Additional Information on
Nikkor Super Telephoto Lenses 300mm & above

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The fascination of a telephoto lens is in its ability to pull in a distant scene without being close to the subject. You can get truly dramatic frame filling shots of almost everything. Further, in comparison to wideangle or normal lenses, given a constant focusing distance value, telephoto lenses have inherently less depth of field at each f/stop. Selecting wider aperture will easily make subject stand out from background in bold relief. This is often called "selective focus".

Another prominent optical characteristic of telephoto lenses is that it seems to compress the space between objects, producing impression of flattened perspective. Telephoto lenses exhibit moderate-powerful magnifications, minimal depth of field and compressed perspective which makes them indispensable for sports, action, theatrical performance, fashion, news, reportage, landscape and wildlife photography.

These lenses adds to your ability to control the appearance of the final image. Compared with a wide-angle lens that covers a tremendous-subject area, a normally "short" 300mm telephoto lens can be good enough to reach out distant to magnify the subject while with clever use of depth of field and narrow picture angle, eliminates distracting elements in the photograph. Most people would regard 300mm focal length as the end of "normal" telephoto lenses and starting point for a true super-telephoto range. To classify it under short super telephoto lenses category is more appropriate, as super-telephoto lenses above 400mm have some other optical characteristic and further, those long range lenses are generally quite difficult to handle. Physically, other than size and dimension - the telephoto lenses (except Reflex lenses) can be easily recognized with a quick visual identification by verifying at the entrance and exit pupils of a lens, as telephoto lenses usually have larger entrance pupils than normal and wideangle lenses.

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<<< --- A typical Nikkor super-telephoto lens such as this Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 EDIF is big, bulky but assuring of its reach with its long focal length and superlative image quality with the use of ED glass in its optical design, its is responsive in handling with an IF system, NIC coating provides a faithful reproduction of color, other features includes rear drop-in filter, preset focus design, has a rotable tripod collar and a handy external Snap-On lens hood.

Copyright-Free images collection © 2001 

Nikon has a long history of producing high quality telephoto lenses. They have been design and making those lenses for their rangefinder Nikon cameras dated back to the '50. For an intsance, there were already three short mount lenses beyond the 180mm focal length introduced pre-1955 with Nikkor-Q 25cm f/4.0 (1951), Nikkor 35cm f/4.5, and two exotic Relfex-Nikkor 50cm f/5.0 and Reflex-Nikkor 100cm f/6.3 which all of these lenses required the use of an external focusing aid and primarily designed for the rangefinder Nikon but redesigned with a F-mount to be used on early Nikon F, Nikon F Photomic T, Tn and Nikkormat cameras. Needless to say, the early versions of Nikkor telephoto lenses required tedious setup in order to use them, they are bulky and mostly aimed to serve needs rather than intended to shine in quality.

The first batch of true super telephoto Nikkor lenses designed specifically in Nikon F bayonet lens mount were only being introduced in 1964 - Nikkor 400mm f/4.5, Nikkor 600mm f/5.6, Nikkor 880mm f/8.0 and a Nikkor 1200mm f/11 lenses (Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 was introduced later). As these early lens type contain only optic (880mm and 1,200mm have manual diaphragms), an accessory Focusing Unit and automatic aperture diaphragm operation (cannot be used with the longest 1200mm due to vignetting but the later AU-1 was compatible).

These arrangement has an advantage of able to reduce the bulkiness and weight, making them less expensive, more convenient to carry around and maintain interchangeability among few of these long lenses. These lenses evolved along with major optical development of Nikkor lenses, where most of them lasted until 1976/77 and slowly replaced with a modern direct mounting system instead of making use of the Focusing Unit. These are a few types of such Focusing Unit*, Nikon AU-1 ("AU" stands for Aperture Unit) which uses standard 52mm filter inside the unit and conventional Focusing Unit which uses 122mm filter attached to the front of each lens. So, telephoto lenses beyond the 300mm focal length prior to 1977 in the used market may require you to take extra precaution in order to avoid confusion with those lenses of modern design.

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As Nikon has always been commanding a leading role at the professional users' market; which can also be interpreted as the most demanding group of users for imaging hardware; the Company was believed to have been putting in a great deal of effort in the lens research and development in order to enable such leading edge be prolonged. In fact, many of such resulting effort from those days are still being used in the design and production of Nikkor lenses today.

Credit: Flying Roos .. Brisbane Air Port, Australia. Nikkor 400mm f/4.5 ED Image courtesy of Mr. CY Leow <>Image copyright © 2002 All rights reserved.

By mid '70, many new series of Nikkor super telephoto lenses were slowly phasing out older versions. For an example, some of the Nikkor telephoto lenses above 400mm encompasses some of the best Nikkor optical innovations within; some original effort, such as the adoption of Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass in optical design and Nikon exclusive NIC (Nikon Integrated Coating process) have been used throughout to ensure images of brilliantly crisp images with excellent color rendition and virtually all these lenses have incorporated an Internal Focusing System (IF) to ensure there is no physical extension of the lens barrel throughout its focusing range where previously, traditionally heavy, bulky Helicoid system was often used in those older versions of Nikkor super telephoto lenses. Frankly, many of the lenses actually share a great deal of similarities with Nikkor telephoto lenses of shorter focal length except some key features were being used more extensively. These Nikkor super telephoto lenses are characterized to have extremely narrow angle of view of just a few degrees with depth of field almost limited to the plane of focus, unless stopped down to their minimal departure which usually being designed to provide f/22 or f/32.


Nikon's ED Nikkor Lenses

The difference in the refraction index results in dispersion of the various wavelengths as light passes through a lens is called "chromatic aberration ". This is commonly being identified as the main element that affect image sharpness Correction of chromatic aberration in camera lenses has been limited, for the most part, to the use of techniques which bring two wavelengths of light, normally blue and red, to a common focus. Although known as "achromatic," lenses employing these designs exhibit a certain amount of undesirable residual dispersion (called the "secondary spectrum") which limits image contrast and sharpness, particularly at full aperture. With ordinary optical glass, this secondary spectrum cannot be reduced beyond 0.002mm times the focal length. Thus, secondary spectrum becomes a serious problem as focal length increases. Telephoto lenses are most prone to the ill effects of chromatic aberration, since secondary spectrum increases with focal length. Nikkor first applied such resulting research of ED onto their telephoto lenses around 1975 with a few selected long focal length of Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 ED, Nikkor 600mm f/5.6 ED, Nikkor 880mm f8.0 ED and 1200mm f/11 ED to begin with such implementation. Other than super telephoto lenses, another group of Nikkor lenses which benefited greatly from such ED glass innovation was actually the super tele-zoom lenses which suffers from inferior optical performance, the amazing super Zoom Nikkor 360-1200 f/11 ED which was crowned as the longest tele-zoom in 35mm photography which was introduced back in 1976 was one good example. For about a decade, the magic word of 'ED' was almost synonymous with only Nikkor optic until rivaling camps brought other comparing alternative optical innovation to catch up. The ED series of lenses are actually incorporating glass elements Nikon-developed special optical glass called "Extra-low Dispersion" (ED) glass (some called it " UD " (Ultra-Low Dispersion)" or "SD" (Super-Low dispersions) by other optical glass manufacturers). Generally, lens manufacturers uses low dispersion optical glass to correct lenses of focal length of 180mm and above but it is not uncommon to find some offering 100-150mm in particularly with zoom lenses. I would rather conclude that as marketing gimmicks rather than true application. Although the optical characteristics of ED glass are similar to those of calcium-fluorite crystal which is favored by its competition such as Canon's "L" series optics, Nikon claimed ED glass possesses a more constant refractive index over a wide range of temperatures and will, therefore, cause less of a focus shift as compared.

Also, according to most manufacturers who favors the use of ED glass, often claim ED's property is much harder and more resistant to scratches, enabling its use for front and rear lens elements to obtain optimum correction of chromatic aberration over the widest possible wavelength range. Some lenses within the ED series have been so fully corrected that image sharpness extends uniformly to the infrared region; for these lenses, corrective refocusing for infrared exposure is unnecessary. However, corrective refocusing for infrared photography is necessary for some optic, even with the use of such rare earth glass in their design. Regardless of which type, ED-series lenses offer exceptional sharpness and full contrast for the most precise photography under the widest conditions. Further, by using an internal focus design which deployed later into many of the Nikkor telephoto lenses introduced later, the closest focusing distance is shorter than previous model of the same focal length which employed with traditional Helicoid focusing.

Internal Focusing System

Conventional lens design with good telephoto optical configuration may enable a significant reduction of physical length of a long focus lens. And, regardless of how good the design is, it is still necessary to move the entire lens group inside the lens to focus. In order to maintain good compromise of robust construction to last especially when these lenses are designed for professional usage, to make a robust, serviceable Helicoid usually will results in a large, heavy assembly. That was essentially the main reason why lenses of long focal length those days have a funny configuration of interchangeable lens heads for the different focal lengths, and a common focusing unit. You can see prominent 35mm camera manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon both have their older Nikkor and FL telephoto lenses in such designs. This has made life a little easier for the photographer who carries a selection of super-telephoto lenses. But the bulkiness and inconvenience was apparent, subsequent task for optical engineers was aim to reduce the weight of the Helicoid significantly where it would mean the adoption of some radically new method of focusing. The solution during that time was to design lenses in which the lens barrel is fixed and focusing is achieved by moving the lens elements internally. Whatever it is, we have then an entirely new series of new internal-focusing Nikkors telephoto lenses debuted sometime in 1977 with the Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 EDIF and Nikkor 600mm f/5.6 EDIF being the first pair of Nikkor telephoto lenses to employ with such innovation in its design. By 1979, the entire series of Nikkor super-telephoto lenses from Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 EDIF, 300mm f/4.5 EDIF, 400mm f/3.5 & f/5.6 EDIF, 600mm f/4.0 & f/5.6 EDIF, 880mm f/8.0 EDIF have been upgraded with internal focusing mechanism.

helicoid.gif helicordIF.gif

Not only have the weight and bulk of the Helicoid been virtually eliminated-a great plus for the user, particularly at the end of a day's shooting-but the operational characteristics of the lenses themselves have been improved, too. Focusing, because of the reduction in weight and bulk, is now fast and light, making it easier to focus quickly or to follow-focus when shooting a rapidly moving subject. The optical elements used for focusing also make it possible to add extra correction so that image falloff, as the lenses are close-focused, has been eliminated; the result is lenses which both focus closer and deliver high-quality images throughout their focusing range.

ED lens elemnt surface, picture by Digitize FUTURE@EBAY
Credit: Image(s) displayed herein courtesy of all the nice folks from Taiwan's Digitize-Future@EBAY®. Some of them are extracted from their very popular online EBAY STORE. The Company also has a website on their own at Image(s) copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.
With an angle of view decreases from 6° 10' (400mm), to 2° (1,200mm), super telephoto lenses gives magnifications from 8X to 24X over normal 50mm focal length. Other than sport/action and news/reportage photographic applications which most people like to associate these lenses to. The powerful extra reach of these super telephoto lenses is also useful to those who wish to cover scenes which is physically impossible to approach the subject, either due to danger involved (wildlife, hazardous or scientific research, such as rocket launching etc..) or there is something in between such as water or crowds etc. these lenses is a formidable, weapon for shooting fast action sports, wildlife, scientific research, journalism or simply capturing the private mood in leisure photography. The narrow angle of view is often used by nature photographers to isolate a segment of an entire picture scene in particular useful in scenic photography. Some are even clever enough to use the extremely narrow picture angle act as a spot meter in certain situations. One distinctive optical characteristic of these long focal length super telephoto lenses is, they seem to compress space to the point where objects which in reality separated by great distances between, appearing to have tack right behind one another - a creative visual advantage which often used and manipulate by many creative eyes behind the viewfinder.

<<< --- Virtually all modern large aperture Nikkor telephoto lenses are provide with a handy carrying metal case as standard accessory which seems to be solid enough to withstand bumps and knocks, it is air tight and sufficiently well rain seal which is also good protective tool for transport via airliner. That was a well thought out and considerate enough to shield such an expensive investment.

Whatever it is, there is no denying fact that with the introduction of autofocus technology both in camera and lenses, photography with telephotography is never the same again. The sheer speed and accuracy provides is simply incomparable with traditional way of manual focus photography. Other than in its various photographic applications. In fact, many camera/lens manufacturers have also make use of their range of super-telephoto lenses to exhibit their latest fruitful research from respective AF technologies on camera/lenses. As all of these exotic, expensive lenses which is beyond most general consumers' purchasing power are packed with the best of technologies within from respective makers. Nikon's current range is "AF-S" series of lenses which was evolved from earlier emulated attempt of "AF-I" series from Canon EF's USM technology. While this section is still confined to Manual Focus range of Nikkor super telephoto lenses and the AF section will be addressed in chapters to come.

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Recommended links to understand more technical details related to the Nikkor F-mount and production Serial Number: by: my friend, Rick Oleson by: Hansen, Lars Holst

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Credit: MCLau®, who has helped to rewrite some of the content appeared this site. Chuck Hester® who has been helping me all along with the development of all these Nikon websites; Lars Holst Hansen, 'Hawkeye' who shares the same passion I have; Ms Rissa, Sales manager from Nikon Corporation Malaysia for granting permission to use some of the official content; Ted Wengelaar, Holland who has helped to provide many useful input relating to older Nikkor lenses; Some of the references on production serial numbers used in this site were extracted from Roland Vink's website; Hiura Shinsaku from Nikomat Club Japan. Lastly, to all the good people who has contributed their own expeience, resources or kind enough granted permission to use their images of their respective optic in this site. It is also a site to remember a long lost friend on the Net. Note:certain content and images appeared in this site were either scanned from official marketing leaflets & brochures published by Nikon and/or contribution from surfers who claimed originality of their work for educational purposes. The creator of the site will not be responsible for may discrepancies arise from such dispute except rectifying them after verification. "Nikon", "Nikkormat", "Nippon Kokagu KK" & "Nikkor" are registered tradename of Nikon Corporation Inc., Japan. Site made with an Apple IMac.