For this installment of One on One, I spent a week shooting with my Nikon F and the Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 pre AI lens. It was loaded with Kodak Tmax 400 pushed to 1600. I have owned this lens for over a year and although I’ve used it countless times, I decided to make it my first subject for this series. This way I could really get to know its character and target my focus only on this one lens. I’ve also chosen Kodak Tmax as the film because it is a film I don’t usually shoot with. Therefore, I wanted to give it another look.
More formally called the Nippon Kogaku Nikkor-S Auto 50mm f/1.4 by Nikon, it was created in 1966. This was more than a decade after the Nikon F was designed as Nikon’s first SLR. The S stands for seven, meaning that the lens has 7 lens elements behind the glass which has a single coating of amber. The coating serves as a built in enhancer for black and white film.
The Nikkor-S 50mm is an auto lens meaning it has an automatic diaphragm. With a minimum aperture of f/16 and a max of f/1.4, this lens is a classic. My copy has not been AI updated, so it’s compatible with F mount cameras that were made up until 1977.
My Thoughts on the Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4
First, I love the physical look of the pre-AI lenses with the silver nose and knurled focus ring. They’re pretty heavy as lenses go, but to me it feels sturdy and substantial.
Second, when wide open at f/1.4, it has some bodacious bokeh. The bokeh or blurred background is crazy, but beautiful. It’s full of character with large spots, and an almost frosted appearance. This is great for portraits, or trying to make one subject really stand out from the background.
However, the downside to this for me has been nailing the focus. When taking photos wide open, I missed focus so often that a lot of my photos weren’t useable. On top of it, in low lighting, I would idle for a while just trying to get correct focus of Jasmine’s eyes. With that being said, the problem with the photo above may also be that I was less than 2 feet from Jasmine. That’s the minimum distance you can be away from your subject with this lens.
On the other hand, when closing down with this lens, it is very sharp with almost no fall off around the edges.
While the bokeh on this lens is too much at times, often times it adds a dreamy quality to your photos. It’s really dependent on your taste and the look you’re going for.
My Thoughts on Kodak Tmax 400
While shooting handheld around my home, I had no choice but to shoot at the widest aperture. Pushing Kodak T-Max 400 to 1600 barely leaves any information in the shadows, and renders blacks quite inky. As a result, some subjects look flat or one dimensional like my cat Midnight.
This film, when pushed to 1600, doesn’t have much tonal range. There seems to be 3 tones, white, middle grey, and black. No in-between.
Don’t get me wrong, Tmax is still a wonderful film. In my experience, it just seems to shine in certain lighting situations. In the photo above, the sun was setting causing a lot of contrast. At 1600, you’re already adding more contrast. However, in the photo below, the lighting was soft, and I think this film looks great in this setting. The grain is almost non-existent. Even at 1600.
While these photos are just items around my home, I know that 10 years from now I will look back and say, “Oh man, look what toasters looked like back then.” I wish I had photos of the kitchens from all the childhood homes I’ve lived in. That’s why I am making it a point to document my life as Matt Day says.
Ultimately, I really like this lens. It has a different character than other 50mm lenses I own, and I find myself reaching for this lens often. Although it is larger than others I have shot with, such as my Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, when I am shooting with my Nikon F, I love pairing it with this older lens. It just feels right.
As for Kodak Tmax 400, I have done several experiments with this film, such as pushing, and I am not really a huge fan of it. Simply put, there are other cheaper and more flexible films that I would choose for my personal style.
Either way, I would encourage you to try sticking to one film or lens for a period of time and really get to know it. If you’re like me, and you just get so excited to try all the different film cameras out there, you may be neglecting some lenses along the way. It’s been nice to take a break from that. I have really enjoyed this, and will continue this series every other week.
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Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.
Here are some links to search results I use with set filters for Ebay if you’d like to purchase a Nikon F or a Nikkor-S 50mm Pre AI lens, or if you prefer KEH here is their link for a Nikon F or the Nikkor-S lens.