The first close focus Nikkor for the Nikon F was the 5.5cm f3.5 lens produced in 1961. It did not have an automatic diaphragm, meaning it did not automatically stop down the aperture when taking the photo. The lens I am reviewing is the Auto Micro Nikkor 55mm f3.5 introduced in 1963.
This is an A type Nikkor lens, which is the first of the 5 manual focus Nikkor classifications. It has the chrome filter ring. My copy is not of the very first batch of the Type A lenses because it has Feet marked on the barrel. The very first ones were in only meters. Judging by the serial number it was created in 1963 and was the 1142nd lens produced that year. The first was serial no. 188101.
It is the compensating version, which means the aperture automatically compensates for the loss of light at the film plane as the lens gets closer to the film in the camera. Because of this, the lens is often used as a prime because even though it is a close focus lens, it still performs well at all distances. It can focus from infinity all the way up to 9.5 inches from a subject creating a half life size image. With the extension, it goes even further and more with the Bellows attachment.
Macro or Micro?
Nikon originally used the word Micro with their 55mm rangefinder lens, and just continued over onto the rest of their F mount line. However, it is actually a macro lens because, outside of photography, the word micro means small while macro means large.
Let me explain. Macro photography is the act of taking a picture of something small and making it look life size in the frame. Micro, such as with a microscope, would mean the lens would be focusing on something on a microscopic level. That doesn’t really apply when we are talking about a lens like this, but Nikon continues to use the word Micro on their close focus lenses.
What can the Auto Micro Nikkor 55mm f3.5 Do?
The Micro Nikkor 55mm f3.5 lenses can achieve a 1:2 ratio, or half life size. When coupled with the M extension tube, it goes even further to 1:1 life sized ratio. Therefore, it is a true macro lens once coupled with this tube.
On this version, the aperture closes down to f32, but not when paired with a Photomic meter. While coupled, it can only close down to f22.
It’s very light for an early F mount lens weighing only 8 oz and has an interesting look with the deeply recessed front helicoid.
Mine is a Pre AI lens, meaning it only couples with the Pre AI Photomic meters that have the prong, but there are later versions of the 55mm f3.5 made up until 1977 with the AI (auto indexing) mount.
A Note on Auto Indexing
Nikon’s F Mount lenses made from 1959 to 1977 have what are called “rabbit ears”, the fork screwed onto the top of the aperture ring. These lenses are Non-AI lenses and work only with early Nikon cameras that have the Non-AI lens mount. The maximum aperture has to be set by turning the aperture ring back and forth. Later lenses implemented the Automatic maximum aperture Indexing (AI) system which has a cam on the lens’ aperture ring that communicates the max aperture and preset aperture to the meter. These still have the rabbit ears, but with hollowed out centers. AI-S lenses have a ridge on the aperture ring that communicates with cameras that have different exposure modes.
My Experience with the Micro Nikkor 55mm f3.5
The Auto Micro Nikkor 55mm f3.5 is one of the most used lenses in my Nikon F arsenal. The reason for that is I love to take photos around my home, and this macro lens is perfect for that kind of exploration.
You can see that the shallow depth of field from this lens is really smooth. There are no large artifacts, and no vignetting that I have seen. Wide open it creates a sharp center.
What’s interesting about this lens is that while it is a pre AI lens, it doesn’t have the “vintage” character look of the others that everyone talks about. It is almost so standard that it could pass as a newer lens.
In fact, I use it as a normal lens as well as a macro.
It gives the subject a lot of contrast and makes colors pretty rich due to the Nikon Integrated coating on the glass.
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Up Close with the Auto Nikkor Micro 55mm f3.5
I don’t have the M Extension Tube so I haven’t been able to get as close as the lens can fully get, but as you can see below, it still gets pretty close.
The circular depth of field it creates makes the subject really stand out while softening its surroundings.
I love this lens, plain and simple. I’m going to have to search for the M extension tube so I can see what it can really do, but even without it, I have loved the results I get. I photographed these same flowers with my digital camera, Fujifilm X-T4, you can take a look and tell me which version you prefer.
In my experience, I have just not been able to duplicate the look that a vintage SLR lens creates with digital equipment, and to be honest I don’t want to. The light, the colors, and the softness are what makes all of the work with analog photography worth it. Let me know if you have any macro lenses in your arsenal. If you’d like a more in-depth article about the Auto Indexing system, let me know in the comments. It can be confusing.
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