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The Rare W-Nikkor - C 1:1.8 f=3.5cm Lens

Today we have a very special lens up on the camera for its first real shooting. It's taken me two years to get this lens adapted where I can fit it on my Sony A7RII. However when I purchased this lens I never figured I'd be able to shoot digital with it at all and that I'd be limited to film shooting on legacy Contax mount rangefinder cameras.You can readily purchase Contax / Yashica mount converters to Sony E, however the CY mounts are larger bayonets that came out in 1975 for the Contax RTS SLR. The Contax mount in question here is the much older Contax Rangefinder mount that was introduced in 1932. 

Per Camerapedia, 'http://camerapedia.wikia.com' ... "This mount is in fact the combination of two bayonets. There is a focusing helical built in the body and the standard lenses mount directly in that focusing ramp via an internal bayonet. So the standard lenses have no focusing ring of their own. The other lenses mount on an external bayonet and have their own focusing ring, only the rangefinder coupling is done via the body's focusing ramp."

I never thought I'd get any of my Contax RF lenses adapted until I ran across a guy in the Ukraine that is taking the helicoid mount out of old Contax cameras and adapting them to L39 Leica thread on the rear. Having found this guy selling them on ebay I thought this was the answer and ordered a couple of his adapters. To my dismay, once I received them, all of my Contax RF mount lenses worked fine with them except this rare W-Nikkor - C 1:1.8 f=3.5cm lens. And this is the jewel that I really wanted most to shoot with. It appears as if someone had this lens recalibrated 'possibly' to work on an SLR as the focal plane has been shifted a good bit. Since the lens is in wonderful condition, I can't think of anything else that would account for it's issue. It's clearly not broken. Its just adjusted for the focal point to be shifted a good deal.

I've included a normal size 50mm lens in the pic above for comparison. As you can see, this is a very diminutive lens.

So what's so special about this lens ... besides the fact that its now rare and fairly expensive.

Per Ken Rockwell, 'http://www.kenrockwell.com', "The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 is the world's first super-speed Nikon wide-angle lens. It was an expensive professional wide-angle lens for Nikon's 1950s rangefinder cameras. This old lens is more than twice as fast as any Nikon 35mm zoom lens ever made, and its sharpness and lack of distortion can exceed modern SLR lenses. This is because rangefinder lenses are designed without the compromise of having to avoid the flipping SLR mirror. Rangefinder lenses can get much closer to the film if the designer wants them to. This 3.5cm lens is one of the good ones that was over-designed for its era, so it still performs wonderfully today. It's a very small lens: the size of a golf ball weighing just 5½ oz. (160g), much less than any Nikon 35mm SLR lens and a tiny fraction of any Nikon zoom, the fastest of which is nowhere near as fast as this compact f/1.8."

Finally a couple of weeks ago I found a guy in China that makes L39 shims in varying sizes. So I ordered a set of them and they came in a couple of days ago. I was counting on having just enough treads on the L39 screw mount to install a couple of the shims and still get the lens screwed on enough to trust it wouldn't come tumbling off. And .. also to get the lens shifted to the right focal point when adapted onto the A7RII. Well it worked. 

At this point you may be wondering why I was going on about adapting the Contax RF mount when the lens in question here clearly is an old Nikon lens. Well when Nikon decided to go head to head with the Germans in the Rangefinder camera business, Nikon copied the Contax RF mount for their own rangefinder cameras of the 1950's. Well they sort of copied them. It turns out that either by mistake or some unexplained intent, only the Nikon wide angle lenses actually will cross mount on the Contax RF systems. The normal and tele Nikkor's focus couplings won't work. To this day I've not found any explanation as to why this would be. But fortunately, the W-Nikkor in question here is 35mm and works on the Contax RF mount.

Here's a couple of the first pics I shot with this lens adapted on the A7RII. Macro shots only though because the other thing I've discovered is this lens has a lot of field curvature. I don't think I'll be able to use it as a landscape wide angle on the A7RII because the A7RII's thick image sensor front filter exacerbates field curvature causing the outer edge of the field to be out of focus. As it turns out, it's pretty bad with the W-Nikkor .. how unfortunate!

So now I have an L39 to Micro 4/3 adapter coming and I hope I can at least use it as a normal angle of view lens on my Olympus E-M5II. I'm going to keep plugging away hoping for a normal shooting ability with this lens because not only is it considered one of the sharpest vintage wide angles, and the fastest of its day, it's considered by many to have one of the best color profiles for lenses both vintage and new.

f11, 1/80th sec, ISO 800

Hibiscus I find to be exceedingly hard to shoot and come out with anything pleasing.

We have a beautiful Hibiscus bush that's in full bloom right now. I've taken many shots of it with many different lenses. I've rarely posted any shots though because I haven't found many of them to be pleasing. They are very hard to shoot I think because they are fairly large making optimum focus and depth of field tricky.

Then they have a very busy interior. It's hard to balance the focus and get a pleasing interior and enough of the petals in focus as well. And even when you do the interior portion can be very busy and distracting. Lastly, white flowers are just difficult on their own for several reasons. It can be hard to get a good lighting balance and therefore I find it best to go after them in the shade .. such as here. The other problem with white flowers is they show every little imperfection.

Fortunately this one was in pretty good shape.

f8, 1/100th, ISO 640

f5.6, 1/100th, ISO 640


  • Don Sears

    on July 10, 2017

    Beautiful photographs Kevin. Worth all the trouble of mating the lens to your camera.

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