnification with a single lens. 

An automatic aperture mechanism kept the maximum shooting magnification the same, heralding the start of the history of Micro NIKKOR.

Legendary for:  

Made it possible to shoot at a single magnification with one lens.


6. PC- NIKKOR 35mm f/3.5 (1962)

NIKKOR PC tilt shift

Compact with simple mechanisms that were easy to use, this lens brought tilt-shift to the smaller consumer single-lens reflex cameras. A feat of mechanical engineering, this lens bought what was formerly only a large-format technology to the masses. 

Legendary for: 

This lens used the world's first SLR PC mechanism and bought tilt shift technology previously only seen in larger cameras to the masses in a compact and easy to use lens.


7. OP Fisheye-NIKKOR 10mm f/5.6 (1968)

Fisheye Nikkor

The OP fisheye presented a warped and extremely wide-angle view of the world, favoured by creatives. The lens made subjects in the middle of the frame look larger than life while squashing and curving those at the sides of the image into strange and wonderful shapes. 

Nikon's first fisheye lens was created in 1938 and the OP 10mm was actually Nikon's fourth fisheye lens. 

Legendary for:

As well as being the world's first aspheric lens for single-lens reflex cameras, it's also the world's first orthogonal (a form of parallel projection) fisheye lens. 


8. Nikkor Auto 35mm f/1.4 (1971)


Nikon auto 35mm


The NIKKOR Auto 35mm f/1.4 was an update to the W-NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8, keeping the standard lens and filter size the same diameter but making it faster. Embodying all of NIKKOR's best technology at the time this lens is still desirable today. 

The composition of the glass and curvature of the lens was altered to improve the efficiency of its aperture. It's still widely used over 40 years after its release. 

Legendary for: 

This is Nikon's first multi-coated lens and holds the title of smallest 35mm f/1.4 lens for single-lens reflex cameras. 


9. NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8 Super-telephoto (1972)

NIKKOR 300mm

NIKKOR has produced a number of lenses designed specifically for special events in the past. It listened to professionals using NIKKOR kit, and developed lenses for specific purposes. 

More often than not the development of telephoto lenses can be tied to Olympic and sporting events, where a large reach was necessary to photograph athletes from a distance.

The NIKKOR 300mm lens was developed specifically for the Sapporo Winter Olympics. It was designed to allow photographers to get sharp photos indoors from as far a distance as possible, hence the super-wide lens on the front to let maximum light in. 

Legendary for:

This was one of the first lenses to implement special low dispersion glass (later coined ED) glass for the elimination of chromatic aberrations so common among other telephoto lenses. It has high resolution and the ability to produce fantastic bokeh.


10. Ai AF DC NIKKOR 135mm f/2D (1991)

NIKKOR 135mm

This lens could capture both background and foreground bokeh beautifully. It has rear focussing to achieve high-speed autofocus. There is an altered Gauss type construction with 7 lenses in 6 groups and a DC ring. 

It has defocus image control, allowing you to choose whether the background or foreground is out of focus. 

Legendary for:

This lens explored shallow focus and introduced DC allowing users to choose which part of the image was out of focus. 


11. AF Zoom-Micro NIKKOR ED 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D (1997)

70 180

This lens was created with the intention of developing something that could focus accurately on smaller subjects and also zoom. It keeps a fixed span even when zooming. It's a lens that can be used freely without having to change the working distance or the focus point. 

It won several design awards and is loved by optical designers.

Legendary for:

This was the world's first AF zoom micro lens. It allowed users to quickly focus on macro subjects while making fine compositional adjustments using the zoom.


12. AF Zoom NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR (2000)

NIKKOR 80-400mm

This was the first lens with Vibration Reduction built-in, and is a six-group zoom lens with convex LED group. Created by optic designer Masayuki Aoki, it utilises the two group vibration reduction that is in all NIKKOR lenses today. 

Legendary for:

This was the first lens with VR built-in to compensate for hand movements, a huge step forward in technology.


Want to find out more about the history of NIKKOR lenses? Check out our history of NIKKOR article.

Read our latest lens reviews, or have a look at our vintage lens reviews.

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pablophotographer 9 1.8k 398
14 Aug 2019 11:37PM
Great article boys and grls. Thank you.

And for those Nikon fans.... a surprise revelation. An exciting story about the man who helped establishing Nikon in the professional reportage world seventy years ago.
pablophotographer 9 1.8k 398
14 Aug 2019 11:45PM

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