Nikkor SC 5cm 1.4 vs 7A 50mm 1.1
Old 01-12-2020   #1
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Nikkor SC 5cm 1.4 vs 7A 50mm 1.1

During a recent foray oop norf, I happened to have my Nikon S2 and a Leica M3.
The lens on the S2 was the Nikkor SC 5cm 1.4, with a 7A 50 1.1 on the Leica.

I've always enjoyed the results I have received from the Nikkor but never obsessed over the actual image quality. Shots looked good.
This time though, I was using Silberra Orta50 orthochrome film - a film new to me - and so checked over the images. I was really bummed to find that the Nikkor was sharp in the center, but blurry/smeary on the left and right edges.

Normally I wouldn't care, but I took some landscape shots with it and, well, darn it.

I had the same film in the M3, and while the landscape shots were not the same they were close enough to see that the 7A has excellent sharpness in the center and maintained decent sharpness (good enough for large prints) in the corners.

Now I am thinking of replacing the Nikkor with the CV 50 3.5. Cuz frankly I'm not happy with the performance off center. I looked back at older pics I took with this lens (different film stock) and sure enough, same thing. I guess I never paid attention to it before because those shots had the center of attention in the, umm, center.

Examining the lens, mechanically it has zero issues. It is in beautiful shape. Ah well, guess this is why Leica dominated/dominates the 35mm rangefinder market.
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Old 01-12-2020   #2
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Nikkor 5cm 1.4 @ f8



Crop from right edge:

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Old 01-12-2020   #3
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7A 50 1.1 @ f11




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Old 01-12-2020   #4
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The thing is, with the 7A shot I focussed on the bridge which is closer than the trees etc in the crop. So the crop is actually a little out of focus and still it is much sharper/non smeary than the Nikkor lens which was focussed at infinity.
Of course focus is not the issue here, but the image smearing.
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Old 01-12-2020   #5
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The 1.4 looks whacked. That is not normal for a (Sonnar) Nikkor at f/8
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Old 01-12-2020   #6
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Did it behave differently in the past?
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Old 01-12-2020   #7
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Quote:
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Did it behave differently in the past?

reviewing older images, no. And it is evenly balanced like that on both sides.
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Old 01-13-2020   #8
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reviewing older images, no. And it is evenly balanced like that on both sides.
DAG will work on this lens and he has a collimator if needed. Had the LTM version he did a CLA on.
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Old 01-13-2020   #9
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DAG will work on this lens and he has a collimator if needed. Had the LTM version he did a CLA on.
What can be done if it is pin sharp in the center but evenly blurry on the edges? Of note this is only apparent at distance/infinity type shots.
It looks great at close to mid distance shots.
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Old 01-13-2020   #10
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Your sample photos from the Nikkor indicate that it was cloudy, maybe even a little dark. Were you shooting at a wide aperture? I'm wondering whether doing so with a Sonnar design lens resulted in loss of sharp focus on the edges of the image. Just a thought.

BTW: That's Donner Lake, right?
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Old 01-13-2020   #11
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The main defect of the Nikkor-S-C 5cm f/1.4 is vignetting (aka light fall off). Even at f/8 all of mine (I used to own four of them, just kept one, because one is enough) were still vignetting with color slide films (more exposure sensitive than negatives). But none of them ever produced images with blurry off-center areas like yours does. Even at wider apertures.

Not only does it produce blurry corners, but there is a strange ghosting effect there too. And the problem starts quite close to the center of the image, it doesn't affect the actual image corners only.

I would bet it suffers from Canada balsam separation around the edges of the rear group elements. This is not an uncommon problem with that lens.
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Old 01-13-2020   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bingley View Post
Your sample photos from the Nikkor indicate that it was cloudy, maybe even a little dark. Were you shooting at a wide aperture? I'm wondering whether doing so with a Sonnar design lens resulted in loss of sharp focus on the edges of the image. Just a thought.

BTW: That's Donner Lake, right?
I checked sunny landscape type images where it was shot at 1/250 F11 and same thing.
Yep, Donner Lake! It was freakin' freezing Mr. Bigglesworth!
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Old 01-13-2020   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Highway 61 View Post
The main defect of the Nikkor-S-C 5cm f/1.4 is vignetting (aka light fall off). Even at f/8 all of mine (I used to own four of them, just kept one, because one is enough) were still vignetting with color slide films (more exposure sensitive than negatives). But none of them ever produced images with blurry off-center areas like yours does. Even at wider apertures.

Not only does it produce blurry corners, but there is a strange ghosting effect there too. And the problem starts quite close to the center of the image, it doesn't affect the actual image corners only.

I would bet it suffers from Canada balsam separation around the edges of the rear group elements. This is not an uncommon problem with that lens.
I'll check the lens tonight for rear balsam separation, but interestingly this behaviour does not show at mid-distance or closer. And it seems unusual that it is so balanced.
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Old 01-13-2020   #14
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Here's a fun comparo. At the exact same time (ok maybe 30 seconds apart) I took the same pic with a Samsung ECX1 p&s but using Kodak BW400CN film. The Nikon shot used Silberra 50.

Samsung pic on top, Nikon underneath






The Samsung pic is sharp corner to corner...

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Old 01-13-2020   #15
Erik van Straten
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The best thing to do is to buy an S Skopar 50mm f/2.5 for your S2 if you want a sharp lens. I mean sharp. And zero distortion.


Nikon S2, S Skopar 50mm f/2.5.


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Old 01-13-2020   #16
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Erik I think I will go for the 50 3.5 instead. It is meant to be their best RF lens. I already have the 50 2.5 in M mount. I have used the 3.5 before and loved the results (M mount version) but returned it as B&H had sold me one with an insect in it!
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Old 01-13-2020   #17
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But the S Skopar has more speed and a more juicy look because of the seven elements. The Heliar only has five, no, six (insect included).



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Old 01-13-2020   #18
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The pics I took w the 3.5 looked stunning. Plus I can adapt it via Amedeo to use on M. Plus already have the 2.5 in M. Plus the 3.5 in Nikkor mount is way cheaper’!
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Old 01-13-2020   #19
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And I will keep the 1.4 for low light.
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Old 01-13-2020   #20
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I bought the S Skopar really cheap, but some time ago.

I don't think it is the same lens as the Color Skopar 50mm f/2.5, it is much sharper and does not have that very, very tiny amount of distortion. The coating is different too.

Show us your pics with the 3.5!

Erik.
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Old 01-13-2020   #21
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Placed the order w Stephen/Cameraquest.
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Old 01-13-2020   #22
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Checked the Nikkor 5cm 1.4 just now. It's in perfect shape.. Clear, no haze, no separation.
Guess I couldn't expect it to match up to a P&S. No wonder Leica won the RF war!!






Sweet lens for close up to mid distance. Useless for landscape.
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Old 01-13-2020   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Erik van Straten View Post
I bought the S Skopar really cheap, but some time ago.

I don't think it is the same lens as the Color Skopar 50mm f/2.5, it is much sharper and does not have that very, very tiny amount of distortion. The coating is different too.

Show us your pics with the 3.5!

Erik.
Cameraquest says this about the 3.5:
https://cameraquest.com/voigt_r2s_heliar.htm
What's so special? Only that the 50/3.5 Heliar is probably the sharpest lens ever made in Nikon Rangefinder Mount

And this about the 2.5 that I have in Leica mount:
The SC 50/2.5 has the same glass as its Leica screw mount cousin.
https://cameraquest.com/nrfVClens.htm
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Old 01-13-2020   #24
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Maybe the same glass but not the same formula. I see differences, but both lenses are very good - extremely good. The coating is different too. Maybe a different production run with small alterations, who knows.


Erik.


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Old 01-13-2020   #25
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Maybe the same glass but not the same formula. I see differences, but both lenses are very good - extremely good. The coating is different too. Maybe a different production run with small alterations, who knows.

Erik.
Either way you create wonderful work with that lens. I should use mine.
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Old 01-14-2020   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huss View Post
Checked the Nikkor 5cm 1.4 just now. It's in perfect shape.. Clear, no haze, no separation.
Guess I couldn't expect it to match up to a P&S. No wonder Leica won the RF war!!


Sweet lens for close up to mid distance. Useless for landscape.
Leica won the war based on a single out-of-spec lens?
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Old 01-14-2020   #27
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Leica won the war based on a single out-of-spec lens?

I have owned/used probably over a dozen Nikkor 5cm f/1.4 lenses, from a variety of productions time periods. None of them behaved any better than Huss shows. The lens is well known to be sharp at closer distances and fairly poor at distance. And I don't think Sonnar lenses of any stripe were particularly known for edge-to-edge sharpness - just excellent contrast and good OOF rendering. The f/2 model was known for better sharpness. I assume it is simple field curvature at distance, not simply bad performance on the f/1.4.

Of course sharpness up close looks great for shooting test images of line charts...

PS I have the 50mm f/3.5 Voigtlander in native S-mount and it is a fabulous lens, as long as you don't need faster apertures. Also, it's exceedingly light, which is a nice bonus.
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Old 01-14-2020   #28
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In my experience, these lenses have low contrast/veiling flare wide-open, which goes away by f/2, and by f/5.6 they are quite contrasty, with good resolution to the edge; certainly by f/11 they should be sharp to the corners. Typical Sonnar performance. This looks to me like an individual case.
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Old 01-14-2020   #29
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Leica won the war based on a single out-of-spec lens?

Doesn't sound like it's out of spec according to Corran's experience w multiple copies.

So, yes.
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Old 01-14-2020   #30
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Quote:
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I have owned/used probably over a dozen Nikkor 5cm f/1.4 lenses, from a variety of productions time periods. None of them behaved any better than Huss shows. The lens is well known to be sharp at closer distances and fairly poor at distance. And I don't think Sonnar lenses of any stripe were particularly known for edge-to-edge sharpness - just excellent contrast and good OOF rendering. The f/2 model was known for better sharpness. I assume it is simple field curvature at distance, not simply bad performance on the f/1.4.

Of course sharpness up close looks great for shooting test images of line charts...

PS I have the 50mm f/3.5 Voigtlander in native S-mount and it is a fabulous lens, as long as you don't need faster apertures. Also, it's exceedingly light, which is a nice bonus.
Thanks for your comments. Yep it is great at short to mid distance. Now I know and will use it accordingly. Good thing I had my p&s and Noblex with me., so I have sharp images of Donner Lake.
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Old 01-14-2020   #31
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I remember reading a few years ago, and I wish I could find where I read it, that the Nikon rangefinder lenses, particularly the 3.5cm, 5cm, 8.5cm & 13.5cm, were all optimized for close to mid focus distance. At the time I was debating about a set of lenses for a project, and I found information talking about the different rangefinder glass available in the early 1950's.

My experience with the set I have from the late 1940's & early 1950's has proved that to be true.

I think they're great lenses for portraiture and close to medium distance work, but mine wouldn't really hold up to newer glass when it comes to architectural or landscape photography.

Best,
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Old 01-14-2020   #32
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I agree there's lots of veiling flare at f/1.4 to f/2 (and some copies have had it worse than others) but casual perusal of Flickr images of distant landscapes at middling apertures all have about the same drop in performance towards the edges:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/552994...7676868469405/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/csbtimothy/5817030315/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/179165...n/photostream/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/354663...l-nikkorsc-rf/

The 5cm is still a good lens for many things and perhaps there are a few golden copies out there with stupendous corners...but not the norm I don't think.
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Old 01-14-2020   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
I remember reading a few years ago, and I wish I could find where I read it, that the Nikon rangefinder lenses, particularly the 3.5cm, 5cm, 8.5cm & 13.5cm, were all optimized for close to mid focus distance. At the time I was debating about a set of lenses for a project, and I found information talking about the different rangefinder glass available in the early 1950's.

My experience with the set I have from the late 1940's & early 1950's has proved that to be true.

I think they're great lenses for portraiture and close to medium distance work, but mine wouldn't really hold up to newer glass when it comes to architectural or landscape photography.

Best,
-Tim
Thanks for your input Tim, my results bear that out.
And I'll repeat myself, as long as no landscape pics no problem.

I find it interesting that the knee jerk reaction is my lens is defective. Smacks of fan-boism. I own this stuff and I have been honest and critical about my gear and feel it helps the general knowledge-base to let people know how things perform.

Perhaps others never actually really looked at their results?

I'm not disappointed per se, just educated. I don't think it has anything to do with the Sonnar design as the 7A 50 1.1 is (I think) also a Sonnar design unless I am mistaken. And that lens stopped down is sharp corner to corner. As is that Samsung P&S with zoom lens!

Anyway, I'll use this lens for portraiture/around town/low light work and the incoming CV 50 3.5 for anything that does not require a fast lens.
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Old 01-14-2020   #34
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What is funny is that the results remind me of the lens on my Zeiss Ikon Nettar scale focus folder. Really nice n sharp in the center 3rd, loses the plot as it goes to the edges. But that was a budget kamwah. (and delightful to use, I highly recommend it!)
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Old 01-14-2020   #35
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As noted above, whereas the Nikon was optimized for its best performance in close-to-mid, the Canon LTM’s were the opposite and with lower contrast, resolution wide-open and close.
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Old 01-14-2020   #36
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Regarding the 7A lens - I would suppose 6 decades of design and production improvements helps too! I'd like to try one...if only they made it in S-mount...

I will have to dig out my test images that included the Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar from the same era as the Nikkor as I don't remember how the corners performed.

I do remember that I have a very early 5005 serial block Nikkor 5cm f/1.4 (Tokyo) that seems to be a bit better than my other, newer 5cm lenses. I haven't really tested that one fully as I haven't owned it as long.
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Old 01-14-2020   #37
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Is the "current" 50mm 1.4 that was sold with the 2000 and 2005 limited edition S3 and SP models better?
If not, boy am I glad I did not pull the trigger on one of those sets!
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Old 01-14-2020   #38
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Yes! Those are a totally different design lens. It was sold originally as the "Olympic" lens. Fabulous lens that rivals the best Leica lenses out there. Physically bigger than the older lens.

PS: it comes normally with the S3 reissue, despite the S3 having native 35mm frame lines, while the reissue 3.5cm f/1.8 comes with the SP, that has the 1:1 viewfinder that works best for 50mm lenses and just has a smaller squinty "wide-angle" VF. Strange choice!
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Old 01-14-2020   #39
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Yes! Those are a totally different design lens. It was sold originally as the "Olympic" lens. Fabulous lens that rivals the best Leica lenses out there.
Good to know!
Alright alright alright.

And yes I always thought it was weird that Nikon packaged that lens choice w the S3 and SP.
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Old 01-14-2020   #40
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Quote:
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I have owned/used probably over a dozen Nikkor 5cm f/1.4 lenses, from a variety of productions time periods. None of them behaved any better than Huss shows. The lens is well known to be sharp at closer distances and fairly poor at distance. And I don't think Sonnar lenses of any stripe were particularly known for edge-to-edge sharpness - just excellent contrast and good OOF rendering. The f/2 model was known for better sharpness. I assume it is simple field curvature at distance, not simply bad performance on the f/1.4.

Of course sharpness up close looks great for shooting test images of line charts...

PS I have the 50mm f/3.5 Voigtlander in native S-mount and it is a fabulous lens, as long as you don't need faster apertures. Also, it's exceedingly light, which is a nice bonus.
The Ernostar & Sonnar designs & their descendants, including the 5cm/1.4 Nikkor-S, are well-known for not being the best choice for landscape photos. I would have assumed this to be common knowledge to lens nerds since at least the beginning of the rangefinder renaissance in the late 1990s-early 2000s(?), when Dante Stella wrote an article about the LTM Nikkors: https://www.dantestella.com/technical/nikoleic.html

I think the 5cm1/.4 Nikkor-S (& IIRC also the 5cm/1.1 Nikkor-N) are extreme examples of the benefits/drawbacks of the Sonnar design because Nikon was pushing existing technology to its limits at the time. DJ Optical/7Artisans has the benefit of over 50 years of improvements in glass as well as a significant increase in size.
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