NIKKOR - The Thousand and One Nights No.11
NIKKOR-H 300mm F2.8
In this Tale Eleven, I introduce a large-aperture, super telephoto lens NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 made exclusively for news photographers that general photographers seldom have chance to see.
by Haruo Sato
Cameras and lenses of Nikon (Nippon Kogaku K.K.) were developed based on valuable advice of photographers irrespective of amateur or professional since early times.
Among others, for the development of telephoto and super telephoto lenses, the advice of sports and news photographers played an important role. Therefore, there are many lenses that have close relation with the historical events in the selection of NIKKOR lenses.
For example, NIKKOR Auto 400mm, 600mm, 800mm, and 1200mm that use the focusing unit have the linkage with Tokyo Olympics (1964) and 300mm f/2.8 taken up this time with Sapporo Winter Olympics (1972).
Nowadays, 300mm f/2.8 is very popular among photographers regardless of amatures or profesionals, but it was really a professional's gear at that time. Among Japanese lens-lovers, 300mm f/2.8 lenses are friendly called "San, Ni-Ppa (3, 2-8)". Nikon's first "3, 2-8" lens was born from the wish of taking sharp photos with the shutter speeed as fast as possible at the event of Sapporo Winter Olympics.
I. Features and history of the lens
The feature of this Nikon's first "3, 2-8" is the complete removing of chromatic aberration with using the extra-low dispersion glass (later, Nippon Kogaku-made material was named ED glass). Nippon Kogaku, then, was an optical glass manufacturer as well that developed many types of new glass. Particularly, it had been devoting to develop glass materials that have extra dispersion characteristics.
However, to our regret, the production of ED glass was not in time for Nikon's first "3, 2-8". Instead, glass of German maker SCHOTT GLAS that preceded the development of new material was used for the early production models.
The name of "ED glass" that passes freely everywhere nowadays was not yet born.
Ironically, the high-performance lens that gave professional photographers a big surprise was a king without crown.
Therefore, this lens is not a "NIKKOR Auto".
This seems to be a drawback, but it isn't. Professional photographers who desire the rapid shooting characteristics only use the full open aperture and its neighbor. The opinion of professionals then was, "When stopping-down is necessary, we prepare for shooting without haste. High-performance instead of automatic aperture control!".
The normal stop can be freely located since it requires no mechanical linkage.
Therefore, it can be located at the best position for optical designing. The effect of stopping-down also becomes the best. The shape of the stop may be freely selected. As a result, it could fulfill the circular stop made by numerous number of stop blades.
Now let's trace the change of NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8. First, this lens was released in Jan. 1972 exclusively for the press field. At that time, it lacked the title of "ED". Later, it was applied with the multi-layer coating, and then, improved to the one adopted Nikon's ED glass.
Since this lens was not sold to general users from the beginning to the end, it was never printed in a catalog. The number of production reached mere one hundred and several tens.
Later, Nikon original IF (Inner Focus) system was developed and the automatic aperture control and AI (Automatic maximum aperture Indexing) system were adopted and, AI Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 IF-ED that established firmly the fame of "3, 2-8" was released in February 1978.
Then a protection glass filter was added to the front lens in order to protect the ED glass.
Time passed further to Autofocus age and it was modified to AF model in Oct. 1986.
In September 1992, AF-I Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED with completely renewed optical design and a built-in motor appeared. In November 1996, then, AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED with further renewed optical system and Nikon original built-in SWM (Silent Wave Motor) was released.
In 2001, the first year of the 21st century, drastically slimmed-down AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D II IF-ED was released.
Though it is popular among Japanese amateur photographers, called "3, 2-8" nowadays, this large-aperture super telephoto lens was born by the severe eyes of professional photographers and the challenging spirit and hard work of development staff.
The development history of high-performance pursuit in greedy way is about 30 years. Current AF-S telephoto and super telephoto lenses are designed and manufactured so as to keep better aberration correction condition even when a tele-converter attached than their predecessors. The ultra-chromatic-aberration-correction sometimes regarded as over-quality when it is used alone is the conclusion introduced after sailing in the boat with sports and news photographers who always use a tele-converter.
The insatiable development will further make a long history.
II. Lens structure and features
The optical design of NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 was made by Mr. SHIMIZU, Yoshiyuki introduced in Tale Five.
Though it is not well known and to our surprise, this lens has the covering power enable to cover 6 x 6cm format.
It was originally designed so as to be switched to "Bronica Nikkor".
First, take a look at the cross sectional view of NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 (Fig. 1).
You are smart if you feel, "I saw this lens type somewhere else." To tell the truth, this lens resembles AI Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED introduced in Tale Ten.
This optical system has a typical telephoto type lens structure.
First three lenses function as an apochromatic objective lens and correct chromatic aberration and spherical aberration and lower coma aberration. The oblique lined lenses are made of extra-low dispersion glass (later called ED glass).
Rear three lenses, including two lenses stuck together, have a power of concave lens in total and correct well curvature of field and upper coma.
Characteristics of aberration of this lens is that chromatic aberration is well corrected, spherical aberration is straight and a little under-corrected, astigmatism is small and curvature of field has the tendency of being minus.
We can expect from these that high definition and clear color separation and smooth gradation and excellent background defocus.
III. Imaging characteristics and performance of the lens
What are the imaging characteristics of NIKKOR-H 300mm f/2.8 ?
As evaluations are always subjective, please take my comments as my personal opinions, just for your reference.
In the vicinity of full aperture (f/2.8~3.5), it gives sharp image, good color separation and full gradation from the center to the periphery, as imagined from the aberration value.
Example photos were taken at the relatively medium distance and at the aperture of full open to f/3.5. As nearly back-lighted subject was selected, defocus characteristics, reproduction of the shadow and gradation, not to say sharpness may be checked.
Imaging characteristics of this lens, full of softness even in the sharpness will be best suited for the portrait.
Reproduction of the shadow and clear color rendition are indebted largely to the adoption of extra-low dispersion glass. Defocus characteristics are also excellent.
A reflecting object was intentionally included in the background of the frame but the off-axis aberration was not generated.
As the covering power is so big as to cover 6 x 6cm format, insufficient brightness of the edge of image field never occurred.
Stopping down to f/4~5.6 improves the sharpness, but there is no distinctive difference since it gives sharpness even at the full aperture. However, as vignetting disappears, defocus images are kept circular up to the periphery of the image field. Therefore, defocus characteristics in the periphery improve.
At f/8~11, I don't think there is a big change in sharpness. We might better consider that the aim of stopping down is to control the depth of field.
At f/16~32, as an adverse effect of diffraction will gradually come out, it is not necessary to stop down to this extent in the ordinary shooting situation.
I think that this lens is to be originally used when the aperture of f/2.8 is required. I repeated to shoot for these examples at f/2.8~5.6. To my surprise, the normal (non-automatic) stoop of this lens was very easy to use, with ease of checking of the depth of field and defocus characteristics.
It was well understood why the normal stop which we felt as disadvantageous was adopted by the recommendation of the field staff. I realized all the more keenly the difficulty of product development.
Reliable helpmate of a designer, Ms. HATANO, Reiko
The story is not about a lens designer this time, but about a woman who worked as a helpmate of a lens designer for many years.
Ms. HATANO, Reiko was just a woman as called "Ryosai-kenbo" in an old Chinese proverb, meaning both of a good wife and a wise mother. In her younger days, she made the calculation of ray tracing with an abacus and a table of logarithms beside Mr. WAKIMOTO, Zenji and, later, played an important role in administration of the budget and general affairs, making blue prints and reports in the lens designing department of Nippon Kogaku K.K..
I've heard that she was the first woman employee who was raised to the rank equivalent to the manager in Nippon Kogaku K.K..
We, optical designers, are all a little strange. Our desks are covered with a pile of documents and papers to be submitted are easily delayed. All (even the general manager) relied upon Ms. HATANO when they were in trouble. Honestly speaking, it entirely owes Ms. HATANO that I can introduce old lenses, with reproducing data from reports.
She handed down the history of departments of optical design exactly with careful attention and tenderness particular to a woman.
Owing to these precious materials, I can look back the history of optical designing of Nikon exactly.
Development of excellent products is not made by designers only. There are many people who labor in the background like Ms. HATANO or Mr. UDAGAWA of prototyping.
Users' talk of their experience and advice must also be highly appreciated. Many a great lenses were made by the concentration of all these forces.