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Zoom-NIKKOR 43~86mm 1:3.5

The zoom lens in retrospect here today (top), the very early Nikon Zoom-NIKKOR 43~86mm 1:3.5 from either 1961 or 1963. I've found conflicting information on these dates.

For reference, the bottom lens is the very first zoom lens ever made for 35mm SLR, the Voigtländer Zoomar, 36–82 mm f/2.8 first produced in 1959.  Because of its historical significance .. and simply because its a cool looking old lens, I've just purchased one of these for my collection as well.

But back to the little Nikkor above. I purchased this lens for a couple of reasons. My interest in photography began in the early 1970's and I remember this as one of the first zoom lenses. Resources were very slim back then and I drooled over most of the nice gear rapidly coming out at that time, yet could afford very little. I distinctly remember coveting this lens as I saw the guys in our photography department using it daily at Mississippi Educational Television (PBS MS) where I started my television career in production engineering.

Now that I'm retired and collecting cameras and lenses as a hobby, my interest was rekindled when I saw my good friend Jay Morrow post a picture of him wading chest deep across a river carrying on high a Nikkormat FT with the Nikkor 43~86mm lens on it. With thoughts of this lens brought back to fore, I found it could be purchased very reasonably on ebay. My copy is one from the latter quarter of production runs of this lens. Probably from around 1967 or so judging by the serial number.

I only have a few pics here for the basis of a little commentary. While I admire Nikon's very early attempt at zoom lens design, and think its a nice looking and well built lens .. alas, it just is not a stellar image maker. It's what it is. A valiant early attempt at designing  new technology. Revolutionary at the time. But falling short in the ability to produce high IQ images. Still. Considering its one of the very first zoom lenses ever made; on that basis I think the images are fairly remarkable. Even if not up to more recent zoom and optical standards.

In my admiration for Jay and all who have served our country, I've included the pic of Jay  in Vietnam fording the river with this lens on his Nikkormat.

A good ole friend -- Jay Morrow, 1969 in Vietnam with his Nikkormat and Zoom-NIKKOR 43~86mm 1:3.5

A few sample images and comments

The Cottage Vineyards and Winery

Original image non processed right from the camera. This was shot zoomed in a bit from 43mm .. maybe about 50 to 55mm and shot at f8. From this and other samples my impression is this lens performs most poorly at the wide end. All things slowly get a bit better as you zoom towards telephoto, but never really good.

I've read horror stories about how soft these lenses are. And of course Ken Rockwell has stated this is the worst zoom lens ever made. So, while not inspired by it's IQ, I was actually a bit surprised at its sharpness. However it does suffer however in a number of ways. The first thing that struck me in looking at this image is how compressed it looks. The term I learned many years ago when doing television video is 'dumpy'. Don't know where or why the term came from but to me it typifies a compressed, weak looking image.

Besides compressed and weak, there's some pretty nasty color going on here. Not only is it thinly overlayed indicating very poor MTF for this lens, but it also has shading issues. I'm very familiar with shading issues from television zoom lenses from the 1970's but I've never encountered it like this in a still camera lens. However I also hadn't really used any still camera zooms until the mid to late 1980's so I guess its fairly normal that television zoom lens technology and still image zoom lens technology would track per the same time period.

The last thing I would call out is a terse harshness, sort of like a pseudo sharpening that the image has. My take. Given performance limitations for zoom technology of the day, Nikon may have tried to zip things up a bit with the coatings they used. Possibly trying to do some type of frequency response enhancement. Whatever they've done, it makes it very hard to get an acceptably sharp but not harsh image out of it. I mean, the image above is RAW, no sharpening added at all and you can see the edgy mid band aspect it has.

And here's my attempt at trying to do something for this image. Lots of manipulations done here. Contrast added. Gamma and APL raised. I converted the image to Lab Color Space so I could work the cross color elements using Curves a/b, CYMK cross adjustment. Then I filtered the image a bit trying to knock down those harsh frequencies some. Then added just a little bit of selective sharpening back in. Also did a host of color work in RGB mode as well and finally added a bit of vibrance to simulate better MTF.

In the end there's just nothing you can really do to greatly improve the harsh versus natural sharpness issues. The image is natively over enhanced in the mid to upper mid band region while still being soft at the bottom end and higher frequencies.

All that said, I'll call it fairly satisfied as to end result considering starting point.

The Veterans Memorial on the hill at The Cottage Vineyard and Winery.

This was shot at around 65mm focal length and as you can see, between the lens just improving moving more towards telephoto, and probably angleon  the sun. This is a naturally better image not taking too much work to be done to it. What I found was this lens is very sensitive to angle to the sun and that gets exacerbated as you pull towards the wide angle side.

And of course I had to throw extension rings on it and try a macro. This is 26mm of rings and as you can see, it still won't get very close. Not surprising.


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